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Visual Studio is Microsoft’s comprehensive integrated development environment (IDE) that helps developers create web and mobile apps, computer programs, websites, and web services. Packed with features for building, coding, deployment, debugging, analysis, collaboration, and many plugins, Visual Studio can help developers increase efficiency and productivity to release higher-quality products faster.
This Visual Studio review will break down the popular IDE in terms of its features, pricing, advantages, and disadvantages to help determine if it is the right development solution for your needs. If it is not, we will also reveal some of the top Visual Studio alternatives that may be a better fit.
Visual Studio first hit the scene in the 1990s as a tool for developing Windows applications. Since then, it has morphed into a widely used tool in the software development space for individual developers and teams of all sizes thanks to its long list of features for collaboration, building, code editing, debugging, testing, and more. With support for multiple platforms and programming languages, Visual Studio is a versatile IDE that can be used for everything from web development to mobile apps, cloud services, desktop applications, and more.
Microsoft Visual Studio has many features to help you build any application, extension, game, etc., in the language of your choice. Here are some of the IDE’s highlights for improving code quality, developer efficiency, and productivity:
Visual Studio gives software development teams several ways to collaborate via the IDE. It integrates with version control systems like Git to track and manage changes in the codebase, and there is a show word diffs feature for easily comparing lines of code. Any incoming or current changes can be accepted with a single click to streamline the conflict resolution process. The Live Share feature allows for collaboration as well by letting you connect to coworker sessions to type, navigate, set breakpoints, etc., to troubleshoot issues fast. Regardless of location, you can use Live Share to share, edit, and debug code in real-time with your teammates.
Other Visual Studio collaborative features include Codespaces that offer shared, cloud-based development environments, task management capabilities to assign, prioritize, track, and manage tasks, code review, and the Team Explorer with dashboards and more for managing workflow.
Visual Studio IDE also offers many keyboard shortcuts for writing, navigating, and fixing code fast. There are plenty of time-saving keyboard shortcuts for search, navigation, editing, refactoring, debugging, testing, etc. The IDE’s code editor comes complete with code navigation, code completion, and syntax highlighting to boost your coding efficiency, and it offers intelligent code analysis to spot and fix quality issues quickly. Speaking of code quality, Visual Studio’s refactoring capabilities can increase it by structuring your code to make it more readable and maintainable. There is a debugger regarded by many as one of the tops in the industry, which offers live debugging, breakpoints, call stack navigation, and more via any place or platform. Writing and running unit tests is a breeze thanks to integrated support for the top testing frameworks.
While Visual Studio’s built-in features are numerous and impressive, you can add even more functionality through extensions. The Visual Studio Marketplace has thousands of extensions with some of the most popular tools, allowing you to add more in terms of programming languages, source control, coding, documentation, security, themes, and more. Such extensibility is ideal for developers seeking a truly customized experience through their chosen IDE. Last but not least, Windows offers flexibility with support for multiple programming languages, platforms, and frameworks, either out-of-the-box or through plugins, making it a solid solution for a wide range of developers with differing needs.
Microsoft offers several pricing options for individual developers and teams looking to unlock Visual Studio’s vast array of features:
Visual Studio’s monthly subscriptions are ideal for developers or teams needing the IDE for a short time, as they offer pricing flexibility. Its standard subscriptions are perpetual licenses with added features, such as added services, support, training, Azure dev/test credits, etc.
Advantages of using Visual Studio as an IDE include:
Visual Studio offers developers a ton of versatility, thanks to its long list of features for building, code editing, debugging, deployment, unit testing, etc. Its project templates help you get started quickly, and its cross-platform support allows for development on Windows, Linux, macOS, iOS, and Android, making it an attractive option for developers from differing backgrounds.
Visual Studio’s robust debugging is another plus, as is the free Community plan for individual developers with tight budgets. Visual Studio has a large and active community, offering developers additional resources, tutorials, documentation, and support. It is also highly extensible via the Visual Studio Marketplace, which can help you customize the IDE to fit your unique project needs.
While Visual Studio has many advantages that make it an attractive IDE for many, it also has some disadvantages that could make you look elsewhere. Some of Visual Studio’s cons include:
Visual Studio’s long list of features comes at a cost, which is quite a hefty installation size.
Keep this in mind if you are running low on disk space. Another con of the IDE’s comprehensive feature set is complexity. Some beginners may find Visual Studio’s learning curve steep at the start, which is not helped by a user interface that could be more intuitive.
Unless you opt for the free Community plan for individuals, you may find Visual Studio’s other plans costly on a tight budget. And if you are running on less powerful or older hardware, you may find the IDE to be resource-intensive with the potential for sluggish performance and crashes.
After looking at its list of advantages, it is easy to see why Visual Studio is such a popular developer tool. The IDE is comprehensive, offers a free plan, excels in debugging, has a vast community, and is highly extensible. Unfortunately, Visual Studio also has some weaknesses, including its large installation size, beginner complexity, non-intuitive interface, pricing for premium plans, and occasional performance issues due to being resource-intensive.
If Visual Studio’s weaknesses seem like too much to overcome, try one of these alternatives:
Eclipse is a free and open-source IDE with a large, active community. The Visual Studio alternative is highly extensible and customizable, supports several programming languages (Java, Python, PHP, C, C++, etc.), and has features like code analysis, code completion, debugging, and more. Developers on a budget seeking a free alternative to Visual Studio may find Eclipse right up their alley.
NetBeans is an open-source IDE that is free to use and ideal for developers with limited budgets looking to build web, mobile, and desktop applications. The IDE is easy to use thanks to an intuitive interface, making it a great choice for developers of all skill levels. NetBeans acts as a one-stop shop for software development with features like code templates, a code editor, a debugger, and a compiler, plus refactoring, testing support, version control integration, and more. It supports multiple programming languages, including Java, PHP, C++, etc.
IntelliJ IDEA is a feature-rich and customizable IDE from JetBrains that is ideal for Java and Kotlin developers looking to boost productivity via smart coding assistance, intelligent code completion, code inspections, refactoring, version control, collaboration, run, test, and debug capabilities, and more. And while IntelliJ IDEA comes with plenty of out-of-the-box features, it can be extended even more via integrations with popular third-party developer tools.
IntelliJ IDEA’s Community Edition is free and open-source and offers the basics. Its commercial plans for individuals start at $169 annually, while organization plans start at $599 annually.
Visual Studio is a solid choice for developers seeking a full-featured and extensible IDE. However, if, after reading this Microsoft Visual Studio review, you find that the IDE is not the perfect fit for your development needs, try one of the alternatives listed above, as Eclipse, NetBeans, and IntelliJ IDEA are all highly regarded in the development community.
Looking for more software development tools? Check out our highlight of some of the Best Tools for Programmers.