First look: Visual Studio 11 beta leaner, meaner for Metro

Metro-style development support and monochrome obsession are featured in Microsoft's all-encompassing Windows development tool

Microsoft's Visual Studio is more than just an IDE. It's the official developer tool for Microsoft's platform, and new releases tie in with major changes in Windows. Visual Studio 11, now in beta, includes support for the Windows Runtime (WinRT), the engine that powers the new Metro-style, tablet-friendly user interface in Windows 8. As the tool for building Metro apps, Visual Studio 11 plays a critical role in the success or failure of the new Windows.

The scope of the product goes far beyond Metro, of course. Visual Studio comes out of the box with support for several languages, including Visual Basic, Visual C#, Visual F#, C/C++, and JavaScript. Project types include desktop and Metro-style Windows, various types of ASP.Net Web applications, Microsoft Office add-ins, SharePoint 2010 applications, Silverlight, and more.

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Windows Azure, Microsoft's cloud platform, will also be supported but does not work in the beta. Microsoft's challenge is in managing all the dependencies, including the Azure emulator, and integration with the local Internet Information Services Web server, as well as Azure itself. Lack of support in the beta is disappointing, though no doubt all will come together in the final release. Azure is not an easy platform to try out, which partly explains its slow adoption; this is another small misstep.

Visual Studio has been gradually reworked in its last few versions so that it's easier to extend and modernize its user interface. Visual Studio 2010 was the first to use Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) for the editor and most of the user interface, a move that was largely successful; it even improved WPF itself as the team addressed bugs and performance issues. Microsoft has added package management to Visual Studio, with the open source NuGet project.

Now with version 11, Microsoft has given Visual Studio a Metro makeover in keeping with the new style of Windows, though the IDE remains of course a desktop application. The designers have also picked a largely monochrome color scheme, apparently to showcase the color in the apps themselves, a move that has not gone down well with developers. The top two complaints in the official feedback forum are to bring back color toolbars and to abandon all-caps for the toolbox titles. Though they're merely cosmetic, the complaints are valid and Microsoft has marked the issue as "under review." Performance of the beta IDE is good and that matters more.

Welcome to Visual Studio 11, with its new Metro and monochrome design.
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