Visual Studio Express–Alive and Well

I had to write this blog post after reading Peter Bright’s post on Ars Technica called "No-cost desktop software development is dead on Windows 8: You won’t be able to use the free Visual Studio Express to develop desktop apps".  In Peter’s article he slams Microsoft by saying that "Redmond has decided not only that Visual Studio Express users should have the ability to develop Metro-style applications: they should have no other choice."  This is quite an exaggeration since Microsoft still has 6 versions of Visual Studio Express available for download for building Windows 8 desktop applications (VB 2008 and 2010 Express, Visual C# 2008 and 2010 Express, and Visual C++ 2008 and 2010 Express).  Here is a complete list of the Visual Express IDE’s available from Microsoft to download today:

There are plenty of other "free" IDE’s to download for Windows 8 desktop applications including MonoDevelop (C#), Eclipse (Java/C/C++), codelite (C/C++), and Code::Blocks (C/C++) just to name a few.  Also, since Flash will run on Windows 8 desktop, you can even include FlashDevelop.

      Developers, including students, have a plethora of free IDE’s to choose from for developing applications on Windows 8 desktop.  But, I would argue, if you are a student using Windows 8, then you would probably be interested in developing Metro styled applications for Windows 8 and Windows RT.  The reason is obvious.  For a minimal charge ($49 per year) a student can publish his or her apps in a global marketplace to sell the apps for them.  This is half the price of Apple’s iOS Developer Program.  The student does not have to pay this price if they are just learning, but if they want Microsoft to market it for them and collect the credit card payments, and distribute the application, a $49 price tag is nothing.
      But once again, students don’t have to develop applications for Metro, they can use the many free IDE’s including the 11 from Microsoft and dozens from other companies to build applications either web, desktop, mobile, or whatever for Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7, or Windows 8.  The only IDE’s of the 11 listed above from Microsoft that builds applications that can’t run on the Windows 8 desktop are Visual Studio 2010 Express for Windows Phone (which will only run on Windows Phone 7) or Visual Studio 11 Express for Windows 8 Beta (which runs in Windows RT and Windows 8 Metro mode).
      Why should developers downloading a free IDE care?  Well first of all, Metro is a huge shift away from Windows 7 (some say it is as big a shift from DOS to Windows).  This shift requires thinking and designing apps that can run in a light processor with minimal multitasking (think ARM processors).  In a programming model similar to iOS, Windows 8 Metro apps will store data in the cloud primarily, and are expected to be unloaded and reloaded into memory fast. This is an important model for students to learn how to program within because it will help them build for iOS and Android as well, since this model is similar across the mobile platforms.
      So to conclude, Microsoft has a ton of IDE’s for developing desktop apps for Windows 8 (since Windows 8 desktop is similar to Windows 7 desktop applications).  Basically any app that can run in Windows 7 should run fine in Windows 8.  For that matter, most Windows XP apps should run fine in Windows 8.  So students and new developers have a huge choice of IDE’s to get started.  If they want to make money though, they are best off using Visual Studio 11 Express for Windows 8 Beta, because if they think they have a hit, all they need to do is pay $49 and they can start racking in the cash to help pay for their education costs.

8 thoughts on “Visual Studio Express–Alive and Well

  1. Sorry, but Peter Bright is right – sure, right now we can still use the old Visual Studio Express versions for developing desktop and Silverlight Windows applications, but removing this possibility from all the future Visual Studio Express versions is a clear message – Micorosft does not want anyone who will develop new desktop applications to use the new free versions, but will have to pay instead.

    Overall, the picture is clear – since anyone who wants to distribute a Metro application will have to pay the marketplace tax, there will be no way to develop a Windows desktop application (metro or otherwise), using any future free Microsoft tool, without paying a tax to Microsoft. The developers will have to use old and soon obsoleted tools.

    Developers, as always, want to use the most recent versions of WPF, Silverlight, MFC and even WinForms – removing support for these frameworks from the free VS version in the future, only meand that they won’t be able to take advantage of any new versions of these frameworks, without having to pay for the more expensive IDE version.
    Remember that not everybody wants to develop applications for phones, tablets or laptops with touch screens, and Metro is designed only for this.

    Sure, the purpose of any company is to make a profit, and this is normal – If Microsoft will make a profit using this new model, or the developers will migrate to other platforms and tools, only time will tell – what’s sure this that they will angry a lot of people with this strange move. Borland, now Embarcadero did dis long time ago (by discontinuing their free IDE), and the results are visible now – almost nobody used Borland tools, even if in the past was more popular than Visual Studio. 🙂

  2. Peter essentially argues that free IDE’s are an entitlement because they are used to produce software that adds to the value of the OS on which the software runs. Unless he gives the software he creates away for free as well, it’s a rather hypocritical argument. Having an platform and a marketplace for applications enhances your career and profit as a developer. A grocery store is only useful because it has products on its shelves, but the store still charges the producers for its shelf space. That is not a tax; it’s the cost of doing business.

  3. You write: “I would argue, if you are a student using Windows 8, then you would probably be interested in developing Metro styled applications for Windows 8 and Windows RT. The reason is obvious. For a minimal charge ($49 per year) a student can publish his or her apps in a global marketplace to sell the apps for them. ”

    The whole ‘students only need Metro and not Desktop because they’ll be participating in a global marketplace’ argument falls flat when you realize that Desktop apps are ALSO sold in the Windows Store (see: So the whole Metro-vs-Desktop choice has nothing to do with the Windows Store at all.

  4. Currently, via Microsoft DreamSpark, students can download and use Visual Studio Professional for free (no cost). I’m not sure if this will be true after Visual Studio 2012 RTM’s or not, but I don’t expect this program to go away. So for those students who would like to learn how to develop on Windows 8, there still may be a “no-cost” option for you.

  5. I know about VS being free for some students story – anyway, this applies only to some students, from some technical faculties that have an agreement with Microsoft – you forget the thousands of hobbyist developers around the world, and other thousand professional developers that earn only 200- 300$/month and can’t afford to but VS Professional at home, only at work.
    Sure, all these will continue to pirate Visual Studio as they did until now, and MS is fine with that.. 🙂

    Of course, nobody is “entitled” to free development tools from a software company, but exactly these free tools have made Windows development so popular. A LOT of people don’t use VS express to learn programming, don’t use it to produce applications that are sold somewhere, but just driven by the passion to produce something interesting for themselves – doctors, mathematicians, engineers, statisticians, chemists.

    Everybody knows that Microsoft makes no real profit from selling Visual Studio, and many MS representatives recognized that they would offer VS Ultimate for free if there wasn’t the danger of various legal threats.
    So this strange move is to a profit-related change, just a tentative to force the hobbyist developers to “embrace” metro application under Windows8.

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