Redmond aims to outshine Eclipse with FREE Visual Studio

And if the Community edition doesn't thrill you, try the Visual Studio 2015 Preview

Microsoft showered application developers with new tools on Wednesday, including a preview of the next release of Visual Studio and an all new version of the IDE that offers the full flexibility and extensibility of the flagship Visual Studio product, free of charge.

The developer download bonanza was timed to coincide with Redmond's Connect(); virtual event, which is streaming online from New York City on Wednesday and Thursday.

The biggest news for most casual Windows devs will be Visual Studio Community 2013, a brand-new formulation of Microsoft's IDE that is available as a free download, provided you're doing what Redmond terms "non-enterprise development."

Microsoft already offers coders free access to Visual Studio technology in the form of Visual Studio Express. But the Express line has previously been divided into various separate SKUs, depending on which platforms developers want to target. Visual Studio Community takes the features of all of the Express versions and combines them into one.

"What it does is it takes all the goodness of Visual Studio that developers know, in terms of being able to build apps targeted at devices, to desktops, to the cloud, to the web," said S. "Soma" Somasegar, Microsoft's executive VP of developer tools, during a briefing at Vulture Annex in San Francisco. "And it's going to provide the full extensibility that people care about in Visual Studio, and it is going to be free."

That means Visual Studio Community offers full support for the more than 5,000 extensions currently available in the Visual Studio Gallery – something the Express versions don't do now.

Mind you, none of this is to suggest that Redmond is giving away its crown jewels. Developers already have plenty of other free tools to choose from, ranging from highly extensible IDEs like Eclipse and NetBeans to humble text editors.

What's more, most professional Windows developers already access Visual Studio via MSDN subscriptions – which range in price from $1,200 to more than $13,000 per year, but offer a host of value-added features and services that a simple download can't provide.

By making a full-featured version of Visual Studio available for free, however, Microsoft is lowering the barrier of entry to developers who are interested in using its tools – particularly when it comes to making modern apps that might span PCs, servers, mobile devices, the web, and the cloud.

"We really want to make Visual Studio – the full, functional, full-featured Visual Studio – accessible to anybody and everybody who cares about wanting to build something," Somasegar said.

More information on Visual Studio Community is available in its release notes, here.

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