Give us back colors in VS! | Patrick Smacchia


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I am using VS 11 Beta for a few days. If it can help things getting better, I just add my voice to the long list of complaint about the VS 11 no color, now famous, issue!

VS 11 Beta comes with really cool new features,  and is much faster and responsive than the slow VS 2010 (so slow that I am still mainly using VS 2008). But on the new grey mono-chrome design, I estimate they are completely wrong.

The intention underlying this design move is that VS11 appearance should be simpler, less daunting, and distract less the user by letting him focuses his attention on its content. In VS11 Beta, icons are black and grey, making it harder than ever to see at a glance, which ones are enabled and which ones are disabled. The whole point of icons has, and will ever be, to rely on the human eyes ability to distinguish quickly between colors, to locate efficiently a particular icon in the middle of several other ones. For example, at a glance, I cannot rely anymore on the fact that C# file are green-like and folders are yellow like in my solution explorer. Not only now I have to think, but it makes me feel like I am in jail! No joke here, I seriously think such UI will have consequence on my mood.

What the screenshot above makes also obvious is that now, panels titles are drawn with an upper case style, with no more side icons! The panels titles are surrounded with :::::::::::::: patterns, instead of the nice shaded header that used to let me now instantly which panel had focus, and how panels are partitioned. In my opinion all this is completely foolish, and this raise questions on how decisions are taken in the DevDiv? I can’t believe that most VS developers are enthusiast and think that this design shift is an improvement. The management must have been convinced by a small team of highly recognized and convincing designers, which attest their result on scientist studies.


I really hope that the VS management team will listen to the tsunami of user complaints. But admitting in the middle of an effort that we got lost and need to revert back, is not something humans are good at, especially if a lot of people are looking at what you do. Tons of scientific studies prove that!

This wouldn’t be the first time that the VS management is doing it wrong and persist in an obviously wrong choice. They based the VS2010 UI on WPF while VS2008 was based on GDI+ and Windows Form. Hence, VS2010 has been used as a showcase for WPF. But the fact is that GDI+ and Windows Form can do 100% of what WPF can do, faster, much faster actually. Just compare the VS2010 code graph (based on WPF) and the NDepend dependency graph (based on GDI+). Under the hood, both implementations use the same graph layout library MSAgl. But, and this is a fact, the NDepend graph layout is between one and two orders of magnitude faster than the VS2010 ones. And is it really less nice?

The real advantage of WPF is that (in theory) it takes much less development effort to achieve the same degree of perfectness. But apart the smooth zoom in and out into the code editor window, this advantage doesn’t shine in VS2010. And still, the first thing that the user notices is the slowness of VS2010 compared to the good old VS2008!

And notice the irony, that VS11 doesn’t have anymore any eyes-candy, while WPF is especially designed to provide eyes-candy!


There are certainly ways to improve the VS 11 appearance to make it both less distracting for the user, and still appealing with a few colors carefully chosen . Interestingly enough, in the forums, I found this pleasant attempt:

The same way I am still using VS2008 and skipped the VS2010 release because of its slowness, I might be well skip this VS11 release despite of all the new cool features I’d like to have! Sooner or later, I am confident that common sense will win. Some management heads will roll, and we will see back some colorful icons and decent panel titles and boundaries in VS! Better sooner!