Despite improvements, developers bemoan low quality of Microsoft’s C# Dev Kit for VS Code

Despite improvements, developers bemoan low quality of Microsoft’s C# Dev Kit for VS Code

Microsoft has improved the C# Dev Kit for Visual Studio Code (VS Code) with support, Aspire integration and easy SDK acquisition – but developers are complaining of “terrible quality”.

Microsoft has introduced several enhancements to its C# Dev Kit, a VS Code extension that supports .NET and C# development on Mac and Linux as well as Windows. The enhancements add commands for adding and removing NuGet packages – NuGet being the official package manager for .NET – as well as a one-click install for the .NET SDK in a “set up your environment” section.

There is also new integration with Aspire, a stack for building cloud-native applications. The May release of C# Dev Kit will launch the host project as well as all associated projects, such as front-end or API projects, with a single Run command, with or without debugging.

Another new feature is the ability to navigate to the current document within the Solution Explorer, or to keep the current document highlighted in the Solution Explorer so as never to lose track. Further details of the May update are in the official post.

The Solution Explorer is a feature borrowed from Microsoft’s Windows only Visual Studio IDE; and it is this relationship between VS Code and Visual Studio that seems to cause problems. Since Visual Studio is a commercial product, there has long been tension within the company between improving the free VS Code for .NET developers without undermining the value of Visual Studio. In June 2023 Microsoft came up with C# Dev Kit, the idea being to bring parts of Visual Studio to VS Code, with the catch being that, in the words of principal product manager Tim Heuer, “given C# Dev Kit builds on the same foundations as Visual Studio for some of its functionality, it uses the same license model as Visual Studio.” It is free for individuals and open source developers, but a paid add-on for enterprises.

Poor ratings for C# Dev Kit, in recent as well as older reviews

It is the quality of the add on rather than the licensing model that most troubles developers though. The extension has more than 3.8 million installs, but it rated poorly, with recent reviews complaining of “terrible quality … would not use this for serious software development”, along with “just does not work” and “I’m tired of being treated like an alpha tester by Microsoft.”

In fairness, there are some satisfied developers, but fewer than two and a half stars out of five show that these are not isolated complaints.

A further nuance is that some developers choose VS Code in search of a cleaner and faster .NET editor compared to Visual Studio, and do not like the way C# Dev Kit brings with it some of the issues of the full IDE. “I came to VS Code to get away from the annoying abstractions, hidden logic and clunkiness of VS solutions, this extension just brings a bunch of that back into my workflow,” said a comment last month.

The puzzling aspect here is that since both VS Code and .NET are Microsoft products, one would expect high quality .NET support. The problems do not help the lingering perception that .NET is mainly for Windows, despite the good performance of ASP.NET applications on Linux.

There is another option for .NET developers on Mac and Linux. This is JetBrains Rider, which appears well-liked though like Visual Studio it is a paid-for product.