Developer Showcase: Visual Assist in Action

If you follow our blog, you’ve seen the features that our team is putting in place and likely felt their impact in your development. Instead of hearing more of the same, we thought we would share thoughts from one of our users. Meet Distalsoft, two brothers, one who can’t stop gaming and one with ideas. We’re not sure which one wrote this post, but either way check them out when you want to hunt for treasure or lose it all attempting Brexit.

C++ with Visual Assist, Visual Studio and Unreal Engine

It’s inspiring that software like Microsoft’s Visual Studio IDE and Epic’s Unreal Engine have been “free” for so long now. It pains me to think about where indie developers would be without the forward thinking force of these larger companies and their seemingly never-ending generosity. Helping start-ups and the like to get their feet on the ground is something I will forever be grateful for.

Although the tools come close to it, it would be naive to think that they can fulfil the job of every requirement. I want to point out a few problems we were facing at Distalsoft when it came to developing in Visual Studio using Unreal Engine and the solution we ended up going with.

Unreal Engine at its core uses the C++ language. Visual Studio – being a Microsoft product – makes development in C# very enjoyable. On the other hand, development in C++ has been a point of frustration for many years. From VS 2010 to VS 2017, improvements have been made to the overall speed of compilation, Intellisense, file searching and the like, but it has taken until 2019 for them to really make a dent in the problem. I must say that VS 2019 has done an excellent job of addressing the aforementioned issues but the question still stands – could it be better?

A few years ago when I was using VS 2015, I’d had enough. I’d sometimes be waiting several minutes for Intellisense to bring back a list of methods or properties that belonged to an object. I’m pretty sure we’ve all done it – smashing the heck out of the ctrl+shift+space keys and cursing at the screen while waiting for the Intellisense to pop up. Or simple searches in the solution explorer that end up taking longer to resolve than simply finding the file yourself. Perhaps even trying to navigate to the definition of a method only to be waiting minutes for the document to load up. Something had to change. I went searching on the internet for a solution. It didn’t take long to stumble across a piece of software called Visual Assist by Whole Tomato. It had been recommended many times on various parts of the AnswerHub forum for Unreal Engine and StackOverflow. Due to it having a trial version, I downloaded a copy to give it a try.

The expression “night and day”, really doesn’t do the software justice but it’ll have to do for now. I was extremely relieved. Searching for files, definitions, even just including header files were now as you would expect from an IDE. The additional dialog menu that is available when right clicking on bits of code you want to perform actions against, has a variety of options that make you realise what was/is missing from the ootb VS. To be honest, I don’t use half of them, but it’s the baseline mechanics that just work so much better. And, to address my biggest issue – the speed of Intellisense – type-ahead now loaded within seconds and sometimes even instantly. What a relief!

Unreal Engine have improved their documentation, but unfortunately it’s still not quite there. I would always see people answer questions in AnswerHub with “Look through the Unreal Engine code, it’s open source”. I always assumed they were joking. Pressing F12 to go to method definitions without Visual Assist would take forever. Thanks to my new found friend Visual Assist, I finally had the ability to go find the answers to some of the most annoying questions. It’s hard to really communicate just how irritating it used to be. Seriously, Visual Assist has made me a happy C++ coder again.

I suppose the last thing to make note of is that Visual Assist is not currently free, but the trial is sufficient to make you realise just how much happier you can be when using it. I would be interested to see Visual Assist introduce a subscription based payment plan, but you can’t complain. They have done a stellar job at creating a brilliant tool.

So in conclusion, go check it out. See for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.

This blog was brought to you by Distalsoft. If you’d like for us to showcase what you’re building (better and faster) with Visual Assist contact us.

Visual Assist build 2353 is available

This release represents a turning point for our development team. We’ve made great strides in fixing bugs associated with Visual Studio 2019 and have focused our attention on the future. A major lift in this release was our move to Clang 9. Future releases will leverage Clang in new ways so stay tuned! But Build 2353 wasn’t all about groundwork, Code Inspection has some nifty new features:

+ Code Inspection checkers are now more configurable. Further customize when Visual Assist alerts you of potential improvements.

+ Code Inspection UI is now searchable, and exposes more advanced information.

+ Code Inspections can now be selectively disabled in sections of your code using comments. If you don’t want to change a section of code, you can choose to not be alerted of potential improvements without disabling checkers globally.

+ New UI allows fine grained control of the resources Visual Assist will use when parsing. Reduce the impact of the initial parse of a new solution, especially in extremely large solutions where parsing may take several minutes. (Unreal Engine developers take note.)

For the full list of features and bug fixes take a look at our release notes, or download the installer.

Build 2353 requires software maintenance through 2019.11.07

Visual Assist build 2341.2 is available

The last build of Visual Assist, i.e. build 2341, introduced a bug for users of Microsoft Visual Studio 2019. If you use Microsoft’s newest IDE and installed build 2341, download and install build 2341.2.

Build 2341.2 requires software maintenance through 2019.08.05.

Check out the complete list of what’s new in build 2341.2, or download its installer.

Visual Assist build 2341 is available

The steady stream of functional and quality improvements to Visual Assist continues despite the recent hiccups with new purchasing and licensing systems. (Those systems are being ironed out.)

Visual Assist build 2341 improves one of its earliest features—enhanced syntax coloring—with the ability to set separate coloring for namespace identifiers and qualifiers, and enum members. Separate coloring of namespace identifiers and qualifiers was implemented primarily so the qualifiers can be dimmed, making it easier to read “remaining” code.

Another early feature of Visual Assist, Quick Info, became an enhancement to Visual Studio when Microsoft introduced its equivalent eons ago. Visual Assist build 2341 enhances the feature yet again by including in tooltips comments from parent classes. The additional comments are especialy valuable when referencing methods that override well-documented ones. Comments for the current symbol now include those from the immediate parent class, and the root parent.

Finally, build 2341 improves Encapsulate Field, a refactoring that lets you restrict or filter access to a member field. Encapsulate Field now allows an accessor to be omitted.

Build 2341 requires software maintenance through 2019.07.11.

Check out the complete list of what’s new in build 2341; learn to specify enhanced syntax colorslearn to enhance Quick Info; or download the installer for build 2341.

License and Website Changes for Visual Assist

You’ve spoken, and we’ve listened! Our recent website and license migration failed to deliver the high quality experience you deserve.

Recently, Whole Tomato migrated our website to a new backend technology and a much needed new license technology for Visual Assist. There have been some hiccups, and some of the changes to licensing resulted in delays sending licenses to customers, and concerns expressed to us. We’ve heard you. In this post we’d like to cover what changed and why for both the website and licenses, as well as what steps we are taking to address concerns.

Whole Tomato Website

We migrated the main Whole Tomato website, wholetomato.com, to the same backend used by other Idera websites. This retained all existing content and ensured our web team only needs to maintain one server stack.

During this content migration, there were a few changes. The most significant is that when you download a trial or a new build, you are asked for information about yourself: name, email, address, and so forth. For a trial, we believe this is ok – it is standard business practice to know who is trying out our software and allows us to  follow up in the future. You can opt out of all marketing communications from Whole Tomato here. Your confirmation email also includes instructions for opting out, plus our privacy policy also has a link (section 14, Unsubscribe.)

However, there is no reason to ask for licensed customers’ information again when downloading a new build of Visual Assist for which you are already validly licensed. This has been pointed out to us, sometimes quite vocally, both through support and online. We hear you. The website no longer requires customers to enter personal information to download new builds.

The new website should also be more stable and faster.

License Technology

At the same time, we also changed the technology used to generate and validate license serial numbers for Visual Assist. Once again, this is to ensure a single technology is used across multiple products. It’s also a benefit for you because this licensing technology reduces uncertainty about licensed usage and decreases over deployment compliance issues, which is something that many large customers request. No one wants to be in a situation where audits are necessary – you don’t, and we don’t.

It’s a great goal, but customers have reported two issues: delays in generating new serial numbers after purchase and concerns about individual registration data, even for large volume serial numbers.

Let’s look at the current license options available, and changes we plan to introduce in the future.

Current License Options

When you purchase a Visual Assist license, you have the following options:

  • As an individual:
    • You purchase and get a serial number. You need a user account (see below) on our website, and your serial number is registered against that account. You can use this serial number on multiple VMs, so long as the serial number is used only by the same person.
  • As a company:
    • You purchase and get a serial number, one per developer. Just as for individuals above, each serial number must be registered against a developer’s EDN account. Each developer can use it on multiple VMs.
    • You purchase a multi-user serial number. This is a single number that is valid for multiple people. Just as for normal serials, when any individual developer installs and registers Visual Assist, they will need their own user account. Each developer can use it on multiple VMs.

There are also some temporary options that you may have seen if you encountered issues: a manually generated legacy serial number using the old license system, and an eSlip file, which is a single license file shared for a team but requiring an internet connection. We’ve used these for limited cases when none of the above licenses work for a team due to technical reasons.

The licensing changes are new to us too, and we may not have clearly explained them when you purchased or contacted Support.

User Accounts

What is a user account? User accounts provide a single licensing account across all Idera-owned products. Create yours here, and then use those login credentials when registering your license.

Registering Visual Assist. Enter your serial number at the top, and use the email and password for your Idera user account below
Registering Visual Assist. Enter your serial number at the top, and use the email and password for your Idera user account below

Right now, the webpage is not ideal, and we’ve had some feedback about that too. More on what will change there below.

Licenses In The Future

The majority of issues we’ve seen have been to do with a missing use case: a team with multiple developers who either wish to not register individually or need to use the license in a disconnected environment. We believe it’s reasonable for personal or individual users to register via an account, but we understand it’s a barrier for some larger teams.

Within the next week, we are adding a new license option to address this scenario. If you are a large company with many developers, or you operate disconnected from the net, you will be able to purchase a network named user license. This is a single license shared by the whole team. Individuals can use it on multiple VMs. No internet connection is required: instead, you run a license server on your internal network, which manages all verification without contacting us.

You’ll be given this license option if you purchase Visual Assist for a team of five or more, or by request to our sales / licensing team.

Running a license server may not be ideal for some teams with strict IT requirements. If your team is unable to use this option, you can always contact our sales or license teams to discuss some other options we can make available.

This retires eSlip licenses (except through licensing support requests) and legacy serial numbers, leaving three license options:

  1. Personal use, or multiple individual developers: individual serial numbers, registered for each developer through your user account.
  2. Multiple individual developers in a small team: a multi-user serial number, registered for each developer through your user account.
  3. Multiple individual developers in a large team, or by request for small teams: a network named user license, with no registration or internet access required.

We also expect the speed of license generation to be faster at the same time we introduce this new option. Note our staff don’t work weekends, so if you order on a Friday, you may not get your serial number until Monday. Orders during the week should be next-day or sooner, and we aim to process each one within a few hours.

License support requests are also now handled by a dedicated team with experience with this license technology. That means they are familiar with the issues you may encounter and should be able to speedily resolve them. They have a dedicated email address: licenses@wholetomato.com. (You can email this directly. If you contact normal support, your email will also be forwarded to and handled by the dedicated license team.)

In addition, we are replacing the user account website, with a planned launch date in early July. This is a brand new version of the user account website, built in Ext JS, where you will be able to create an account and view all your registered products and serial numbers. It will be quite minimal, clean, fast, and should be a lot clearer to use than the current website.

Preview of the new user account website - not yet launched! - showing products, serials, subscription status, and a separate pane for quick downloads
Preview of the new user account website – not yet launched! – showing products, serials, subscription status, and a separate pane for quick downloads

Overview

In short:

  • We rolled out a new website and new license system, and neither was quite perfect
  • You will not need to enter personal information to download your licensed software
  • The license system and where and how to use your account may not have been well explained, and we hope the above makes it clearer
  • We’re introducing a new license option, Network Named User License, that works better for large teams and teams who work offline
  • If you have issues or requests, we now have a dedicated license support team: please email licenses@wholetomato.com
  • Our new user account website will have a clean UI and provide an easy site to view your products and licenses

Idera is a developer-focused company. We do listen, and we make changes if needed. We hope the above is easy to understand and use, and the changes we’re making solve your concerns.

Visual Studio 2019 moves VAssistX to Extensions menu

Microsoft Visual Studio 2019 moved all extension menus, including the VAssistX menu of Visual Assist, to a new, top-level Extensions menu. According to Mads Kristensen, a Senior Program Manager at Microsoft, the menus were moved to “give the ecosystem more prominence and declutter the top-level menu when you have a lot of extensions installed“. That reasoning might be solid, but it does require an extra keystroke or click to reach extension commands.

In prior versions of Visual Studio, the VAssistX menu is opened via a single Alt+X. That shortcut, fortuitously, now opens the Extensions menu. In Visual Studio 2019, a subsequent X opens the VAssistX menu within the Extensions menu.

If you are a keyboard user of Visual Studio 2019, use Alt+X, X to reach any VAssistX command previously reached with Alt+X. And when you in the documentation for Visual Assist, know that you must use Alt+X, X every time you read Alt+X.

Those looking to restore old behavior in Visual Studio 2019 might find Extensions in Main menu useful. If you try the extension and want a single Alt+X to open VAssistX, use ‘Tools | Customize |Commands’ to change the accelerator key for Extensions, e.g. from &x to &i.

Visual Assist build 2331 is available

Extensibility has long been a strength of Microsoft Visual Studio, but extending the IDE too greatly can impede its startup. Thus, many developers are familiar with Visual Studio’s yellow status message that suggests an extension is likely causing slow startup. To alleviate slow startups, Microsoft has encouraged partners to load their extensions asynchronously. That encouragement is now a requirement in Microsoft’s latest IDE. In Visual Studio 16.1 Preview 1, extensions must load asynchronously.

Visual Assist build 2331 supports Visual Studio 16.1 Preview 1, and therefore loads asynchronously. In the new IDE, Visual Assist loads as soon as possible, often without noticeable delay. But, there are a few startup scenarios, e.g. when starting Visual Studio without a solution, that do expose subtle changes in loading.

You will know that Visual Assist is completely loaded in Visual Studio 2019 if the extension responds as you expect, or when notice appears in the status bar.

Visual Assist is not completely loaded if it looks or feels broken in the moments after startup, before a solution is loaded, or within seconds of loading a solution. Signs of incomplete loading include a toolbar that begins with disabled icons,

empty tool windows,

and failure to respond to commands in an editor window.

If Visual Assist is not completely loaded, coax it along by opening a solution, then wait a few seconds. If you try a command in an editor window and the command doesn’t work, simply retry it. Loading should have completed in the interim.

Build 2231 also adds a new command to insert a file path into the active document. The command is useful when working in strings and comments. Access Insert-Path via the VAssistX menu (Alt+X, T, P).

Build 2331 requires software maintenance through 2019.04.19

Check out the complete list of what’s new in build 2331; learn more about Insert Path; or download the installer for build 2331.