I attended Microsoft TechEd USA last month, where the news highlight was a bunch of new features in Visual Studio. Although Microsoft is not revealing what is coming for Windows 8 development, it has shown a bunch of new features ranging from code clone detection, which aims to find code that was copied and pasted rather than being properly refactored, to new IntelliTrace agents that are designed to find bugs after deployment, rather than just in code you are developing.
They are decent features, and it seems that the new Visual Studio will further extend what is already an impressive range of capabilities. I have spent a lot of time researching Visual Studio 2010, the current version, and considering the scope of the tool, from mobile devices to multi-tier enterprise applications, I hold it in high regard.
Talk to developers about what they want to see in Visual Studio though, and you can bet that neither code clone detection nor IntelliTrace agents will be on their list. They would rather Microsoft fixed annoyances rather than adding features which they might not ever use. Performance is always high on the list: not doing new things, so much as doing the same things faster. Quick access to documentation is another. If you are like me, you often end up searching Google rather than pressing F1, since somehow Google can search the entire internet faster than Visual Studio can summon its own documentation.
Why is Windows Vista considered a flop, whereas Windows 7 has flown off the shelves? I doubt it is to do with thumbnails in the taskbar, or even the Libraries feature, presenting multiple folders as one, a neat feature but often not well understood.
My guess is that better performance is the main reason, followed by hundreds of small usability improvements which Microsoft made. Windows 7 is not perfect, but it generally runs better than its predecessor.
There is always pressure to add features. If you are a software giant like Microsoft, there are marketing reasons; you need those bullet points to win upgrades, or think you do. If you are a corporate developer, there is constant pressure to meet new requirements.
The problem: it is too easy to lose sight of what users often care about more, which is the performance and usability of the applications and features they already use most often.
Somehow, at planning meetings it is hard to justify spending time on improving features that already exist, rather than creating new ones, yet for improving the productivity and even the happiness of users it is often the right thing to do.
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