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What is Visual Studio Express?

Visual Studio Express 2013 is a free software development framework for Windows platforms. It is a lighter version of Microsoft's famed software developing program, Visual Studio. Visual Studio Express offers all the essential application-building power of the original Visual Studio, minus some of the nice-to-have but ultimately noncritical features. While Visual Studio provides everything you need to develop applications for any Windows platform, Visual Studio Express is installed in several lightweight IDE's (Integrated Development Environment), each with a specific platform in mind.

Visual Studio Express was offered for the first time in 2005 as a free alternative to the full-featured paid framework Visual Studio 2005. Originally, each version of Visual Studio Express was made up of several products, each geared towards a single programming language or specific application type: Basic, C++, C#, J#, and Web Development (ASP.NET webpages). However, this changed with the release of Visual Studio Express 2012. Beginning with that edition each IDE was geared towards an overall platform type (Web, Windows store, Windows Desktop, Windows Server) while accepting multiple programming languages and project types.

In 2014 Microsoft announced Visual Studio Community 2013 which is a free alternative to Visual Studio Express. For years the two major complaints leveled by users of Express have been that Express did not accept integration with the many extensions offered for Visual Studio, and that each version of Express was only suitable to develop apps for a specific Windows platform. Visual Studio Community 2013 addresses both of those complaint. Community does accept extensions, and also supports development of applications for any Windows platform.

While an Express offering has been announced as part of the upcoming release of Visual Studio 2015, Microsoft has said that Visual Studio Community is the best free development option in the Visual Studio suite of products and encourages Express users to consider transitioning to the Community version.

What is Visual Studio Express used for?

Visual Studio Express is ideal for those who want to develop applications for a single Windows platform, or for developers who lack the funding the purchase the full version of Visual Studio. With it's different packages, Visual Studio Express will enable developers to create complex professional-quality applications for the Web, the cloud, Windows, or the Windows Store.

Visual Studio Express is downloaded in several small chunks, each with its own specific purpose and function. Four “chunks” are currently available for download:

  • Visual Studio Express 2013 for Web: for developing Web applications.
  • Visual Studio Express 2013 for Windows: for developing applications to sell in the Windows Store.
  • Visual Studio Express 2013 for Windows Desktop: for developing desktop applications to be used on Windows-based computers.
  • Microsoft Visual Studio Team Foundation Server Express 2013: for the collaborative development of applications on a Windows server.

What this means for you is that, instead of downloading an unnecessarily large program packed with tools you'll never use, you can identify exactly which types of applications you intend to develop and then download the version (or versions) of Visual Studio Express suited to your needs. All versions require an operating system of Windows 7 SP1 or higher, as well as additional hardware requirements, depending on the version you choose.

What does Visual Studio Express cost?

Visual Studio Express 2013 and Visual Studio Community 2013 are both free. They are provided by Microsoft free-of-charge to encourage the development of applications for deployment on servers, computers, and phones running Windows operating systems.

Why choose Visual Studio Express?

If you want to develop applications for a single type of Windows platform, and don't want any other unnecessary tools learn and lengthen your learning curve, then Microsoft Visual Studio Express is your best option.

What are some alternatives to Visual Studio Express?

If you plan on using several different versions of Visual Studio Express (Web, Windows, Desktop, and Server) to develop applications for deployment on all of these different platforms, you would probably be better served to go with Visual Studio Community since it integrates all of these versions of Visual Studio into a single application.

If you are developing applications in an enterprise setting with multiple developers you will probably want to take a hard look at the paid version of Microsoft Visual Studio. Also, depending on the size of your team you may be required to use the full version of Visual Studio by Microsoft's licensing requirements.

If you want to develop applications for use on Windows 8 Phones then you'll need to go with the Community or full paid versions of Visual Studio. While support for the Windows phone environment was previously offered through a deprecated version of Visual Studio Express, support for that environment has been switched to the Community and paid versions of Visual Studio.

There are other development environments you could also consider that are offered by other vendors, but the Visual Studio suite of products is the premier Microsoft offering for application development.

How do I get Visual Studio Express?

All versions of Visual Studio can be downloaded from the Visual Studio website. In order to download and install Visual Studio Express you'll need to login to a Microsoft account, and then follow the prompts to download the application. Visual Studio is a desktop application, so you'll want to download and install it on your Windows computer.

Questions & Answers

What do I need in order to run Visual Studio Express?

The software and hardware requirements to run each version of Visual Studio Express are slightly different. However, in general you will need a Windows computer running Windows 7 or newer, or a Windows server running Windows Server 2008 or newer. You will need at least a 1.6 GHz or faster processor (2.2 GHz for Server 2013 Express), 1 GB of RAM, and between 4 and 11 GB of hard disk space on a 5400 RPM hard drive.

Should I use Visual Studio Community or Express?

If you're planning on developing applications and webpages to run on Windows systems for the foreseeable future you'll probably be better served to go with Visual Studio Community. Visual Studio Express appears to be in the process of being phased out, and Community is it's replacement. So if you plan to be a Windows developer moving forward you might as well use the software that will be around moving forward.

Can I use Microsoft Development Network Visual Studio extensions with Visual Studio Express?

Visual Studio Express does not support the use of extensions. This is one reason why you might consider using Visual Studio Community rather than Visual Studio Express since the Community version does allow the integration of Visual Studio extensions.

Can I develop applications for Windows platforms in other development environments?

Visual Studio (including the Express, Community, and paid versions) is the most popular framework for creating applications for the Windows environment. However, there are a few noteworthy alternatives. Two that are mentioned from time to time as alternatives worth considering are SharpDevelop and MonoDevelop.

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