Visual Studio Redesign: lose the designers, add a command prompt?

26/7/2009

There has been a clear shift in the way I use Visual Studio lately. Visual studio has a lot of built-in panels to help you develop the next killer application. There are a lot of panels I hardly ever use. Most of my time I spend, not quite surprising, in the text editor editing code. As for the other panels I may be using about 10% of all available options. Windows like the Server Explorer, Document Outline, Object Browser, I don’t think I ever opened them while developing. And I didn’t even mention the designers yet. I am a full-time web developer but I never open the HTML designer.

So I would like to propose a Visual Studio redesign, let’s just throw out all the designers and unnecessary windows (like when editing a css file lose the CSS properties, Manage Styles, CSS Outline windows) and go back to basics. Build a really good text editor. Once everything is stripped to the bare minimum add a panel which gives you direct access to the command prompt. I got this idea from a Ruby on Rails editor called RadRails. You can generate controllers, models, etc… from a panel within the IDE.

Why a command prompt? I have noticed that developing isn’t centralized in Visual Studio any longer. Next to Visual Studio I always have a command prompt open. By using tools like JavaScriptMVC and LESS, I now use the command prompt very frequently. By running small commands from the command prompt snippets of code are generated for you. And although code generation is considered evil by some, there is a big difference between Microsoft code generation and those tools. They generate code for you but give you the opportunity to change it without any effort. The Microsoft way of code generation, the part I can remember because I try to use it as less as possible, is saying: do not touch our generated piece of art, you are not worthy. And if you dare to change it, it will smack you in the face for doing so. With code generated by Microsoft I constantly have the feeling that I’m not in control.

So my proposal is, stop building a huge beast with gazillion panels which tackles it all. Create a light weight text editor, let’s call it Textmate for Windows, and give users the possibility to add the tools they want to use in addition to that text editor by accessing them through the command prompt directly in the IDE.

I’ve googled around for a solution but the only posts that came near were posts which let you launch a command prompt from within Visual Studio. Not really what I was looking for. Let’s hope the Visual Studio Team has implemented this option in Visual Studio 2010…