Visual Studio 2010 Productivity Tips and Tricks–Part 1: Extensions

I don’t know about you, but when it comes to development, I prefer my environment to be as free of clutter as possible.  It may surprise you to know that I have tried ReSharper, and did not like it, for the reason that I stated above.  In my opinion, it had too much clutter.  Don’t get me wrong, there were a couple of features that I did like about it (inversion of if blocks, code feedback), but for the most part, I actually felt that it was slowing me down.

Introduction

Another large factor besides intrusiveness/speed in my choice to dislike ReSharper would probably be that I have become comfortable with my current setup and extensions.  I believe I have a good collection, and am quite happy with what I can accomplish in a short amount of time.  I figured that I would share some of my tips/findings regarding Visual Studio productivity here, and see what you had to say.

The first section of things that I would like to cover, are Visual Studio Extensions.  In case you have been living under a rock for the past several years, Extensions are available under the Tools menu in Visual Studio:

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The extension manager enables integrated access to the Microsoft Visual Studio Gallery online with access to a few thousand different extensions.  I have tried many extensions, but for reasons of lack reliability, usability, or features, have uninstalled almost all of them.  However, I have come across several that I find I can not do without anymore:

Extensions

NuGet Package Manager

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To be honest, I debated on whether or not to put this in here.  Most people seem to have it, however, there was a time when I didn’t, and was always confused when blogs/posts would say to right click and “Add Package Reference…” which with one of the latest updates is now “Manage NuGet Packages”.  So, if you haven’t downloaded the NuGet Package Manager yet, or don’t know what it is, I would highly suggest downloading it now!

Features

Simply put, the NuGet Package Manager gives you a GUI and command line to access different libraries that have been uploaded to NuGet. Some of its features include:

  • Ability to search NuGet for packages via the GUI, with information in the detail bar on the right.
  • Quick access to see what packages are in a solution, and what packages have updates available, with easy 1-click updating.
  • If you download a package that requires references to work on other NuGet packages, they will be downloaded and referenced automatically.

Productivity Tip

If you use any type of source control in Visual Studio as well as using NuGet packages, be sure to right-click on the solution and click "Enable NuGet Package Restore". What this does is add a NuGet package to the solution so that it will be checked in along side your solution, as well as automatically grab packages from NuGet on build if needed. This is an extremely simple system to use to manage your package references, instead of having to manually go into TFS and add the Packages folder.

Perspectives

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I can't stand developing with just one monitor. Especially if it comes to debugging. The great thing about Visual Studio 2010, is that all of the panels and windows are floatable, and can dock to other screens. The only bad thing is, I don't use the same toolset with everything that I am doing. By this, I mean that I don't use all of the same windows for debugging a web application, as I do for coding a WPF application. Only thing is, Visual Studio doesn't save the screen positions for all of the undocked windows. So, I got curious one day and decided to check and see if there was an extension to help out. This is where I found Perspectives.

Features

  • Perspectives gives you the ability to configure window positions across any or your monitors, and then to save the positions in a profile.
  • Perspectives offers a Panel to manage different presets/favorites, and a toolbar to add to the toolbars at the top of Visual Studio.
  • Ability to 'Favorite' a profile to add it to the perspectives toolbar.

Productivity Tip

Take the time to setup profiles for each of your scenarios - debugging web/winforms/xaml, coding, maintenance, etc. Try to remember to use the profiles for a few days, and at the end of a week, you may find that your productivity was never better.

Productivity Power Tools

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Ah, the Productivity Power Tools... Quite possibly one of my most used extensions, if not my most used. The tool pack gives you a variety of enhancements ranging from key shortcuts, interface tweaks, and completely new features to Visual Studio 2010.

Features

I don't want to bore you with all of the features here, so here are my favorite:

  • Quick Find - Unobtrusive search box in upper-right corner of the code window. Great for searching in general, especially in a file.
  • Solution Navigator - The 'Solution Explorer' on steroids. Easy to search for files, see defined members/properties/methods in files, and my favorite feature is the 'set as root' option.
  • Updated 'Add Reference...' Dialog - This is probably my favorite enhancement period... The 'Add Reference...' dialog redone in a manner that resembles the Extension/Package managers. I especially love the ability to search through all of the references.
  • "Ctrl - Click" for Definition - I am still getting used to this as I usually try to use my keyboard for everything, but I love the ability to hold Ctrl and turn property/methods/variables into hyperlinks, that you click on to see their definitions. Great for travelling down a rabbit hole in an application to research problems.

While there are other commands/utilities, I find these to be the ones that I lean on the most for the usefulness.

Web Essentials

If you have do any type of web development in ASP .Net, ASP .Net MVC, even HTML, I highly suggest grabbing the Web Essentials right NOW! This extension alone is great for productivity in web development, and greatly decreases my development time on new features.

Features

Some of its best features include:

  • CSS Previews - I say 'previews' because of the multiple kinds of previews in CSS that you get font-family, color, background/background-image previews. This is great for just tweaking UI slightly in different ways and seeing how they look in the CSS window at a glance.
  • Live Preview - One word - awesome! This goes well with my multi-monitor setup. I put the site on one monitor in a Live Preview panel, and then as I make changes to CSS/cshtml/aspx/html, the preview window will update with each save/build automatically. For CSS, you can even turn on live-update, so as you are tweaking CSS, the style changes in real time. Great for tweaking colors or font-sizes.
  • Outlining - Small, but I like to be able to collapse regions/declarations that are in the way of new work, or are just distracting.
  • Commenting Shortcuts - I don't know why it wasn't included by default, but it is nice to have the key shortcuts for commenting working in the CSS editor as well.

Productivity Tip

When working on a site, hit CTRL-ALT-ENTER to launch the Live Preview window. Dock it to another monitor. When you make changes to the document/css, just save and glance at the other monitor. No need to alt tab, then alt tab before continuing editing.

Conclusion

These extensions are only the most useful and least intrusive - ones that I use every day. The great thing about Visual Studio 2010 is the extensibility options that it gives developers to utilize. Have an extension that you use that isn't intrusive, but isn't listed here? Please, feel free to comment. I love trying new things, and am always looking for new additions to my toolset of the most useful.

Finally, please keep an eye out for Part 2 on key shortcuts in Visual Studio. Also, if you are visiting my site (http://tostringtheory.com || http://geekswithblogs.net/tostringtheory) from an actual browser and not a feed, please let me know what you think of the new styling!

Print | posted on Wednesday, May 30, 2012 5:00 PM

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