Review: Visual Studio 2013 reaches beyond the IDE

Microsoft delivers editing, debugging, deployment, project architecture, and ALM improvements stretching from Windows to Web development, from mobile devices to clouds

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Sign in to Visual Studio 2013

In previous versions of Visual Studio, you either installed a pre-registered version of the product from MSDN or you activated a demo version of the product with a code. Visual Studio 2013 gives you another option: Sign in with your Microsoft ID.

This is good for Microsoft -- it can phone home and make sure you have a current MSDN subscription for the product you're using. On the other hand, if you want to avoid that, you can enter an activation code.

Nevertheless, I sign in because it lets me synchronize multiple installations of Visual Studio 2013 on different computers using a roaming profile. What does it synchronize? Most important, it synchronizes your Team Foundation Services account credentials. But it also synchronizes your color scheme and font choices, your language preference, and your keyboard settings. If you move among many shared development computers and have a highly customized keyboard map, synchronization is a huge convenience.

Ultimate programming

As you've probably gathered by now, Visual Studio 2013 presents a huge learning curve to new users. Visual Studio 2012 is composed of about 50 million lines of code, and Visual Studio 2013 is bigger. There are so many actions in Visual Studio and TFS, so many documents in MSDN, so many samples to go through, and so many videos to view, that the learning curve for a new developer can appear overwhelming. While you can learn Visual Studio and TFS from the product and MSDN, it might not be the best way to use your time unless you actually enjoy solving giant puzzles.

In the past, I advised new Visual Studio developers to buy a book or take a course to get themselves up to speed. Now, unless you have a mentor or your company has budget for live teaching, I suggest you sign up for Wintellect Now and take those courses online. In particular, if you want to learn about developing Windows Store apps, go through Jeff Prosise's course, starting with the introduction to Windows RT. Similarly, if you want to learn about Windows Azure, go through Jeffrey Richter's course.

Let me point out that the Visual Studio Ultimate product I've reviewed is not appropriate for everyone. If you're new to Visual Studio, start with the free and stripped-down Visual Studio Express product that best suits your needs, be it for Web, Windows (that is, Windows Store), Windows Desktop (C#, Visual Basic, and C++), or Windows Phone. Unless you need more than one of these, stripped-down is good. Frankly, even the Express products have learning curves.

If you're a student, you can start (and perhaps end) with a free copy of Visual Studio Professional 2013, which will get you all the basic single-user development tools, at the possible cost of being a little overwhelmed.

Once you're sure you can use Visual Studio, then you can download the document that describes all the Visual Studio purchase options. It's 33 pages long -- I kid you not. Did the young Bill Gates who slept in the computer lab at his high school ever imagine his company would emulate the most obnoxious features of IBM? Somehow I doubt it. What's worse is that the 33-page document doesn't contain any prices.

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