The Express editions are free, cut down versions of Microsoft's flagship programming environment, Visual Studio. Don't let the phrase "cut down" put you off, though: while there are high-end features missing, these tools provide everything you need to create powerful Windows, web and database applications.

This ISO file contains the four main Express editions.

Visual Studio 2010 Express offers the simplest starting point for novice developers, with many useful template forms to help populate your projects ("Explorer", "Login", "Splash Screen", "About Box" and more), IntelliSense filtering, and the ability to easily create Windows Presentation Framework (WPF) applications without XAML coding.

Visual C# has a little less hand holding - fewer forms, no Intellisense filtering - but is otherwise straightforward to use, and includes a new code editor, basic XML editor and multi-monitor support.

Visual C++ is targeted at the most expert audience. There are no canned Windows forms here, but it's the only one of the Express editions that's capable of creating native win32 applications, for instance.

And Visual Web Developer lets you create everything from individual web applications (which can be deployed with the new One Click Publish feature) to complete ASP.NET web sites with web application support. And a new Designer makes it easier than ever to build stunning Silverlight applications for your site.

What's new? A redesigned Start page leads you into the program more quickly, and a new "Basic Settings" option then makes Visual Studio easier to use by hiding advanced, less frequently used features (see Tools > Settings).

The streamlining continues, as we've mentioned, with an attractive new editor that can now help you create WPF code (and multi-monitor support makes it easier to track large projects, no matter what you're doing).

The real value comes in the many language and .NET framework improvements, though. These include strong support for parallel programming to help you better exploit multi-core CPUs, ASP.NET improvements that make it easier to create powerful web forms, and many WPF-based interface additions, including ribbon controls, taskbar extensibility and support for Windows 7 multi-touch.

Please note that the download is an ISO disc image, and you'll need to burn it to a DVD before it can be used. Microsoft also recommend that you uninstall any previous beta of Visual Studio 2010 Express before you try to install this one.

Verdict

An essential upgrade to the most powerful programming environment around. If you've any interest in software development then you need this