back to article Visual Studio Code: The top five features

Visual Studio Code is a new, lightweight, and open-source code editor that can be installed on Windows, Linux or Mac OS X. The first of this short series of articles, published in association with Microsoft, SSergii Baidachnyi, a Tech Evangelist at Microsoft Canada, will take us through the following features of Visual Studio …

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  1. Zippy's Sausage Factory

    It's not new!

    A new version, maybe, I'll grant you. But it's been out - in beta, like this version - for months.

    Even I've used it and I'm never first with anything...

    1. atrevers

      Re: It's not new!

      It's only been in Beta since November 17th - versions prior to that were labelled as "Preview" and therefore not ready for production usage.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: It's not new!

        "versions prior to that were labelled as "Preview" and therefore not ready for production usage."

        So, err, in Microsoft land, "beta" code is considered ready for production usage? That explains a lot...

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Windows

    Underimpressed...

    I've been using VS2012 for quite some time now, never bothered to upgrade (not even to the Express versions) simply because I could get my work done withing VS2012 easily. However, that doesn't mean that I'm not interested to keep up with current developments and well...

    Trying this out made one thing very obvious to me: the only reason they slapped the name Visual Studio onto this is because of the brand and nothing more. This has absolutely nothing in common with working in VS and I think readers really should be careful and not let themselves be fooled by this.

    The editor is lightweight and responds pretty good. But there's a catch: because of the lightweight approach it also has a massive learning curve. The icons in the toolbar aren't very easily picked up and worse yet: if you start working with this thing you'll quickly notice that it's basically a mere editor which tries to disguise itself as some kind of "lightweight IDE", yet it lacks all the features you'd expect to find in one. This critter didn't even close my quotes nor brackets, not even after I saved the file I was working on so that it could clearly determine what kind of codefile I was working with.

    So yah, definitely not worth my time. Also because I suspect what's going on here: I bet that if you want some extra enhanced functionality then you'll simply have to get extra plugins, some will be free but most will most likely end up payware.

    Seriously? If you want a free "Visual Studio experience" then you're better of picking up the Express versions. And if you don't want anything to do with Microsoft then there are still other worthy alternatives, also free of charge. For example Xamarin Studio comes to mind...

    For everything else you're most likely better off using the editor which you currently use. I'm pretty sure it provides just as much features, if not more, than this critter.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Underimpressed...

      Yep, it has absolutely nothing to do with Visual Studio.

      It's just Microsoft's attempting to remain relevant to the large number of developers moving away from Windows (OS is irrelevant to web devs).

    2. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

      Re: Underimpressed...

      I haven't tried it yet but would also imagine it's not the "Visual Studio" we love or hate, and sometimes both. Its main advantage seems to be in providing the same front-end experience regardless of platform used. To me it looks like every other dime-a-dozen web-based IDE but hosted locally.

      1. jaywin

        Re: Underimpressed...

        > To me it looks like every other dime-a-dozen web-based IDE but hosted locally.

        Under the skin it's Chromium.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Underimpressed...

        "Its main advantage seems to be in providing the same front-end experience regardless of platform used."

        Is that a unique feature or do others offer that? If others offer that, what makes this one different and preferable? Questions like those are questions the article author might want to address next time he does something like this for an audience like this.

    3. Tim 37

      Re: Underimpressed...

      > This critter didn't even close my quotes nor brackets

      You can enable that in the settings

      > If you want a free "Visual Studio experience" then you're better of picking up the Express versions.

      or the Community edition which is like Professional but... free for smaller companies and other non-commercial work.

      > there are still other worthy alternatives, also free of charge. For example Xamarin Studio

      Err, which version of Xamarin Studio is free?

      1. Anonymous Bullard

        Re: Underimpressed...

        Err, which version of Xamarin Studio is free?

        MonoDevelop

    4. david 12 Silver badge

      Re: Underimpressed...

      "the only reason they slapped the name Visual Studio onto this is because of the brand and nothing more. This has absolutely nothing in common with working in VS and I think readers really should be careful and not let themselves be fooled by this."

      VS itself was nothing more than a stupid re-branding excercise to capitalize on the soccess of VB. Which, in addition to having an actual visual/GUI design interface, had a coding environment unmatched by the stupid VS pretender until many years later.

  3. boltar Silver badge

    On linux? Meh, I'll stick with vim

    All an editor has to do is edit with a bit of highlighting. I don't need an "enviroment" , I've already got one - its called the unix shell. bash+vim+make+gcc+gdb+strace. They each do one job well. Sorted.

    1. Mage Silver badge

      Re: On linux? Meh, I'll stick with vim

      Maybe ... Though I find Notepad++ on WINE on Linux good (I've read the explanation as to why open source NPP has no native Linux version despite being based on a Linux editor). I can't find any native linux editor* as flexible and useful for any arbitrary scripting, compiled language or even writing novels. Easy to add back end compilers, SVN/GIT, plugins, new languages (even roll your own), customisation, speed, powerful regex search/replace on doc, open files, matching files, subdirectories etc..

      It seems a misleading name and less "visual" than 2000 era so called "Visual C".

      (*Yes, I've used Vi, Vim, Nano, Kate, real visual studios, Eclipse, Netbeans, Sharp Develop, Unix since 1986, Microsoft since 1981, UCSD-p system, Pascal, Modula-2, Occam, C#, C, C++, VB6, Java, Lisp, Prolog, CP/M, Assembler, DOS, OS/2, VMS, Cromix, Linux, Written Android apps, Javascript, ColdFusion, SQL etc etc)

      1. phil dude
        Linux

        Re: On linux? Meh, I'll stick with vim

        (X)Emacs is useful for edit/compile/debug loops since it has multiple paned windows that will skip you through the errors.

        And of course, using it on a *modern* very fast machine on a massive monitor, really helps!!

        I have used Kdevelop, Netbeans and Eclipse....not particularly bound to one or another.

        I guess there's still some development left...

        P.

      2. captain veg

        Re: On linux? Meh, I'll stick with vim

        If you're doing web stuff, Brackets is worth checking out. Yes, it's Adobe, but open source and cross-platform.

        -A.

      3. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

        Re: On linux? Meh, I'll stick with vim

        try sublime text 3

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: On linux? Meh, I'll stick with vim

          Sublime Text 3 has been in beta for nearly 3 years now. Github's Atom ate its lunch. It needs a little more patience configuring plugins, but does everything and then some that ST3 does. I gave up both for vim recently, though. Didn't give up any features, it's much faster, and it's nice to be able to tmux into a remote session from an iPad in a coffee shop.

    2. Stevie Silver badge

      Re: On linux? Meh, I'll stick with vim

      I have a small reputation here for being able to read and maintain the Perl code of a former employee who wrote Obfuscated Code as a job protection scheme (it didn't work). Some suspect a Secret Weapon, but I tell anyone who wants to know How The Trick Is Done.

      The reason I can sort his stuff out quickly and the other Unix SAs can't? They insist on using vi and emacs to get at it and I use Scite, a styling editor that color codes great swaths of code based on the language you tell it you are looking at.

      So while others struggle for hours with odd punctuation and weird "reserved words" I can immediately see it all for what it is - malicious bullshirt - and get down to reformatting the regular expression hiding in the chaff.

      Editors are tools. Evangelizing tools based on their philosophical purity is a game for those with infinite amounts of free time. I just want the pile of nasty off my desk quickly and quietly.

      1. Cookiesworld

        Re: On linux? Meh, I'll stick with vim

        Odd because vi/vim supports syntax highlighting :syntax on to turn it on.

        1. Stevie Silver badge

          Re: Odd because

          Maybe if it was installed, but then, it isn't vi or emacs so the others wouldn't use it anyway.

          Please continue evangelizing.

        2. druck Silver badge

          Re: On linux? Meh, I'll stick with vim

          To make sure vim's syntax highlighting is on by default, put

          syntax on
          in in your .vimrc and you'll probably want
          set bg=dark
          too, and maybe set the tab stops to less that 8
          set ts=4
          if you haven't expunged them from your sources.

      2. boltar Silver badge

        Re: On linux? Meh, I'll stick with vim

        "They insist on using vi and emacs to get at it and I use Scite, a styling editor that color codes great swaths of code based on the language you tell it you are looking at."

        Vim has been able to do that for years.

        "Editors are tools"

        Indeed. And when I want a hammer , I'll use a hammer. Not a swiss army knife with a hammer attachment thats more awkward to use than a real hammer.

        1. stephanh
          Linux

          Re: On linux? Meh, I'll stick with vim

          Vim has had syntax highlighting for decades.

          I just counted them, the standard distribution comes with support for 585 languages. Including such pearls as Cobol, 68000 assembly, ABAP, Verilog, and OpenSSH server[1] configuration files.

          [1] For the OpenSSH client configuration files there is a separate syntax colouring. Of course.

      3. David 132 Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: On linux? Meh, I'll stick with vim

        Upvote for mentioning SciTE. I use it occasionally (when hacking automation scripts together in AutoIT - with which SciTE is bundled) and I'm impressed at the rich feature set and support for so many languages.

      4. CFWhitman

        Re: On linux? Meh, I'll stick with vim

        "The reason I can sort his stuff out quickly and the other Unix SAs can't? They insist on using vi and emacs to get at it and I use Scite, a styling editor that color codes great swaths of code based on the language you tell it you are looking at."

        I like SciTE very well, but its syntax highlighting feature is hardly unique even among command line editors. Others have mentioned that most vi variations (such as vim and elvis) support this. It is also supported in Emacs, joe/jupp, etc. It is not always turned on by default in some of these editors, but you can change that. You can even get nano to do syntax highlighting, though it's implemented rather oddly.

  4. Mage Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    Azure, Office

    No interest in those.

    Can it be used to develop for Android, Linux, Embedded Microprocessors?

    Is it more than code editor and project file manager? What is advantage over Eclipse, Netbeans, Sharp Develop, Notepad++ etc?

    How is it different to the VS for VB6, or the newer Visual Studios for VB.net and C# ?

    When is it likely to leave Beta?

    I didn't get much out this review.

    Icon as I'm obviously clueless as to why I'd download and install this on Linux

    1. wolfetone

      Re: Azure, Office

      "Icon as I'm obviously clueless as to why I'd download and install this on Linux"

      Know your enemy.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Linux

        Re: Azure, Office

        The aim of VS Code is not for to make development easier for anyone - that's not Microsoft's core market any more - but to finally help Linux and OS X users provide Microsoft the 'telemetry' that Windows users seem so keen to give away.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Azure, Office

      "Can it be used to develop for [stuff]

      [...]

      When is it likely to leave Beta?"

      Excellent questions, unaddressed by the advertorial.

      It was advertorial, wasn't it? I realise the advertorial concept has a new name ("native content" or something like that) but it's still advertorial isn't it, and it is best if clearly identified as such.

      One has to wonder what the brief was, as the author has been a Developer Evangelist for YouKnowWho for some time, and presumably between him and El Reg they should know how to produce content that mostly works for its audience (and its advertisers).

      "Icon as I'm obviously clueless as to why I'd download and install this"

      You're far from alone. And, I suspect based on the questions, far from clueless.

  5. wolfetone

    Hate to say it

    Especially for something made by Microsoft, but it's actually quite a nice editor. And I've enjoyed using it on Linux and the Mac especially, but just doesn't have enough to bring me away from the mighty Atom.

  6. Someone Else Silver badge
    FAIL

    Wow! 3 (count'em...THREE) files at a time!

    You can open up to three Editor windows at the same time - just use the Sidebar to select any file and select Open to the Side context menu item to open the file in a new Editor window [...]

    Wow! How 1973 of them. Currently, using VS2010, I can open a virtually unlimited number of files for editing at a time (and often do), each of which appear in these little things called tabs (remember tabs, Microsoft?). And looky! I can switch between these tabs all I want, editing all these files at my whim. (The operative phrase here is "my whim".

    So Microsoft has dumbed down Visual Stupido so it can be used on a smartphone, effectively TIFKAM-ing it.

    Brilliant!

    Not!

    1. Robin

      Re: Wow! 3 (count'em...THREE) files at a time!

      > So Microsoft has dumbed down Visual Stupido

      No, it's a separate product and just has the Visual Studio branding. If you want the new Visual Studio, it's called Visual Studio 2015. I'm not recommending it, I don't develop on that platform any more.

      It's actually not a bad lightweight editor, although I ended up using Atom.

    2. jaywin

      Re: Wow! 3 (count'em...THREE) files at a time!

      Yay! More Microsoft bashing by comentards that can't be bothered to find out what they're talking about...

      You can open more than three files at once - they all appear in a list in the sidebar - almost like tabs! However, you can easily have three files visible at once, split vertically. And you can select which file appears in each at your whim.

      Yes, this is possible in VS proper, but when I try it I normally end up in a fight with its window manager trying to snap to anywhere and anything other than the bit I want.

      Brilliant

      1. stephanh

        Re: Wow! 3 (count'em...THREE) files at a time!

        It's still limited to three windows *visible* at the same time, which is completely ridiculous in a time where 27" monitors are becoming standard for software development work.

        I checked the configuration file and this seems not to be configurable. As an aside, I noticed that the settings.json configuration file is in fact not valid JSON (comments are NOT allowed in JSON!).

  7. Paul Woodhouse

    whats wrong with the humble Gedit on 'nix and Notepad++ on M$?...

  8. Tom 7 Silver badge

    If it doesnt do scratch it'll never catch on

    wot no pussies?

  9. Tom Chiverton 1

    So it's like a less capable version of Sublime.

    1. Thecowking

      That's how I feel about most new editors.

      Half my office is vim, the other half sublime. Vim's fine when I'm sshed into a machine but most of the time I'd much rather have sublime with its rather less demanding addon installation with package control and its nice visuals.

      I gave this "Code" a go, but it failed to auto-indent Python, which means it's not much cop for me as all I do these days is Python.

      It might be better if I was writing C#, but the gods have been kind and I've not had to do that yet.

  10. LionelB

    A pleasant (very) lightweight IDE

    Geany: http://www.geany.org/

    Just that.

    1. jaywin

      Re: A pleasant (very) lightweight IDE

      That link should come with a warning for people's eyesight.

      Do people really still develop such ugly software? I thought that sort of UI look & feel died out in the 90's?

      1. LionelB

        Re: A pleasant (very) lightweight IDE

        "Do people really still develop such ugly software? I thought that sort of UI look & feel died out in the 90's?"

        As someone has already pointed out, the screenshots on the website are old and, being a GTK+ application, it simply picks up your GTK+ theme.

        Anyway, I'll take functional over shiny any day, and Geany is the former: very uncluttered, intuitive (and customisable) interface. Also very fast and springs no surprises - that's pretty much what I ask for in software.

    2. thames

      Re: A pleasant (very) lightweight IDE

      I've been using Geany for a while now, and I quite like it. The screen shots on that web are quite old though, and the actual appearance depends on the theme applied (the current one in Ubuntu 14.04 looks quite different).

      Geany and no doubt many others sit somewhere in between a traditional editor and an IDE. You could probably say the same thing about EMACS though once you add the sort of extensions which many people favour. They offer a certain degree of work flow automation without the massive size and slowness of IDEs that try (and always seem to fail) to do everything. I only use a fraction of the features in Geany as it is.

      I know that some people like automatic code completion (Microsoft's brand name for it being Intellsence), and Geany has this. However, I turn it off because I find this sort of thing to be extremely annoying. I'm a pretty good typist, and I can normally type something out in full far faster than my brain can take in and select the options being presented by the code completion system. As such, code completion just slows me down. On the other hand, I find syntax aware auto-indenting to be quite handy, and Geany does that to my satisfaction.

      I can say that Geany has syntax support for a much wider selection of languages than Visual Studio Code does at this time. There are dozens of them, covering everything from Ada to VHDL. It also supports data formats such as HTML, XML, Restructured Text, LaTeX, Yamal, etc., etc.

      This is a field which is already really well covered on Linux, and I suspect Apple Mac as well. I'm not all that sure just what niche Microsoft is trying to fill here, unless it is to try to keep their brand name in front of developers who are switching away from Windows to other platforms. It's a pretty competitive field though, and users expect fast start up and response.

      I just downloaded the MS Visual Studio Code it and had a look at the license. It includes such interesting licence terms as:

      It has a built in timed kill-switch to stop it running at the end of next year.

      "The software will stop running on 31/12/2016 (day/month/year). You will not receive any other notice. You may not be able to access data used with the software when it stops running."

      It does automatic personal data slurping (such a favourite of marketers these days):

      "The software may collect information about you and your use of the software, and send that to Microsoft."

    3. druck Silver badge

      Re: A pleasant (very) lightweight IDE

      Tried Geany, then Code::Blocks, stopped at QtDevelop for the time being, given that it plays nice with CMake.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Light weight? It's a bloody web browser underneath.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Facepalm

    Ridiculously bloated!

    What's wrong with TECO?

    1. stephanh

      Re: Ridiculously bloated!

      Dunno about TECO but Ex is bloatware.

      http://ex-vi.cvs.sourceforge.net/viewvc/ex-vi/ex-vi/Makefile?view=markup

      "Ex is very large - this version will not fit on PDP-11's without overlay software. Things that can be turned off to save space include LISPCODE (-l flag, showmatch and lisp options), CHDIR (the previously undocumented chdir command.)"

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ridiculously bloated!

      "What's wrong with TECO?"

      Nothing (in its day, which may or may not have passed).

      When PDP11s largely only understood octal, and when Macro11 and the TKB linker were critical parts of the cross-tools suite that my then-employer was developing in house targeting microprocessors that looked better in hex, a TECO macro was a critical part of the toolset: it converted listings and link maps from octal to hex.

      Incidentally, anybody wanting a GUI (more like an IDE than a GUI, actually) for their PDP11 (real or emulated) might be interested in

      http://www.retrocmp.com/tools/pdp11gui

  13. thames

    Just Tried It

    I just download MS Visual Studio Code, and my overall impression of it is that it's a bit shit. It has a very limited feature set, so it can't really compete with something like Geany on features. I would put it as being closer to something like Gedit, but perhaps not quite as easy to use.

    I tried editing a couple of existing files from a project that I've been working on. It seemed to know how to handle 'C' syntax OK, although I just had a brief play with it so there may be some problems there which would turn up with more extensive use.

    Its attempt to work with Python though was a massive fail. It couldn't even do automatic indenting with a simple 'if' statement. It's definitely not up to snuff in that area. Given this experience with a very widely used language, I would take their syntax support of many other languages with a very large grain of salt. In other words, you would have to try it out in each case before assuming it will work.

    There aren't really a lot of editing features. I opened up source code files to see if any more hidden features would appear, but no, it just doesn't have any. I saw no obvious sign of code-folding or any other of the sort of features you would expect in something like this, just very basic text editing with some syntax colourising and auto-completion, and some very shaky partial auto-indenting (e.g. see the Python example mentioned above).

    In terms of overall looks, the side bar takes up an excessive amount of screen space, so I would consider that to be poor UI design. I don't personally like the black-on-black default look as I find it to be too dark and depressing. I suppose that might reflect how the average Microsoft feels about life (and no doubt I would too if I worked there), but I would prefer something a bit less gloomy. That is a personal preference I will admit.

    I tried it running on Ubuntu 14.04. There is no deb package or any sort of installer to add it to the menus or launcher. It's just a zip file (not even tar/gzip) that you unpack into a directory as a self-contained binary. To be honest, I'm not sure I would have installed it if it had a proper package, as God knows what it would do or might screw up. The menus integrated with the Ubuntu top bar, but I suspect that is more due to Ubuntu's success at intercepting menus rather than anything Microsoft might have done.

    Overall, I see nothing to recommend it. If you just want a very basic editor, something like Gedit or the equivalent will be simpler while also being less intrusive. Even Gedit will give you syntax highlighting. If you want something with loads of text editing features and even better language syntax support, something like Geany beats MS Visual Studio Code hands down while still being very fast and small.

    I give it a thumbs down. It's not overly bad, but it just doesn't have anything to recommend it over much better equivalents which can be found elsewhere, including free ones.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Just Tried It

      Thank you for that (upvote not enough): an actual review with actual helpful content, which hopefully will also be helpful to the tool provider as well as the potential user.

    2. Geoffrey W

      Re: Just Tried It

      Only comment I can add is that its a beta release and I bet ya it will get much better with subsequent releases. MS has a lot of resources and experience with dev tools. That said, I wont be using it. Not yet anyway, maybe never.

    3. abit

      Re: Just Tried It

      I agree! All Microsoft did is futile - especially learning us to all speak fluent English the fools, let us use YOUR tools and prosper! It is all the same as its, and never mind some hit from the hits -- just aim, shoot and never think twice.

    4. Anonymous Bullard

      Re: Just Tried It

      There is no deb package or any sort of installer to add it to the menus or launcher. It's just a zip file

      That's so... Windowsy. To be honest, I wouldn't feel comfortable installing a deb package from Microsoft.

      On a related note, I wish Jetbrains would start using packages.

  14. abit

    VS on Rails

    There is very little new I look forward to, and there is a whole lot of wait-and-see going on with Microsoft's take on .Net. Seriously, Rails is one of those thing I am expecting to see EVERYWHERE! You call yourself a framework I see Rails or nothing, Rails is that great. It is just the dot.net, about the dot.net and nothing really affected but the dot.net and it is time ms confesses about the dot.net being such a huge, well, dot.net about the Rails!

    So ,,, .. RAILS!! RAILS!! ..dot.net.Windows--BUTWITHRAILS!!! .. .. .. RAILS!!! We are so Windows (on RAILS!!)

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Three????

    Three editor windows? What generosity! How about the other 15 that I normally need to have open using tabs when developing with phpStorm.

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