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As a longtime Windows geek, I've been fond of those sometimes valuable, always intriguing, but also unsupported extensions to base Microsoft functionality that fall under the heading of PowerToys. In fact, I'm still using PowerToys on my Windows XP desktop that were originally developed for Windows 95 because they give me the ability to right-click on a file and copy it to any folder I want to. Over the years, I've found various PowerToys collections to be useful in extending the functionality of various Windows items and elements, so I expect the VS.NET PowerToys to be no different.

Apparently, numerous developers agree with my assessment, which perhaps explains why some of the best information about the PowerToys for VS.NET 2003 doesn't reside in the Microsoft Web pages. Rather, you'll find it at the Got Dot NET? Web site, an active hub of VS.NET information and a whirlwind of related comment and activity: check out www.gotdotnet.com/team/ide/ for more details, ongoing forums, and the opportunity to interact with the PowerToys developers.

Here's a summary of what you'll find inside the current PowerToys collection, including both executables and source code that you can tweak as you see fit (conveniently, you can access both sets of items through various headings on the aforementioned Web page):

  • Custom Help Builder: Permits construction of custom help collection for XML-style commented Visual Basic or Visual C# class libraries, fully integrated into VS.NET, making your custom help also accessible through standard mechanisms, including Dynamic Help, the F1 key, Search, Help Index and Help Contents.
  • VB Commenter: Insert three apostrophes ('''), then hit Enter, inside the VB code editor to create XML-style comment tags; also supports access to a separate XML file that includes all help comments for a particular class library.
  • VSEdit: A command line utility that lets you load one or more files into an already running instance of VS.NET without opening a separate window for each file.
  • VSTweak: Provides easy access to registry keys that control VS.NET behavior, including Advanced Dynamic Help settings, import/export for custom keyboard mapping schemes, adding custom file extensions to the extensions that VS.NET recognizes, ability to edit or clear MRU (most recently used) file and project lists, and view or edit command window aliases.
  • VSWindowManager: Supports design and use of custom window layouts, addition of new menu items to the Windows menu; switching from code to design layouts also recalls stored window positions and arrangements automatically.

You'll also find information about forthcoming PowerToys in a "Coming Soon" section at the foot of the page, including the following items already promised:

  • VSCMDShell Window: Provides access to a standard command line interface (just like from CMD.exe and Visual Studio Commands, plus provides access to the shell command from inside Visual Studio, all in a single display.
  • VSMouseBindings: Permits binding all five mouse buttons to specific Visual Studio commands.
  • VSTransparency: Permits easy creation of floating windows and pop-up UIs that are semi-transparent, so help you keep an eye on the code beneath them.

All in all, you'll find that the PowerToys live up to their name. Hopefully, you'll find some widgets therein that you'll find useful in your own day-to-day VS.NET activities.


Ed Tittel is a principal at LANWrights, Inc. a wholly-owned subsidiary of iLearning.com, where he writes and teaches on a variety of subjects, including markup languages, development tools, and IT certifications. Contact Ed via e-mail at etittel@lanw.com.


This was first published in November 2003

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