On Wednesday, Microsoft is hosting its Connect() developer conference in New York City, but the company has accidentally let slip a couple of pieces of news a bit early. Posts were published to MSDN Magazine (though they’ve now been removed) earlier than intended.
The biggest news is that Visual Studio is coming to the Mac—or, at least, a piece of software named Visual Studio is coming to the Mac. Microsoft has always had a surprising willingness to give different products similar names, a move that generally provokes more confusion than it does enlightenment. The same seems true here.
Visual Studio for Mac isn’t, in fact, Visual Studio at all. Instead, it’s the latest iteration of Xamarin Studio, the cross-platform C# development environment that Microsoft inherited when it bought Xamarin, developers of cross-platform .NET-based mobile development tools, last year.
These are two very different products, and the real Windows Visual Studio is the more capable product. However, the two offerings are less different than they once were. Even without Microsoft’s ownership of the company, the Xamarin platform was set to align more closely with the .NET platform thanks to Microsoft’s open sourcing efforts: many components that Xamarin had to develop independently could be dropped in favor of the “real” .NET versions. In particular, the Roslyn C# compiler and MSBuild build tool and project files are shared between real Visual Studio and the new Visual Studio for Mac. The interface designers for building Android and iOS apps using the Xamarin platform are also shared. This means that if a project builds in one, it will build in the other. Thus, developers on different platforms can easily contribute to the same projects; teams can in principle be made of a mix of Windows and Mac developers.
For those wanting something a little lighter weight, Microsoft’s other weirdly branded product, Visual Studio Code (which, again, has no real shared heritage with “Visual Studio”), remains a cross-platform text editor and simple development environment.
MSDN Magazine also spoiled a little snippet of news about the real Visual Studio. Hitherto, the development of the next version of Visual Studio has used the awkward name Visual Studio “15,” quote marks and all. With the current version being “Visual Studio 2015,” this made it all too easy to stumble and refer to the wrong one by accident. But “15” now has a proper name: it will be “Visual Studio 2017.” It’s still not finished, but a release candidate will be released at the Connect event.
Visual Studio 2017 contains a laundry list of new, incremental improvements to C++, C#, F#, debugging, and more. In some ways, its biggest improvement is not to the core product itself but its installer. Currently installing and updating Visual Studio is a tremendously tedious affair that takes far longer than seems reasonable. Uninstalling is also aggravating, as many of the dependencies have to be removed separately. The new installer promises to be faster, allowing smaller installations that only include the features you need and enabling clean one-shot uninstallation.