Visual Studio for Mac: A bunch of new features but Xcode and VS Code are tough competition

Hands On Microsoft this week opened the doors in Visual Studio for Mac 2019 8.3, a flexible development environment for .NET, and The Reg can give you information on some of the new features.

But first, let's see how the Microsofties got here. Redmond has three coding tools under the Visual Studio brand, all of which have different ancestors.

Visual Studio on Windows supports development not only in .NET languages ​​but also C ++, Python, JavaScript and Node.js, and cross-platform mobile devices development using Xamarin, Apache Cordova or C ++. Depending on the edition you have, you will also get SQL Server database tools, test and coverage frameworks, Microsoft Office and SharePoint development, R for data science work, built-in Docker tools and more.

Xamarin is a cross platform. NET Framework designed primarily for iOS and Android, but also with support for macOS applications. One confusing thing is that Xamarin does not use .NET Core, although it does support the .NET Standard 2.1 specification in its latest version. See here for guidance.

Xamarin evolved from the open source Mono framework, a .NET implementation for Windows and Linux. Mono had its own IDE, called MonoDevelop, which unlike Visual Studio was originally written entirely in C #. Xamarin adapted MonoDevelop to become Xamarin Studio. When Microsoft acquired Xamarin in 2016, Xamarin Studio became an IDE only for Mac and was renamed Visual Studio for Mac. You can still get MonoDevelop for Mac, Windows and Linux, although the Mac download is now Visual Studio for Mac, and in Windows you must compile it from the source.

Visual Studio Code (VS Code) is a cross-platform editor built with the Electron framework, using Node.js and the Chromium Blink browser engine. VS Code was first introduced in 2015 and has been a remarkable success, now ranking as the best development environment on the popular StackOverflow coding questions and answers site by a wide margin. Although lightweight compared to Visual Studio, VS Code extends between the editor and an IDE, with debug support and a wide range of extensions.

After the acquisition, Microsoft has been working to share some of its Visual Studio for Windows technology with the Mac version. This goes along with the development of .NET Core cross-platform, which has allowed code sharing between Mono and .NET Core, although Mono has not been completely replaced. It is still the case that Visual Studio for Mac is something very different from Visual Studio for Windows.

What can Visual Studio do for Mac?

VS Mac is primarily for the development of Xamarin. Most Xamarin developers code applications for iOS and Android, and there are two different approaches to this.

Xamarin.iOS and Xamarin.Android allow you to write non-visual code in C # while using native tools to build the UI, Xcode for iOS or a built-in Android designer for Android.

Xamarin Forms is a cross-platform GUI framework. You design the user interface with XAML and build for the chosen target platforms.

It can also go beyond iOS and Android. Xamarin.Mac is for Cocoa applications and uses a model similar to Xamarin.iOS. Xamarin Forms can also point to Windows UWP (Universal Windows Platform) and, in preview, macOS.

There is also a constant improvement of support for game development with Unity.

A look at the Xamarin forums offers a raw usage guide. Xamarin Forms has more than twice the activity of any other section (more than 51,000 threads). Xamarin.Android 34,000, Xamarin.iOS 21,000 and relatively low activity elsewhere: 343 threads for Xamarin.Mac, for example.

Xamarin Forms Mac seems to be dying; It was announced in 2017, but the status of the platform here was last updated in May 2018 and remains incomplete.

Visual Studio for Mac also supports the development of ASP.NET Core with Razor, Angular or React.js, and without a server with Azure Functions.

Under the grip of the vulture

visual studio for mac a bunch of new features but xcode and vs code are tough competition A cross-platform Xamarin Forms application running on iOS and Android

We installed VS Mac on a Mac Mini 2018. The installer deploys the Android SDK for you, but you must install Xcode separately. All simple, but there is an enigma about .NET Core. Version 3.0 is automatically installed, and you can create ASP.NET Core applications, but when you are creating a mobile application, the option to create an ASP.NET Core API back-end is disabled because it "requires an installation of ASP.NET Core ".

The appearance of the IDE is different from Visual Studio on Windows, as expected from the product history. It feels more basic and less refined, and has only a fraction of the characteristics of its cousin of similar name.

There is no visual designer for Xamarin Forms, but there is a visual preview. Unfortunately, this did not work for iOS in our very simple demo application, instead displaying a MonoTouch exception message. But the application itself worked well on both Android and iOS. The IDE was blocked once or twice, but without loss of work.

Another experiment was to create an Xamarin.Mac application and edit the generated storyboard, which defines the user interface using Xcode. This worked perfectly.


VS Mac 8.3 is compatible with .NET Core 3 and C # 8.0, and Xamarin is now compatible with Android 10, Xcode 11 and iOS 13.

One of the great new features, although in sight previous, is the hot recharge of XAML in Xamarin Forms. This allows you to modify the XAML file that defines your UI, save it and see the changes instantly in the application running on an emulator or device.

1569600874 634 visual studio for mac a bunch of new features but xcode and vs code are tough competition The native Visual Studio Mac editor shares code with Visual Studio on Windows

The C # editor on VS Mac was rewritten by the Visual Studio team after the acquisition of Microsoft. Now it has what Microsoft calls a "totally native UI," which raises the interesting question of how much of the old MonoDevelop code, which used Gtk # cross-platform, remains on VS Mac. The new native editor was launched completely in July, but VS Mac 8.3 now supports web editing (JavaScript, TypeScript, HTML, CSS and more). This allows Microsoft to share more features between Visual Studio on Windows and VS Mac, including enhanced IntelliSense. You also get appropriate bidirectional text support and a native feature called multi-caret editing that allows you to overwrite multiple regions of selected text simultaneously.

There is a new dialogue for the NuGet package manager, but care is needed because not all NuGet packages will work on Mac.

These are highlights; The complete list of news is here.


Microsoft has two successful Visual Studio development tools, and then there is VS Mac, which is important only for Mac-based Xamarin developers. The Xamarin.Mac and Xamarin forms addressed to macOS are interesting for .NET developers who wonder how to bring their Windows applications to a Mac, but both are neglected in relation to iOS and Android. If you want to develop for ASP.NET Core, it would be better with Visual Studio on Windows, and probably better with VS Code with its much larger community and broad extension support. Strategically, it might make sense for Microsoft to invest in making VS Code more useful for Xamarin developers. That said, VS Mac has improved substantially and the price is right: even the free community edition is a capable tool. ®

General technical description: Exasol Peek Under the Hood

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