A peek at Visual Web Developer 2010 Express
April 28th, 2010 by Shahnawaz Shahin
So here it is. Visual Studio 2010 has been available at launch on the 12th April 2010. I decided to have a go at the Express edition. Given a choice of using the Web Platform Installer or downloading the ISO image with all the software included, the first thing I’ve noticed is the size of the ISO image. Previous iterations of Visual Studio Express were slightly larger than a CD so one would have to resort to copying onto a DVD where necessary. This time, the ISO image for Visual Studio 2010 Express can fit on a CD very well. Handy!
Once downloaded, time to install the Visual Web Developer 2010 Express. On the face of it the installation ran smoothly, giving the option to install SQL Server 2008 Express. During the installation process it did require a restart (part of the process after installing the VC runtime, I guess) and the whole installation took around 20 minutes to install.
This leads to a question; Why does it take this much time to install? In contrast to working with Eclipse, Spring and Tomcat, with these tools it is a matter of unpacking the files once downloaded and run Eclipse. Sure, there may be some minor configuration that needs to be done (dropping the Spring dependencies in projects, locating the Tomcat environment, etc.) but that doesn’t take long. I can only imagine how long it takes to install the Professional, Premium and Ultimate editions (that I am beginning to hear).
After installing, I tried to run Visual Web Developer 2010 Express for the first time. A splash screen appeared (more about that later) and then everything freezes. Not sure why it happened, but I was able to close the window eventually and try again. Same thing happens. I have to say, prior to installing Visual Web Developer 2010 Express I had deinstalled Visual Web Developer 2008 Express, trying to remove any component that resembles with it. I suspect that may have been the cause of this issue. Through another attempt I deinstalled and reinstalled Visual Web Developer 2010 Express. Again, the same issue. Flattening my machine with a new instance of Windows I ran through the installation, and with success, I am presented with the start up page.
Including the tick box to say ‘Show page on startup’ is a nice touch. No longer does one require to go under Tools then Options, and then locate the property that allows one to turn off the start page feature. Though many would like to keep the start page to keep up with the latest news, others would rather save the time and go straight to work.
On the topic of the splash screen, to my surprise it mentioned that Visual Web Developer 2010 Express was only used for evaluation purposes only. Previous iterations of Visual Studio Express permitted the use of these tools both personally and commercially. With no direct indication of what the licence grants to the user I did some further investigation.
Eventually, on the MSDN site one of the Microsoft representatives clarified that the similar licence model remains for Visual Studio 2010 Express. All that is required is to register online for a free Product Activation key to enable unrestricted access to the Express edition. This is good news as, other than what is offered to new starters under the Microsoft WebsiteSpark and BizSpark programme, the Express edition provides a quick and immediate start to developing commercial applications. Albeit, the Express edition may not be the choice of many for developing commercial application due to its limited features, but looking at another perspective it is still quite amazing what can be achieved from the Express edition.
A list of project items are listed when creating a new project. Notice the inclusion of ASP.NET MVC2, which is a neat touch and a time saver. Silverlight and Azure are also supported that enables the opportunity to develop for those platforms.
Going ahead in creating a new ASP.NET MVC 2 application, it creates a sample application to play with. It is a fairly straightforward application that you can build and run immediately (and it doesn’t break, which is good).
As usual, under the Solution Explorer it shows at the project hierarchy and never displays from the root solution hierarchy. Not a big deal in fixing this as it is a matter of going into the Options and ticking the box to enable this. But I’m not sure why this can’t be set as default, surely there is no harm in that, right?
With the solution hierarchy now shown, as expected it is possible to manage multiple projects under a solution like with the other Visual Studio products. This is a very handy feature, as the business rules can reside into a project that can be reference to, which encourages reuse.
A feature under ASP.NET MVC2 is the inclusion of Areas. Areas is a feature that facilitates the MVC implementation to segregate different parts of the application into smaller chunks, helpful for large scaled applications. So one can have an Area for login and registration, and another for the admin part of the application.
Visual Web Developer 2010 Express includes the WYSIWYG editor for managing and developing entities (pretty much you can modify .edmx files) defined under the Entity Framework. I was surprised with this useful feature is included as I never expect this to be included into the Express edition. Regardless, the Entity Framework is something that I haven’t been keen with as the features out of the box does not lend itself to a Rich Domain design. It is possible, though, to define Entity Domain Objects that extend from these entities using an approach similar to the Template Method design pattern and define the operations through that. Something to think about.
A Data Explorer is also included. Whilst nothing new (compared to Visual Studio 2008 Express), it is something that is worth noting. These examples demonstrate how powerful the Express editions are and are capable of developing commercial applications if price is a constraint. Granted, a number of features may not be included that eases the development such as support for version control and refactoring tools (such as generating Properties from attributes), but these limitations can be worked around with the odd pain here and there. Back to the Data Explorer, data source types supported include Microsoft SQL Server, Microsoft Access and Oracle. Other data source types are supported through ODBC and OLE DB.
That pretty much covers the surface of Visual Web Developer 2010 Express. Just to reiterate, the Express editions are capable for starting the development of .NET applications, both personally and commercially. What’s new here are tools that enable the development of rich web client through the use of Silverlight and mobile applications. Other editions are available that cater for rapid application development (Visual Basic 2010 Express), development of Windows application with productivity and performance in mind (Visual C# 2010 Express) and for developing high performance applications for Windows (Visual C++ 2010 Express).
So what are you waiting for? Have a look at the Visual Studio Express web site, download and start coding!