Visual Studio and the tools that should have been in the box

One of the tools that I’ve installed recently and use daily is the Visual Studio 2010 Productivity Power Tools. I was introduced to the Productivity Power Tools while attending the Miami Users Group a month ago. Three team members from the Visual Studio team (Sean Laberee, Adrian “Spotty” Bowles and Prakash Balasubramanian) presented that night and Sean showed the usefulness of the productivity power tools. And they are useful. Here’s the laundry list of what’s in the power tools.

  • Find
  • Enhanced Scrollbar
  • Middle-Click Scrolling
  • Organize Imports for Visual Basic
  • Add Reference Support for Multi-Targeting
  • HTML Cut/Copy
  • Solution Navigator
  • Tab Well UI Enhancements
  • Searchable Add Reference Dialog
  • Tools Options Support
  • Quick Access
  • Auto Brace Completion
  • Highlight Current Line
  • Triple Click
  • Fix Mixed Tabs
  • Align Assignments
  • Move Line Up/Down Commands
  • Custom Guides
  • Colorized Parameter Help

That’s quite a feature list for a free add-in. I haven’t tried all of the features but there are three that I really like.

Visual Studio Productivity Power Tools Find Box

Find – The find dialog in Visual Studio has always bugged me dating back to the first version of Visual Studio .Net. It worked great when you’re searching through the entire solution but it felt a bit heavy when searching the current document. Enter the find feature in the Productivity Power Pack. It’s oddly similar to Google Chrome’s search box. Aside from that it works beautifully. Just hit Ctrl-F and a small box appears in the top right. Type your search criteria and you’re in searching nirvana.

Enhanced Scrollbar – The enhanced scrollbar allows you to view a “map” of your code within the scrollbar. If you’ve ever had to work with a file that had a ton of lines of code navigating your way around is a tough chore. The enhanced scrollbar aims to make this easier. The scrollbar has three modes. In scrollbar mode, the scrollbar works as it normally would but artifacts in the code (breakpoints, highlighted words, errors, etc.) are displayed in the scrollbar as dots. In map mode, the artifacts in the scrollbar are still there but a preview window appears as you hover over the scrollbar showing you the code that is in that section of the file. Full mode has the artifacts and the preview window but changes the scrollbar to look like a zoomed out view of your file.

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Quick Access – This is probably my favorite feature. Visual Studio is a massive application. I’m consistently hovering over menus looking for a feature that I only use once in a while. Just the other day I was looking for the Exceptions dialog and couldn’t find it. (I need to add it to the menu since it wasn’t’ there.) Quick access get rid of all searching around. Tap Ctrl+3 and the Quick Access dialog comes up. Need to format the document but forget the hotkeys? Just search for it in quick access. It’s a fantastic way to navigate around Visual Studio without hunting around the menus.

The team has done a great job of allowing the power pack to be configurable. It seems that most of the features can be configured to your liking. If you don’t like the way a certain feature works chances are that you can configure it to work the way you want it. So go ahead and give the Productivity Power Pack a try it’s definitely worth a download.