Tools Still Matter

Last week, I facilitated the Open Spaces at the awesome CodeMash conference. The theme of the Open Spaces was “Techniques Not Tools.” While I certainly agree with the sentiment, I still believe tools matter.

In my professional development, I work in .NET 1.1 using Visual Studio 2003 and I assure you there are limitations imposed by the tools. I am still able to build software that I am proud of, but it could be easier.

I’m currently setting up a new development VM and I thought I would share the configuration settings I use. I start by installing Visual Studio Team System 2008 Development Edition. I probably don’t need anything more than the Professional Edition, but there are some tools in the Development Edition that have been useful in the past.

I immediately install SP1 before I even launch Visual Studio. Once I launch VS, I choose C# developer settings. After the incredibly long wait, the UI appears and I make my way straight to Tools –> Options.


Under Environment/General, I uncheck animate environment tools.


Next, under Environment/Startup I select “Show empty environment.”


Under Projects and Solutions/General, I set the “Visual Studio Projects Location” to C:\Development.


Next I go to Text Editor/All Languages/General and turn on Auto List Members, turn off Hide Advanced Members and turn on Parameter Information. I also turn on Line Numbers and turn off Navigation Bar.


In Text Editor/All Languages/Tabs I set indenting to Smart, Tab Size and Indent Size to 2 and select Insert Spaces.

After closing out of the options dialog, I go to Tools-> Import and Export Settings where I import Brad Wilson’s Dark Consolas theme for VS2008. I will frequently tweak the font size depending on whether I am doing a presentation, but in general, I use the defaults from Brad’s settings file.

Now it is time to close Visual Studio and install Tortoise SVN and reboot. After the reboot, I install Visual SVN and Resharper. Both of these tools cost extra and both are more than worth the money. Because I don’t do any commercial development on this VM, I could install the personal edition of TestDriven.NET, but I have found that I get value from the emotional reinforcement of watching the green line grow in the Resharper Test Runner.

The last step in setting up a clean Visual Studio Install is to launch the IDE, go to View –> Toolbars and turn off all the toolbars. You will have to do this multiple times because different toolbars are active at different times. You do not need toolbars, and they are probably slowing you down. Learn the keystrokes. You will be a more productive developer as a result.

Finishing up, I install the Web Deployment Projects, Power Commands and the VS Command Shell extensions. Finally, I close the toolbox because every time I accidentally mouse over the damn thing, it slows me down. 😉