15 minute blog post: A Hidden Feature in Visual Studio 2010

15 minute blog post: A Hidden Feature in Visual Studio 2010

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The sunset in Seattle was spectacular this evening. My wife and I climbed the water tower in Volunteer Park to look across the Sound as the sun dipped behind the Olympic mountains and, in the space of a few minutes, the sky turned from blue to orange and pink. We both agreed that the Emerald City and its surroundings can be breathtakingly beautiful – at least when it’s not raining. One the walk home, I remembered a little gem of a tip for Visual Studio 2010 and decided it’d make for a compact, 15-minute blog post.

Thumbnail Previews

This hidden feature gives you thumbnail previews on the Ctrl+Tab UI (IDE Navigator). To enable it:

  1. Click the Start button on your desktop and select “Run…” (or press Win+R as a shortcut).
  2. Type the following line into the Run dialog (all on one line) and click “OK”

reg ADD HKCU\Software\Microsoft\VisualStudio\10.0\General /v ShowThumbnailsOnNavigation /t REG_DWORD /d 1

Now, restart or launch Visual Studio 2010, load a few files and press “Ctrl+Tab” to bring up the ‘IDE Navigator’. Presto! You should see thumbnail previews on the navigator. If you don’t see them, it may be for one of the other reasons listed in the next section.

IDE Navigator with thumbnail preview enabled


The thumbnail preview feature was actually present in Visual Studio 2008 and, in fact it was there in both Visual Studio 2010 Betas and the Release Candidate. It was disabled at the last minute during the run up to RTM, but not without a fight. You see, a report came in that, when running on a certain netbook, the IDE Navigator took a long time to appear. What’s more, disabling the “rich client visual experience” made the navigator snappy again. “Thumbnail previews” is one of the features that are disabled when the rich client visual experience is turned off, so it was apparent that generating these thumbnails was causing the slowness. By default, Visual Studio 2010 automatically adjusts the visual experience based on hardware capabilities or in the presence of remote desktop or software virtualization. However, this particular brand of netbook reported that it had a high-end GPU (even though its performance was somewhat “low-end”) meaning that Visual Studio enabled full visual effects, including thumbnail previews. After some debate on the team, the decision was made to disable the thumbnail preview feature entirely. I know a lot of people on the team (myself included) thought that this was a somewhat draconian solution – diminish the experience for everyone in order to improve performance on the netbooks. We argued that the users with low-end netbooks can disable the rich client visual experience manually – indeed, that’s one of the reasons why we added that option. Alas, the debate went the other way and we were asked to turn off thumbnail previews for everyone. Fortunately, with the tip described above, you can reawaken this dormant feature. Enjoy!


Paul Harrington – Principal Developer, Visual Studio Platform Team.
Biography: Paul has worked on every version of Visual Studio .Net to date. Prior to joining the Visual Studio team in 2000, Paul spent six years working on mapping and trip planning software for what is today known as Bing Maps. For Visual Studio 2010, Paul was the architect for the move to WPF. Paul holds a master’s degree from the University of Cambridge, England and lives with his wife and two cats in Seattle, Washington.

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  • Thank you for submitting this cool story - Trackback from progg.ru

  • Links of the week #122

  • Development A Hidden Feature in Visual Studio 2010 - Thumbnail Previews - This hidden feature gives you

  • sweet ty

  • Liked it! :)

  • Which netbook and which GPU?

  • As mentioned here: blogs.msdn.com/.../15-minute-blog-post-a-hidden-feature-in-visual-studio-2010.aspx, thumbnails for text files are close to useless. This post exemplifies what is wrong with the IDE team, focusing on questionable bloated features at the expense of performance. VS2010 still performs like a dog compared to VC6. Remember "10 is the new 6"? Well it's not; maybe 11 will be. Which is tragic, really. There never should have been an expression like "10 is the new 6". 10, 9, 8 and 7 should have been faster than every prior version.

    Maybe if there was more focus on performance and less on pretty features like these, we'd have a decently performing IDE by now.

  • Sorry that link should have been: virtualdub.org/.../entry.php

  • I did this but it doesn't work :(

  • en,good~~I just want to learn from you

  • I have to agree with Jon, this is a useless "cute" feature and while it is in there and was fought for by the dev team we, the paying developers are left with an IDE that leaks memory to the point of being useless and the proposed fix for this is to just restart the ide all day long until we can have the priviledge of paying for the next version.

    Our management hears about these issues every day from the development team and if you want them to sign the next purchase order for licenses for the next visual studio then the current version must be repaired.

    Please, no more cute features, fix the bugs in this version...

  • I think I agree with Jon here - unless you've got some really unique structures in your code then you can't gain much from that size of thumbnail. Gnome lets you put text previews on icons in the Nautilus file browser, but at least they're in a readable font size and can be used to give a clue as to whether it is a log file, a shell script without execute permissions or whatever based on the first characters of the first couple of lines.

  • I think Jon hit it on the head.

    However, I think it could be made to be useful, if instead of showing the whole document it showed the 5-10 lines closest to your cursor (and only the first x characters of the lines) that would be useful. Maybe even let it automatically scroll a few lines.

  • this doesn't work ;(

    registry entry is there but no thumbs on ctrl+tab...

  • LadyM, this extension will enable it for you: visualstudiogallery.msdn.microsoft.com/.../d491911d-97f3-4cf6-87b0-6a2882120acf

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