Before we can start this journey together, I should take a moment to declare the foundation upon which everything will be built upon going forward. In other words, I need to tell you which languages and frameworks I currently make my living off of and will be blogging about. And I would like to do so without trying to intentionally fan the flames of the already overblown Microsoft vs. [fill-in-the-blank] wars. While I was in college, I thought I could do it all and be an expert in everything. After all, doesn’t every college grad think they will rule the world one day? Thus I took language courses in Assembly, C/C++, Pascal, COBOL, Visual Basic, Java, and HTML. While admittedly I was not an expert in any of them, I felt I had a good enough understanding of each to be successful coding almost any language after I graduated. However, not too long out of college, I quickly realized that I cannot be an expert in all things. (Shocking, huh?) I needed to quickly make a decision as to where I wanted to take my career. My decision was to focus on Microsoft-based solutions. Right or wrong, it was my decision and one that I have been extremely happy with. More on that another time. Today, I specialize in software development using the Microsoft .NET Framework, Visual C#, ASP.NET, and SQL Server.
With a solid foundation beneath us, I have two tips and tricks I’d like to share with those of you who may be new to software development and/or looking for a way to get a Microsoft-based development environment up and running quickly. Obviously, the first thing you will need is a computer. The more powerful and larger the computer, the better. If your computer has 2 GB of RAM or less, I would recommend using the Microsoft Web Platform Installer to setup your development environment.
The Microsoft Web Platform Installer is a free tool that makes it simple to download, install and keep up-to-date with the latest components of the Microsoft Web Platform, including Internet Information Services (IIS), SQL Server Express, .NET Framework and Visual Web Developer.
What is even more amazing is that not only will it download and install everything listed above, but it will also install popular ASP.NET and PHP applications! Everything you need to get your apps running in just a few clicks. Congrats to the Microsoft IIS and Web Platform teams for reaching out to the community and making something that just works!
If your computer has 2 or more GB of RAM, you might want to consider using a virtual machine to host your development environment. Microsoft Virtual PC and VMware Workstation are likely the most popular virtualization programs currently being offered. Both programs host virtual machines that can run their own operating system and applications just like a “real” computer. It’s a computer within a computer! By “virtualizing” your development environment, you can safely use beta tools and code without polluting – or worse, corrupting – your day-to-day computer. You can also safely format and reinstall your day-to-day computer without loosing your development environment.
What is even more amazing is that Microsoft makes it easy to get your hands on pre-installed and configured virtual machines! Better yet, they are free*! Simply go to the Microsoft Download Center and search for “VHD”. Then search through the results for the latest virtual hard disk image of the version of Microsoft Visual Studio that you want to use. After you download and extract the virtual machine, you will have everything you need to get your apps running in a virtual development environment.
*A word of warning before you start thinking a virtual machine is the cure for something it is not. For starters, with virtualization comes performance degradation. Virtual machines run slower than their “real” counterparts. Depending upon the specifications of your computer, you might not find working with a virtual machine enjoyable or worth your time. Secondly, virtual hard drive images are very, very large. We are talking several GBs in size. Downloading that many bites is not something you want to do on a dial-up Internet connection. It also means you need a lot of available disk space on your day-to-day computer. (I strongly recommended using an external USB hard drive if you only have one hard drive in your computer.) Finally, “free” usually means using a trail or time-restricted version that will expire. As a matter of fact, you can easily loose your entire development environment if you don’t backup your files before a time-bomb renders your virtual machine unusable. In other words, use at your own risk.
Now that we have a solid foundation and development environment up and running using Microsoft-based solutions, let’s keep moving forward.