Visual Studio 2017 15.9 is here! Fire up your Windows on Arm laptops. All four of you

Microsoft devs rejoice! A new version of Visual Studio 2017 has arrived replete with fixes, tweaks and ARM64 support.

The gang at Redmond have continued tinkering with Visual Studio 2017 despite the 2019 version looming large, and 15.9 is a worthy update, bringing handy new functionality out of preview and into the mainstream.

Perhaps reflecting the chaos around the Windows 10 October 2018 update, the original 15.9 release, on Tuesday, got a rapid update on Thursday to make the SDK for 17763 (the Windows 10 October 2018 Update) the default. A fix to a bug where projects using the Xbox One XDK could not be built was also bundled.

And it is the Windows 10 October 2018 Update that looms large in this release. The big news (for Lenovo and Samsung at least) is there is now an officially supported SDK and toolset for building 64-bit Arm apps. So no more using a vaguely flaky preview to enjoy a world free of x86 emulation on Qualcomm-powered PCs.

Famously, Snapdragon 850 hardware was left floundering somewhat thanks to the delay of the Windows 10 October 2018 update, which was the first to officially support the chippery.

The update allows apps, both CWP and C++ Win32, to be recompiled to run natively on Snapdragon 850-based Windows 10 on Arm devices. These machines claim vastly improved battery life over their Intel cousins and are designed with LTE connectivity in mind from the get-go. The only problem is that running the majority of apps requires the use of an x86 emulation layer.

Going native ARM64 should deal with the wading-through-treacle experience of emulation. Or, as Microsoft puts it, deliver "the best possible experience for users"

An unkind person might suggest that the "best possible experience for users" would be to not use Windows. The October 2018 Update at any rate.

While we don't have a Snapdragon 850 here at Vulture Central, we were able to fire up the updated Visual Studio and can confirm that building a simple app was as straightforward as simply targeting the ARM64 platform. Obviously, we couldn't run the thing, and debugging looks like it will be challenging, requiring Microsoft's remote debugging tools which, charmingly, still refer to Windows Phone.

More complex applications could run into dependency issues, so porting many x86 apps is unlikely to be a simple case of changing the target and hitting Build.

However, with the Microsoft Store now accepting submissions for ARM64 apps, and official support for the more useful Snapdragon 850 chips finally in the OS, developers have a short window of opportunity to get their apps published in time for the first lucky recipients of festive Windows 10 on Arm hardware.

Headline grabbing ARM64 features aside, 15.9 also includes a host of other handy features including Step back in the debugger for C++ (Enterprise only though) and Xcode 10 support in Visual Studio Tools for Xamarin. Xamarin.Android build performance has also received much needed attention.

15.9 marks the last hurrah for Visual Studio 2017, and if you need to hold-off from the latest and greatest then you have until January 2020 before updating in order to enjoy support until 2027. The first previews of Visual Studio 2019, however, should be with us by the end of the year with a release sometime in the first half of 2019. ®

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