Microsoft has released the Visual Studio 2012 Release Candidate (RC). This release is marked in conjunction with Steven Sinofsky's official announcement regarding the availability of the Windows 8 Release Preview. Several improvements have been made to the RC since the Windows 8 Developer and Consumer Previews were released last September and February, respectively. Jason Zander, corporate vice president for the Visual Studio division, wrote a blog outlining what's new in the Visual Studio 2012 Release Candidate.

Microsoft has made two noticeable changes to its branding strategy for Visual Studio. First, Visual Studio now includes a new logo, which can be seen on Zander's blog post. In addition, the IDE is no longer codenamed "Visual Studio 11." The official release to manufacturing (RTM) name is now Visual Studio 2012, which indicates that it will be released by the end of the year.

Most developers will be glad to hear that significant improvements have been made to Visual Studio's UX, which initially received a slew of criticism from developers since the announcement of the Developer Preview. Michael K. Campbell, contributing editor for Dev Pro, wrote extensively on the developer community's feedback regarding Visual Studio's UX in his article, "Microsoft's Visual Studio Strategy has Major Problems." In the RC, Microsoft has incorporated changes to provide developers with more visual contrast within the GUI, consistent use of Metro's styling, and colorful and recognizable icons. Microsoft's Visual Studio blog provides several images that depict these changes.

Several enhancements have been included for developers who will be building Metro-style applications with the RC. New application templates in this release include a Windows Runtime (WinRT) template for C# and Visual Basic developers, as well as a DLL project template for C++ developers. In addition, Microsoft has included keyboard, mouse, and touch-gesture support for applications.

Furthermore, improvements have been made to Metro apps that use XAML. In particular, the Visual Studio XAML and Blend designers now let developers preview and edit the design of their Metro apps in several visual states such as FullScreenLandscape, FullScreenPortrait, Filled, and Snapped. Developers can also now add theme animations to their app's visual states with the Blend's visual state design feature. In addition, there's XAML support for the Direct2D template, and the XAML Blank App has been simplified. To learn more about how these new features work, see Zander's blog post.

The Visual Studio 2012 RC ships as a go-live release, which lets developers build and deploy production applications immediately. Dev Pro wants to hear your thoughts on the Visual Studio 2012 RC. Are you happy with the changes the Visual Studio team has brought to the RC? Tell us!