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Visual Studio Productivity Power Tools Walkthrough

Pete Brown - 26 July 2010

We recently released a new version of the Visual Studio Productivity Power Tools. If you spend most of your day in Visual Studio like most of us do, you'll really appreciate some of the features this kit offers.


To install the power tools, visit the Gallery Page and click download to grab the .vsix installer. Make sure Visual Studio instances are closed, then open the vsix.



Once installed, open up Visual Studio and create a new project (I created a WPF Windows project). The first thing we'll look at is what I consider one of the most useful features: a new "Add Reference" dialog.

New Add Reference Dialog

The power tools include a replacement "Add Reference" dialog. Yay!

The first time you open this dialog, it'll take a bit longer than the stock, as it is refreshing references. (Hint: I bet a fast drive helps here). The title bar shows the project you're working with (helpful in large solutions), the area to the left lets you pick the type of reference you want, the area under the title bar tells you the current filter as well as provides options for sort and searching, and finally, the area to the right gives you information on the selected reference.


The arrow points to the two classifications. If you choose "Framework" you get the .NET framework (typically System.*) assemblies. If you select "Extensions" you get SDKs and all the other good stuff.

Oh, have tons of SDKs installed and trying to find the right version? Sort based on version, or path… or name even.


Of course, if you know part of the name, you can just use the search box on the right. In this case, I typed "xml" and got all the assemblies with that in their name.


Note also how you get a helpful green checkmark if you already have a reference to that assembly.

This is great. The only oversight with the implementation is that it should play this sound every time it opens.


What if you really like the old "Add Reference" dialog, but want to keep other parts of the power tools? Simple, under Tools -> Options, select "Productivity Power Tools" and enable or disable specific features.


Being able to pick and choose features is always a good thing for personalization.

Current Line Highlighting

This is helpful, but time will tell if I decide to keep it on. The current line with the cursor is displayed with a highlight so you can easily find your way in code. For me, this is a flashback to the editor I used on either VMS or Unix back in 1990, as I recall it did per-line highlighting. If you have a theme that makes the cursor difficult to find, you'll definitely find this helpful.


Cool if you have lots of code or a huge display and tend to lose your cursor, if only for a moment.

Solution Navigator

The Solution Navigator is a new tab in the solution pane. It enables you to drill down beyond the file or class level, and into individual methods and parameters.


The little icon to the right of the selection lets you promote that item to the root to make navigation easier and unclutter the screen. The buttons at the top let you do things like view code, view properties, view designer etc.

Auto Brace Completion

Another great feature to help your typing. Much like the automatic closing brace in XAML took me a while to get used to in VS2010 (muscle memory can be a pain sometimes), it's taking me a bit to get used to this. However, having automatic closing parentheses, braces etc. can be a nice keystroke saver. Here's the feature list from the gallery:

Automatic Brace Completion improves the productivity of writing code by automatically inserting the closing code construct when the opening construct is typed for VB & C#.  More specifically, this extension:

  • Supports the following constructs: (), {}, [], <>, "", and ''. 
  • Allows you to press <TAB> to navigate past the next enclosing brace
  • Allows you to automatically complete a statement in C# by inserting the closing semi-colon and moving you to the next line with SHIFT + ENTER

Tab Enhancements

You'll notice that the tabs at the top of your project look a little different now.


The little red dot indicates the file needs to be saved.

If you right-click on the tab well and choose "Customize" (or use Tools -> Options), you'll see all the new options available for controlling how the tabs look and behave.


That little dot as a dirty indicator? You can change it to a few different types of display. Want to pin certain files and have them show up in a different row to make them available no matter how many tabs you have open? Easy to do:


Want tabs on the left, and still support all the same features? Yep


You can even set the minimum and maximum tab sizes to make the most of your layout. It's entirely up to you.




There are many more features I haven't listed here including HTML copy, assignment aligning, column guides, and others. Be sure to download the new power tools.

Oh, while you're in the gallery, go ahead and grab PowerCommands 10.0 as well.

posted by Pete Brown on Monday, July 26, 2010
filed under:            

16 comments for “Visual Studio Productivity Power Tools Walkthrough”

  1. Fan Yangsays:
    I can NOT run it, kept getting COMExceptions as follows:

    The Add Reference Dialog could not be shown due to the error:
    Member not found. (Exception from HRESULT: 0x80020003 (DISP_E_MEMBERNOTFOUND))..
  2. Petesays:

    That's pretty vague. You could buy my book for info on using the webcam/mic API :) Or, post your scenario to the forums on http://silverlight.net


    Sorry for your troubles. Please visit the forum on the power tools download page and post your issues there.
  3. Rick Psays:
    Maybe I am missing something in my setup, but the navigator is not updating when I change code.

    An example is being on the open view, and adding a new variable to the class. The variable does not show up in the open view, but if I click on edited then it is updated... most of the time.

    Saving does not help. The only sure fix is to shut down VS2010, and then open my solution again.

    Is there a setting I am missing to get this to update? Is there a short-cut key? Something?

  4. Petesays:

    I'm not sure what you mean. If you're talking about extending the trial, you can do that by purchasing the product. If you are a student, there are programs for students and universities which help with the cost.

    If that's not what you're asking, let me know.


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