While Notepad is fine for creating simple .NET programs, it offers nothing in the way of developer productivity. It would be ideal to author *.vb files using an editor that supports (at a minimum) keyword coloring and integration with the VB compiler. Furthermore, we would hope to build our VB programs using a tool that supports rich IntelliSense capabilities, designers for building graphical user interfaces, project templates, and database manipulation tools. As luck would have it, numerous such tools do exist, many of which are completely free of charge.
To address such needs, allow me to introduce the next .NET development option: Sharp-Develop (also known as #develop). SharpDevelop is an open source and feature-rich IDE that you can use to build .NET assemblies using VB or C# as well as using CIL and a Python-inspired .NET language named Boo. Beyond the fact that this IDE is completely free, it is interesting to note that it was written entirely in C# (and could have just as easily been written in Visual Basic). In fact, you have the choice to download and compile the *.cs files manually or run a setup program to install SharpDevelop on your development machine. Both distributions can be obtained from http://www.sharpdevelop.com (at the time of this writing, the current version is 2.2; however, be sure to download the latest and greatest).
SharpDevelop provides numerous productivity enhancements and in many cases is as feature rich as Visual Studio 2008 Standard Edition. Here is a partial hit list of some of the major benefits:
• IntelliSense, code completion, and code snippet capabilities
• An Add Reference dialog box to reference external assemblies, including assemblies deployed to the global assembly cache (GAC)
• A visual Windows Forms designer
• Integrated object browsing and code definition utilities
• Visual database designer utilities
• A VB to C# (and vice versa) code conversion utility
• Integration with the NUnit (a .NET unit testing utility) and NAnt (a .NET build utility)
• Integration with the .NET Framework 3.5 SDK documentation
Impressive for a free IDE, is it not? Although this chapter doesn't cover each of these points in detail, let's walk through a few items of interest.
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