Microsoft Visual Studio understands a world beyond Windows

Visual Studio 2015 comes with Roslyn, Microsoft's next-generation compiler technology

Visual Studio 2015 unifies debugging and profiling into a single Diagnostics Tools window.

Visual Studio 2015 unifies debugging and profiling into a single Diagnostics Tools window.

Once devoted chiefly to developing desktop and server Windows applications, the Microsoft Visual Studio integrated development environment (IDE) is increasingly resembling a Swiss Army Knife, able to support myriad computing platforms, languages and runtime environments.

Visual Studio 2015, released Monday, provides a way for a developer to write a single application to run across multiple Windows platforms, such as mobile, desktop and even Microsoft's experimental HoloLens environment. It even provides a way to build applications that don't run on Windows computers at all, but instead run on iOS devices or as Web applications in the cloud.

The update also comes with hundreds of new features, many focusing on debugging, diagnostics, code editing and refactoring.

This is the first version of the IDE to include the Roslyn next-generation compiler, said S. "Soma" Somasegar, Microsoft corporate vice president for its developer division. Developed by Microsoft, Roslyn offers many advanced debugging capabilities for the company's C# and Visual Basic programming languages.

The Roslyn-based improvements "are some of the most important new features for the professional developer," wrote IDC software analyst Al Hilwa, in an email.

For instance, the Rosyln-based Light Bulbs feature can proactively suggest fixes to broken code, or ways to improve running code.

Also thanks to Rosyln, Visual Studio now also provides a way for developers to customize warnings and suggestions. A team project could use this feature to create a set of warnings that could avert developers from making common mistakes or violating institutional guidelines.

The new version of the software organizes its collection of debugging and profiling tools under a single diagnostics tools interface. Now, the developer can get information about code performance directly from within the editing window.

Using the new PerfTips feature, the programmer can set the code breakpoints -- which pause a program being tested at preselected points -- and PerfTips will return a set of performance metrics for how the program has operated up until the code break.

This release is also significant in that it fully supports Microsoft's vision for building universal Windows Apps, Hilwa said. With Visual Studio, a developer can write a computer program once and have it run across multiple devices running Windows, including desktop and mobile clients, and even the company's experimental HoloLens holographic computing system.

Microsoft has been working to expand Visual Studio beyond its initial base of Windows software developers. Earlier this year, it released Visual Studio Code, a basic code editor for Apple Mac, Linux and Windows clients. In the three months since its release, Visual Studio Code has been downloaded over 500,000 times, with more than half for Linux and Macs.

Microsoft continues to expand Visual Studio to support new languages outside of Microsoft's own. Developers can now build Web applications in the IDE using the Node JavaScript server-side runtime environment.

Visual Studio supports the new version of the C++ language, C++14, and includes a beta of the next version of the language, C++ 17. The software's support for Python has also been upgraded.

The new release includes a set of mobile development tools that allows programmers to build applications for iOS, Android and Windows phones, using their own preferred languages.

The company has added updates to its own languages. Visual Studio now supports C# 6, the newly released .Net 4.6, VB.Net 12, ASP.Net 5, and F# 4.

The IDE makes it easier to connect to cloud environments. Developers can provision their applications into the Microsoft Azure cloud through a single click. Or, they can package their applications into Docker containers, so they can be run in any cloud service.

The software also can easily hook into Microsoft's software for managing team projects, Team Foundation Server 2015 and Visual Studio Online, both of which provide the base for a speedy, devops-styled development environment.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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