Extending Your Development Experience with Visual Studio Gallery
There are some big, exciting changes happening around Visual Studio! Microsoft is shifting the focus of VS from being just a developer tool to being an entire platform. As part of that shift, the Visual Studio Gallery ( http://www.visualstudiogallery.com ) web site went live on Feb 27, 2008. The site is your one-stop resource for cool productivity tools called Visual Studio extensions. An addition to CodePlex’s ( http://www.codeplex.com )repository of collaborative projects and CodeGallery’s place to find sample apps and code snippets, Visual Studio Gallery is THE place to find extensions targeted at Visual Studio. Extensions can be anything from macros to item, project or solution templates to add-ins to full-blown extensibility packages. You’ll find both free and paid extensions built by both professional companies and community members.
Visual Studio Gallery extensions include
- Custom actions for VS context menus
- Custom solution, project and item templates
- Entire programming languages such as F#
- Visual designers
- Context sensitive help for the VS IDE
- Automated processes
- VS Add-Ins
- Frameworks integrated into VS
- Custom windows in the VS IDE
- Integration of products into the VS IDE (e.g. Messenger)
Finding your way around visualstudiogallery.com is easy.
You’re immediately presented with what’s new on the site and can quickly see the most viewed or highest rated extensions or you can search by popular tags. Extensions are organized into one or more of 16 categories. You can search by category, most viewed, free vs. paid or by using the gallery-wide search. A handy trick is to enter a space in the search box to get a list of all extensions on the site and then to sort on the column you’re interested in. You can even use RSS to stay up to date with the site or with individual categories of extensions.
Once you click on an extension that looks interesting you’re taken to a single summary page. If you like what you see, you can click on the “Get Now” button to find out more or download the extension. The Visual Studio Gallery doesn’t actually host any of the content. It’s simply a catalog of Visual Studio extensibility products. At this point you’re redirected out of Visual Studio Gallery to wherever the extension is actually hosted; for example, CodeGallery, CodePlex, or any other web site.
Posting extensions to Visual Studio Gallery
Anyone with a Windows Live ID can post information about their extensions. Click the Windows Live “Sign In” button at the top of the page to sign in. Fill out a short profile (your name, organization name and web site) and click the “Add Entry” button to get started.
Go to Anthony Cangialosi’s blog (see link in the resources section later in this article), pick one of the professional looking templates, cut and paste it into the long description on the “Add Entry” page, then edit it to add your content.
Choose how to categorize your extension and which versions of Visual Studio it supports. Add a screen shot and click Submit.
Authors of entries on the gallery will see them appear instantly. The VSX team has created HTML templates to help make your Visual Studio Gallery page look professional, but you can use any HTML you want.
Top 10 Free Extensions on Visual Studio Gallery
Unlike my wife, with few exceptions, I don’t like to shop. Today I broke my routine and went to Visual Studio Gallery, sorted the list of extensions by cost and went shopping for cool FREE stuff. Here’s a list of my top 10 faves. Some of them are tools I’d already been using and can’t live without and some are bargains I just came across. I can’t wait to tell my wife how much money I’ve saved her! It’s good to finally return the favor.
MemeesVSTools adds new features to the text editor in Visual Studio including sorting, trimming, reporting metrics and spell checking. There are also some handy features like the ability to generate and insert a GUID on the fly which I use a lot in writing tests. It also does in-context base conversions between hex, decimal, and binary.
Figure 1: MeneesVSTools (Bill Menees)
#8 DB Connection Visualizer
DB Connection Visualizer from Microsoft lets you run SQL statements and view the results in a grid from the VS 2005 debugger.
# 7 StickyNotes
StickyNotes is a very cool, lightweight extension that lets you save notes for each file in a solution.
Figure 2: StickyNotes (Pablo Galiano)
#6 Source Code Outliner PowerToy
One of the things I missed in VS (until today!) is having a hierarchical navigation system when I’m editing large source files. While VS does give us a drop-down list of types and members, it doesn’t remain visible and accessible. In addition, this extension filters the list to help you locate that member you *almost* remember the name of.
Figure 3: Source Code Outliner PowerToy (Microsoft)
F Sharp from Microsoft is one of the first Dynamic Runtime Languages from Microsoft. F# is an entirely new programming language based on oCaml. A dynamic scripting language with full type safety with the performance of compiled .Net languages, this is one of the most comprehensive extensions so far and it’s completely FREE.
32feet.Net makes it easy to program for Bluetooth and Infrared (IrDA) and works on desktop, mobile and embedded systems.
Figure 4: 32fee
VSWindowManager from Microsoft saves your window positions, sizes, and auto-hide status and lets you change between layouts manually or automatically. I find this one especially useful when moving back and forth from my dual-monitor desktop system to my laptop.
#2 Power Command PowerToy
Power Commands adds a whole bunch of really useful things to your right-click menus. For example, the ability to collapse an entire project or solution in the solution explorer or to remove items from your most recently used project list.
Figure 5: Power Command Power Toy (Microsoft)
Automatically generates XML documentation comments for C#. Either by using existing documentation inherited from base classes or implemented interfaces, or by deducing comments from name and type of e.g. methods, properties or parameters.
Visual Studio Gallery is a great place to find the new wave of goodies for the emerging Visual Studio platform and to check out how developers are pushing the limits and removing the barriers to the next generation of development. Whether it’s a commercial product like CodeRush, a Microsoft freebie like PowerCommands or a cool, free time-saver like GhostDoc, it’s worth some of your time to take a look and see if someone hasn’t already done the work to make your life easier. In writing this article, I found no less than 6 new extensions that I now use on a regular basis. Once you use StickyNotes you’ll wonder how you ever got along without them! I’ve also started writing my own extension with the intent of posting it on the site. Don’t be left out. See where Visual Studio is heading next!
Links & Resources
Visual Studio Gallery
VSX Developer Center
Visual Studio Gallery Templates & How to Use Them
Channel 9 Video
Mike E. Yeager