I’m a few weeks into a side project that I blogged about in a previous post. I’m having a lot of fun (I’m such a geek) using a bunch of new stuff. Since Visual Studio 11 is at the center of all the work on the project, I thought I’d share my first impressions on it. Of course, I’m using a Beta version of it. Really this post is about my second thoughts since they are much more meaningful. Spoiler alert: First impressions aren’t always the most important.

My first thoughts

My first thoughts were pretty typical and can be summarized with one bullet:

  • Colorless

That is pretty much what most people think when they see it for the first time. People tend to ignore all of the improvements and new features and focus on the lack of color. At first I found this lack of color to be somewhat distracting which is odd because it is meant to have the opposite effect. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t thrilled with the new look but I was quick to point out to some of my peers that we should give it some time and get used to it.

My Second Thoughts

Guess what? I got used to it… quickly. After using Visual Studio 11 for a couple of hours, I quickly got used to the lack of color. It isn’t really that big a deal and I think the VS team was on the right track by moving Visual Studio overall to the background and making the code editor the focal point. Having said that, I still think some color would be helpful. My last point on the overall lack of color is that it isn’t 100% consistent. Some windows within VS11 still have color. And some plugins use color too. That makes things a bit odd. I’m including a screenshot below. That’s all for the color.


Some features to note (this is by no means a comprehensive list, just some highlights):

So far, I think VS11 is an awesome development environment. I’ve been doing MVC development within VS11 and the HTML, CSS, and JavaScript support is really nice. VS11 is now providing a lot of help for developers working in these areas. I’ll also point out that I am using ReSharper (v7 EAP for VS11). I love ReSharper! Between VS11 and ReSharper, the web development experience is awesome. I’ll be honest, I don’t always know which tool is providing the various features!

When developing web apps, we typically want to run/debug/test them in a variety of browsers. It seems like Microsoft has figured out the IE is not the only browser in town. So now we can use the Debug Target toolbar button. Just click the typical “play” button or hit F5 to debug in which ever browser is selected: image Or you can use the drop down to chose a different target or change the default:


I like the fact that the great features of the Solution Navigator (previously part of the Productivity Power Tools) were combined into the Solution Explorer. Of course, the Add Reference dialog is a huge improvement from the past, that was also a feature from the Power Tools.

I’m also a huge fan in the reduction of items in the toolbars. I think the VS team really nailed that part of the design as well. They took out all but the most commonly used buttons from the toolbar – but only in the default configuration. If there is a button or toolbar you like, just add it back in. That part is easy! More importantly, we should all get used to the Quick Launch feature. With that, we can just type the name of any command we want. No more hunting around in the menus for seldom used actions!

Another great feature is the Preview Tab. I’m surprised more people aren’t talking about this one. This is pretty cool but I don’t think you can get the full value of it until you experience it yourself. Think about all those times you are debugging and you end up stepping into file after file after file. All those files get opened up in the tab well. Eventually you get to the file you want in the debug process. But when you are done you have a ton of open files. Not everyone is like me, but I hate open files. I want my tab well to be as empty as possible. Preview Tab to the rescue! With VS11, all of those files that you step through don’t open up as normal files, they open in the Preview Tab. But Preview Tab only has one file at a time. So each new file you step into replaces the old one and your environment stays clutter free. And Preview Tab is pretty smart too. If you make a change to the file it moves it into the normal tab well. You can also click a button in the tab to “promote” the file to be a normally opened file. In this image you can see the Preview Tab on the right, circled in blue.


While it isn’t really new, I want to mention that the extensibility features of VS11 (and 2010 too) are really powerful and work so well and somewhat seamlessly. The Extension Manager is really cool and with it I’m always adding tools to Visual Studio. There are loads of great things to install. With VS2010 I hadn’t gotten to experience Nuget but with the work I’m doing now in VS11 I am all over it. Nuget (or is it NuGet, or nuget?) is providing all kinds of good stuff for my solution. Between VS11, the extensions and nuget packages, I really feel empowered to create great solutions.

There are lots of other great features, these are just the ones that came to mind as I was writing. Download the Beta and check it out for yourself!

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