October 08, 2005

Visual Studio 2005 Beta 2

For the past several months I've been evaluating the "Web Developer Express" flavor of Microsoft's Visual Studio 2005 Beta 2. So far, my experiences have been quite positive.

Although not unfamiliar with .NET, up until this point it just hasn't been much of a priority for me to consider this proprietary solution, especially given the outrageous price points on MS SQL Server, Windows Server 2003 and Visual Studio 2003. PHP does all I need for small to mid-sized projects, for the appealing price of free. To quote a famous muppet, "C is for cookie - is good enough for me." As you can imagine, I approached this new release with some hesitation, but was encouraged by the results.

First of all, Visual Studio 2005 loads up much faster compared to older versions. Additionally, old versions of Visual Studio required developers to have IIS installed on their local machines in order to be able to test their web applications. The 2005 version has thankfully done away with this requirement, so ASP.NET applications can now be tested directly from the IDE via an integrated test server. This time around they have also added an FTP utility to the Solution Explorer. Though unessential, it's a nice touch.

The 2.0 version of the Framework is filled with many more choices. To start with ASP.NET now has over fifty new controls! The Toolbox is packed with additional data model components, navigation tools, login controls, webparts and more. Some, such as the login controls, should really help speed up development of sites requiring authentication. Likewise, many of these new controls seem to be focused on saving time and making it easier for developers to achieve functionality that has required a good amount of coding in the past.

If you're anything like me, you probably feel most comfortable in the source view of your .aspx pages. Visual Studio 2005 now respects your style of coding. Changes in design view will not equate to massive reformatting in source view. Additionally, the HTML that is rendered by your work will now emit standards compliant XHTML. Finally!

The main item that disappointed me is the new ASP.NET Configuration Tool. It seems like a nice concept to be able to have one central area where you can manipulate application settings, security settings and provider models...but it just feels like a glorified web.config editor that was tacked on as an afterthought. I think this tool has potential, but it might take another release or two for it to fully mature.

However, when all is said and done, Visual Studio 2005 is shaping up to be a nice product. The "Express" family will be available for $49.00 and includes a stripped-down free version of MS SQL server. So much for using the cost barrier as an excuse to ignore .NET...

Feel free to dig in and evaluate it for yourself:

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