Visual Studio vNext IDE Enhancements


Quick Housekeeping Note:  I’ve deprecated the old Visual Studio Tips extension and have tried to get it removed from the gallery so it isn’t available anymore but have had little success.  I am currently not planning to replace the tool with a new version but am open to suggestions as to a viable alternative.  For now I suggest you use your favorite RSS feeder or visit the blog directly.  Now on with the post…



With the BUILD conference ( just around the corner and lots of announcements coming I thought now would be a good time to pause the usual posts and talk about the next version of Visual Studio (vNext) and how you can prepare for some of the goodness to come.  This is a high-level look at what is coming and I will be blogging in much more detail on the features throughout the vNext cycle.  With that said, I’ve intentionally left out any images of the IDE for this post in favor of brief feature descriptions.  Additionally, I will be blogging and tweeting directly from the BUILD conference while I am there to keep you up to date on the latest revelations that are coming out.  To get a sneak preview of some of the features make sure to see the following video:


Microsoft Visual Studio IDE Futures



Visual Studio 2010 introduced a great new extensibility model that made custom additions very easy to make.  You can find these extensions at the Visual Studio Gallery (  and, if you haven’t explored some of these great additions, I suggest you browse through the gallery to see the items there.  When asked which extension I suggest everyone download the number one answer I give is always been the Productivity Power Tools (  Download it now.  Seriously.  Now. 


We have (and will going forward) use extensions to field test new features that will be included in future versions of Visual Studio and it is a safe bet that some of the Power Tools will find their way into the vNext.  If you watched the video mentioned above you will hear Weston Hutchins mention this as well.  What better way to see what people want than to let them vote by actually downloading and using a feature?  Granted it’s a little harder to focus on individual features when a lot are packed together but, even then, we get plenty of feedback on what people like and don’t like.



Once we get beyond VS2010 then we can start looking at the new features that have been publicly revealed so far.  Here is a list of things you can expect in the next version:


Project Round-Tripping

One of the bigger pains in prior versions of Visual Studio is moving a project between versions.  It was an all-or-nothing proposition typically due to schema changes to the proj files.  If you opened a VS2008 project in VS2010 and converted it to the new project format then that project could no longer be opened in the prior version.  For those that have experienced this you know this wasn’t entirely true and you could do a little proj file hacking to go back but it wasn’t fun or intuitive to do so.  Visual Studio vNext will solve that issue.  You will now have the ability to open a project in the new version of Visual Studio and still go back to prior versions.  The net effect is you can have different teams on different versions of Visual Studio but still able to share projects with each other!


Search the IDE

With the dizzying array of menu items, toolbar buttons, options, files, etc… it is often difficult to remember where a particular item exists.  VS vNext adds the ability to quickly search the IDE for these things.  A good analogy would be to compare it to the ability to search programs and files when you click on the start button in Windows.  I don’t know about you but I don’t look for files anymore for the most part, I just hit my Windows key then type in what I am looking for then select what I want.  Imagine that level of functionality inside the Visual Studio IDE and you have an idea of what this new feature does.


Solution Explorer Enhancements

Multiple Instances of Solution Explorer

vNext supports creating new instances of Solution Explorer so you can have focused areas (one project in one instance and another project in a second instance) for working on multiple monitors.  Additionally these instances can be nested inside windows that have been pulled outside the IDE for use on other monitors.



In the Productivity Power Tools we introduced the Solution Navigator with some cool new features that have found their way into the new IDE.  The ability to drill down into the classes then members from Solution Explorer now exists.  You can right-click, say, a method in Solution Explorer and see some new terminology:  Calls, Is Called By, and Is Used By.  Calls represents the call hierarchy for the method; Is Called By represents a list of methods that call the current method; and Is Used By represents all the specific file, line, and column positions where the method is mentioned.



Much like the new search for the IDE, we now have a new search for just the items in Solution Explorer.  You can quickly type in a file, class, reference, etc… and see a filtered list in Solution Explorer of the items you are looking for.


Collapse All

A long-awaited feature that will collapse everything in Solution Explorer so you can expand items “fresh” as you navigate though the various hierarchies. 


Tab Well Enhancements

Pin Tabs

Another feature introduced in the Productivity Power Tools, this feature will let you keep interesting tabs surfaced on the left of the tab well while non-pinned tabs get pushed out of the visible area based on usage.


Floating Tab Wells

You can now rip off documents from the IDE and have multiple tabs grouped together in one or more floating tab wells.  This is great for multi-monitor situations where you want groups of related files on separate monitors.


Search Toolbox

There is now a dedicated search box for the Toolbox window so you can quickly filter items to find the controls you want.


Add Reference Dialog

The most notable change to the Add Reference dialog is speed.  It is way, waaaaay faster to add a reference with the new dialog than ever before.  Also, a search box has been added to allow quick filtering of assemblies.


Streamlined Quick Find / Replace

The Quick Find / Replace has been cleaned up and streamlined to make using the experience easier overall.


Error List Window Enhancements

Search Errors

As with many other tool windows, the Error List window now sports a search box you can use to filter the list of errors, warnings, and information messages.


Scope Filter

The Error List window also now supports a scope filter that lets you show only those items in Open Documents, the Current Project, or the Current Document.


Preview Tab

Probably one of the coolest new changes is the Preview Tab.  Essentially it allows you to look at a preview of a file and decide if you want that file to be opened up in the tab well.  I’ll show much more on this feature later but wanted to mention it here to round out the list of items I will be covering in the short-term.



There are a lot of very cool changes coming in Visual Studio vNext.  This post is meant to make you aware of the coming changes at a high-level to prepare you for a deeper discussion of each of these features in future posts.

Comments (13)
  1. JRod says:

    So basically you guys just took all the features from extensions and rolled them into the next version of VS?

  2. Paul Stack says:

    I was just thinking exactly the same thing JRod!

  3. Chris V says:

    Well JRod, that's not exactly a bad thing. I've tried several extensions that offered functionality I rather enjoyed, but extensions can be buggy, and support is meh. If MS is willing to replicate the extension functionality into the base product, that's cool with me.

  4. zainnab says:

    JRod / Paul / Chris 🙂

    That's partially true.  There are lots of new features in vNext that came directly from our experiences with the extensions BUT there is a ton of new functionality that didn't come from extensions.  A good example, just off the top of my head, is the Preview Tab experience which is a great new idea for working with code windows in the tab well.  With that said, I personally have to agree with Chris.  Even if 100% of the new features came from extensions that, in my opinion, would be a good thing.  It means we have field tested the features and distilled them down to the ones that (a) work and (b) people have indicated they want.  I like the idea that 1,007,259 people have "voted" by downloading the Productivity Power Pack and given us feedback to improve features in the next version of Visual Studio.


  5. Don says:

    As long as there are fewer/no modal windows, I'll be happy.

  6. John K says:

    How far back does the project round-tripping go? *whispers*Please say vs2003*whispers*

  7. zainnab says:

    Hey John 🙂

    Right now it is between vNext and VS2010.  I'm not sure if there are plans to make it go back further or not.  I'll ping the team responsible for ths feature when I do my series and see what the plans are for this feature and share what I can.


  8. zainnab says:


    Totally agree.  I've never been a fan of modal dialogs going back to my VB3 days.  I "get" why people think they are needed (especially back then) but users are more interface aware now IMHO.


  9. Jack U says:

    Please make sure that T4 templates are supported as first class citizen in the IDE:

    – Make intellisense works correctly with T4 template files

    – Make sure that "Transform All Templates" is a standard part of the build (do not require VMSDK to be installed)

  10. zainnab says:

    @Jack once the pre-release bits come out I'll look into the T4 situation 🙂


  11. Dean says:

    Part of the hype of VS 11 is that it fixes many performance and stability problems of VS 10.  Is there a reason MS doesn't give just the perf. and stability fixes to VS 10 with a SP2?

  12. Rory O'Donnell says:

    I would be cool if you define background colours for C++/C# class methods.  Private methods could have a red hue background, public could be defined as green. etc.

  13. Rory O'Donnell says:

    Search feature drop down to include current class


    "Current Document"

    "Current Class (CCurrentClassName)"

    "All Open Documents"

    "Current Project"

    "Current Solution"

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