There is a huge difference between Visual Studio Express and the aptly named Visual Studio 2013 Community edition, though: The new version is extensible, so get access to the over 5,100 extensions now in the Visual Studio ecosystem. It’s basically a full version of Visual Studio with no restrictions, except that you can’t use it in an enterprise setting and for teams with more than five people (you can, however, use it for any other kind of commercial and non-commercial project).
“The simple way to think about this is that we are broadening up access to Visual Studio,” Microsoft’s corporate VP of its Developer Division S. “Soma” Somasegar told me in an interview late last month. Somasegar told me that the Community Edition will allow you to build any kind of application for the Web, mobile devices, desktop and the cloud. “It’s a full features version of Visual Studio,” he noted. “It includes the full richness of the Visual Studio extensions and ecosystem.”
This means you get access to all the usual Visual Studio tools like Peek, Code Analysis, Graphical Debugging and more.
The shift that’s happening here is Visual Studio is basically going freemium. Microsoft has now built a set of online tools around Visual Studio Online (which is also getting a number of updates today) that it believes people will pay for. The Visual Studio IDE is now the gateway into the rest of that ecosystem and the more developers Microsoft can get onto that platform, the more will also want to use the rest of the company’s (paid) toolset through subscriptions to MSDN and other channels.
The Express Edition will remain online for now, but Somasegar tells me that over time, the Community Edition will take over.
Microsoft’s Executive Vice President of the Cloud and Enterprise group Scott Guthrie also noted that the launch of the Community edition also means anybody can now use Visual Studio without having to enter a credit card or enroll in a special program. “Visual studio is universally praised, but if you talk to a developer in college or straight out of college, they don’t want to pay,” Guthrie jokingly noted. “We want to eliminate that friction and enable more developers to use it on a day-to-day basis.”
In combination with the free tiers of Visual Studio Online and Azure’s free tiers, you could pretty much prototype a full production application for mobile or the web for free now.