So you want to be a programmer?: A look at Visual Studio Online

Friday October 24, 2014
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Oct. 24, 2014 - If you want to be a programmer, but don’t want to spend the money on the tools, you have some options.

Google made the Android development environment available for all to use, creating a boatload of android app developers. Microsoft did the same thing with free versions of its Visual Studio Express development environments for various languages.

Enter Visual Studio Online (VSO) — a cloud-based development environment where all of the development is done using a web browser and a local copy of Visual Studio Express 2013. Let’s see what it’s made of.

Visualstudio.com is the home page for its products. If you don’t already have one, you’ll have to create a live login. Once your account is set up, you can create your VS homepage and, voila, you are ready to “develop.”

The main thing to remember is that Microsoft holds your source code. I am not sure creating a “company-making” product in the cloud is the best thing to do — you don’t want it to fall into the wrong hands or, worse, be the target of hackers and spammers.

I am introducing this to you as an alternative to massive downloads, and as a learning tool. Be aware that Microsoft is also trying to “force” users to Windows 8. Also be aware that you still have to download and install a version of VS 2013 since some of the editor tools connect to VSO locally.

VSO supports collaboration with up to five users, free of charge. It also supports all of the VS languages for your project. Microsoft is trying to create developers, pure and simple. And these developers will develop for Windows, thus creating pull-through for its operating system(s). Google did it, so why not Microsoft?

It is a great learning tool. The online help system is huge. Regardless of the language of choice, there is an abundance of examples, help files, guided tours and the like to help you on your own journey.

I learned something about the Scrum templates — it is a team tool that tracks bugs and source code on various levels. While beyond the scope of this column, it is suggested that more reading be done if you are choosing to use this cloud app with multiple developers. It was designed to accommodate scope creep and bug tracking.

Each project has a very different feel to it and will take some learning to traverse. As with anything worthwhile, one must spend the time to learn the tool, and Microsoft has tried hard to provide a roadmap. But keep in mind that if you are not a programmer, it might take a little longer to navigate through.

At first view, this development environment looked very cool. But the more I got into it, the more it seemed that it was really for team and collaborative projects which, when created, would require the Windows OS or Mobile OS.

So what is VSO really? It is a resource for language learning; it is a repository for source code, which is version-tracked by the Scrum templates and the Team Foundation Server version control system; and it is also a place where you can build and test your application(s).

You can build web-based projects, locally executed projects and enterprise-level projects. The web-based ones looked interesting, but the underlying language(s) is where the fun is.

VSO with VS Studio supports Visual Basic, C++, C#, F#, Java and various flavours of Microsoft subsystems, such as ASP.NET applications.

Being able to write some code in industrial applications can be a very valuable skill. Rockwell’s RSLogix has a Visual Basic interface called VBA (Visual Basic for Applications), which is the same as the scripting in many SCADA packages, as well as Microsoft products such as Excel. Scripting can be done in various languages when employing an IEC-61131 controller with dynamic linking of modules in real-time.

So while this isn’t a review of VSO as such, it is a review of the possibilities that are available to you. The MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) resource is huge, and the application development templates can be very useful for the novice.

I hope you like it!


This column originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.

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