Microsoft Windows Dev Home: Fluff, or evolving into something useful?

Microsoft Windows Dev Home: Fluff, or evolving into something useful?

Windows Dev Home did not excite developers when first launched, but one year on it is looking more compelling – thanks to new features such as Environments and utilities.

Dev Home was introduced in May 2023 as an effort to make Windows 11 more appealing for developers. It provides a dashboard for configuring and monitoring a PC, and managing development projects. The initial iteration though was thin. It provided GitHub integration, resource widgets, WinGet configuration, and the ability to set up Dev Drives – based on ReFS (Resilient File System) rather than NTFS. All these features are also available outside DevHome, making the value-add doubtful.

Machine configuration in Dev Home

A year on, Dev Home has evolved into something more useful. It is an open source project on GitHub, and one thing Microsoft got right is that it is extensible, enabling both Redmond and outside contributors to add features.

A key new feature, introduced last month, is Environments. An environment is a development location with its own configuration of installed developer tools, dependencies, and source code repositories. Dev Home has the concept of environment providers, which currently is Hyper-V on the local machine, or an Azure Dev Box – cloud VMs aimed at developers. An environment could also be a container. Monitoring and switching to Environments for Dev Home is handy for developers working on several different types of project, or freelance developers working for different organizations who need isolation between projects.

Dev Home also surfaces the capabilities of WinGet configuration, which has the potential to speed the set up of new developer machines or environments. WinGet is a command line tool for installing packages, but comes into its own when combined with a configuration file using <code>winget configure</code>. A configuration file is written in YAML and declares a desired state for use by PowerShell DSC (Desired State Configuration). It is a powerful system that can install software in specific versions as well as configuring machine settings. The configuration file can be version controlled.

Utilities in Dev Home include a hosts file editor (useful for testing web applications by redirecting domain name resolution), an editor for registry .reg files, and management of environment variables – all common developer tasks.  

Another new feature (currently experimental) is Quiet Background Processes, which pauses certain applications to reduce CPU usage, in order to dedicate resources to compile and build. These background tasks are paused for a maximum of two hours.

A promising extension under development is for the Windows Sandbox, an ephemeral virtual machine that provides an isolated and clean environment – ideal for testing install routines or experimenting with code that could cause instability. 

File Explorer integration with GitHub, as shown at the Build event in Seattle, showing the Dev Home repository

At the recent Build event in Seattle, Microsoft product managers Kayla Cinnamon and Sharla Soennichsen also showed future integration between File Explorer and GitHub. File Explorer will be able to navigate GitHub repositories and show details such as the latest commits.

Cinnamon and Soennichsen also showed sudo for Windows, currently only available in insider builds, which includes an option to enable elevated commands without having to open a new window with administrative privileges. On the roadmap is sudo !! (bang bang) which will repeat the previous command with sudo, without having to retype it.

How useful is Dev Home? There remains plenty to do, judging by the roadmap, but the project is beginning to show its potential.