First look: Visual Studio for Mac is here at last, almost

Xamarin-inspired IDE will allow C# and F# programmers to develop for iOS, Mac, and Android on a single machine, but is currently limited

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At a Glance
  • Visual Studio for Mac Preview

Visual Studio for Mac is something that many Microsoft developers have sought for more than a decade. As Mac OS X became interesting in the early 2000s, coders who spent most of their days working in Visual Studio on Windows wondered why they couldn’t use the same languages, frameworks, and tools for the Mac, rather than needing to learn Objective-C, Cocoa, and Xcode, all of which were substantially different from the languages and tools for Windows development.

Many of us thought the ECMA standards for C# and the .Net Framework, and the Mono project spearheaded by Miguel de Icaza (first at Ximian, then Novell, then Xamarin, and finally at Microsoft), might provide a path to a unified development platform. I for one had no idea it would take so long, although I was aware of at least some of the rather Byzantine politics going on among the various interested parties, through my involvement with the .Net series of books. I was also aware of the reputation that both Mono and Xamarin had for being “a bit crashy.”

The introduction of the lightweight, portable Visual Studio Code, and the gradual integration of Xamarin tools into Visual Studio 2015, were positive signs in my view. Once Microsoft announced it would acquire Xamarin (in February 2016) it became clear to me that the Xamarin Studio and Visual Studio IDEs were likely to merge on the Mac to create a single development environment, but I wasn’t sure exactly what form it would take or how many of the features from Visual Studio for Windows could or would be implemented on the Mac.

Inside Visual Studio for the Mac

Essentially, Visual Studio for the Mac is Xamarin Studio plus a Visual Studio look and feel, along with Roslyn-based C# IntelliSense, refactoring, analyzers, and code fixes; NuGet-based package management; a Visual Studio-compatible project format; the MSBuild engine; integrated unit testing; and support for F#.

Let’s unwrap that a little to understand what it means, in case you aren’t familiar with both Xamarin Studio and Visual Studio. In general terms Visual Studio for Mac is an integrated Macintosh development environment for C# and F# applications that run on iOS, Android, and Mac targets, with a variety of application forms and technologies, including game engines. Several of the app types use portable frameworks. Some support iOS and Android with Xamarin, and others support iOS and Mac games with SpriteKit (2D) and SceneKit (3D).

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