Microsoft’s Visual Studio ecosystem numbers 180 partners and counting. On the heels of the Microsoft BUILD conference in September, here’s what you should know about the current tool set, from the forthcoming Visual Studio 11 (now in developer preview) to LightSwitch, Team Foundation Server and Project Server. Plus, there was a look at how third-party plug-ins play nice with Redmond. In the aftermath of BUILD, there’s been a blizzard of words around Redmond’s evolutionary changes to its operating system, development environment and life-cycle tools.

On the negative side: criticism of the Metro-style design, confusion around the positioning of LightSwitch and the status of Silverlight, angst towards the changes to the Windows 8 start menu, and mea culpas over key aspects of C++11 that won’t soon be implemented in Visual Studio.

On the positive: a renewed interest in native code, excitement over its touch-screen-centric style, enthusiasm for massive parallelization with C++ Accelerated Massive Parallelism (C++ AMP), and the touching embrace of Project Server and Team Foundation Server to comprise a full ALM offering, to name just a few.

With a customer base as massive as Microsoft’s, positive and negative chatter is inevitable. Beyond just opinions, there are statistics: The company’s heavily instrumented preview versions of Windows 8, Visual Studio 11, Team Foundation Server and more offer a closely guarded “census,” according to Microsoft’s Steven Sinofsky, into actual usage patterns via the opt-in Customer Experience Improvement Program. Sinofsky is just one member of an army of bloggers engaging the often-outraged developers who use Microsoft’s tools, taking feedback, debating decisions, and explaining the scientific rationale behind any given change.

In the shadow of Apple founder Steve Jobs’ death, legions of Microsoft developers find themselves wondering if Redmond’s choices will be as world-changing in the next decade as Apple’s were in the last. In addition, a massive ecosystem of ISVs is analyzing the developer preview to pinpoint plug-in offerings of their own. The symbiosis is in full flower; this is your field guide.
Visual Studio 2011 developer preview
At the heart of Microsoft’s developer tools strategy is its market-leading integrated development environment, Visual Studio.

“This is a big release,” said Tony Goodhew, product manager for Visual Studio 2011. “It’s the equivalent-size release as Visual Studio 2008 and 2010. There’s a similar feature surface area improvement.”

So what’s the best way to think about the panoply of refinements and introductions? “The Microsoft brand promise is productivity, integration and platform support,” said Goodhew. “As a tool with 15 years of history, Visual Studio has really focused on this promise. Listening to what developers want, we focused on making the developer experience better and more productive. We also focused on the ability to create compelling user experiences, especially in small and mobile devices.”

Finally, there’s the “team experience: Let’s make the experience of collaborating together to deliver quality software better.”

About Alexandra Weber Morales

Alexandra Weber Morales is a freelance writer (and singer and songwriter).