In the past, I advised new Visual Studio developers to buy a book or take a course to get themselves up to speed. Now, unless you have a mentor or your company has budget for live teaching, I suggest you sign up for Wintellect Now and take those courses online. In particular, if you want to learn about developing Windows Store apps, go through Jeff Prosise's course, starting with the introduction to Windows RT. Similarly, if you want to learn about Windows Azure, go through Jeffrey Richter's course.
Let me point out that the Visual Studio Ultimate product I've reviewed is not appropriate for everyone. If you're new to Visual Studio, start with the free and stripped-down Visual Studio Express product that best suits your needs, be it for Web, Windows (that is, Windows Store), Windows Desktop (C#, Visual Basic, and C++), or Windows Phone. Unless you need more than one of these, stripped-down is good. Frankly, even the Express products have learning curves.
If you're a student, you can start (and perhaps end) with a free copy of Visual Studio Professional 2013, which will get you all the basic single-user development tools, at the possible cost of being a little overwhelmed.
Once you're sure you can use Visual Studio, then you can download the document that describes all the Visual Studio purchase options. It's 33 pages long — I kid you not. Did the young Bill Gates who slept in the computer lab at his high school ever imagine his company would emulate the most obnoxious features of IBM? Somehow I doubt it. What's worse is that the 33-page document doesn't contain any prices.
I'll give you the short pricing summary. If you buy from the Microsoft Store you'll see prices ranging from $299 for an upgrade to Visual Studio 2013 Professional to $13,299 for a new full copy of Visual Studio Ultimate 2013 with MSDN, the product I reviewed here.
Professional is for independent developers. Premium is for developers and architects in teams. Test Professional is for testers in teams. Ultimate is the kitchen sink. If you want one of the high-end SKUs with MSDN, see the comparison on the MSDN site. Visual Studio Professional is the only Visual Studio product available without an MSDN subscription.
In summary, Visual Studio 2013 improves a developer's productivity in many ways, as compared to its predecessor: in the editors, in the debuggers, in the frameworks, in the wizards, and in the performance and diagnostics tools. Visual Studio 2013 Ultimate goes beyond development to unit testing, smoke testing, load testing, and all the way to continuous builds and release management.
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