Visual Studio Add-Ins: DPack

DPack is an add-on I’ve used for quite some time, coming in both VS2003 and VS2005 versions. Available from USysWare ( this add-on has a wide variety of tools including Code Browser, File Browser, Solution Browser, Framework Browser, Numbered Bookmarks, Surround With, Code Navigation, Solution Statistics, and Solution Backup.

Some of the items, like the browsers have some overlap with other tools mentioned already. For example, I find the solution browser from Microsoft (see my previous post) easier to use. However, the DPack browsers add a lot of useful statistics that the other tools don’t.

Surround With is probably the tool I use the most. Right clicking highlighted text and picking Surround With produces a pop up window.

[Picture of DPacks Surround With feature.]

As you can see here, I selected for from the list:

[Pic of Surround With in action.]

Solution Backup is another tool I use frequently. Whenever I reach a milestone in my code, such as completing a bug, I use Solution Backup to take the entire project and save it to a ZIP file.

Take a look at the website, USysWare has some good demonstrations and snapshots of the tools included in the pack. Like the other tools, it’s totally free, so worth adding to your toolkit.

Visual Studio Add-Ins: MS Visual Studio Enhancements

The next add-in I guess technically isn’t an add-in, since it doesn’t reside in the Add-Ins window, but it’s close enough. Coming from Microsoft itself, this handy download is named Visual Studio 2005 IDE Enhancements, but I notice the file name is vssdk_powertoys. Cool.

You can download this set of five tools from or .

The first, and incredibly useful tool in this free add-in is the Source Outliner. Seen in the window below, it builds a source tree that resides in a window with the toolbox and server explorer. To activate, click on View, Other Windows, Source Outliner.

You can quickly and easily navigate through your project using the tree. On a large project or class this will be very useful, I can tell this is a tool that will get a lot of work out in my environment.

[Picture of Source Outliner]

Next is a collection of Visual C++ snippets. Great if you’re a C++ guy, just sort of there if you’re not.

Third is something they call Indexed Find. This uses the Microsoft Index Service to provide advanced search capabilities. You indicate what you want to look for, what directory (or directories) to look in, file types, and away it goes.

I can see where this would be handy, let’s say you have another project that you know you’ve written a routine in, but can’t recall which file it’s in. Whip out this handy tool and let it look for you. Like the other tools here, it’s available via the View, Other Windows menu.

Fourth up is the Super Diff Utility. Just what you’d expect from the name, it will let you specify two source files and does a compare, highlighting differences. Very handy when you want to look back upon a previous version you’ve pulled from your source repository, or perhaps you’ve got conflicting versions on different disk drives and want to determine which you should be using.

The final tool in the pack is the Event Toaster Utility. Unlike the other tools, this one is access via the Tools, Options dialog. Down in Power Toys, EventToaster you can see a list of VS events you can hook into.

[Picture of EventToaster.]

As you can see, there are a wide variety of tasks you can launch, from something as simple as a sound to something as complex as a macro.

Microsoft has done a nice job with these tools, extending the Visual Studio IDE in some very useful ways.

Visual Studio Add-Ins: SlickEdit Gadgets

We’ve spent a while talking about tools you can use outside Visual Studio to help you with your application development. It’s time now to look at some tools we can use inside Visual Studio.

First up is a brand new set of VS Add-Ins from SlickEdit (, called SlickEdit Gadgets. This free add-in comes with five tools: Editor Gadgets, Command Spy, File Explorer, Data Object Analyzer, and the SLOC Report.

The first tool, Editor Gadgets, contains four useful items. First, there is an Indentation Guide that draws a line down the screen at the current indent level for your cursor. Next is a Line Ruler, that highlights the current line and displays the tab settings. Both of these are illustrated in the following graphic:

[Indent and current line bar tools.]

Third is a very useful feature called Auto-Copy. When text is selected with the mouse, it’s automatically copied to the clipboard. To paste, click with the middle button (or scroll wheel, if you have a clickable scroll wheel).

The final option is the ability to place a graphic over the editor window. In the example on their website they have a green bar paper image behind the editor text. These various features can be enabled and disabled via the options window inside Visual Studio. For example, I thought the blue background and black border on the Ruler Line to be distracting, so I reset to a white background and light gray border.

[Muted bar.]

As you can see, much less distracting. I also opted to turn off the indentation line.

Next up is the Command Spy. If you are a VS Macro writer, you’ll find this tool indespensible. Command Spy is a small window (you can dock it with the Output and other windows). As you activate various commands in VS, Command Spy shows you the command in the window. Again, very useful if you want to write macros.

The third is what I consider to be the most useful tool, right behind Auto Copy: File Explorer. It’s just what it sounds like, it puts a File Explorer tab into your VS environment.

[File Explorer Tool]

You can then drag any of these items into your project solution window. I can see where this handy tool will get used a lot.

Next up is the Data Object Analyzer. This tool lets you examine what you put on the clipboard, see it’s properties, and generate code to handle it. How useful this will be remains to be seen, if you find creative uses for it feel free to post a comment.

The final tool in this free kit is the SLOC report. SLOC stands for Source Lines of Code, it creates a Pie Chart style report that shows you the ratio of comments, white space, and actual lines of code. You can run the report for individual files or entire projects.

This can be handy if you need some quick statistics, perhaps you are doing a code review and want to be sure the ratio of code to comments is respectable. Most times though you won’t find this tool all that useful.

One thing to note, it only works with VS 2005, if you are still in the 2003 environment you’re out of luck.

There you go, a new tool from Slick Edit that’s free and adds several useful features to Visual Studio. Please leave a comment, I’m curious what your favorite features are and how you are using the tool.

Text Editors – UltraEdit

If you are willing to invest a few dollars, you can get the Cadillac of text editors: UltraEdit ( At forty dollars (US) this editor does everything. It can handle multiple files, has syntax highlighting, is totally customizable. You can create macros for repeated commands, and the coolest feature to me is the ability to edit columns of text. You can cut and paste columns, move them around, etc. Very handy when editing data files that are fixed length records.

Here’s an example shot, in it you can see I have two files loaded (see the two tabs, Program.CS and ReleaseNotes.xml). You can also see I have a column of text highlighted, the Application namespace.

[Picure of UltraEdit.]

There are far more options than I can document here, but I’ll list a few of my favorites.

  • You can open files from, and save them to an FTP site. Great for editing files located on your Unix/Linux servers.
  • You can configure UltraEdit to work with Visual Source Safe, checking files in and out.
  • You can modify the dictionary to add your own words to spell check for. Very handy when you work in an industry that has a lot of special syntax.
  • As previously mentioned, you can write macros to handle complex or repetitive tasks.
  • Search / Search and Replace can use both straight text and Regular Expressions. Additionally, there are some special characters to represent often uses characters. ^p for example represents a carriage return / line feed combo.
  • Has a Hex Mode.
  • The toolbars across the bottom allow you to insert commonly used HTML tags, great for doing those tweaks on your web pages. I’ve gotten to where I do a lot of maintenance to my wesites using UltraEdit.
  • Handles huge files with no problems. I once FTP Opened a 1.5 gig (yes GIG) log file. Because of the slow connection it took an hour and a half to open, but once it had it locally it literally zoomed through the file. I could go from the beginning to end in about a second. Like I said, big files, no problem.
  • The ability to edit (cut and paste) columns of text. This is a feature I haven’t seen in any other text editor in a long time.

UltraEdit is the one tool I use every day. It’s shareware, so go give it a try. You can use it for 45 days with no issues. I’d bet after you try it you’ll be so hooked you’ll happily shell out the forty bucks. I’ve been using it since version 4, and am a happy camper.

Standard disclaimer, I receive no financial considerations and have no business affiliation with IDM (who makes UltraEdit). I’m just a happy customer who loves the product.

Text Editors – Notepad2

As developers we frequently need to delve into a text file. Be it an XML file, looking at some HTML, or a quick look into a CS or VB file to grab a routine to paste into our current app. It always makes me wonder when I run across a programmer who settles for the less than mediocre notepad that comes with Windows.

A handy tool I found via Scott Hanselman’s site ( is Notepad2 ( is a freeware text editor. It has most of your standard text editing capabilities, with a few great features for developers. First and foremost is syntax highlighting. Here’s an example of an XML file loaded in Notepad2:

[Picture of Notepad2.]

Here’s another example with a C# app loaded:

[Notepad2 with CSharp loaded.]

Using the zoom buttons (the + and – in the toolbar) you can zoom the font easily, great for doing presentations.

[Notepad2 with big text.]

It also supports an alternate color scheme, for those who like the high contrast look:

[Notepad2 alernate color scheme.]

Notepad2 is highly customizable:

[Notepad2 Configuration screen.]

If you decide you really like Notepad2, you may wish to add it to your Right Click menu. Steve Clarke has a registry change you can make to add it, see his blog at

Like the SysInternals tools, Noteapd2 requires no installation. I keep this tool along with the SysInternals tools on my USB thumb drive, to make it easy for me to edit files on computers. If you are still stuck with notepad, I high recommend you try out this FREE alternative!

SysInternals – The New Process Monitor

Just when I thought I was done talking about the SysInternals tools, Microsoft finally integrates them into their TechNet site and makes some changes. I’ve already mentioned a few in my last post, in this one I wanted to take a quick look at the new ProcMon.

Available at, the new Process Monitor (ProcMon) replaces two older tools, FileMon and RegMon. It will keep an eye on all disk activity, whether it be on the drive or the registry. In the example below you can see what’s going on in my system as I write this. For example, I have WinAmp playing a recent DotNetRocks episode.

[Picture of Process Montiors main UI.]

One feature I rather like is the Process Tree, under the Tools menu.

[Process Monitors Process Tree]

Here you can see some of the many programs I have running. All I have to do is click on one of them then click the Go To Event button and it will take me right to the event. Three buttons on the main toolbar make it very easy to filter down to the events you want to see.

[Handy tools in the ProcMon Toolbar.]

The leftmost button turns registry events on or off. The middle button shows or hides file system activity. The right most button toggles the display of process / thread activity. Other filters allow you to narrow down to specific files or events you want to monitor.

I like the new version of this tool, lots of new features that make me prefer this to the older FileMon/RegMon tools, which are still available if you want to do your own comparisons.

SysInternals – Update – Microsoft Merger Complete

Since I began my posts on SysInternals, I’ve found they have now gone completely Microsoft. The SysInternals URL now redirects you to a Microsoft TechNet page, All of the tools seem to be there, with a few minor changes.

The Process Monitor (ProcMon) tool has been renamed to Process Explorer. Other than that, it still seems to have the same capabilities, and they’ve made sure it works on Vista and the 64 bit Windows platforms.

Update: Seems I got confused over tool names, Process Explorer was always Process Explorer and not ProcMon. That’s what I get for writing blog posts at 2 am. Except for getting names confused, all the other details I point out are still accurate, good tools well worth the look.  Oh, and ProcExp does work on the Vista (32 and 64 bit versions).

There’s a new tool called Process Monitor that replaces the older FileMon and RegMon tools (although both of them are still available). The new ProcMon seems to give much the same info in a unified user interface. I admit it is nice to have all the info in one screen.

Take a look over the tools and feel free to post comments below on how you feel about the new features and the Microsoft revamp of the tools.