Found: The Missing Manual

A review of Lars Powers and Michael Snell's "Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 Unleashed."

If you develop for the .NET Framework 2.0, you're probably already using Visual Studio 2005 as your principal development tool or, at the very least, have had an opportunity to test drive a trial. In either case, Microsoft has delivered a truckload of new features, and you may not have the time-or patience-to delve into all the MSDN online help and tutorials that come with the install. You need a manual-an old-fashioned, ink-and-paper volume that isn't dependent on Internet connectivity and doesn't clog your monitor with endless screens; preferably one that can serve as an in-depth guide to Microsoft's latest Interactive Development Environment (IDE), released just last year.

"Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 Unleashed" delivers just such a manual. Co-authored by Lars Powers, an ISV technical advisor on the Microsoft Developer and Platform Evangelism Team, and Michael Snell, a software architect, consultant, speaker and Microsoft regional director, the book works on two levels. For the experienced programmer, it's both a useful overview of the great new features of this latest release of Visual Studio and a how-to guide for putting you in the driver's seat for a faster and smoother development ride. For the manager, the book is a roadmap of the possibilities that can be leveraged by your development team.

Discover Accessibility
The book is available as an 888-page paperback or a 1,008-page PDF (which defeats its convenience) and is organized into four parts and 24 chapters. "Part I: An Introduction to Visual Studio 2005/.NET," provides an overview of the IDE, a discussion of the SKUs, the C# and VB language and .NET Framework enhancements, with a nice focus on Generics.

Part II tackles "The Visual Studio 2005 Environment In-Depth." As the heading suggests, here you can dive into the nitty-gritty workings of the IDE: solutions, projects, Solution Explorer, Object Browser, Performance Explorer, Macro Explorer, Intellisense, controls, code editors and much, much more. The chapters on refactoring and debugging are especially insightful.

Highlights

  • Writing macros, add-ins and wizards
  • Debugging with the IDE
  • Refactoring code
  • Sharing code with team members
    and the larger community
  • Writing ASP.NET applications
  • Writing and consuming Web services
  • Coding with Windows forms
  • Working with data and databases
  • Using team collaboration and team
    systems
  • Modeling with Team Architect
  • Automating testing with Team Test
  • Managing source code changes and
    builds

  • Sams Publishing
    ISBN 0-672-32819-4,
    870 pages
    List Price $59.99
    (available online for $35.99)
    Also available as PDF
    The third part of the book, "Visual Studio 2005 at Work," concentrates on showing you how to get applications to production. ASP.NET user interfaces, Windows forms, Web services and interacting with data are all covered.

    Part IV is a book in itself. Here, Powers and Snell delve into Visual Studio 2005 Team System (VSTS), a new tool that focuses on the software development life cycle (SDLC). VSTS is a sophisticated tool that brings true team collaboration to the process of engineering software. The authors do a great job in defining not only the business lingo and role structures, but also how SDLC's components interact with each other. This part is a worthwhile read both for the VSTS user and anyone who wants to understand the direction of Windows enterprise development.

    Powers and Snell write with a clear, crisp voice. The text is broken into readable paragraphs and sprinkled with boxes of notes and tips to further elucidate the commentary. There are copious black-and-white screenshots of all the components of the IDE, as well as useful tables, listings and diagrams, all clearly labeled and well referenced in their discussions.

    You can read the book sequentially or peruse it as a reference. Readers will find plenty of guidance in tapping resources like RSS feeds and community forums-handy nuggets of information that transcend daily development tasks.

    Still Missing ...
    One disappointment with this book is the difficulty in obtaining the code downloads. The book's back cover touts, "On the Web: Download all examples and source code presented in this book from www.samspublishing.com," and "Includes Free 45-Day Online Edition." Alas, unlike other books in the "Unleashed" series, there's no handy link to download code and no 45-day trial-only a 10-day free trial of the Safari Books online, which requires a credit card. Fortunately, the Safari trial works and gives you access to cut-and-paste code (which also works in the macro).

    For all of its recommendations, there are some points that "Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 Unleashed" doesn't address or devotes minimal coverage to. There is no mention of how to convert your ASP.NET 1.1 applications to 2.0. Nor is there any discussion of how to use Visual Studio 2005's MSBuild to target .NET 1.1 applications (see "MSBee" at http://msdn.microsoft.com/vstudio/downloads/tools/msbee).

    Although there's an informative section on Web services, actual Web development is given a quick intro and samples only the default "Web Site Project." There's no mention of Visual Studio 2005 Web Application Projects (see http://msdn2.microsoft.com/ asp.net/aa336618.aspx), which gives you greater control over your Web applications. Moreover, the discussion of the new log-in controls of ASP.NET Membership is useless if your production environment doesn't use SQL Express or Active Directory. A tip on using a different provider would've been appreciated.

    All in all, "Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 Unleashed" is worth adding to your bookshelf. It will remain a useful reference and will not collect dust until the production release of Microsoft Visual Studio, code-named "Orcas."
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