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Visual Studio Code 1.3 is Microsoft's new dev playground

Katherine Noyes | July 8, 2016
With each new version of Visual Studio Code, Microsoft is experimenting with UI/UX in ways the legacy of the original Visual Studio wouldn't allow

Visual Studio Code 1.3 not only adds a passel of feature improvements and bug fixes, it shows Microsoft using a clean product slate to experiment. Microsoft is free to do things with Code that would be unwelcome and jarring in the full-blown Visual Studio environment.

Some new features are taken straight from the Visual Studio product. With Tabs, for instance, open files appear in a list of tabs along the top of the editor and can be reorganized by simply dragging and dropping. Users of Visual Studio and many other IDEs will find it a more familiar interface paradigm than the list of working files that showed up in the Explorer column to the right.

That working files list, by the way, has also changed; it's been replaced with an Open editors view that shows editors grouped in "stacks." Three stacks -- left, right, and center -- can be open at any one time, each with its own tabs and controls for managing items en masse (save all, close all, and so on). It's a fairly dramatic change from previous versions of Code, so Microsoft has provided options to switch back to the old behaviors should people prefer.

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Visual Studio Code 1.3 uses an experimental "stacks" view for handling multiple editors. Each stack has its own tab set. The pre-1.3 interface can also be restored by editing the application settings

Other improvements amount to controlled UI/UX experiments. Preview editors, for instance, let you see the contents of a file without actually opening it. Single-clicking a file name in Code's Explorer pops open a tab that shows the contents of the file; subsequent single clicks on other files reuse the same tab for file previews. If you start editing the file in place, the tab turns into a full-blown editor tab. It's a good way to reduce the amount of tab clutter that often accumulates during a busy session.

Some improvements don't change or rethink what was already there so much as polish it. Visual Studio Code has already accumulated an impressive gallery of third-party extensions for popular programming languages and syntaxes, but figuring out what was already installed or needed revising was no simple matter. A revised extension manager for Code streamlines the process of adding, changing, or updating extensions; it's much easier to read and sort through as well.

Finally, Microsoft hasn't forgotten to include features that people actually requested. There's now a powerful global search and replace tool -- which most IDEs need. Changes can be previewed, applied selectively, and examined with the built-in Diff tool. It's likely that Code's origins as a one-file-at-a-time editor, rather than a project-oriented IDE, are the reason global search and replace weren't there originally. But it's impossible to ignore that Code is used now as much for working with multiple files in a project as for one-off editing.


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