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Developing C# applications using Free Tools.


Written by:
2009/05/30 10:08 AM RssIcon

One of the biggest arguments against Microsoft, .NET and C# (csharp) development is that it costs so much money. Buying Visual Studio can be very expensive. So, many anti-Microsoft developers plug their open source tools, stating that you can get these, download them, and develop for free. While this may be true, what many don’t tell you is that you CAN develop in C# and .Net using free tools.

Microsoft Express Studio

VS-Express For a while now, Microsoft have made available a free, lightweight of their development environment. The Visual Studio Express suite of tools is totally free, even for developing commercial applications.

The idea of express editions, according to Microsoft, is to provide streamlined, easy-to-use and easy-to-learn IDEs

With these tools you can develop powerful and sophisticated windows apps, Web Apps, Games, even integrate robotics into your apps. Having a backend is also needed, using MS SQL is the database of choice.

The tools include:

  • C# Express
  • Express
  • C++ Express
  • WebDev Express
  • SQL Express
  • XNA Game Development Express
  • Microsoft Robotics Studio


SharpDevelop or #Develop, is an open-source application that works perfectly like Visual Studio.NET. SharpDevelop is a free and open source IDE for the C#, Visual Basic .NET (VB.NET), Boo, and (starting from version 3.0) F# and IronPython programming languages. SharpDevelop 2.0 has an integrated debugger. It uses its own debugging library that communicates with the Microsoft .NET runtime using COM interop

As you've probably already heard, Microsoft released .NET 4.0 Beta 1 on May, 20th. SharpDevelop 4.0 will be the SharpDevelop version built on top of .NET 4.0. It’s currently also in Beta and still in development. But it is a refreshing alternative to Visual Studio.



For those who are thinking about whether you'd like to choose between SharpDevelop and Microsoft Visual Studio Express Edition, A comparison of features provided by Microsoft's Visual Studio Express editions and SharpDevelop is shown in the Table below.

Feature SharpDevelop 3.0 SharpDevelop 2.2 Visual Studio Express Editions
Code auto-completion Yes Yes Yes
Code syntax highlighting Yes Yes Yes
Windows Forms Designer Yes Yes Yes
Web Forms Designer No No Provided with Visual Web Developer
Code Coverage Yes Yes No
Unit Testing Yes Yes No
Languages Supported C#, VB.NET, Boo, F#, IronPython C#, VB.NET, Boo C#, C++, VB.NET, J#
Help documentation No No Yes
Plug-in support Yes Yes No explicit support for plug-ins however third party plug-ins can work with the Express edition.
Insert PInvoke Signatures Yes Yes No
Testing Regular Expressions Yes Yes No
Class View Yes Yes Yes
Solution Explorer Yes Yes Yes
Project and Solution File Format MSBuild MSBuild MSBuild
Web references Yes Yes Yes
Refactorings Rename, Extract Method, Remove unused imports Rename Rename, Extract Method
Go to definition Yes Yes Yes
Find References Yes Yes Yes
Code generation Yes. Not as powerful as Visual Studio's Code Snippet Manager. Yes. Not as powerful as Visual Studio's Code Snippet Manager. Yes
Object Browser Yes Yes Yes
Database Explorer No Yes. Lacking support for many database providers. Yes
Publishing No No Yes
Data Sources View No No Yes
Add Data Source Wizard No No Yes
Document Outline View No No Yes
Resources Local and project Local only Local and project
ActiveX Toolbox Items Partial - need to generate .NET interop library Partial - need to generate .NET interop library Yes
Integrated debugger Yes Yes Yes
Targeting different .NET frameworks Yes Yes No
Reporting Yes Yes Yes through the report viewer plug-in
Task List Yes Yes Yes
Error List Yes Yes Yes
Database Designer Tools No No Yes
Code conversion Yes Yes No
Integrated NAnt support No Yes No
Integrated WiX support Yes Yes No
Integrated FxCop support Yes Yes No
Integrated StyleCop support Yes No No
Navigation History Yes Yes Yes
XPath Queries Yes Yes No
Incremental Search Yes Yes Yes
XML documentation preview and generation Yes Yes No

There are obviously some weaknesses and limiting factors when it comes to these free applications. But then it is free. So now you can develop C# applications using either free or open source development tool. What are you waiting for.

If you have used any of these tools, why not let us know what your thoughts are by leaving us a comment below.



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1 comment(s) so far...


Re: Developing C# applications using Free Tools.

I use Visual C++ at my day job, and Visual C#/C++ express in my spare time to mess around and build my own applications. I promise you I don't see the difference between the free and paid versions. The express versions of Microsoft's development apps are very powerful.

By Johann du Plessis on  2009/05/30 11:58 AM
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