Product review: Visual Studio 2008 advances with few missteps
Solid upgrade to Microsoft's IDE holds improvements for users of every level; highlights, including language-integrated data queries, new graphical design surfaces, and support for Vista, Web 2.0 technologies, and multiple versions of .Net Framework, overshadow a few nits
With the exception of the dropped support for VBScript and Classic ASP, the Web page design surface in VS08 is better than that of VS05; it's very similar to Expression Web, and supports CSS nicely. Design surfaces and projects for ASP.Net AJAX, Windows Communications Foundation and Windows Workflow Foundation, which were free add-ons to VS05, have moved to the base VS08 product.
Office and Smart Device targets
Visual Studio Tools for Office (VSTO) has been merged into the VS08 Professional Edition and above; it was previously a separate $799 product. VSTO now supports all the components of both Office 2007 and Office 2003 in both C# and Visual Basic.
VS08 can create managed Smart Device project for four target platforms and two versions of the .Net Compact Framework in C# and Visual Basic. In C++, VS08 can create unmanaged Smart Device projects using Win32, ATL (Active Template Library), and MFC (Microsoft Foundation Class) libraries; that capability used to be in a separate Windows CE toolkit.
Odds and ends
ClickOnce deployment has been enhanced to cover WPF Web Browser applications. It has also been enhanced to allow ISVs to re-sign the application manifest, and to generate manifests under UAC. ClickOnce is a lighter-weight alternative to Microsoft Installer that lets self-updating desktop applications deploy from a Web site.
Microsoft SQL Server Compact 3.5 is a new local database that is small enough to deploy on smart devices. Developers can use it both in stand-alone and occasionally connected scenarios. When SQL Server Compact is used for local database caching, Microsoft Synchronization Services for ADO.Net takes care of periodic synchronization between the local Compact database and the remote database.
If a Team Foundation Server installation is detected, Visual Studio can integrate with it. This allows a programmer to receive work items and do check-ins, and a manager to produce reports such as the one shown here.
Team System has a number of improvements. One big item in TFS is a new Team Build system; another is Web access. Architects have a new top-down system designer and an architectural role system. Developers have the new code metrics system I discussed earlier, as well as better code analysis and performance tools. DBAs have T-SQL code analysis, a data generator, and refactoring tools. Testers have better tools and validation rules, including a Test Load Agent.
Visual Studio has an active ecosystem of independent software vendors. Most of these vendors produce plug-ins and controls that enhance Visual Studio. A new Visual Studio Shell lets these vendors ship stand-alone versions of their products that do not require the customer to buy Visual Studio proper. I applaud this move by Microsoft: I think it makes the ecosystem healthier because it allows the ISVs to be more competitive at a relatively small cost to Microsoft.
Overall, Visual Studio 2008 is an upgrade that most Microsoft-oriented development shops will want to make, in order to develop with new technologies, such as WPF, WCF, and WF, and for new platforms, such as Windows Vista. However, it's not an upgrade that's easily made piecemeal; I'd advise most shops to upgrade all developers on a project once the project itself has been successfully upgraded. In my experience, upgrading projects from VS05 to VS08 has been relatively painless, involving very little in the way of code rewrites.
For shops that still maintain Classic ASP sites, I'd recommend installing VS08 side by side with VS05, at least until Classic ASP and VBScript editing functionality has been restored. And for shops that still use Visual Studio .Net 2003 or older versions because of perceived problems with VS05, I'd suggest seriously evaluating VS08.
With few exceptions, users of every level of Visual Studio will find the 2008 release improved. It's a strong upgrade, and a solid foundation for future development.