The technology
A key aspect of Visual Studio 2005 is the underlying technology, which includes .NET Framework 2.0 as well as ASP.NET 2.0. The major push in ASP.NET 2.0 is to increase developer productivity and enhance application performance. Updates to the .NET Framework include performance enhancements, many new language features, and stronger Web services support. Both new versions of the standard framework and ASP.NET are necessary to work with Visual Studio 2005. (The product can install them for you.)

New features
There has been a lot written about the new features in Visual Studio 2005. Let's take a quick look at some of the more sexy features added, which include:

  • Tighter integration with other products (i.e., Microsoft Office System and SQL Server 2005) allows developers to utilise their skills across a range of products. In addition, it allows development to be centralised within the Visual Studio 2005 IDE, thus switching to other tools (like SQL Server Query Analyzer) is not necessary.
  • Support for refactoring has been included for the C# language. This allows constant refactoring as code is developed rapidly and iteratively.
  • Edit and Continue allows developers to edit code in place and continue with execution. This is one feature from the Visual Basic environment that has been sorely missed by VB.NET developers.
  • ClickOnce installation provides a much smoother install process. It allows applications to be installed an updated as opposed to redeploying the entire application.
  • Smart Tasks allow easy access to information and common tasks within the IDE.
  • Line Revision marks allow you to see the changes you've made during a coding session.
  • Coloured lines appear down the left side of the code pane to denote changes and additions.
  • The IDE now allows its settings to be exported and imported. This is a welcome addition because it is troublesome to move to a new computer after getting Visual Studio .NET configured as you like it.
  • With a new installation, you can easily import your previous settings and you are good to go.
  • Microsoft IntelliSense code snippets enable developers to easily create and distribute their own customised code libraries. It allows you to develop generic or template code that may easily be reused.
  • The new product is HTML friendly, which means you can format HTML for ASP.NET Web forms. All HTML formatting will be preserved. This includes carriage returns, tabs, spaces, and so forth. In addition, HTML formatting options are available within the IDE. A tag navigator lets you easily navigate HTML elements. Also, you can easily choose the target browser or HTML version for testing and validation.
  • There's drag and drop support for working with data sources.
  • Expanded standards support for XHTML, accessibility compliance, HTML, and so forth.
  • Master pages allow you to create a common look and feel for the pages in an ASP.NET Web application.

This is not an exhaustive list, but it does provide a sampling of what to expect with the new version. Microsoft is making the move to simplify application design and more easily work with other products in their stable. Also, the Web development community will welcome the strong adherence to standards. Now, let's focus on the seemingly unending list of product versions for the latest version of Visual Studio.

Different versions for different users
One confusing aspect of Visual Studio 2005 is the different versions. Microsoft has broken Visual Studio into various versions to make pricing more accessible for small businesses. In addition, a simplified MSDN subscription has been promised. Here is a basic list of the different versions/products that will be available:

Visual Studio Standard Edition: This is a streamlined version that includes the basic features for developing applications. This includes ClickOnce deployment, SQL Reporting services, local debugging, and no additional tools. It supports Visual Basic, C#, C++, and J#.

Visual Studio Professional Edition: This is the standard edition plus remote debugging, other deployment options, Crystal Reports, and SQL Server 2005 Developer Edition.

Visual Studio Tools for Office: This is the professional edition plus support for Excel 2003, Word 2003, and InfoPath 2003. It includes Access support as well but only supports C# and Visual Basic.

Visual Studio Team System: This is a tightly integrated and extensible set of lifecycle tools, and it contains features of the Professional Edition along with Excel 2003, Word 2003, and InfoPath 2003 support. The system includes numerous products focused on architects, developers, testers, and more.

Express: The Express versions provide lightweight and simple to use and learn development tools focused on one language or product. The Express versions include: Visual Web Developer (for building Web apps with ASP.NET 2.0), Visual Basic Express, Visual C# Express, Visual C++ Express, Visual J# Express, and SQL Server Express (which is a version of SQL Server 2005 designed to help developers build applications with SQL Server 2005; it provides a powerful database at no cost).