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Cool Tools

Saturday, February 19, 2011 #

When applying to join Geeks with Blogs I had to specify the development tools I use every day. That got me thinking, it's taken a long time to whittle my tools of choice down to the selection I use, so it might be worth sharing.

Before I begin, I appreciate we all have our preferred development tools, but these are the ones that work for me.

Microsoft Visual Studio

Microsoft Visual Studio has been my development tool of choice for more years than I care to remember. I first used this when it was Visual C++ 1.5 (hats off to those who started on 1.0) and by 2.2 it had everything I needed from a C++ IDE. Versions 4 and 5 followed and if I had to guess I would expect more Windows applications are written in VC++ 6 and VB6 than any other language.

Then came the not so great versions Visual Studio .Net 2002 (7.0) and 2003 (7.1). If I'm honest I was still using v6. 2005 was better and 2008 was simply brilliant. Everything worked, the compiler was super fast and I was happy again...then came 2010...oh dear.

2010 is a big step backwards for me. It's not encouraging for my upcoming WPF exploits that 2010 is fronted in WPF technology, with the forever growing Find/Replace dialog, the issues with C++ intellisense, and the buggy debugger. That said it is still my tool of choice but I hope they sort the issue in SP1.

I've tried other IDEs like Visual Age and Eclipse, but for me Visual Studio is the best. A really great tool.

Liquid XML Studio

XML development is a tricky business. The W3C standards are often difficult to get to the bottom of so it's great to have a graphical tool to help. I first used Liquid Technologies 5 or 6 years back when I needed to process XML data in C++. Their excellent XML Data Binding tool has an easy to use Wizard UI (as compared to Castor or JAXB command line tools) and allows you to generate code from an XML Schema. So instead of having to deal with untyped nodes like with a DOM parser, instead you get an Object Model providing a custom API in C++, C#, VB etc.

More recently they developed a graphical XML IDE with XML Editor, XSLT, XQuery debugger and other XML tools. So now I can develop an XML Schema graphically, click a button to generate a Sample XML document, and click another button to run the Wizard to generate code including a Sample Application that will then load my Sample XML document into the generated object model.

This is a very cool toolset.

Note: XML Data Binding is nothing to do with WPF Data Binding, but I hope to cover both in more detail another time.

.Net Reflector

Note: I've just noticed that starting form the end of February 2011 this will no longer be a free tool !!

.Net Reflector turns .Net byte code back into C# source code. But how can it work this magic? Well the clue is in the name, it uses reflection to inspect a compiled .Net assembly. The assembly is compiled to byte code, it doesn't get compiled to native machine code until its needed using a just-in-time (JIT) compiler. The byte code still has all of the information needed to see classes, variables, methods and properties, so reflector gathers this information and puts it in a handy tree.

I have used .Net Reflector for years in order to understand what the .Net Framework is doing as it sometimes has undocumented, quirky features. This really has been invaluable in certain instances and I cannot praise enough kudos on the original developer Lutz Roeder.

Smart Assembly

In order to stop nosy geeks looking at our code using a tool like .Net Reflector, we need to obfuscate (mess up) the byte code. Smart Assembly is a tool that does this. Again I have used this for a long time. It is very quick and easy to use.

Another excellent tool.

Coincidentally, .Net Reflector and Smart Assembly are now both owned by Red Gate. Again kudos goes to the original developer Jean-Sebastien Lange.


SVN (Apache Subversion) is a Source Control System developed as an open source project. TortoiseSVN is a graphical UI wrapper over SVN that hooks into Windows Explorer to enable files to be Updated, Committed, Merged etc. from the right click menu.

This is an essential tool for keeping my hard work safe! Many years ago I used Microsoft Source Safe and I disliked CVS type systems. But TortoiseSVN is simply the best source control tool I have ever used.


So there you have it, my top 5 development tools that I use (nearly) every day and have helped to make my working life a little easier. I'm sure there are other great tools that I wish I used but have never heard of, but if you have not used any of the above, I would suggest you check them out as they are all very, very cool products.