By: Noel Llopis
Visual Studio is, without a doubt, the most-used programming tool in the games industry. Used for development of Xbox and Windows games, creation of Windows tools in C#, web development, and sometimes even just as a powerful editor, Visual Studio is the go-to tool for most programmers.
But Visual Studio has had a rocky history with game developers. From the solid Visual C++ 6.0, to the best-forgotten Visual Studio .Net (2002), it has had its highs and lows. The recent Visual Studio 2005 was the best of the series and it was an absolute pleasure to work with. The bar was set very high for a follow-up.
Is Visual Studio 2008 a worthy successor? Definitely. Microsoft wisely followed the formula of not fixing what ain't broken, and made 2008 an incremental improvement over 2005, along with a few, big new features.
On the C++ side of things, the improvements are very subtle. It looks so much the same that you might forget you're using a new version. You need to look under the hood to find some of the new features: better multiprocessor build support, managed incremental builds, and improved multithreading debugging support among others. My only wish is that Visual Studio 2008 supported the C99 standard, but alas, that's not to be.
Programmers are in for a real treat with the new features on the C# side. Visual Studio 2008 introduces C# 3.0 with all the goodies: Automatic properties, initializers, anonymous types, and lambda expressions.
It also comes with support for Language-Integrated Query (LINQ), the new API to perform SQL-like queries and operations on different sets of data. And if all that is not enough, 2008 also includes a visual design tool for Windows Presentation Foundation GUI tools, which should make most tools programmers feel like Santa just came to town.
Microsoft deserves props for continuing in the tradition of previous versions, and offering a set of Express editions that can be downloaded for free. These editions have slightly limited functionality, but they're a great way to allow students and the online community to create games with the Visual Studio.
For professional developers in large teams, a big issue with any new version is how painful the upgrade is going to be, and how much down time it is going to cause. Again, only good news in that front: The upgrade was seamless, and I was up and running in no time.
Both 2008 and 2005 can live side by side, and you have the option to import your settings from earlier versions. It even brought over Add-Ins from 2005 and they worked flawlessly under 2008.
Visual Studio 2008 manages to maintain the quality and robustness of 2005, while introducing some significant features for tools programmers. It should be in every programmer's workstation and is a most deserving winner of the 2008 Front Line Awards.