Friday, May 28, 2010

Why I won't be adopting Visual Studio 2010 just yet

I'm probably the only person in the twitterverse that isn't excited about VS2010. I've given a few reasons, but in general I don't think I can adequately express my concerns in 140 characters, so in this post I will explain the reasons behind my choice, hopefully in a way that makes sense.

.NET 4.0

I want to be perfectly clear; I'm limiting this post to Visual Studio 2010, NOT the .NET 4.0 framework. I actually really like .NET 4.0 and I think that it has some great new stuff and some good fixes for old stuff. I know that WCF has done some cool things also and I'm still excited about where the whole System.Web.MVC thing is going. The problem I have is really limited to the Visual Studio IDE. I'm also not going to mention my raging hatred for TFS here.

Past versions

I've been really impressed with Visual Studio since VS97. In general, it's been fairly stable, it has some good features, and the debugger has saved me many times. I know that intellisense isn't always as intelligent as I would like, but overall it's been pretty great and has gotten better with time. I've always adopted fairly early on, also; I got VS 2008 from some sort of Visual Studio release event at MS (I forget what it was exactly). I have had a few complaints over the years (add reference took FOREVER in previous versions, vastly improved in VS2008, and then don't forget the dozens of unsorted new items you could add, all of which were fancy names for text file), but often these were with regards to how people were using Visual Studio (see my post about Visual Studio is not a build tool) and not really towards the product itself. I could leave it running for days and it would usually remain stable.

VS 2010- my history

So first of all, I'm not judging this just by the quality of the betas and of the RC build. Remember, I worked at Microsoft so I've actually been using VS2010 internally for a long time; I believe I started sometime back towards the end of 2008 actually and used it all through 2009, since I was working on .NET 4.0. My first impressions of NetFx for 4.0 were that the installer was pretty lousy (it didn't fully support win7 yet though) but otherwise it was pretty nice. However, my first impressions of Visual Studio were that it was slow and it crashed alot. No big deal, I thought, it's still very early in the product's lifecycle, I'll struggle with it for a while and see how things go.

So months go by and the product is not any faster. If anything, it crashes more frequently, and this is while I'm trying to do simple things like open a file or type, not anything difficult, although I had problems with the debugger as well. Beta 1 came out, and there was a lot of feedback that it was slow and crashed a lot. That's because it was and it did. That's ok, still early in the product's lifecycle, right? Surely they must be addressing performance issues.

Nope, still adding features. Next beta, product still slow and still crashes a lot. In fact, I think it was actually getting less stable towards the end of the year. In November and December, it would crash constantly when I would do simple, normal things like "find in files" or "right-click" or "type something" and I filed bugs. My personal favorite was when it crashed if a file was called "GlobalSuppressions.cs" (didn't matter if VS created the file or if I did, I think it was just the name). Ended up being something to do with corrupting the line endings. Oops. The beta didn't have that bug in it.

Of course, towards the end, there seemed to be a massive push to make the thing go faster and crash less, which of course resulted in the release date slipping and a public RC. Surely this is a good thing, right?

So why the hate?

Over the course of this product's life, I've seen it get less and less stable, up through the end of last year. Features were added, and some of them were good, but overall the damn thing just didn't run and cost me weeks of productivity fighting with it. This tells me several things:

  1. This is a re-write of Visual Studio's IDE. In fact, it's written in WPF, which is not something that I would have described as "fast" or "performance oriented" in general, so I (and some others that I knew) had some doubts from the beginning. That on its own would be a pretty dumb reason to hate on a product but that brings us to my second point:
  2. This thing has, from the very beginning, been unstable and slow. This does not inspire confidence in the underlying design of the software, particularly since it was a total rewrite and has gotten worse over time. Then, at the end, it magically speeds way up somehow. How did that happen?

Well, if I were working on a product for over a year and it was slow the whole time, and then in the last couple of months I had to make it faster, I would definitely not have time to go back and look at the whole design and refactor or re-work fundamental parts of the system. I would profile it, find a bottleneck, and then hack it into submission, rinse, and repeat. I don't think I would be able to change the design to something fundamentally more stable at that point, and knowing what I know about how software is developed at Microsoft, there's no way I would be allowed to alter parts of the system like that. Just looking back at my own experience, I feel like what best fits the evidence and my observations is that people started hacking away at it trying to fix the bugs, leaving it in a state where it works, but the underlying design and code is unstable and brittle. If I still had more hacking to do, I would try to buy time by pushing the release date back a bit.

I have also heard complaints and speculation that the use of WPF has caused problems. It is definitely true that WPF is somewhat untested technology, particularly within Microsoft, where VS 2010 (I believe) is the first major product to be built using that technology. Think of it as public dogfooding. However, I think trying to dogfood WPF by including it in a major product was a huge mistake, and other people (who will remain nameless but work at MS in divisions that aren't devdiv) have expressed similar concerns, and some of these people were in a better position than I to make those statements. My personal opinion is that WPF is a contributing factor but not the underlying cause of the performance problems.

Now, I have not looked at the code base and I can't say for certain that a bunch of people just started hacking away at something with a fundamentally unstable design, however, in my mind at least (and in the minds of others that I know), this is the scenario that best fits both the evidence available as well as what I know about how Microsoft works internally (at least in some orgs). I know that some of you will probably flame me and say that I'm being completely unreasonable and acting on something for which I have no evidence.

To that I would say: that's my point. I don't know exactly what happened with this product or why it was so slow and then suddenly got so much faster. I can't say for sure that it was a bunch of people just hacking away at the app at the last minute and I can't say with certainty that this made it brittle, unstable, or just poorly designed. What I can say is that, given what I have observed, I just don't trust it yet. I don't trust that it will increase my productivity. I don't trust that it will be stable and not corrupt my data. I don't trust that I will be able to use it without pain. I don't trust that I will be able to cleanly uninstall it if it ends up hurting more than it helps (heard plenty of uninstall complaints on Twitter and I know for a fact that the uninstall scenario is less of a priority at MS or at least it was when I was there).

I haven't lost hope for it; I certainly think there are some great features included in VS2010, but I think I'll wait for the service pack.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't understand your rage really.

What I can deduce from your post is VS2010 having a good architecture and avoided premature optimizations, while having the room for them.
They profiled, optimized, hacked the 95% of performance from the mythical 5% of code and that's it.