Two new upgrades to Visual Studio 2010 were announced at TechEd - one is free, the other isn't. What are they and are they worth it?
You can start using some of the features targeted for the next version Visual Studio right now in 2010. Microsoft released two new additions to VS at last week's TechEd. Normally up-dates to VS would be included in a Service Pack but now we also have "Power Tools" and "Feature Packs".
A Power Tool is a set of features that work with the core product and intended to try out new ideas. If an idea works and is worth having then it makes it into a future version of the full product. Power Tools, which are free to download, are not fully supported but as their purpose is to find out what's good, the development team is clearly going to be interested in your problems - well at least at first.
A Feature Pack is slightly more up market. This again adds on to the core product with no modifications but it implements ideas that are already intended to be incorporated into a future version. In other words Feature Packs are a view into the future of Visual Studio whereas Power Tools are speculative.
In theory this means that Feature Packs are fully supported by Microsoft and of higher quality - but they are only available to MSDN subscribers.
The Visual Studio 2010 Pro Power Tools are mainly enhancements to the new WPF-based editor. They download and install quickly and easily and automatically add themselves to the installed product.
The new features concentrate on editing, navigation and other common tasks. For example, the editor now recognises and highlights whole lines of code, a simple triple click and the line is selected, and you can move a block of code up and down the listing by pressing Alt+up/down arrow. The editor automatically detects when a file is using mixed tabs and spaces for indents and gives you an opportunity to fix it. If you need to see the definition of a symbol simply hold down the Ctrl key and hover - it turns into a hyperlink that you can click to navigate to the definition.
Colorized parameters mean that you can read a complex method call, and they do seem to be getting more complex, more easily. If you have ever wondered if blocks were lined up correctly, is it just my eyes or my monitor, then you can now add vertical guidelines to help flow the structure of your code.
Highlighted current line and a vertical guideline
If you hit Ctrl+Alt+] then a block of instructions will automatically line up on the assignment symbol. This is really useful and can save time and make your code easier to read.
After aligning on the assignment
The clipboard has also been augmented to add HTML formatting to code that you copy and paste - no more excuses for black and white code. A new feature also lets you colour code the tabs at the top of each window and you can customise the way they behave - even to the extent of displaying them vertically.
Finally the Add Reference dialog now supports caching - so no more long waits for long lists of possible references to appear and it has a search.
The Visualization and Modeling Feature Pack is all about better visualization - and notice you have to be an MSDN subscriber to download it and it only works with VS Ultimate. The big news is that it now supports code generation from UML diagrams and, of course, UML diagram generation from code. Also new is the ability to import XMI 2.0 UML documents to get a project started. On a more general level it adds dependency graph generation both for web sites and for C/C++ projects. If you are using UML this is an upgrade well worth having but probably not worth the cost of an MSDN subscription on its own.