Visual Studio Start Page: Through the ages

Visual Studio Start Page: Through the ages

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When we started planning the first truly integrated version of Visual Studio (prior to that Visual Studio was predominantly a collection of tools boxed together) we wanted to help developers get started with the new version. To do this we introduce a common start page for Visual Studio.

Visual Studio.NET

Visual Studio .NET

Figure 1 Visual Studio .NET – Implemented as a set of vertical tabs down the left hand side

The goal of this start page was to provide a location, available when the product first started, for the user to either find out about Visual Studio or to easily get back to what they were working on. We also added some other features to this start page such as the ability to inspect the XML Web Service endpoint you had created and access to community provided online information. Users also had the ability to set their profile from the start page to enable them to shift through key bindings and window layouts. This was because our research at the time showed that over 60% of our customers used multiple Microsoft development tools and each of those had a different binding/layout so we wanted it to be easy for users to make Visual Studio feel comfortable.

Visual Studio.NET 2003

Visual Studio.NET 2003

Figure 2 For Visual Studio.NET 2003 the start page focused primarily on the MRU

By 2003 we had heard from developers that the most useful things we were showing with Visual Studio.NET was the project and solution Most Recently Used (MRU) list and the online content. For Visual Studio.NET 2003 we removed the tabs that people weren’t using and the new start page focused on the MRU, online information and the user profile.

Rendering the start page in HTML made it easy for people to create their own start pages but that led to some issues. As the start page used the same engine as Internet Explorer, users could find themselves with their anti-virus tooling triggering on the display of the start page. Additionally performance was starting to be a limiting factor and we saw more and more users changing the tools-options setting to turn the start page off so that Visual Studio would load faster.

Visual Studio 2005 & Visual Studio 2008

Visual Studio 2005

Figure 3 With Visual Studio 2005 the start page was changed to Win32 and extended to include RSS content

We decided for Visual Studio 2005 and Visual Studio 2008 to implement the start page as a custom Win32 component and to display dynamic content only through RSS to decrease the exposure of the start page to threats. We also moved the profile selection into the first start experience as our customer data was showing that people were still using multiple tools inside the IDE but that were no longer switching profiles as much. All of this made the start page faster but it now cost a lot more for us to modify the start page to present new information or to adopt a more modern look.

Visual Studio 2008

Figure 4 Visual Studio 2008 introduced very little change from the previous release

Visual Studio 2010

We had introduced the Windows Presentation Foundation with Visual Studio 2008 and were moving many of the visual components for Visual Studio 2010 over to it. It made sense for us to adopt WPF when we renovated the start page in that release. One of the requirements that we needed to address was the growing number of platforms that Visual Studio could target and how we could most efficient provide introductory information about them to users.

Visual Studio 2010

Figure 5 By moving to a horizontal tab model the Visual Studio 2010 start page could include much more information

We addressed these requirements by using a multi-tab model that presented the relevant platform information in specific tabs. We also had data showing that developers had moved well away from using Visual Studio as their RSS reader so we turned that off and moved it to a background tab to improve performance. With this renovation we also increased our instrumentation of the start page to help us as we moved forward.

Additionally the move to WPF enabled us to bring back start page customization and the Visual Studio 2010 SDK included a custom template for start page development.

Visual Studio 2012

Visual Studio 2012

Figure 6 Visual Studio 2012 saw the introduction of video content for Premium and Ultimate

The introduction of the Premium and Ultimate editions and the increased functionality of the tooling they provided led to the creation of a number of “How To” videos that were eventually included on the start page. Based on our telemetry, many of you like these a lot as we’re seeing downloads approaching 950,000 per month.

Visual Studio 2013

All of that leads us to where we are today. Visual Studio 2013 RC brings a new look for the start page focused on information that people use. The most popular topics on the Visual Studio 2010 start page were the “What’s new” topics by an order of magnitude over other topics in the Getting Started and tabs. Other tabs had much lower usage but “What’s New” remained a clear leader over other tabs. Customer data also showed that over 30% of our users preferred opening recent projects by going to View-Start Page and then clicking on the MRU over using the File menu commands. Also the number of users who turn the start page off via Tools-Options had now become a small minority of users.

Visual Studio 2013 RC

Figure 7 Visual Studio 2013 provides direct access to dynamic video content, announcements and the various Dev Centers

In Visual Studio 2013 we aimed for a cleaner look to the start page that makes the acquisition of information easier. The videos in Premium and Ultimate, for example, use easier to see icons that group related topics. Videos are surfaced through an RSS feed that we can update new videos that could previously only be done as part of a Visual Studio Update. Detailed platform information moved to the platform developer centers where developers were already going for in-depth information. This way you can see the “What’s new” together with all the other supporting platform information and sample code offered at that site.

Visual Studio 2013 RC whats new

Figure 8 The "What's New" information can be moved out of the way once you're done with it

From looking at our data we believe that, while the “What’s New” information is used more than any other information, it seems to be less frequently used longer term (it tends to be read only once or twice). However it lives in the most prominent part of the start page’s middle column so there is now an option to relocate it to a less important part of the start page. Lastly, the new start page now uses the system’s default browser instead of the one in Visual Studio. This gives you a higher fidelity experience with the site that you’re viewing.

The next Start Page?

With this start page we have removed the information that isn’t used, made the videos & announcements dynamic and delivered a generally cleaner look. For the next version of Visual Studio we’d like to hear from you about what you’d like on the start page, for example:

· What information would you like us to display (including non-Microsoft sources)?

· If we made it extensible and customizable would you use it? If so, how?

Let us know what you’d like to see (or what you absolutely don’t want to see there) and also please download the RC of Visual Studio 2013 and try out the new start page. You can let us know by creating a suggestion on User Voice (in the IDE category) for the community to vote on or by commenting on this post. If you find a bug please use the Connect site to let us know.


Tony Goodhew Small

Tony Goodhew – Program Manager, Visual Studio IDE Services

After the better part of 19 years spent in Visual Studio (and precursor tools) Marketing, Tony decided that he should either make a career of it or try something new. He joined the IDE Services team as a Program Manager in early 2012 and has been working on Visual Studio extensibility and the Visual Studio Industry Partner Program since then. While not known for enjoying pina coladas and getting caught in the rain, his version of paradise would include a cheeseburger.

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  • I must be different than most of your customers.  The only time I have ever seen the stat page was the very first time I used VS.  I quickly turned it off.  For the life of me, I couldn't tell you anything that is on the start page for VS2010 - the version we currently use.

  • I would love to have an option to have a project management console as the main part of the start page. We have more projects than what typically fits on the MRU list. I am currently able to pin the projects I use most often, but it would be nice to see all my projects on the start page shown in a consistent order (doesn't change based on when last started).

    It would be cool to be able to categorize the projects or perhaps even tag them so that I can quickly filter the projects to find the one I want. It would also be nice to be able to provide descriptions of each project (the description should be stored in the project file) so other developers can see what they are. The list of projects should include relevant information about them, including language, version, output type, assembly name, FX version, certificate expiration date, and other relevant information (see the project properties for more information that is interesting).

    I realize that this would take effort on my part to maintain, but I'm fairly sure I would put the effort into it if this was available to me.

  • People use the "start page" ?

    It's the first thing I disable when I install VS.

  • I think tutorial videos and an RSS feed of updates from Microsoft is useful. Especially given how MSDN is a maze of ancient information with new bits of news occasionally placed here and there. I read the Developer Tools stream every day and I still miss stuff all the time that isn't included there.

    What I'd really like to in Visual Studio is a Task Manager-type window where you can see what extensions are misbehaving. I also think you should enforce at the IDE level that all extensions have to run in their own processes- it's ridiculous that you allow 3rd party software to compromise the main VS process. I'd also like to see much better support for managing the way solutions are mapped to the file system, setting project compilation settings across solutions (this is super buggy currently), and a way for the local user solution settings file to record which projects are unloaded (we keep all our projects in 1 solution, but most of the time I don't need 75% of the projects to be loaded).

  • I do use the Start Page and like it. I always have to re-add a tool to the toolbar to take me there (View > Start Page). I would like the text/icon for Recent Solutions/Projects be much larger in size and possibly include a path and/or SCC branch. ex. we have multiple versions of our s/w and I'd like them to be visually distinct even if the .sln files have the same name. Perhaps color-coding is appropriate there. Better yet, let me configure that.

    I'd like a Jenkins widget/plugin to see our CI status on a tab. Note, we don't use TFS so please don't guide Start into a TFS dashboard unless other SCC systems (*cough* Perforce) can integrate too.

  • What about a user composable hub? with the ability to choose what's inside the hub and how it looks (I'm thinking to something similar to win 8 start menu) with the ability to put together informations from different sources (RSS, TFS workitems, TFS Sprint, TFS Builds)


  • Visual Studio search feedback! PLEASE DO NOT IGNORE.

    1. Its so unfortunate that we can't search in a folder or a project in Solution Explorer. The Ctrl+; command always trigger the search scoped to the entire solution.. Please bring scope to solution explorer search.

    2. ***When the large project is opened remotely, the search in entire solution takes a while. There is no way to stop the "entire" search operation. ESC only skips the current file. Please provide a new shortcut "Shift+Esc" to cancel the operation altogether.

    3. Also in quick search (Ctrl+F) show us the position of current item, like "3 of 22". Right now there is no count of found in quick search dialog.

    4. Last but not the least, in advanced search results bring the count at the top (its pain to scroll all the way down to see the count in result window) and split search results in a tree structure something like:


    *** most important

  • Correction in point#1, please bring "custom" scope to solution explorer search and a Find option in right-click context menu in solution explorer for folders, project and solution item.


  • Just wanted to reply to a few comments.

    abm - We have passed that information over to the team responsible and they are looking at it - Unfortunately I don't have any other details.

    John Schroedl - For VS 2013 we implemented a second line of text in the MRU for all SCC vendors to use if they wish to provide information about the project. I expect that you will see them take advantage of that as they update their providers.

    Everyone - For those of you providing feedback on an extensible/customizable hub would enabling development of the display components in HTML/JS be sufficient for you or would you prefer it to be VB/C#/C++? If not HTML/JS could you share why?


    Tony Goodhew, Program Manager, VS Pro

  • When project removed from the list in RC the page is moved to top if you are stay in bottom of start page

  • I only use the open/new/MRU, to save a click on the FILE menu. The rest is spam/bloat - I don't need up to the minute news on your technology du jour, or to watch videos about it. I opened up VS to do some work, not read a web-site.

    I would definitely make use of a customisable Start page - by getting rid of the crap.

    I don't care how you implement it, I'm sure we can figure it out. HTML/JS seems the most obvious to me in terms of ease of creation/hacking and sharing - but thinking about it, that's maybe not such a good idea as you're going to be using IE for this.

  • For me I'd love to see a OSS feed reader synced to feedly.

  • @Tony

    "Everyone - For those of you providing feedback on an extensible/customizable hub would enabling development of the display components in HTML/JS be sufficient for you or would you prefer it to be VB/C#/C++? If not HTML/JS could you share why?"

    I have a better question.

    Why is the current stable of developers at Microsoft so fixated on HTML/JS?

    Seriously, I have seen detailed feedback in multiple locations that sum up the overall dislike of HTML/JS that posting it again here is an exercise is futility as it is obvious you are not reading it.

    Yes, we realize that Microsoft internal developers are currently made up from the teenagers of 2000 who spent all there time creating web sites, went to college and now work for Microsoft. They see HTML as the solution to every design and so we end of with weak UI's like that found in VS 2012 and Windows 8 Store Apps.

    So keep swatting your UI nails with your least common denominator hammer, continue your push to move all applications to the cloud and enjoy your descent into irrelevancy.

    After all, when all applications can be accessed via a web browser, why will I need Microsoft or Windows?

  • @Charles Ryan:

    "Why is the current stable of developers at Microsoft so fixated on HTML/JS?"

    Because even a lousy developer can hack something together in HTML+JS - which, by looking at the way Visual Studio is becoming, is Microsoft's target/current user-base.

  • @Charles Ryan:

    "Why is the current stable of developers at Microsoft so fixated on HTML/JS?"

    Because even a lousy developer can hack something together in HTML+JS - which, by looking at the way Visual Studio is becoming, is Microsoft's target/current user-base.

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