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When the Visual Studio 2012 free versions were originally announced the first thing I noticed was that they had switched from a language-specific model (C# Express, VB Express, etc) to a target-specific model (Windows 8, Web). However, I was very surprised (and disappointed) that there was no free way to make Console Apps, or Windows Forms apps, or anything for the Windows Desktop. I wasn't the only one who thought this was a problem. Shortly thereafter (with a lot of people pushing) Soma announced there would be a 'Windows Desktop' Express version for free. He said:

...we heard from our community that developers want to have for Windows desktop development the same great experience and access to the latest Visual Studio 2012 features at the Express level.

Today, I’m happy to announce that we will add Visual Studio Express 2012 for Windows Desktop to the Visual Studio 2012 family. This will bring to the Visual Studio Express family significant new capabilities that we’ve made available in Visual Studio 2012 for building great desktop applications.

I'm glad folks realized that no-cost desktop software development is important. Open Source projects need free tools like the Express SKUs. Even better that the the Express Desktop SKU gets the new 2012 features as well.


Today Visual Studio has made Visual Studio Express 2012 for Windows Desktop available and you can go download it now free. The best part is that this one SKU supports C++, C#, and Visual Basic together. With this one free version you can make WinForms, WPF, Console or Class Libraries with any or all of Visual Basic, C#, as well as Win32 projects, class libraries, and CLR apps using C++. You can also, of course, combine projects over multiple languages into a single solution. You can target both .NET 4.0 and 4.5.

Visual Studio 2012 Professional Download Free

NOTE: You might wonder, what about a free F#? Why isn't F# included? We've got a free download to add F# support to the free Visual Studio Express 2012 for Web!

Related Links

  • Download page for Visual Studio 2012 for Windows Desktop (Web Installer or ISO)
  • F# Tools for Visual Studio 2012 Express for Web (you *don't* need this if you have Pro already, this is just for Express for Web)

While Express SKUs don't allow arbitrary add-ins (you need Pro for that) the free SKU does include Unit Testing, Code Analysis, as well as the NuGet package manager. It's a bit of a nice coup for my little group that NuGet is now included in ALL Visual Studio 2012 SKUs, even Express ones. Package management is finally happening in .NET.

In the screenshot below I've added a C++ Console app, a Window Forms C# app and a C# Console to a single solution in VS2012 using Express for Windows Desktop.

Just to illustrate one of the reasons I think a free 'Desktop' SKU is so important, I wanted to share a cool open source project I found recently called Topshelf. It's a library for making Windows Services easier to write using .NET. It's up on GitHub under an Apache license. The easiest way to get Topshelf is with NuGet with simply 'install-package Topshelf'. Topshelf has some impressive documentation as well, especially for an open source project!

Here's a simple Windows Service with a basic heartbeat timer using Topshelf:

Topshelf even has nice Log4net and NLog integration. Anyway, this is just the kind of powerful, useful, and interesting open source library that could be helped by a free Express SKU for Desktop. I'm not involved directly (yet ;) ) in making decisions this high up, but I (and many, many others) inside and out continue to advocate for balance. In this case I'm very glad that the decision was made to ship this SKU and I hope you all find it useful whether you work in open source or in education.

There's more details over at the Visual Studio blog and the team is watching the comments.

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Visual Studio 2012 Mac Download

Visual Studio 2012 Mac Download Version

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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