Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 Standard Edition

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Visual Studio 2008 standard edition; the cheaper alternative

Mar 31, 2009 (Updated Feb 23, 2012)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Lots of new features compared to VS2005, easy conversion from VS2005, cheaper than Professional.

Cons:No office based solution building, and no integrated unit testing.

The Bottom Line: Visual-Studio 2008 has a lot of new features and the project conversions are easy. The Standard edition does not have everything the Professional edition has, but it costs less.


Visual Studio is Microsoft's primary application development tool. This means that Visual Studio is a programmer's tool, or rather a suite of programmer's tools. It is not a user application like Microsoft Word. You use Visual Studio to create user applications. You can use Visual Studio to develop graphical user interface applications, console applications, desktop applications, web sites, web applications, and web services in both native code and managed code for all platforms supported by Microsoft. Visual Studio includes a code editor which supports an auto-completion mechanism called IntelliSense. Visual Studio also includes an integrated debugger code refactoring functionality. The integrated debugger works both as a source-level debugger and a machine-level debugger. Visual Studio allows plug-ins to be added that enhance the functionality at almost every level.

Visual Studio 2008 is the latest release of Visual Studio (the previous version was Visual Studio 2005; the next release is Visual Studio 2010). At work I am using the Visual Studio 2008 Professional Edition, however, I bought the Visual Studio 2008 Standard Edition for home use and for special projects that I am working on. I also have a Visual Studio 2005 Professional as well as a Visual Studio 6 (1998) at home. At work I have the Professional edition of Visual Studio 6, Visual Studio 2003, Visual Studio 2005, and Visual Studio 2008.

With the Visual Studio 2008 release Microsoft has added a lot of useful features. Another thing I like is that it is also fairly easy to upgrade from Visual Studio 2005 to Visual Studio 2008 in comparison to upgrading from previous versions to Visual Studio 2005 (or from Visual Studio 6 to Visual Studio 2003). Visual Studio 2008 comes in several editions. There is a free version of Visual Studio 2008 which consists of four express products (you get them separately). The four express products are Visual Basic Express, Visual C++ Express, Visual C# Express, and Visual Web Developer Express. It should be noted that the express products have a significantly reduced functionality. The express editions only include a small set of tools, and libraries. The express editions are targeted for use by students and beginners.

The standard edition of Visual Studio 2008 has a somewhat reduced functionality and is targeted towards individual developers, or Professionals who do not need the additional features provided by Visual Studio 2008 Professional. The biggest differences between Visual Studio 2008 Professional and Visual Studio 2008 Standard is that the standard version has no support for office based solution building, no tools for integrated unit testing, and the smart device development tools are missing. If you need to develop office based solutions, or for smart devices you should get the Professional version. There are also more advanced versions targeted towards team development like the Team Suites which cost around $10,000.


About Visual Studio 2008

Visual Studio 2008 contains four major products: Microsoft Visual C++, Microsoft C#, Microsoft Visual Basic, and Microsoft Visual Web Developer. However, it is also possible to integrate additional products into Visual Studio like IronPython and IronRuby. I've integrated Microsoft Robotics Studio and the CCR (Concurrency and Coordination Runtime) libraries with both my Visual Studio 2005 and my Visual Studio 2008. Visual Studio 2008 is based on the .NET 3.5 framework (plus various IDE's and tools etc.). I should mention that the Microsoft .NET Framework is a software framework that is available with all recent windows operating systems (XP, Windows Server 2003, Vista, and Windows Server 2008). .NET includes a large library of coded solutions that can be reused by application programmers. The .NET framework provides functionality for the creation of user interfaces, security, cryptography, web application development, database connectivity, network communications, among other things. However, unlike previous Visual Studio versions Visual Studio 2008 can support several .NET Frameworks (2.0, 3.0, and 3.5). This multi-targeting is included in the standard edition, the professional edition, and above.

Among the major enhancements to Visual Studio 2008 (as compared to Visual Studio 2005) are WPF, WCF, WWF, LINQ, and the language extensions in C# 3.0. The .Net 3.5/3.0 is really the item that provides most of those other components and Studio 2008 provides support and IDE. For us it is the language extensions in C# 3.0, for example, LINQ, and the more concise syntax to get lambda expressions to work that matters the most (the new "=>" operator). The Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) is a new library and a GUI toolkit that allows you to build extremely interactive and media-rich front ends (2D and 3D graphics and animations) for desktop applications (and web applications). The WPF Designer also provides a split view and snap lines for aligning controls and text. Graphical user interfaces built with WPF have a nice 3D look to them. It is a very large difference between user interfaces built using MFC or forms. Graphical user interfaces built with MFC or windows forms look flat, simple and boring compared to those built with WPF. WPF is a graphical designer library for the 21st century while MFC and windows forms were 20th century technology. Using WPF we have created some very nice 3D looking graphical user interfaces that have impressed our customers.

WCF (Windows Communications Foundation) is a new programming framework that is used to build applications that inter-communicate. However, we are using CCR instead for that purpose. The CCR primitives are very easy to use and great for multi-threaded applications with, for example, autonomous agents. WWF allows you to define, execute and monitor workflows to model complex business processes. Other improvements are, for example, that IntelliSense has been significantly improved and now supports JScript authoring and ASP.NET AJAX scripting. There is a Report Wizard, a class designer extension for unmanaged code, Object Browser improvements, and MSBuild recognizes when a system has multiple processors and uses all the available processors to reduce the build time. I should add that this is a blessing in disguise. Sometimes components are build which need other components which may not have been created by another build process. In these cases you need to configure Visual Studio to use only one processor.

One thing I do not like about Visual Web Developer is that it natively creates MDF and LDF files which you typically cannot upload to third party servers since they are considered a security risk. You have to convert these files into regular SQL data bases using, for example, the Database Publishing Wizard. However, after you have done this you may have a second problem. The SQL files that Visual Web Developer generates are quite large even for small projects and this has some unintended consequences. If you try to upload large SQL files to some third party servers, for example, the shared servers on godaddy.com they will simply break. When you use DreamWeaver you don't have these kinds of problems.


The Standard edition versus the Professional edition

The Standard edition that I bought came in a small green hard package that was not much bigger than the installation CD. One of the differences between the standard edition and the Professional edition that was immediately apparent was the simplified setup. Unlike the Professional edition which provides full control over which components you install during setup, the standard edition only provided some customization options. That was fine with me.

The major difference between the Professional edition and the Standard edition are all the features that are not included with the standard edition. For example, the standard edition does not include support for office based solution building. This feature will allow you to build extensions to the various Microsoft Office 2003 and 2007 applications, or create applications which interact with the various Microsoft Office applications. In addition there are no tools for integrated unit testing in the standard edition, and the smart device development tools are also missing (Smart phone, pocket PC, and other Windows CE based platforms).

Examples of additional differences are, for example, that the MSDN library for the standard edition is abridged. However, you can easily find the MSDN information on-line so this is not a big deal. The debugging capabilities are also less extensive in the standard edition. Examples of missing features are remote debugging, attach to remote process, MPI Cluster System debugging, SQL-CLR debugging, T-SQL debugging. The Crystal reports features in the Professional edition are missing and the XSLT editing enhancements in the Professional version are also missing. The Action Pane Control and the Ribbon (Visual Designer) are other features that are missing.

However, I don't need remote debugging tools, I don't need to do integrated unit testing at home, or on the small projects I work on, and I am not developing applications for smart devices, or office based solutions. Considering that the price for the standard edition is slightly more than $200 while you have to pay around $800 for the Professional edition, it was an easy choice for me. For my personal needs the standard edition was good enough.


The Big Bad Upgrading Dilemma

One of the big decisions companies using previous versions Visual Studio are facing is whether they should upgrade or not. Because of problems that people encountered when upgrading from Visual Studio 6 or Visual Studio 2003 to Visual Studio 2005 and Visual Studio 2008 many people are reluctant to upgrade. For example, Visual Studio 6, which is more then a decade old and quite obsolete, is still widely used, especially in the manufacturing industry. I know of many major software applications that were supposed to be upgraded from Visual Studio 6 and Visual Studio 2003 to Visual Studio 2005 or Visual Studio 2008, but ended up remaining Visual Studio 6 or Visual Studio 2003. These applications will probably stay that way for many years' maybe decades. One project I recently worked on had to back track. When I converted "my part" of this project from Visual Studio 6 to Visual Studio 2005, I spent one day correcting more than one thousand syntax errors, and about 10,000 new warnings, and then I spent about one month making it run without exceptions and crashes. When the others on the project realized how difficult it would be to upgrade from Visual Studio 6 to Visual Studio 2005 or from Visual Studio 2003 to Visual Studio 2005 it was decided that it would not be done. Upgrading from Visual Studio 6 and Visual Studio 2003 to Visual Studio 2005 would end up costing several millions of dollars. I should add that I also upgraded the same project (my part) from Visual Studio 2005 to Visual Studio 2008 (after upgrading to Visual Studio 2005) and this took only a couple of hours.

There were many reasons for the problems that occurred during the Visual Studio 6/Visual Studio 2003 to Visual Studio 2005 upgrade. The syntax errors were caused by changes in the kind of declarations that were allowed as well as changes in variable scope rules (from wrong to correct). In addition VS6 C++ did not clean memory the same way as Visual Studio 2005 C++ and Visual Studio 2008 C++ does (called Visual C++ 9.0). You could get away with using invalid references in Visual Studio 6 C++ but not in Visual C++ 7.1/8.0/9.0. Other issues were that functions like isdigit() no longer works with negative input, or extended ASCII, and will throw an exception if that occurs. For what ever reason you could also get away with minor memory overwrites in Visual Studio 6 C++ but you cannot get away with this in Visual Studio 2005 C++ and Visual Studio 2008 C++. Such bugs will come back and haunt you when you upgrade. Another problem we encountered was that one of our projects contained several thousand "strcpy", "strcat", "sprintf" and other unsafe function calls. In Visual Studio 2008 (Visual C++ 9.0) these will get you in trouble if they cause a memory overwrite. You should instead use the safe versions "strcpy_s", "strcat_s", "sprintf_s", etc. However, instead of replacing all of these functions manually you can use the compiler flags or global definitions to automatically replace them. You will still get an exception when a memory overwrite is about to happen, but the memory overwrite is avoided and the exception occurs in the right place before the memory overwrite occur, which is a million times better. One thing that might be unexpected is that software exceptions from VS6 C++ are not automatically enabled when you convert the projects from VS6 to VS2008. To turn on software exceptions go to the properties for the project and under Configuration Properties, select C /C++, and then select code generation, then under select C++ exceptions, select "Yes with SEH Exceptions (/EHa)". The default settings is "Yes (/EHsc)" which you probably do not want (You probably don't want "No" either). So in summary; if you have large amounts of legacy code with such problems fixing these problems could cost you millions.

Luckily, the upgrade from Visual Studio 2005 to Visual Studio 2008 is much easier. It was not too difficult to convert Visual Studio 2005 C++ /C# code to Visual Studio 2008 C++ /C# code and in addition the interface changes from Visual Studio 2005 and Visual Studio 2008 were minor simple improvements and caused no problem. When I converted one large application containing several projects with mostly C# code but also managed C++ code that loaded dynamic link libraries built using un-managed Visual 6.0 C++ code, it built and ran problem free instantly. When I converted the project I mentioned above from Visual 2005 C++ to VS2008 C++ I did get one error on this function "_SymEnumerateModules(....)". The second parameter EnumModuleCallback needs to be casted, for example, using PSYM_ENUMMODULES_CALLBACK. I should say that I read that other people also had this problem. However, this is a very minor problem. It took a couple of hours to fix. That means that going from Visual Studio 6 or Visual Studio 2003 to Visual Studio 2005 are hundreds of times more costly than upgrading from Visual Studio 2005 to Visual Studio 2008. That means that if you made it to Visual Studio 2005 you have no reason to fear Visual Studio 2008. I can also add that I have converted fairly large web applications from Visual Web Developer 2005 (.NET 2.0) to Visual Web Developer 2008 (.NET 3.5) without any problems.


Final recommendation

Visual Studio 2008 is a great release and it comes with a lot of new great tools and libraries. It is much easier to upgrade from Visual Studio 2005 to Visual Studio 2008 than it was to upgrade previous versions. The Standard edition does not have tools for office based solutions and does not support smart device development, and integrated unit testing. However, if you are not doing any of that the standard edition will save you a bundle of money (compared to the professional edition).



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Recommend this product? Yes

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