Microsoft Research Connections Blog

The Microsoft Research Connections blog shares stories of collaborations with computer scientists at academic and scientific institutions to advance technical innovations in computing, as well as related events, scholarships, and fellowships.

Tools for Researchers Amp Up the Power of Visual Studio

Tools for Researchers Amp Up the Power of Visual Studio

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Easy to use. Visual. Powerful.As a researcher, I know the value of having the right tools for the job. The right tool makes working easier and more efficient—well, that’s the definition of a tool, isn’t it? So if you’re like me, always looking for programming tools that help bring your research to life, you’ll want to check out this set of Microsoft Visual Studio research tools and services from Microsoft Research. These versatile tools range from games to help you get started in a new programming language to analysis engines that enhance the power and usability of Visual Studio, Microsoft’s premier development environment.

What I especially like about this collection is its range. There’s something there to help researchers at every level—from professional computer scientists to eager students. As our marketing mavens like to say, these tools are powerful, helping to amplify your coding productivity; visual, bringing your code to life; and easy-to-use, providing you with a nearly painless way to get familiar with the many programming languages supported by Visual Studio.

These are tools made by researchers for researchers, designed specifically to meet the needs by people who share their needs. For example, the Social for Team Foundation Server (Social for TFS) tool recognizes that much successful research is collaborative and needs software support. Created by the Collaborative Development Group at the University of Bari, Italy, Social for TFS is an extension of Visual Studio and Team Foundation Server. The tool aggregates team members’ content from multiple social media sites in order to facilitate interpersonal connections and increase the ability to connect successfully.

We also know that code visualizations are one of the best ways to help programmers discover and repair errors as well as find and enhance efficiencies, so we’ve included a tool for this, too: Debugger Canvas, which brings together code in a single pan-and-zoom display of code bubbles. Debugger Canvas is based on a long collaboration with Brown University. It keeps the size of the visualizations meaningful and manageable, so you can make corrections easily and quickly. What’s more, you can use Debugger Canvas with large touch screens that really make the code “pop,” especially in a team code review. As John Robbins, co-founder of Wintellect in Seattle says: "Debugger Canvas demonstrates the possibilities of debugging of the future and will help break us out of this rut we are in with our debugging tools. My view is that Debugger Canvas is the start of twenty-first century debugging."

And then we have tools like Try F#, which help you explore this powerful functional language via your browser on any operating system. Try F# can help you start using Visual Studio, quickly and easily, and it’s loaded with online tutorials and tools for creating and sharing code. It lowers the barrier to learning and utilization and has proven tremendously popular. As Try F# develops as a language, our tools are expanding, so do return to our page to look for future updates.

Anxious to test out these tools, or just learn more? You can find them and more at Visual Studio Research Tools.

Judith Bishop, Director of Computer Science, Microsoft Research Connections

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  • I would much prefer to see efforts to make it easier for research faculty to get their hands at VS in the first place.

    If we want VS Ultimate, essentially the option is DreamSpark Pro. Acquiring that is a MAJOR pain because it is targeted at departments, not at individual researchers. Quite frankly, I rather just download the latest Python than try to get the process moving to get a subscription for my department.

    The irony here is that clearly MS is not trying to make any money on university researchers on their dev tools. But the way you distribute the software is so costly in terms of time and complexity to individual researchers that it scares away many.

  • Thank you for your comment. While the Dreamspark Pro program is essentially for university departments, it is relatively easy to setup a free Electronic License Management System (ELMS) which allows easy distribution of licenses to individual members of the department. Unfortunately, local laws governing anti-corruption practices prohibit us from distributing free software to researchers and faculty. We do hope your department can setup the ELMS system and provide you, and your colleagues, access to a large number of free tools from Microsoft and Microsoft Research.

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