Microsoft has made available the release candidates for the new Windows and the new Visual Studio tool set. Some of the products have been renamed:

  • Windows Server 2012 is the new name for Windows 8 “Server”
  • Visual Studio 2012 is the new name for Visual Studio 11

MSDN subscribers can download them from their account. If you’re not a subscriber you can use the following links:

You can read more about these releases here:

The only thing I’d like to mention at this point is that after butchering the Windows logo (no, I don’t believe in the ingenuity of the light blue rectangle) someone felt the need to do the same with the Visual Studio logo. And if I could live with the new Windows logo (the color is awful) the new Visual Studio logo is huge failure, in my opinion.

Yes, that’s right, the one in the right is the new VS2012 logo.

After seeing the things Microsoft has done to Windows and Visual Studio UI (especially the colors in Windows that knock you in the head and, the opposite, the lack of colors in VS) it looks like all UI experts left to Apple.

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Visual Studio 11 Beta was made available today (See Jason Zander’s announcement). It can be downloaded from here. These are my first impressions after downloading and trying it.

The New UI
I have already talked about the new Chrome theme. I find it awful, you don’t know what’s enabled and what is not. I wish they change it, and at least give us the possibility to opt for this theme or the classic colored theme.

Startup time
It takes Visual Studio 2010 about a whole minute to start on my machines, so I didn’t have great expectations for Visual Studio 11. However, I am impressed with the startup time, which is about 3 seconds. Excellent.

Opening projects created with a previous version
When I opened a solution build with VS2010 it did not prompt me the classic question about upgrading to the new version. That’s because the project file schemas were not changed between VS2010 and VS11. This is the first time this happens. As for the solution file, it just updated the format version without prompting for anything.

Microsoft Visual Studio Solution File, Format Version 12.00
# Visual Studio 11

Quick launch window
The first thing I do when I install Visual Studio is changing the fonts. But sometimes finding such windows or commands is cumbersome. A new window called Quick launch is now available in the top right corner. You can type for commands and it searches through menus, options, tool windows, etc. displaying a list of results. When you press on a result it executes the command.

Solution Explorer
This is now a hub for functionality previously available in Solution Explorer, Class View, Object Browser, Call Hierarchy, Navigate To, and Find References tool windows.


You can search in the solution explorer, view the call graph, hierarchy types etc. As you do this it creates new views kept in a stack. It is possible to navigate between these views with two buttons, Back and Forward that are available in the left side of the Solution Explorer toolbar.

The other buttons are:

  • Home: brings back to the home view of the solution explorer
  • Collapse all: collapses all the items in the Solution explorer three view
  • Sync with Active Document
  • Preview selected items: when this is enabled, as you select files in the tree they are displayed in a special document window, docked on the left of the documents bar. This is excellent because it helps viewing the file (or a method in a file) immediately, yet without opening lots of files (since they are all displayed, one at a time, in the same document window).
  • Properties: opens the properties window for the current item
  • Show all files: as in previous versions
  • View class diagram: shows the class diagram (or creates a new one if one does not exist) for the current item
  • Create a new window containing a copy of the content of this window: this duplicates the solution explorer window, just in case you want multiple views

If you want to quickly find something in the solution explorer, you can use the search control. As you type, the content is filtered to show only the elements that contained the type text. This includes source files, references, images and everything else in the tree.

Search and Replace
There is a new quick window for search and replace. This window is displayed in the top-right corner of the active document window. This window is specific for each document; when you switch to another document, it closes.

It is possible though to open the classic window, which looks like this:

Symbol selection
A nice IntelliSense feature is highlighting in the entire document the symbol under the cursors selection. This helps a lot figuring where else in the code the symbol is used. And also helps when you have variables with the same name in different scopes, because it only highlights the symbols that are visible in the scope of the block where the cursor is.

References Window
The window for adding references has also been redesign. You can see a list of the available components that can be referred. As you hover the mouse over them a check box is displayed on the left, so you can check that component for being added.

NuGet Package Manager
For .NET projects a NuGet package manager is available. You can open it from context menu for the solution or the project.

It opens a dialog where you can search for packages, install, update or remove.

XML Doc comments for VC++
A great feature that was finally added for VC++ is XML doc comments. You can add them to C++ types and methods and generate XML doc files. For generating the output file the /doc switch must be set.

For this sample

The following output file was generated:

The gotcha is that so far it does not work in the automatic way as for C# or VB.NET. When you type /// it does not automatically generate the stubs, you have to add everything manually.

You can use these files to generate MSDN-style documentation using for instance the Sandcastle compiler.

Additional readings

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Dear Microsoft,

I have recently read the two blog posts about the new “developer experience” with Visual Studio 11 (part 1 and part 2). I don’t have the IDE yet (since the beta will be made available on February 29), but from the blog posts I see that you once again changed the look and feel. Why do you have to do this all the time? Can’t you sell a new version without redesigning the UI? We don’t get used well with a version and you change the game again. And like it wasn’t bad enough to do such a big changed, you decided to go with a chrome theme. This is what I call “Windows disabled”; you can’t get a good feeling of what is enabled and what is not. Everything is in tones of gray and confusing.

Why do you have to invest all that time in redesigning the UI with each release? Why don’t you focus on making the current UI more responsible (for instance VS2010 takes 1 minute on my machines to start) and less buggy? Why don’t you invest that time in building features that make our lives easier? Like providing multiple windows for search results (not just two) or supporting auto completion (like it was in all versions until VS2010) in the folder selection fields in the New Project dialog?

So dear Microsoft, please

  1. make it possible for us to change the Chrome theme to the old colored theme
  2. don’t change the UI with each version

A concerned developer

PS: I still can’t get out of my mind the horror or scrolling with the mouse on Windows 8 maybe 5 screens of colorful tiles to get to the app that I want to launch. Awful! As it stands I see big failures on the horizon.

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Visual Studio 11 brings many new things for native development, including support for new features from C++11 (unfortunately not all), or ability to write Metro apps with C++/CX including modeling the UI with XAML. In this post I will talk a bit about three favorite features that I noticed immediately after trying VS11 from Windows 8 Developer Preview.

Use of namespaces
Finally, I see namespaces promoted in native code. Yes, it’s C++/CX and they were probably forced to use namespaces for a consistent experience from the various languages that target the Windows Runtime, but it’s a very nice change to the default templates for C++ projects where everything is put in the global namespace. I can only hope they will improve that in this version or the next for standard C++ applications (whether Win32 console apps or MFC apps).

UPDATE: looks like I wasn’t clear enough, I’m not saying namespaces is a new C++ feature (duh), I’m saying Visual Studio templates for C++ don’t promote that. Create a Win32 project, an MFC project, and ATL project, there are no namespaces. You’d have to code everything manually, but if you do it, you mess the wizards. So, what I’m saying is that I hope we can see namespaces promoted for other project and item templates too.

Partial classes
I already wrote about partial classes, but I want to reiterate this feature. Partial classes gives you the ability to define a class in several files. This is great because developers and code generator tools such as designers can edit different parts of the same class without interfering one with the other. This feature made it possible for supporting XAML user interfaces in C++/CX Metro applications.

I’m actually wondering why isn’t this already part of standard C++ and I can only wish that the next version (which hopefully will not take another decade to conclude) will include this feature.

Better Syntax Highlighting
Below is a comparison for the same piece of code highlighted by Visual Studio 2010 on the left, and Visual Studio.vNext (11) on the right.

There is hardly any formatting in VS10. However, on the other hand, the highlighting in VS11 is beautiful. User defined types (including library types) are displayed with another color than the built-in types (such as int), including in their definition. STL types (string, vector, etc.) are finally identified as types and displayed with the appropriate color. Also the name of parameters is displayed in italics which makes them easily identifiable. There are other things about the highlighting, but these striking changes.

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Partial classes are finally available to C++. Sort of. It’s not part of the new C++11 standard, it’s part of the C++/CX language developed by Microsoft for targeting WinRT on Windows 8.

Partial classes mean that you can define a class spanned across several files. Why is this great? Because it allows developers and automatic code generator tools (such as designers) to edit parts of the same class without interfering one with another. WinRT allows C++ developers to write UI in XAML. This could not have been possible without the support for partial classes.

Partial classes:

  • are available only for ref classes; native classes are not supported
  • are introduced with the partial keyword in all definitions but one

Here is an example:

What happens when you add a new page to a C++ Metro style application? The wizard generates three files: a XAML file and a header and cpp file as the code behind. Let’s say the page is called MainPage. In this case the three files are MainPage.xaml (code below is a dummy example), MainPage.xaml.h and MainPage.xaml.cpp.

You can notice that the objects firstPanel and firstButton are not defined in the header for MainPage and second, MainPage.xaml.h includes MainPage.g.h. So what is this? This is a designer generated file, which together with MainPage.g.cpp completes the definition of the MainPage ref class. These files are not generated until you start a build. After you do that you can find them in the output folder (Debug or Release for instance). This is how they look:

The following image illustrates the grouping of these files:

MainPage.xaml is a XAML files, which can be edited both by the designer or manually by the developer (basically with the designer is still the developer that models the UI). The other files are C++/CX files. MainPage.xaml.h and MainPage.xaml.cpp are the files the developer writes, while MainPage.g.h and MainPage.g.cpp are edited by the designer. Do not modify the code in these files, because you could either mess up the designer, or all your changes would get lost when the file is regenerated.

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