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Microsoft Visual Studio Code BETA First Impressions

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As a multi-platform developer, I'm always on the lookout for new tools to help me get the job done. A solid and extendable IDE (or Integrated Developer Environment) can mean the difference between feeling empowered by your platform or feeling like you're l33t hacking just to get something functional deployed.

Having used IDEs like Eclipse, Aptana Studio, Visual Studio, and various others I can tell you that they all have strengths and weaknesses. One of the biggest weaknesses of an IDE that's really no fault of said IDE is a rather daily use case: you need to do some rather simple code editing, and the given IDE is a beast.

Most IDEs - and I'm looking at Eclipse in particular - is such a beast. While it is amazingly flexible, capable, and robust... it can often be a tad rubenesque for a quick task like modifying a javaScript function or adding a new CSS rule to a stylesheet.

In those cases, I often fire up a rich Code Editor like Notepad++ or Sublime Text to quickly make my changes... but these editors were not designed to integrate natively with GIT or specifically function as a multiple platform code editor. And while they've been co-opted via plug-ins to support GIT and support for your coding language of choice, there's something about support-via-afterthought vs. support-via-initial design that can't be matched.

While Notepad++ and Sublime Text are two of the most popular Code Editors out there, I wanted to see if there was something else that would help me get the job done... and that's when I found Microsoft Visual Studio Code.

Does Visual Studio Code have what it takes to dethrone Notepad++ and Sublime Text as the go-to Code Editor for multi-platform developers? Let's break it down with a First Impressions Review!

Hello Visual Studio Code!

The first thing that I noticed was that Visual Studio Code, or vscode, wasn't just a Microsoft OS product. Downloads are available for Linux, Microsoft Windows (of course), and Apple MacOS... for free.

Yep, vscode is free... and currently in BETA... and has a license expiration date of December 31, 2016. But that's by design, as explained in the vscode FAQs, which points to this StackOverflow post response by the Product Manager which I've quoted here:

When we declare GA we will make two significant changes to the license. First, we are removing the termination date from the license and from the product. Second, we will allow users opt-out of data collection. VS Code will continue to be free and Insiders builds will always be Beta.

So it looks like you can download vscode for free, run it on several different OS options, and the product manager is active in the community addressing potential concerns. All good signs!

Pick your language in Microsoft Visual Studio Code

-- or at least the language you're coding in. To say vscode supports a few languages you can choose from is an understatement! While it appears to auto-detect whatever language you're using (and matches the language based on file extension), you have the ability to select from quite an extensive list of coding languages out of the box.

Microsoft Visual Studio Code - Coding Language Selection [highlighted] Microsoft Visual Studio Code - Coding Language Selection [highlighted]

-- and the language support is quick extensive. As of the time of this review, at version 0.10.8, here's a list of the languages and exactly how they're supported in vscode:

Features Languages
Syntax coloring, bracket matching Batch, Clojure, Coffee Script, Dockerfile, F#, Go, Jade, Java, HandleBars, Ini, Lua, Makefile, Objective-C, Perl, PowerShell, Python, R, Razor, Ruby, Rust, SQL, Visual Basic, XML
+ Snippets Groovy, Markdown, Swift
+ IntelliSense, linting, outline C++, CSS, HTML, JavaScript, JSON, Less, PHP, Sass
+ Refactoring, find all references TypeScript, C#

This breakdown of supported languages and even more information on language support can be found here.

Web Development in Microsoft Visual Studio Code

I recently started playing around with Google's Material Design Lite for more of a hybrid dashboard user interface to my more app-style applications. So I brought my in-progress template -- which I had been working on using Sublime Text -- into vscode:

Microsoft Visual Studio Code - Web Project - HTML Editing Microsoft Visual Studio Code - Web Project - HTML Editing

HTML, CSS, and JavaScript editing in vscode is simple and the context-sensitive assistance is non-intrusive. Unlike some other editors (that I use daily), vscode always felt responsive and didn't assume I wanted a closing quotation mark at-random.

First Impressions

I like it. And I like it well enough for further vetting.

I suspect that many of the at-first-glance pitfalls of vscode have more to do with my unfamiliarity of the product and lack of time invested in configuring and customizing it to meet my individual needs. I say this due to the amount of documentation and apparent availability of plugins and extensions. An issue that my further vetting will hopefully highlight and address one way or the other.


  • It's Fast!

    This this is snappy and responsive. It keeps up with my keystrokes and doesn't sponteneously freeze up because it's heavy-lifting some background task.

  • It's Supported

    Microsoft seems to be putting some resources - both money and talent - into supporting this thing as far as I can tell...

  • It's Open Source and Extendable

    It looks like you can really streamline vscode to make it your Code Editor.

  • It's Free

    The only investment you'll need to make trying this for yourself is time.


  • BETA concerns

    "Will it ever see v1.0?" and every other concern you've ever had about BETA programs rise to the surface here, and I would be pretty upset if I spent the time crafting my ideal Code Editor via plug-ins, extensions, and more just to have it shelved due to lack of adoption!

  • Yet Another Code Editor?

    With Notepad++, Sublime Text, and various others out there... why go Visual Studio Code?

  • Can you trust Microsoft?

    By default, telemetry reporting is enabled. vscode collects and sends usage data to Microsoft. Mind you, this can be easily disabled in the User Preferences (directions in the already linked vscode FAQs earlier in the article)...

    (And you should be wearing a tinfoil hat for this next sentence) Shortly after disabling telemetry reporting, I received an email from Microsoft touting "Your feedback matters" and asking me to take a customer and partner survey.

Will I proceed with Microsoft Visual Studio Code? Yes, I'm going to put it through it's paces before rending a verdict. That verdict will be in the form of a full review.

In said full review - which I'll publish once I feel I've properly vetted Microsoft Visual Studio Code - I will cover various features and functionality I didn't get a chance to in this First Impressions review, including the GIT integration and field testing the customization capabilities of vscode.

Until then, download it and give it a whirl.

Are you interested in Microsoft Visual Studio Code? What about other reviews on software and tools for enterprise application developers? Let us know in the comments below!

About the author: Chris Toohey

Thought Leadership, Web & Mobile Application Development, Solutions Integration, Technical Writing & Mentoring

A published developer and webmaster of, Chris Toohey specializes in platform application development, solutions integration, and evangelism of platform capabilities and best practices.

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