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InfoQ Homepage News On the Relationship between Team Foundation Server and Visual Studio Online

On the Relationship between Team Foundation Server and Visual Studio Online


The March 10th update to Visual Studio Online (VSO) illustrates some of the important relationships between it and Team Foundation Server (TFS). These two products share most of the same code and feature set, but their release cycles couldn’t be more different.

As it is a web-only offering, Microsoft has been able to update Visual Studio Online once or twice a month since the second half of 2012. These are rolling updates, so not everyone will receive a given new feature on the same day. And if there are any problems, they can simply roll back the update.

Team Foundation Server is far more constrained for a number of reasons. Updates, both major and minor, require significantly more testing to ensure that nothing goes wrong during the update process. Unlike VSO, no one from Microsoft is going to be immediately available to repair a TFS server. At best, the system administrator can place a support call and hope the problem can be fixed over the phone.

Another issue is “update fatigue”. While some users become giddy when they see a new update for their favorite app, for system administrators it often leads to a sense of dread. Backups need to be taken and downtime scheduled, which means either working late at night or bringing everybody else to a halt. So while the occasional update is acceptable, patching TFS every two to four weeks just isn’t tenable.

In practical terms, this means that the March 10th update represents the last set of features that will be shipped with Team Foundation Server 2015 RTM. From here on out everything new will be pushed to TSF 2015 Update 1.

With that said, here are some of the new features you can look forward to in Visual Studio Online and TFS 2015.


Tasks can now be prioritized directly on the Kanban Board. Moving items up and down in their column causes the priority to be updated accordingly. Combined with inline adding and editing of tasks, Microsoft sees the Kanban view replacing the backlog for many users.

A small but really important feature of the Kanban board is the ability to define what “done” means. It doesn’t seem like much, but having a little block of text that explains the expectations for a given step does wonders for clarifying a team’s processes.

Bug Tracking and the Taskboards

For some companies, bugs are tracked as child tasks against a feature or requirement. For others they are top-level entities with their own tasks. VSO and TFS now support both modes of working.

Syntax Highlighting

XML, Sass, Objective-C, and R now have syntax highlighting support in the online code editor.

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