Visual Studio has been the gold standard for the integrated development environment (IDE) used to develop software for many years. Other development environments such as Eclipse have made great gains over the years as well, but Microsoft has been relentless since 2008 in producing major releases every two years that keep improving developer productivity.

In the final analysis, developer productivity is the bottom line as it has the biggest effect on the bottom line of the companies that employ and hire the developers who use it.

To that end, there are many enhancements that will make users of this latest version of Visual Studio even more productive. But the first obstacle to realizing this promise of increased productivity is making sense of the various editions being offered to ensure you have the right one. It seems as if Microsoft reinvents the editions with every new version, but this time around the changes are minor when it comes to the edition choices for Visual Studio 2012 versus the Visual Studio 2010 editions. This time around, the first change you might notice is that there is a professional edition that does not include MSDN, which takes the place of Visual Studio 2010 Pro with MSDN Essentials edition. There have also been expansions such as the Lab Management features in Visual Studio Premium 2012, while with 2010, these capabilities were only available with Visual Studio Ultimate and Test Professional.

Microsoft has resisted converting the Visual Studio 2012 user interface into one that is ribbon-based, but it has not left it unchanged. The first thing I noticed when I opened the new Visual Studio for the first time is that all of the menus are in all-capital letters. This is certainly a minor thing, but it feels like those menus are screaming at me, thanks in large part to my spending too much time online I suppose. I assume the average developer will have the same impression, as I have heard others make the same observation.

Overall, having the menu in all caps does differentiate it from the toolbar text, which is helpful. The default colors are very dark as well, but once the code windows are up, that does not make much difference. These changes are window dressing, of course, Visual Studio 2012compared to new features that make it much more productive to develop on multiple-monitor systems. A major new feature is the ability to now not only detach code windows, but to also float entire sets of tabs and move them to another screen. This is made possible with the Tab Group capability that supports on-the-fly creation of groupings of files that can then be floated.

Windows 8-style applications
Over the last year, quite a bit has been written about Windows 8-style application development, formerly known as Metro. Now we get to see if the product will live up to the promise and, more importantly, if the demand lives up to the potential. I see Windows 8-style applications as the logical evolution for the XAML languages from WPF and Silverlight. This is disruptive, but clients are looking for a unified, touch-capable experience, and old-style Windows applications would have needed to be reinvented without stranding every Windows developer and without losing the power of the desktop altogether.

Most enterprise customers I have visited are just getting Windows 7 deployed in large numbers, and would not be driving fast to Windows 8 even if it were tailored to their needs in every way. That meant that Microsoft could take the opportunity to allow the disruption at a time when it hurt enterprises the least, namely when they are playing catch-up with the client, and most enterprise customers are quite happy with Windows 7 and not in a rush to move beyond it. This appears to be an ideal time to grab for the mobile space, which is the biggest jewel missing from the Microsoft crown.

With the new announcement for Windows Phone 8, the pieces are coming together for a bold plan for Microsoft to come from behind and compete with Android and Apple for mobile consumer hearts and minds very aggressively. As a developer, I am excited about the prospect of using the new tools in Visual Studio 2012 to build my apps. I can then post them to the Microsoft App Store where every single Windows 8 computer and tablet, as well as all future Windows Phone 8 handsets, can buy it.