Microsoft Visual Studio 11 Getting More Visual With Updates

    February 24, 2012

Developers take note – Microsoft is introducing some big changes to Visual Studio 11 that will hopefully make your job easier.

On the Visual Studio blog yesterday, Monty Hammontree, Director of User Experience in the Microsoft Developer Tools Division, laid out the changes the team is making to Visual Studio 11. The changes are focused on increasing efficiency of the developers working on new code. Microsoft has found that with the current set of tools, developers are only spending 15 percent of their time writing code.

To increase efficiency and fix what they perceive as problems with the program, Microsoft has outlined three problem areas:

Coping with tool overload. Visual Studio provides a large amount of information and capabilities that relate to your code. The sheer breadth and depth of capabilities that Visual Studio provides, at times, makes it challenging to find and make effective use of desired commands, options, or pieces of information.

Comprehending and navigating complex codebases and related artifacts (bugs, work items, tests etc.). Most code has a large number of dependencies and relationships with other code and content such as bugs, specs, etc. Chaining these dependencies together to make sense of code is more difficult and time-consuming than it needs to be due to the need to establish and re-establish the same context across multiple tools or tool windows.

Dealing with large numbers of documents. It is very common for developers to end up opening a large number of documents. Whether they are documents containing code, or documents containing information such as bugs or specs, these documents need to be managed by the developer. In some cases, the information contained in these documents is only needed for a short period of time. In other cases documents that are opened during common workflows such as exploring project files, looking through search results, or stepping through code while debugging are not relevant at all to the task the developer is working on. The obligation to explicitly close or manage these irrelevant or fleetingly relevant documents is an ongoing issue that detracts from your productivity.

Dealing with the first problem of tool overload, the Visual Studio team is changing four areas of the UI to make to reduce visual clutter. The four areas are command placements, colorized chrome, line work and iconography.

For command placements, the team has reduced toolbar command placements throughout the entire program by 35 percent. As an example, they have removed the cut, copy and paste commands from the toolbar because most developers use the keyboard shortcuts.

In previous versions of Visual Studio, many of the tools were colorized with bright colors and bold images. They have moved to a monochromatic color scheme in Visual Studio 11 so that users can focus on the tools instead of the colors.

To give users a choice, the Visual Studio 11 UI can be changed from light gray to a darker gray color. This allows users to choose which color compliments their work best.

Light UI:


Dark UI:


Line work has always been important to the UI for Visual Studio. The team at Microsoft, however, found that using boxes and gradients “drew attention away from developer content.” They are now using more typography and whitespace to create structure and emphasis.

The team has also changed the iconography to be more simplistic thus making it easier to understand each tool’s intended function. They do understand the change may confuse some users, but found through their own studies that users could still identify the tools based on the new glyph style.

Finally, the team is making it easier to find what they need to do their job. To this end, the team has made it possible to search for commands and configuration options through quick launch. Users can also search within tool windows and open files.

Microsoft hopes that the changes will make Visual Studio 11 feel lighter and less complex. It should also allow more room for developers to see their content.

As developers, what do you think of the changes coming to Visual Studio 11? Do they make the tools easier to use? Let us know in the comments.