Visual Studio vs. Visual Studio Code (VSCode)?

Visual Studio Code (often called VSCode) has nothing to do with Visual Studio, except that Microsoft is behind both products. I will refer to Visual Studio Code as VSCode from now on.

  • VSCode is a small app and is considered a lightweight text editor.
  • Visual Studio is a huge app and is considered an IDE (Integrated Development Environment).
  • VSCode is a free, open-source editor.
  • Visual Studio comes in three versions, Community (free but has limited support), Professional, and Enterprise (paid, with support).
  • VSCode runs on Mac, Windows, and Linux.
  • Visual Studio runs on Windows and Mac (somewhat), but not on Linux.
  • VSCode is a lightweight app out of the box but has almost unlimited customization options via Extensions that are easy to install.
  • Visual Studio is a bigger app out of the box, with plenty of built-in functionality (depending on which version you use).

To give you an idea about what I mean when I say VSCode is a lightweight editor, and Visual Studio is a big IDE:

  • Visual Studio requires a minimum of 800 MB available space and typically takes up 20-50 GB once you have downloaded all the features you need.
  • VSCode requires less than 100 MB available HDD space to install, and even with 20+ Extensions installed, my VSCode takes up less than 300 MB total space.

Should you use Visual Studio or Visual Studio Code?

You might think that this is a question about whether you need a simple text editor or an IDE. However, VSCode is only a simple and lightweight text editor on the surface. Because of VSCode’s big, and growing Extension library, you can make VSCode into the equivalent of an IDE, by adding features via the Extensions marketplace.

On top of that, VSCode is free, including the extensions.

VSCode is flexible and allows you to assemble your development environment the way you want.

That said, the big advantage of Visual Studio’s standardization and built-in functionality is that they take a lot of decisions out of your hands, which may or may not make you more productive. The less you have to think about how to do something, the more time you can spend building things.

But what if the Visual Studio way is not how you prefer to work? Well, then VSCode is your friend.

The way I decide between either product today is straight forward:

  • If using Linux is a requirement, VSCode is your only option.
  • If you work on a project that is heavily focused on Microsoft products, such as Azure, use Visual Studio.
  • If you’re a Mac user, you’ll probably prefer VSCode over Visual Studio, since Visual Studio in my, and other developers’ experience, doesn’t seem to seamlessly work with macOS (at least not as of 2020).

If you start a solo project from scratch today, I’d choose VSCode over Visual Studio any day, whether you’re a Mac or a Windows user. VSCode can do everything Visual Studio can, and is free, and is far easier to get started with than Visual Studio.

Relevant for Mac users

VSCode appears to work equally well on both Mac and Windows, while Visual Studio integrates much better with Windows out of the box than Mac.

This is a pretty big deal. Although I’m sure Visual Studio will get better and better on Mac over time, I did not enjoy using Visual Studio on my MacBook Pro (2014, so it’s a bit old). Visual Studio runs noticeably slower on my Mac than VSCode, and I couldn’t get IntelliSense to work properly.

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