Ever since the launch of Visual Studio 2010 this April I’ve been using it extensively, and I’ve noticed a number of major benefits–along with a couple drawbacks or downfalls. First, a minor drawback: It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Microsoft has decided (once again) to re-bundle and rename Visual Studio’s different editions. Microsoft has also closely aligned Visual Studio with MSDN subscriptions, so that the higher-end editions of Visual Studio can’t be purchased without MSDN subscriptions.

To figure out which version of Visual Studio 2010 you’ll want or need, you’ll have to spend a bit of time perusing the Visual Studio 2010 product list, and compare pricing and features. (And make sure to pay attention to upgrade pricing.) Microsoft also provides free trial versions of Visual Studio as well. (Though, if you’re like me, you’ll want to know how long those trial editions last. Microsoft has provided that information, but, sadly, they’ve crammed it at the very bottom of the page in super-fine-print.)

Initial Observations

I’m not going to provide an overview of the new features that Visual Studio brings to the table–especially since so many others have already done so. (There’s also a great review of new features up on MSDN as well.) However, I will say, for the sake of brevity, that there are a lot of new features, and that, overall, Visual Studio 2010 provides some very compelling reasons to upgrade.

After using VS 2010 for a few weeks now, I can say that it’s much less buggy than I initially feared it might be. In fact, it’s hardly buggy at all. I’ve only run into one big bug so far (which, happily, had a nice work-around that was published up on Microsoft’s Connect site). Likewise, with some of the earlier builds of VS 2010, I had been worried about what overall performance would be like when it shipped. Happily, in my experience VS 2010 either runs faster than VS 2008 or just as fast. (I don’t have any empirical data to support my experiences, but it “feels” as fast or faster than VS 2008, which is good enough for me.)

I’ve also noticed a number of productivity enhancements in VS 2010–to the point where I now vastly prefer it to using VS 2008. In fact, the only negative thing that I can say about VS 2010 is that it forces me to use VS 2008 in some cases (more on that in second).

Customizing and Extending Visual Studio 2010

While you’re exploring VS 2010, don’t forget about the Visual Studio Gallery. The site is chock-full of different plugins, extensions, and additional add-ons or solutions that you can use to extend Visual Studio to meet your specific needs.

You can browse the gallery in a number of different ways. And not only can you browse extensions and controls, but you can browse template types as well.

Personally, I can’t live without Snippet Designer, and I love the price—free. I’m also a big fan of PowerCommands for Visual Studio 2010, and VSCommands 2010. And I’m tempted to give the Visual Studio Theme Editor a try (even though I like VS 2010’s default color scheme). Likewise, when I get some time to delve into T4 templates a bit more, I’m sure that the T4 Toolbox will come in handy. By spending a few minutes on the Gallery, you’re likely going to find some great additions or augmentations for Visual Studio that will help you boost productivity.

One Thing VS 2010 Lacks

Ultimately, I like Visual Studio 2010 so much that I wish I could do all of my development in it. But, sadly, I can’t. That’s one problem I wish that VS 2010 would have addressed. When Visual Studio 2008 was released, developers started grousing about how VS 2005 and V S2008 projects and solutions weren’t compatible. Back then it was largely just a question of solution (.sln) files being out of whack.

With VS 2010 the problem has been compounded, and VS2008 project files are now versioned against VS2008. Consequently, you can’t upgrade a VS 2008 solution or project and ever open it again (without reverting to a backup) in Visual Studio.

Frankly, I see that as a huge letdown because, when Microsoft started collecting feedback on what it could do better in Visual Studio 2010, developers asked that the ability to switch between VS 2008 and VS 2010 projects and solutions be a feature. Imagine how irate folks would be if Office 2007 (which employed a totally new persistence mechanism) didn’t offer the option to save a backward-compatible version of Word, Excel, or PowerPoint documents. Visual Studio is obviously a good deal more complex than Office, but that missing feature is a definite irritant.

I also find the inability to edit VS 2008 projects and solutions with VS 2010 to be a big productivity loss. Because not only does VS 2010 do a better job of making me more productive when I code and develop solutions with it, but having to hop back and forth between VS 2010 and VS 2008 (for some of my client’s projects) results in a double-whammy—I’m mentally looking for features and capabilities in VS 2008 that don’t exist (because I’ve already trained my mind to use them in VS 2010).

Since Microsoft has made it clear that they weren’t able to put this feature in for the VS2010 release, I wish that they’d release a semi-supported or un-supported power tool that would let someone open a solution in VS 2008, point it at a companion VS 2010 file, and then have Visual Studio do all the magic needed to add, remove, update files in both solution–and vice-versa. Developers and organizations who have paid for Microsoft’s latest and greatest IDE would be thrilled to be able to use that same IDE when working with legacy applications.

Visual Studio Gallery to the Rescue?

Then again, maybe someone will create a solution like this and put it up in the Visual Studio Gallery. If it were released as a free tool, its developer would surely win a lot of undying support from the community. Or, if it were released as a paid solution, the developer would probably make a mint–at least until Microsoft decided to fix the issue.

In the end, the VS 2008/VS 2010 project editing issue notwithstanding, Visual Studio 2010 is a great release. I’m quite impressed by it, and find that it provides significant productivity benefits. So make sure to give it a test drive if you haven’t done so yet because you’re likely to find plenty of things that you’ll love about it as well.