Saturday, August 05, 2006

Visual Studio .Net: long-forgotten features

It's an absolute beauty how Microsoft can pleasantly surprise you when you find out that a feature you'd given up long ago has actually started working in a new version. We on the Microsoft platform are humble persons. And we learned to be like that the hard way.

For instance, who other than Microsoft can give you a mail client that doesn't allow you to send or receive any attachment you like? So gradually you give up on even trying to send EXE's, when one day you find out there's a configuration parameter that lets you turn this "feature" off. By then, it's too late, you've already set up your FTP server for sharing files, or whatever ;).

Of course, I'm exaggerating a bit, but it's much worse in Visual Studio world. For example, when you walk through the call stack, does the debugger in VS 2005 display the correct line of code instead of displaying the next one? I haven't noticed: stopped paying attention long ago. Don'trust that mangy debugger no more since the time it used to enter both the if and the else branch (it actually did, in VS 2002).

Hey, there are even new features in this version: press F1 in Visual Studio 2005 and you'll be doomed to biting your nails down to the bone while you watch MSDN explorer reindexing the gigabytes of its documentation for the umpteenth time. I'm stumped as to how they managed to screw up a simple document viewer, at least this should be easy to get right? Nevermind, I'm now using my Firefox for .Net class reference: Google is much better at finding stuff on the MSDN site than MSDN is. I don't know if the MSDN site also reindexes it's contents on every access (it probably does, but they have helluva fast machines there in Redmond, they're high-tech guys). Oh, while we're at it, the MSDN search is one of the dumbest search engines in the universe. I hear they're working on a new super intelligent version. If it will be super intelligent compared to the previous version, then don't bother guys. I'm used to living without it, anyway.

What else is new in Visual Studio 2005. Well... The tool windows sometimes refuse to auto-hide. But that's not new, we had that in VS 2002 beta, only it seemed to have been fixed. How about user-defined controls still not showing up in the toolbox? I don't use the toolbox anymore, just go to the InitializeComponent method and add two lines: new MyControl() and this.Controls.Add(myControl). I don't have time to "Customize toolbox" and wait while VS scans all dll's on my hard drive and do it again when I recompile. Does VS lock the DLL's when you Get Latest from SourceSafe? Glad to say I don't know. I'm using Subversion now. It even has a Visual Studio plug-in which is somewhat buggy (alergic to file renames) but I don't really need it because there's always TortoiseSVN which is great (I'm probably not being fair to Ankh plug-in here, to get something to work right with the Visual Studio add-in API, you need extraterrestrial or para-abnormal capabilities).

So, where's the light at the end of the tunnel? We had Visual Studio 2003 service pack 1 scheduled for june and coming out in august (hopefully), and we had Visual Studio 2005 SP1 scheduled for august (you already guess where this is heading), then scheduled for sometime in the late summer, then not scheduled at all. There's a page at MSDN that says "This service pack is currently targeted for final release in Q3 of 2006. A more detailed schedule of external interim milestones (e.g. customer beta period) will be posted when it has been finalized." Which means there will soon be a beta. Or maybe not. Who cares, by then we'll get used to working without Visual Studio ;).

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