Response from the Dark Side

Published February 22nd, 2007

A couple of days ago I wrote a rather lengthy piece about my first encounter with Visual Studio and C#. Yesterday, I was quite surprised (and also flattered and a little unnerved) to receive an email from Dan Fernandez, Lead Product Manager of the Non-Professional Tools Team at Microsoft: that is, the people responsible for the Visual Studio Express line of products that I had written about.

I was surprised and flattered because, in spite of the traffic stats for this site that suggest otherwise, my innate pessimism has me convinced that no-one actually reads this blog — I’m sure the comments are all put there by my mother trying to cheer me up (thanks mum!). I was unnerved because the article had been live for barely a day: does Microsoft have some sort of blog radar, constantly checking the ‘net for references to its products? OK probably not, but I’m wearing my tinfoil underpants as I type this, just in case…

Anyway the email was very positive, addressing some of the points I’d made in the article and supplying some useful further info. Indeed I thought it might be of interest (if you’re still reading, mum) to reproduce some of the mail here, so here goes:

Microsoft is going through a Hobbyist Renaissance where we come back to our roots with recently launched tools and frameworks for hobbyists ranging from Robotics using Robotics Studio to homebrew Xbox games using XNA Game Studio Express, or the newly announced Windows Home Server for self-hosting your own Web site. Coding4Fun is our community for fun, cool projects ranging from productivity features like writing your own desktop search to hardware projects using web cams and motion detection to game development like Unreal Tournament or arcade clones like Space Invaders or Pong.

…We try to provide a balance between developers that want to look under the covers and understand how things work to non-developers that just want to create *something*. It can be difficult deciding what the right level of abstraction is to appease both of these audiences, but that’s always a work in progress. [...]

In reading some of your comments, you should also be aware that there is a thriving community of open-source .NET developers on SourceForge (over 5K C# projects) and CodePlex (

OK so some of it inevitably reads rather like a press release, but I was impressed that someone at Microsoft had taken the time to respond to the points that I’d made. And from other comments that Dan made in the mail, it does seem that Microsoft — or at the very least, this part of it — is genuinely interested in creating good, free tools for small-scale developers.

It’s a smart move: I for one would never have paid for the retail version of Visual Studio for the sake of a side-project like this, but having tried out the Express edition I’m now thinking seriously about spending more time getting familiar with C# — which might even lead me to spend my cash, too. And the more people who — like me — are tempted to develop on the .Net platform the more of a standard it will become, which has to be good for Microsoft.

I don’t know how much further I will go with Visual Studio/C#. It’s not applicable to my current job; then again, another skill is always handy. But I applaud Microsoft for its pro-active approach and for what really is an impressively slick product.

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  1. Mom on April 23, 2007

    That’s lovely dear, keep up the good work!

  2. Peter Rust on May 4, 2007


    Great to see you expanding your toolbox and learning some of the MS tools. In college and at my first three programming jobs, I’ve primarily been exposed to Microsoft tools and technologies, so for me, non-MS technologies were the “dark-side”.

    Visual Studio is by far the best IDE I have ever used (speaking mostly of the code completion/intellisense for C#). I haven’t found an IDE for Javascript or Python that even comes close.

    Having been “there and back again”, I think the air is greener and the grass is fresher :) in the space not dominated by one large company. There tends to be more “small, sharp tools” created by different people, that work together, rather than one large “does everything” tool. The non-MS communities tend to have smarter people doing more complex/significant code/components. In particular, I’m very much impressed by the Python community and the library.

  3. Stickman on May 7, 2007

    While it’s not quite as polished as Visual Studio, the open source project SharpDevelop is nonetheless extremely impressive. I tend to use VS for coding (I find it slightly better for debugging) but SD is handy for the breadth of its addins — e.g. FXCop integration, SVN support — especially if, like me, you only have access to VS Express (which doesn’t support VS AddIns).

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