Great news for developers of Visual Studio extensions

Unless you have been out of the (programming) world the last couple of days, you already now that Microsoft has made the biggest announcements in years regarding the .NET Framework and Visual Studio. Concerning developers of Visual Studio extensions, four of the announcements will have a big impact:

These changes respond to the strategy of Microsoft for the next years (mobile-first, cloud-first), which pivots around three pillars:

  • Windows: on desktop (specially enterprise desktops, less likely to move to non-desktop or to non-Windows desktops such as Linux or Mac OS X), on tablets (Surface or otherwise) and on smartphones.
  • Office 365: on every possible device, Windows-based or not (web-based, iOS, Android, Mac OS X, etc.).
  • Windows Azure: cloud computing for client apps that run everywhere.

And for that strategy to succeed, Microsoft needs, you know, developers, developers, developers, like Windows on desktop many years ago.

So, let’s examine how each of the announcements above will impact you as a developer of Visual Studio extensions today and in the distant future:

  • The new Visual Studio 2013 named “Community Edition” with full extensibility is already available. Microsoft could have waited until Visual Studio 2015 next year to provide it, but it has preferred to provide it now. The Community Edition is basically the Professional Edition and as such it supports any kind of extension: packages, MEF, templates, and still add-ins without any need to update extensions. It replaces the former Express editions, which lacked extensibility at least for non-Microsoft extensions, despite being very requested. This yields to a bit bizarre VS 2013 offering that previously included paid “Professional”, “Premium”, “Test Professional” and “Ultimate” editions, free “Express” editions for Web, Windows (Phone and Store apps) and Windows Desktop and now the “Community” edition. I guess this offering will be cleared with Visual Studio 2015, hopefully with just two editions “Community” and “Enterprise”, given that the new VS 2013 Community Edition is free for up to 5 users for commercial/non-commercial development but it is not valid for enterprise use. So, regarding this announcement, you just need to test that your extension works with the VS 2013 Community Edition (as expected).
  • The new “Preview”, rather than “CTP” (Community Technology Preview”), of Visual Studio “14” has now the official and expected name “Visual Studio 2015” (likely you will need to refer to this name in your documentation, web site and maybe setup and even in the extension itself). If you are a developer of packages, templates or MEF extensions this new version will not have as much impact (except some details such as high-resolution icons) as if you are still a developer of add-ins, which in Visual Studio 2013 were deprecated but present, and in Visual Studio 2015 they are gone (no “Tools” > “Add-In Manager” menu). So, you have to migrate your add-in to a package, which can be quite a daunting task depending on the size and complexity of your add-in (only alleviated by the fact that you can still use the automation model (EnvDTE) from a package.
  • The .NET Framework being now open source will benefit any .NET developer, not just developers of Visual Studio extensions. The most important thing here is the hope that some day Visual Studio may be open source too. To have access to the source code (and even with debugging) of the host where an extension is loaded is a huge time-saver when problems arise (and they do).
  • The .NET Framework being now cross-platform could have a huge impact for Visual Studio in the future, because there will be an increasing demand for Visual Studio to be cross-platform too (Linux, Mac OS X). There is already an increasing demand for Visual Studio to be a portable app (runnable from a thumb-drive without installation). Both things are impossible in the current incarnation of Visual Studio, which is COM-based, requires admin rights to install (although not to run) and it’s basically a monster of technologies (COM/.Net, Windows Forms/WPF, etc.), and languages (C++, C#) with a mess of awful APIs for extensibility and so on. All this has an impact on performance, starting with the installation of the product (which currently takes longer than installing the Windows OS). My guess is that at some point Microsoft is going to need to start from scratch with a new IDE which is “performant”, modular, portable, cross-platform, designed to be beautifully extensible, etc.  Such endeavor may take years, but that’s not a deterrent for Microsoft: creating the .NET platform took years, as well as creating the new .NET-based compilers for C# and VB.NET, and Office is today multi-platform (Windows, Mac OS X, iOS) although not with the same binaries. Of course, it won’t be backwards compatible and extensions will need to be rewritten, so maybe this new IDE will have a different name and could coexist with Visual Studio for some time. Here you have an strategy that you can start adopting to mitigate this scenario.