Which Version of Visual Studio 2013 Do I Need?

One of the confusing things about getting started with a .NET language is figuring out which version of Visual Studio that you need.  Microsoft typically puts out many different versions of the Visual Studio software with each release and they can differ in the types of programs and projects they can create, features, functionality or limitations.  With the current version of Visual Studio 2013, there are five different versions of the main product and three versions of the Express edition so its no wonder that people just getting started or that are looking to upgrade to 2013 feel confused.  Here are the differences so you can determine which version you need.

Visual Studio Express

Visual Studio Express is the free version of the product that is usually released alongside the full version of the product.  Giving a free edition of Visual Studio allows people who want to learn a .NET language an easy way in. Since the Express version is free, it is often pared down and contains less functionality than the full version. Applications created in the Express version can be later maintained in other versions of Visual Studio if you decide to upgrade.

For 2013, there are three versions of Express: Web, Windows, and Windows Desktop.


Visual Studio Express Web

The Web version of Express allows you to create ASP.NET and Azure projects as well as other web-based projects like web services or web APIs.  This version is good if you won’t be creating other types of applications and the install will be slimmer since it only has the minimum necessary for these types of projects.


Visual Studio Express for Windows

The Windows version of Express allows you to create Windows Phone or Windows Store applications for Windows 8.1.  If you are thinking about getting into the app space, this is the version for you. It has support for HTML, JavaScript, C++, C# and Visual Basic and a built-in device simulator so you can test your apps on various phone and tablet devices.


Visual Studio Express for Windows Desktop

The Windows Desktop version is different from the previous version as it allows you to create full Windows desktop applications using Windows Presentation Foundation (XAML), regular Windows Forms or Console applications. If you are targeting the Windows desktop and wanting to make regular Win32 desktop applications, this is the version for you.


Visual Studio 2013

The full versions of Visual Studio are of course more powerful since they come with a full-sized price tag. There are five versions of the full product: Ultimate, Premium, Professional Online, Test Professional, and Professional.    All of the full versions of the program also allow you to connect to code collaboration platforms such as Team Foundation Servers (internal and at Visual Studio Online) and Github.

Here is the difference:

Visual Studio Professional Online

The Professional Online edition gives you all the functionality to create applications for Windows Desktop, Azure, Server and Windows Phone but does not include a lot of the functionality of the regular Professional edition. It is also limited when it comes to the number of users that can be connected to a project via Visual Studio Online.  For Professional Online, there is a maximum of 10 users and projects can only be hosted to Team Foundation Server Online and not to an in-house TFS installation.


Visual Studio Professional

The professional edition gives you the ability to create all of the project types that are available in all three versions of the Express edition. Windows desktop, Windows phone, Web, etc…It also gives you the ability to create cloud-based applications with Azure and Office integration add-ons.  There is no maximum for the number of users that can be connected to a project via Visual Studio Online.


Visual Studio Test Professional

Test Professional gives you a lot of the functionality of the Professional version along with tools for testing and integrating with workflows and collaboration.  The big difference with Test Professional is the lack of project availability. This edition is really for testing and QA personnel and does not include the ability to create projects.  However, if you are wanting a solution to create lab environments, capture requirements, or create and manage test cases, this is the version for you.


Visual Studio Premium

Premium is going to give you everything that is in Professional plus integrated testing tools to plan, develop, test and operate applications.   There are features included that allow you to workflow your code through a peer-review process and helps with multitasking and productivity by allowing you to suspend and resume tasks. Code coverage analysis tools and interface tests are also included.


Visual Studio Ultimate

Ultimate gives you everything in Professional and Premium as well as extensive testing tools. There is built-in functionality for capturing and reproducing bugs, diagnostic data, and performing web performance and loading testing. A new design interface allows you to create diagrams that validate code and implement architecture.


To help better understand all of the differences, here is a comparison chart:

Categories and capabilities Visual Studio 2013 Ultimate with MSDN Visual Studio 2013 Premium with MSDN Visual Studio 2013 Test Professional with MSDN Visual Studio 2013 Professional with MSDN Visual Studio Online Professional
Work in the same IDE to create solutions for the web, desktop, cloud, server, and phone checkmark checkmark checkmark checkmark
Take your apps to the cloud, Windows and Windows Phone Stores with included services as subscription benefits checkmark checkmark checkmark checkmark
Get access to Microsoft platforms and tools past and present, with new releases added all the time, including Visual Studio checkmark checkmark checkmark checkmark
Get access to Microsoft platforms and tools past and present, with new releases added all the time checkmark checkmark checkmark checkmark
Organize and define your test plans with test case management and exploratory testing checkmark checkmark checkmark
Provision and manage virtual lab environments for testing with consistent configurations checkmark checkmark checkmark
Improve code quality with a peer code review workflow within Visual Studio checkmark checkmark
Improve developer productivity when multitasking with task suspend and resume checkmark checkmark
Automate user interface tests to validate application UI checkmark checkmark
Find and manage duplicate code in your code base to improve your architecture checkmark checkmark
Determine how much code is being tested with code coverage analysis checkmark checkmark
Reliably capture and reproduce bugs found during manual and exploratory testing to eliminate “no repro” bugs checkmark
Collect and analyze runtime diagnostic data from production systems checkmark
Perform web performance and load testing checkmark
Design architectural layer diagrams to then validate that code implements the architecture checkmark
Maximum number of users on a Visual Studio Online account Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited 10
Host team projects on-premises or in the cloud checkmark checkmark checkmark checkmark Cloud only



All of these versions can be downloaded from the Visual Studio Download site: http://www.visualstudio.com/downloads/download-visual-studio-vs

If you want to try these out you can get a 90 day free trial from www.visualstudio.com or if you are a student at a school that participates in the Dreamspark program, you can get a free version of the Professional edition at www.dreamspark.com.

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