Windows Vista and Visual Studio

I've bought a new laptop, got 64-bit Vista business with it, so I said - heck, let's give it a try. After one month of using Vista, I don't miss linux desktop at all. I have power management that works all of the time (and that locks the screen after wakeup, without any special configuration!), Flash that does not crash at least once a day (crash on linux manifested most often in the flash plugin eating 100% of CPU), sound system and mixing which works out of the box (no need for mysterious sound daemons that will enable multiple sound applications running simultaneously), plus availability of software for gadgets (garmin gps, nokia phone). I have even found a nice and free virtual desktop manager (VirtuaWin). One month after using Vista.. I won't be installing linux on the laptop anytime soon :-)

You have probably heard that User Access Control (UAC) is PITA, and there are a bunch of cookbooks on the net instructing on how to disable it. Coming from UNIX background, I find it rather natural that you have to type in admin password before performing system-critical tasks. Suggesting to people that they turn off UAC is rather irresponsible, and I have not done it. I like being warned when some operation requires elevated privileges. Oh, and I have turned off the sidebar - gadgets there are mostly useless and they just increase the startup time (which is, I must say, rather decent).

I have found replacement for all of the tools that I used under linux, except one -- development tools. And now, my comparison standard is not linux, but Solaris, with Sun's native developmet tools, CMake and dbx. (BTW, Solaris dbx just rocks! gdb is a poor match for it.) I have installed Visual Studio 8 Professional (I have free license through MSDNAA), and it has several shortcomings in comparison with Solaris tools.

First, I've heard many windows developers say that VS debugger is one of the best, but I find it rather mediocre compared to dbx. VS debugger does not recognize C++ overloaded iterators (so you can't persuade it to show you *it where it is some C++ iterator class) and it is a pain to display deeply nested data structure (just print -r in dbx). VS has even its own embedded command-line interface, but nothing indicates that these features are available through it. Sure, VS debugger is nice for single-stepping through the code, but this is not the way I usually debug the code. (What usually happens in my debugging session is that some assertion/check triggers a crash, I inspect the core dump, put a breakpoint near the offending place, and quickly print few variable values.) On the upside, the VS debugger understands STL containers and can display them in a nice form. But I'd go for dbx any day, only if it were available for Windows.

Oh yes, changing command-line arguments through IDE for debugged programs is PITA :-) If I run the program from the shell and it crashes, it takes several seconds to drop into the debugger, which is kinda annoying.

Another complaint is that VS does not seem to come with a decent profiler such as gprof on Solaris. Most people recommend to use Intel VTune, which costs money. Sun has recently released (free!) SPOT tool which produces a nice report of hot-spots over several runs of your program, in the form of cross-linked HTML pages and graphs.

Then there's DTrace which is currently unique to Solaris and some BSD variants (OS X, FreeBSD?).

Lastly, project configuration management is easier with CMake. I have not yet figured out how I can persuade VS to inherit project properties from the master "solution" properties. Given that projects have parent projects, I should probably play with a deeper project hierarchy. (But why can't I set master settings in the "solution"?! Bleh.)

IntelliSense is nice, but.. it doesn't work all of the time (I see rather often a message in the status bar that IntelliSense couldn't find a completion.. ). Though, when it does work, it sometimes saves me a lookup of member name.

In conclusion - Vista is a rather nice environment for everyday work and it is very stable. However, Microsoft's C and C++ development tools are no match to Solaris's tools, at least when it comes to lower-level stuff. (Maybe not so surprising, UNIX is traditionally C and C++ oriented environment, while MS is moving towards .NET). I'm definitely somewhat less efficient in development with VS (though not drastically); I don't know (yet) whether this is because I haven't learned all the features, or because Solaris tools simply are superior and have no match in functionality in VS.

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