Since the first edition of Visual Studio, there have been various editions that include different sets of applications and features. In the beginning, there were Professional and Enterprise editions; since then, Enterprise has been split into Enterprise Developer and Enterprise Architect editions. I won't get into the specific differences here, but you can read more about the features of each edition on Microsoft's product page for Visual Studio.
In additional to the commercial editions there is also an academic edition of Visual Studio available, which includes all of the features of the Professional edition and some extra instructional features, and is available at a discounted rate.
Note: Some time later this year or next year, Microsoft will launch Visual Studio Team System, which is a new edition of Visual Studio that includes a wealth of new applications designed for enterprise developers. When coupled with Team Foundation Server, it will become a competitor to the products of companies like Rational in the enterprise development space. Visual Studio Team System also includes various versions for specific developer roles such as architect, developer, and tester. This article will focus on the non-Team-System editions of Visual Studio.
It is surprisingly easy to get started writing code with Visual Studio. Launch the Visual Studio application and select New -> Project; you will see the screen shown in Figure 1.
Note: All of the screen shots for this article were taken using Visual Studio 2005 Beta 2; things may differ slightly in Visual Studio.NET 2003 or the final version of Visual Studio 2005.
Visual Studio uses the term "project" to define a collection of files that usually result in a single compiled application or assembly. In this example, select the Windows Application template and click OK. This will create a new project that, when compiled, will create a Windows application. You will also notice that there is a place for the solution name. A solution is a collection of projects that represents your complete business solution. For instance, you might have a Windows application project and a class library project that are both used to build your overall business solution.
After creating a project, Visual Studio will open that project, as is shown in Figure 2.
One thing immediately apparent about this screen is that there are a number of different windows displayed inside of Visual Studio. Each one of these windows can be resized and positioned however you wish. Before going any further, let's take a moment to familiarize ourselves with what is shown here.
The area to the left is the document window. This window is used to open and work with files. The current file is a Windows form, so the window is showing the designer what it would look like if a code file was open (you would see the text of that code file). To the immediate right of the document window is the toolbox. The toolbox holds the various controls that can be dragged on to the design surface; in a moment, we will drag a text box and button from the toolbox to the designer.
Next to the toolbox in the top right is the Solution Explorer. This window is used to keep track of all the projects and files in your solution. You can double-click on a file here to open it in the document window. Below the Solution Explorer is the Properties window. This window displays the available properties and settings for the object you current have open (in this case, the form that is open in the document window).