SharpDevelop: An Alternative IDE to Visual Studio Express


16Mar2016

A client recently asked about alternatives to VS Express for scripting Ruby jobs. I did a search on “VB.net free IDE” and got to here:

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/310735/what-is-the-best-alternative-ide-to-visual-studio

From the discussion, SharpDevelop seemed the best candidate, available from

http://www.icsharpcode.net/OpenSource/SD/Download/#SharpDevelop4x

We want version 4.4 since version 5 at present is only C#. The download I got is

SharpDevelop_4.4.2.9749_Setup.msi

which I ran in the usual way for a Windows installation.

The first good thing is that all existing Ruby VSX projects (*.sln files, where ‘sln’ is MS-speak for ‘solution’, otherwise known as a ‘program’) open seamlessly:

An opened project looks like

The project source modules and references are on the left.

Everything works, so this is a viable alternative. Some pros and cons:

Pros:

  • A hugely smaller disk footprint than Visual Studio Express/Community/Full.
  • Installs in a couple of minutes from a single MSI (versus up to an hour or more for VS and which must have a good internet connection to complete successfully).
  • Opens almost instantly.
  • Much more comprehensive in-line help display (sourced from the Ruby library files).

Cons:

  • I prefer the VS editor – more intuitive indenting in copy/paste, less manual fiddling to restore whitespace vertical alignment.
  • No as-you-type compilation, so if you make a syntax boo boo, you don’t get the wriggly underline at the error until execution time.
  • Is 32 bit only, although since the communication with Ruby 64 bit is by COM, that has few if any practical consequences. All my tests above use Ruby 64 bit.
  • The debugger is not as good, for example Public declarations in another module seem not to be accessible for a Watch.

You can make SharpDevelop the default IDE from Ruby | Scripting | Open Default VSX.sln by changing the file association for *.sln in Windows Control Panel | Default Programs | Set Associations:

If it already says SharpDevelop, do nothing. If a Visual Studio version, then click Change Program, then Browse, then navigate to

C:\Program Files (x86)SharpDevelop4.4binSharpDevelop.exe

Don’t be confused by mention of ‘Ruby’ in the SharpDevelop GUI and documentation. The Ruby internet scripting language is intended, see

https://www.ruby-lang.org/en/

Somewhat unfortunately for us, the Ruby language became popular shortly after RCS commenced operations.

My conclusion: certainly usable, better in-line help, and a lot less fuss than Visual Studio. Debugging is sufficient, but has some limitations.

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