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Microsoft Visual Studio: Cluttering up developer disks for 25 years

A quarter of a century can put a fair few inches on the waistline, am I right, devs?

Microsoft is celebrating 25 years of Visual Studio, as devs take a moment to ponder whether another quarter of a century of Microsoft's flagship Integrated Development Environment is in the cards.

Visual Studio was first unleashed in 1997 and marked the first time Microsoft bundled so many of its development tools in one place, including Visual J++ (more on that later) and Visual InterDev, Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN), and bundled alongside all of that, Visual C++, Visual Basic and Visual FoxPro.

There were two editions: Professional (which came on three CDs) and Enterprise (which was loaded on four.) Compared to the stand-alone languages of the time, such profligacy seemed insane but hinted at future bloat.

1998 saw Visual Studio 6 released and was the last to feature Visual J++, which was removed in later versions by Microsoft as a result of its dust-up with Sun.

The company added the .NET name as a new century dawned, a fad Microsoft moved on from by the time Visual Studio 2005 was released. Interestingly, Visual Studio 6 was also the last version to run on Windows 9x computers while later editions would insist on NT. The first of the .NET versions (2002) introduced both C# and the .NET Framework.

Visual Basic was also comprehensively ruined overhauled with Visual Basic .NET. Admittedly 1998's Visual Basic 6, with all its web add-ons, was hardly a ball of fire, but with 2002's Visual Basic .NET, Microsoft ditched backwards compatibility and offered only an iffy conversion tool that rarely resulted in fully compatible source. One of the many reasons why so many Visual Basic 6 applications linger on today in forgotten beige boxes on which entire corporates depend.

The Visual Studio IDE continued on, sprouting new features (such as 64-bit support, despite the IDE remaining resolutely a 32-bit application) and ditching others (anyone remember Visual J#?).

A Mac edition (in the form of Microsoft's Xamarin acquisition) also turned up, but Visual Studio for Windows continued as Microsoft's flagship development environment, despite its ever-increasing size as new features were added.

It wasn't until last year that Microsoft finally bowed to developer pressure and made Visual Studio 2022 (aka v17) a full 64-bit application, calling time on the increasingly frequent out of memory exceptions that occurred on computers where it really shouldn't have (yes, this writer has been baffled as Visual Studio versions from the past opted to have issues on a 16GB rig when that magic 4GB barrier was breached.)

As for the future, Microsoft now issues updates at an impressive cadence. However, Visual Studio's downfall might also come from within Redmond: Visual Studio Code, while lacking many of Visual Studio's fripperies, turned up in 2015 and has quickly become the tool of choice for many developers.

Where Visual Studio has become somewhat bloated with age, Visual Studio Code, now approaching the seventh anniversary of its release, remains lightweight enough to run comfortably within a browser.

However, with its designers and range of tools, Visual Studio remains Microsoft's flagship IDE as it reaches the big 25, and for that we should raise a glass. Even as we grumble that we could still push out a usable application faster in old-fashioned Visual Basic or (whisper it) the various Delphi versions that preceded it. ®

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