The original plan for Microsoft was to discontinue the Express series, at least for regular desktop apps, with the VS Express 2010 products satisfying the "legacy" requirements of developers. Of course, everyone but Microsoft thought this was an insane idea and eventually, Microsoft relented, releasing the "Windows Desktop" flavour of VS Express 2012.
I was one of the first to jump across from Visual Studio Express 2008 to 2010 and it didn't take me long to make another leap to 2012. What I didn't expect was the new, Metro-inspired interface and the consolidated IDE. The former took a while to get used to, but the latter is a welcome change. It's just one of the perks 2012 has over its predecessors, some of which we'll take a look at now.
3. Unit Testing And Code Analysis... But Still Limited Extensions
I've managed to get by without the need for Visual Studio's unit testing or code analysis features, likely because I've never had access to them. Still, it's nice that these pieces have made their way into the Express edition, previously being available only in the purchased product. At least now I have the opportunity to tinker with them.
In fact, these additions make it harder to justify the expenditure for the professional version of VS 2012. Of course, there's still limited support for extensions and plug-ins, which depending on your working environment, are indispensable.
2. Try The Dark Side
Installing a high contrast theme for Visual Studio was never a big deal, with plenty of pre-tweaked configurations available on the internet. That said, I couldn't understand why a basic high contrast theme wasn't built into the IDE. With the latest version of Visual Studio Express, a "Dark" theme featuring light text on a dark background is available from the get-go (see lead image). It might not appeal to those particularly picky about the pastels used to represent their syntax, but it's an excellent default that should meet the requirements of most.
1. One IDE To Rule Them All
For hobbyists, if you wanted to develop in more than one language using Microsoft's IDEs, you had little choice but to install separate versions of Visual Studio Express — one for Visual Basic, another for C# and another for C++. With VS Express 2012, you can develop an application in any of these languages using the one IDE. You can now also combine languages into the one solution, a major limitation of previous Express editions and a godsend for those of us working on multi-language projects.
Even with these provocative reasons to upgrade, I'm still using the 2010 Express editions on my main machine, with 2012 on my laptop. This is because I use my desktop for games development and the updated Windows SDK, installed automatically by 2012, does not have good support for debugging DirectX applications — well, those that rely on DirectX 9.
I'm also contemplating a wholesale move to MonoDevelop as I continue to eye off Linux and Mac for future projects, but last time I fired it up, everything just felt more difficult, though a lack of familiarity is the likely culprit and I'll be giving it another go in the near future. For now, I'm spending quality time with Microsoft's latest. Let's see how long it lasts!
Visual Studio Express 2012 for Windows Desktop [Microsoft]