Because this is a book on Visual Basic development and not on Visual Studio usage, I won't be delving too much into Visual Studio's features or its user interface elements. It is a great application, and its tight integration with the .NET Framework makes it the best tool for developing applications with .NET. But as the real programmer would tell you, it is really just a glorified text editor. Visual Studio hides a lot of the complexity of .NET code, and its automatic generation of the code needed to build your application's user interface is a must-have. Most of its features exist to simplify the process of adding code to your application.
Although I will not be including a 20-page review of Visual Studio right here, you will find images of Visual Studio throughout the text, placed so as to advance your understanding of the topics under discussion in each chapter. When you start up Visual Studio for the first time, it displays the Start Page. (The screenshots in this book are taken from the Professional Edition of Visual Studio 2005.)
Figure 1-6. The Visual Studio "Start Page"
Visual Studio 2005 is the third major release of the product since .NET's initial introduction in 2002. Each release (in 2002, 2003, and 2005) corresponded to a related release of the .NET Framework (versions 1.0, 1.1, and 2.0, respectively) and of the .NET implementation of Visual Basic. The 2003 release was a relatively minor update to Visual Basic and the Framework, but the 2005 release is major. It is packed with new usability features, and comes in five delicious flavors.
Visual Studio 2005 Express Edition. This entry-level product is geared toward the home hobbyist and weekend programmer who wants to learn .NET and one of its core programming languages, but won't be snuggling up to it on a daily basis. Visual Studio 2005 Express Edition is actually multiple Express Edition language products bundled together, including Visual Basic 2005 Express Edition (although Visual Basic 2005 Express Edition is also provided separately). Microsoft's goal is to introduce as many people as possible to the joys of .NET programming, so it offers the Express Edition at no cost. The package includes a simplified Visual-Studio-like user interface, but it does impose a few restrictions on your program-crafting ability. You can still edit the source code directly and craft applications of any complexity, but the Express UI won't always assist you with this. For instance, you cannot develop web applications with the Express product unless you install the separate Visual Web Developer product. Also, Express doesn't include much support for deployment; applications designed with the Express Edition are generally expected to be used on your own workstation only.
Visual Studio 2005 Standard Edition. Visual Studio's Standard Edition is just like the Express Edition, with a few extras thrown in, such as documentation on how to use the BCL and FCL (amazing), and deployment support through the ClickOnce deployment feature. It also includes support for mobile devices, such as cell phones and PDAs.
Visual Studio 2005 Professional Edition. This is the minimum level required by programmers who will develop applications on a daily basis for money. It's the version that I use, and it includes all of the "power" features needed by a single programmer for both desktop and web-based development. The straightjacketed Express user interface is out, replaced by the full Visual Studio "mighty" Integrated Development Environment (IDE). But wait, there's more. You also get SQL Server 2005 Developer Edition. All instructions in this book that relate to using the development environment refer to the Professional Edition. But if you are following along using the Express or Standard Editions, you will be just fine because the interfaces are quite similar.
Visual Studio 2005 Tools for the Microsoft Office System. This "TOS" version is the Professional Edition, but all support for mobile devices is removed, replaced by special components that target the Microsoft Office suite.
Visual Studio 2005 Team System. The crème de la crème of the Visual Studio product line is Team System. It includes features needed by development teams that work on projects together, features such as project management tools and source code control. Visual Studio 2005 Team Foundation Server, a separate product, can be installed on a shared server, and enhances the features of the Team System package.
Microsoft is pushing its new version of SQL ServerSQL Server 2005this time around. An Express Edition is available for entry-level programmers; a Developer's Edition is included in the Visual Studio 2005 Professional Edition and beyond. A special "Everywhere" edition targets mobile platforms. Of course, there's the complete SQL Server product available for full-scale deployments. Microsoft continues to support Microsoft Access, but it is encouraging the use of SQL Server for even small projects due to its tighter integration with .NET (starting with the 2005 release).
Beyond the database support, Visual Studio 2005 has been endowed with several new usability and feature enhancements.
Edit and Continue. This blast from the past was in Visual Basic since version 1.0, but it has been conspicuously absent since the first .NET release in 2002. Edit and Continue allows you to modify Visual Basic source code while actively running and debugging the application within Visual Studio, and continue running the modified application without a restart. The programmers at "M" have surely given their blood, sweat, and tears to this feature, so use it well.
Enhanced compile-time warnings and errors. Visual Studio always flagged invalid statements in your code, but it now flags warnings on code that will compile, and may give unexpected results when executed. Figure 1-7 shows a warning for a declared variable that has yet to be used in code.
Figure 1-7. Fair warning
When actual syntax errors appear in code, Visual Studio now makes recommendations on how to fix them (in many cases), and will fix them for you at the click of a mouse button. In Figure 1-8, clicking on the "Insert the missing 'Next'" line in the Error Correction window will add in the missing "Next" keyword. If that small red circle and the black arrow to its right look familiar, that's because they're from the Smart Tags feature found in Microsoft Office products.
Figure 1-8. Easy error correction
ClickOnce Deployments. This new method of distributing .NET applications imposes fewer requirements on the installing user. For instance, a ClickOnce deployment does not require administrator-level security to install and use the application. Of course, some features may be disabled if the user lacks sufficient privileges.
Code Snippets, Project and Item Templates, and Starter Kits. These features make it easier to integrate pre-written code into your new projects. The Code Snippets feature lets you save a hierarchy of short code blocks for quick insertion into your source code. They include fill-in-the-blank areas if you need them. If you install the source code supplied with this book, you will have a chance to try out Project Templates and Code Snippets, as the samples use those technologies.
Generics. Both the .NET Framework and Visual Basic include support for generics, a new feature discussed in Chapter 16, "Generics." Generics allow you to enforce the use of specific data types on classes that would otherwise impose no such restrictions.
Operator Overloading. Visual Basic adds new support for overloaded operators. This feature lets you assign special meanings to standard language operators, such as the addition operator (+). Instead of adding just numbers together, you develop code to add your own complex classes together; you define what "adding" means for your class.
My. That's right: just "My." My is a new Visual Basic feature that provides simple and centralized access to FCL features that would normally be spread throughout that class library. You can read more about it in the very next chapter.
Despite all of these great new features, Microsoft still refuses to implement the most requested Visual Studio feature, "Procedure AutoCompletion," in which Visual Studio would create the entire content of a source code procedure based on your entry of its name and the use of the Control+Space key combination. Instead, they fritter away their time on other so-called productivity features. With Procedure AutoCompletion, you could write entire applications in minutes. Until that feature becomes available, you and I will have to continue writing software, crafting the quality code that users have come to expect from our fingers.