Interview: We chat with Microsoft's Brian Harry about Visual Studio 2013

Today, alongside its launch of Visual Studio 2013, Microsoft also announced a new set of cloud services for developers called Visual Studio Online. Offered for free to the first five members of a team, as an MSDN subscription benefit, or on a monthly subscription basis, Visual Studio Online provides development teams an easy path to creating, deploying and managing modern applications.

Visual Studio Online includes previews of a browser-based lightweight code editing tool Microsoft calls “Monaco,” an analytics tool called “Application Insights” that provides developers visibility to the health and performance of their software and a DevOps service called “Release Management” that provides automated software deployment capabilities. Previously offered in limited preview as Team Foundation Service, Visual Studio Online also includes cloud build, elastic load testing and work item services.

In order to better understand Microsoft’s goals with Visual Studio 2013 and this new set of services, Neowin got a chance to ask a few questions, via email, to Brian Harry, Microsoft’s Technical Fellow in charge of Visual Studio Online.

Brian has also agreed to come online here at Neowin from 5–6 pm Eastern Time today to directly answer questions from Neowin community members. You can begin to ask questions via the news comments on this post.


First, how do you and the team feel now that Visual Studio 2013 has been officially released?

There’s a modest but remarkable moment of pride that a team experiences when releasing something like Visual Studio, and today is no exception. Visual Studio 2013 has quite a number of significant new features that we’re excited to provide developers – features we ourselves use and believe other developers will find valuable. But I should explain that this is only the beginning: Over the last 18 months, we’ve committed to releasing updates to Visual Studio tools and services on a much faster cadence than in years past. We’re at a point now that we’re shipping updates to our services every three weeks. My team is constantly listening to what developers are saying about Visual Studio, what they would like to see us add and the trends that are affecting how they work, then folding into Visual Studio what we hear people asking for and believe will quickly help developers be most productive and agile. I encourage all developers to dive into the new features in Visual Studio 2013 and Visual Studio Online. There are some great new capabilities here for building next-generation applications that draw upon the cloud, while running across a range of devices.

What were the main goals in developing VS 2013, compared to what was put into VS 2012?

With Visual Studio 2012, we began exploring – and adding – new capabilities that better support today’s modern developers and the new ways in which we work. We put a major stake in the ground with agile project management in Visual Studio 2012, and our limited preview of the cloud-based Team Foundation Service gave distributed development teams a free, easy-to-use online option for project planning and collaboration: just log in and you’re underway. We also began folding powerful DevOps and cloud testing capabilities into Visual Studio. Visual Studio 2013 and Visual Studio Online take these capabilities to a much more powerful and advanced level, better suited to a wider range of developers. One of my favorite features of Visual Studio 2013 is the connected IDE experience, which gives developers access to all their customized settings whenever they log into Visual Studio, from any remote machine. Visual Studio Online now features “Monaco,” a lightweight code editor in the cloud, enabling Web developers in particular to easily log in and make changes to their code from anywhere. Our agile capabilities in Team Foundation Server have scaled to the point that they’re ready to support enterprise-sized projects using agile practices – like we do at Microsoft. And certain DevOps scenarios, like rapid release of software updates and better understanding of how an application is performing for its users, are supported by services like Application Insights and Release Management. 

What were some of the harder aspects of making Visual Studio 2013?

It’s worth mentioning that, like our customers, we’re in a time of transformation and our teams – like our customers’ teams – feel the same pressure to release quality products at a more rapid rate and to iterate more quickly. We understand what it means to be agile at Microsoft scale, to deliver innovation and value to customers faster than ever before. The good news is, what we’re building into Visual Studio is informed by the lessons we learn as we ourselves encounter, and overcome, these challenges.

Microsoft is now going to be releasing major software updates on a more rapid basis. Did that have any effect on the creation of VS 2013?

Absolutely. This notion is central to what we’ve built Visual Studio 2013 and Visual Studio Online to support. In short, we’re releasing updates to Visual Studio much more rapidly than ever before because, ultimately, we aim to provide developers who use Visual Studio the exact tool – or change to the tooling – the moment they recognize they need that add or change. But more importantly, we intend to enable Visual Studio users to do exactly the same thing for their users by giving them the same capabilities, and ability to iterate rapidly, we ourselves use. In addition, by delivering multiple new feature updates for Visual Studio 2012 over the past year, we’ve been able to stay at the front of development tooling technologies. We’ve placed more focus on delivering the most current and relevant features for Visual Studio 2013. You’ll see that reflected in great new features like CodeLens, which lets you see the most recent changes in code, who last worked on the code, the latest pass/fail state, and what code references exist. We’ve also been able to take team collaboration to new levels, as we’ve done with the Team Rooms feature, which provides an area for fostering and capturing communication among team members, both near and far, with activity feeds on code check-ins, build status, work item changes and more.

The Modern UI is now slowly becoming the norm while we are seeing the first signs of the desktop app disappearing. What direction does the Visual Studio team think the future of app development will take and how will the VS tools adapt to it? 

I’m afraid I disagree with your premise. At Microsoft, we absolutely see value in, and intend to continue supporting, both scenarios – the cloud/device model and the desktop application. Each has its place and will continue to for many, many years to come. Accordingly, while you’ll recognize that our tools and platforms support the technologies predominantly behind apps, such as standard HTML5, JavaScript (and TypeScript) and XAML, you’ll also note that our investments in and commitments to .NET – the framework for building desktop applications – continues unabated. In fact, while we recently took steps to unify, simplify and reduce costs for developers who wish to build apps for both the Windows Store and Windows Phone, we also released a significant update to .NET, .NET 4.5.1, on October 17th. It’s clear that software development continues to evolve at a rapid pace, as the growing presence of devices and the cloud dictate the need for user-driven applications that span different environments. Microsoft is committed to listening to the needs of developers and delivering continuous improvement in our tools and development solutions to make creating those applications easier than ever before.

Will we see more cloud-based apps in the future and if so will Visual Studio adapt to those needs?

Without a doubt. We’re building Visual Studio to be the undisputed leading tool in the market for building cloud-based apps because of the key role cloud apps play in today’s devices-and-services model of computing. Visual Studio Online is a perfect example of both how we see this manifesting itself and how Visual Studio will adapt. With Visual Studio Online and the on-demand computing power now being offered by cloud services such as Windows Azure, the cost and complexity of a developer deploying complicated, computing-intensive scenarios – such as load testing and analytics – is now a tiny fraction of what it was just a few years ago. This trend of greater on-demand computing power being more convenient, affordable and available will only continue.

Finally is there anything else you wish to say about Visual Studio 2013?

I believe it’s a great time to be a developer, and as we evolve our developer tools, bringing together all the great capabilities in Visual Studio 2013, Visual Studio Online, MSDN and Azure, I believe we will help developers succeed at creating great applications while taking customer experiences to a new level. If you’re a developer, I invite you to download Visual Studio 2013 Express for free to see for yourself what I’m talking about, and tell us what you like or don’t like about the software – either through the comments below, or through UserVoice, which is a great venue for providing feedback on Visual Studio.

We would like to thank Brian for answering our questions. Don't forget that he will be here answering questions from the Neowin community starting at 5 pm Eastern time.

Images via Microsoft

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It's a real shame that the Visual Studio 2013 upgrade only allows you to upgrade from Visual Studio 2012.

I have Visual Studio 2010 and wanted to upgrade to Visual Studio 2012 when it came out, but for some reason the upgrade SKU was removed from the Visual Studio 2012 line-up so I am still stuck on 2010.

Hopefully its not too late...

Are there plans to add more touch support for Visual Studio? Right now I use my Surface RT for coding on the go (remoting into my bulky laptop I don't often carry around) and it would be great to use touch to scroll in the editor. Right now it just selects text.

Also, thanks for always being so open! Its great to read your blog and see someone so honest about what's going on.

In this interview on Neowin you've called .NET "the framework for building desktop applications" - could you clarify? Isn't .NET also viewed by Microsoft as a first-class citizen for building WinRT and Windows Phone apps?

Also are you aware that the highest voted suggestion, ever and by far, on Visual Studio Connect is .NET support on Xbox One (10100 votes today)? Has Microsoft acknowledged this request and is there any plan to bring it to fruition? It would kind of suck to see Mono have to provide Microsoft's own dev framework on its own platform. http://visualstudio.uservoice....allow-net-games-on-xbox-one

I think we just mean that it's the first class way to build desktop applications. Yes, it's also a great way to build cloud apps, device apps, etc. It wasn't meant to be an exclusive statement.

No, I wasn't aware that that was the highest voted suggestion ever. I'm sure the .NET team knows it. In general we are working hard to have symmetry across all of our client platforms - your skills are portable, your code reusable and where possible your app runs across them all. I'm not in a position to make any commitment specifically on this suggestions but that's the direction.

Are you planning to release a version each year?

On every version should we upgrade our project and solution files all the time?

No, we don't have any specific cadence for major releases - other than the general direction of doing them more frequently than we have historically. We plan each release in the context of what's going on with the platform, the market, our customers and our team.

We're committed to making the transition from version to version as painless as we can - including providing round tripping with older versions.

Asked this on reddit too but Soma hasn't responded yet, thought I'd ask here too:

How does Microsoft plan to invest on the various fronts using web technologies (Server Side, Browser, Windows 8, Xbox/WP8)?

Does Microsoft see HTML/JS as a viable long term development platform alongside C#/XAML, and C++/DirectX?

Does Microsoft plan to bring the performance and usability investments from WinRT and XAML in Win8.1 to WPF?

How do you see Visual Studio evolving not only online with VSOnline and Monaco, but also on tablets like the Surface where x86 isn't an option?

WinDiv is drinking the HTML Kool Aid and sucking the JavaScript d---. Funny that they have no idea how crappy it is to actually have to use that stuff, because they're C++ coders.

I can't speak for all of Microsoft but yes, I think HTML5/JS is an important and viable platform for both web and device applications (particularly where reuse and portability across platforms is desired). I don't think, it is a replacement for native applications (at least not in the crystal ball I use). We use WPF quite heavily in our client development and I expect we will continue to. I can't speak to the priorities of the WPF team but I know they have heard the feedback on the hunger for improvements and I think they are planning to invest.

Yes, we expect VS Online will work on tablets too - and not just Microsoft ones. I think a true touch tablet is optimized for different scenarios than hard core coding but I think VS Online supports a lot of scenarios that are very relevant - code review, App insights, work management, etc.

Am I correct in that the VS Online is not available to BizSpark users? Any thoughts about changing this so those of us working at startups (like myself) can have access to this tool?

To add a bit more to this, I can see the service, but it won't link correctly. More info can be read about here:

Edited by bdsams, Nov 13 2013, 9:50pm :

Any comment about the hideous font rendering? After all... we're talking about VISUAL here.

I can't imagine none of the devs involved in the VS team not having strong objections... Unless they all work with 7" screens with 4K resolution and seven thousands PPI.

Work in it for a while. You will get used to it. When I see someone working in an old version of VS, the text looks downright primitive.

I guess I've gotten used to it too. It doesn't bother me a bit and I haven't heard a lot of complaints about it. Of course, I'm not on the core IDE team so it's possible they know about the issue more than I do - but I haven't heard it talked about.

Will we see F# support in any of the Express Editions of VS2013? Also, do you have plans to add semantic syntax highlighting to the F# editor (i.e. highlighting of types the way it's done in C#, right now the F# editor only highlights keywords and literals). This would be huge for F# adoption.

Will RyuJIT (new JIT engine) make it in a free update to VS2013?

No, F# is not in any of the VS 2013 Express SKUs, but the F# compiler is available as open source. The RyuJIT is part of .NET 4.5.1 and that is already in all VS 2013 products.

I have been using it for some time now but I don't like the requirement of a Microsoft account to use it. I hope this is not a prelude to a Microsoft creative cloud move. MSDN is already expensive enough for me to put up with MSFT account activation issues.

Right, you need an identity to use our online features (we need to know who you are to keep your data secured and give you access to it) and you also need to register if you are using one of our free products I'd like to think everyone wants to register for the benefits the cloud can provide but if you choose not to, that's cool. Over time, for organizations, we'll also be supporting Active Directory federation so you don't have to use a Microsoft Account and can, instead, use your organizational credentials.

For Brian: Visual Studio Online is a very interesting move, do you think one-day we might be coding natively in a browser window instead of the stand alone app? Seems plausible?

gregalto said,
For Brian: Visual Studio Online is a very interesting move, do you think one-day we might be coding natively in a browser window instead of the stand alone app? Seems plausible?

VS online is more of a collaboration tool. You're never going to code online as the limitations of browsers are there to protect people from security exploits... and just about nothing requires greater access to system resources and elevated privileges as visual studio.

neonspark said,

VS online is more of a collaboration tool. You're never going to code online as the limitations of browsers are there to protect people from security exploits... and just about nothing requires greater access to system resources and elevated privileges as visual studio.

Not coding in a browser, I don't expect that at all. What I do expect, and what might work well to start out with on the metro side would be a thin client type "app" that will let you code away and do most of the things you can do on the desktop BUT your code would then be uploaded to the cloud to be built and run/debugged and all that up on a type of dedicated Azure service/VM instance. In a sense you would be remote coding I suppose, where the client you use locally offloads most of the heavy lifting up to Azure and so on.

We think of the editing capabilities in VS Online as a companion to the desktop VS. It's hard to predict all the scenarios it will be used for. I think there are lots of scenarios where a simple, lightweight editing environment for a class of changes is very valuable. However, personally, it's hard for me to imagine giving up the full power of VS (or replicating it in the browser) anytime soon. I'm pretty excited to see how people use the online editing experience though. I've seen quite a few people who are excited about the possibilities.

neonspark said,

VS online is more of a collaboration tool. You're never going to code online as the limitations of browsers are there to protect people from security exploits... and just about nothing requires greater access to system resources and elevated privileges as visual studio.

Depends on what you are trying to do. If you are developing cloud services and (web) applications, you can very well code online without a problem. With the latest Azure SDK you can even debug cloud services straight from Azure. Obviously if you are developing desktop applications that require system level permissions you won't be able to do that (just yet) but for web and cloud applications, browser editors are more than capable. Even developing hybrid mobile applications is possible today from inside your browser, just check out Icenium ( Although they just released a Visual Studio extension, they started off strictly as a cloud-based IDE. I was able to develop and test hybrid HTML5 apps in an emulator by using only Google Chrome.

Also, with recent advancements in cloud services and technology, I can totally see people being able to develop Windows, OS X, Linux, etc apps using their web browser and deploying and testing their code in real time on virtual machines running in the cloud. Although this might have sounded like science fiction 5 years ago, I can totally see it happening 5 years from now with no doubt in my mind if not even sooner. If you can develop and test iOS, Android and Windows Phone applications in your browser today, what's to say they can't do the exact same thing for any platform out there using virtual machines.