Earlier this year, I was lamenting the fact that Microsoft has been moving away from small business and imbuing its products with a strong enterprise orientation, noting that these products have also become increasingly complex and expensive. Although most readers wholeheartedly agreed with this sentiment, a few readers pointed out that Microsoft is providing a great service to small businesses through its Express line of products. I’ve written about the new SQL Server 2008 R2 Express lineup in InstantDoc 125207. Now, let’s look at the Visual Studio (VS) 2010 Express suite of products.

The VS Express line of products offers big benefits to small businesses. And all of the Express products are free—even if you’re using them to develop commercial applications. (Download the Visual Studio 2010 Express products from Microsoft's website.)

The only requirement is that you complete a registration within 30 days of installing the product. All VS versions, including the Express versions, contain the same compiler as the purchased versions of VS. The main difference with the Express versions and the different paid versions lies in the expanded templates that are provided in the commercial versions of VS 2010. VS 2010 Express products support the new .NET Framework 4 and all of the products take advantage of VS 2010’s new IDE with its multiple monitor support.

1. Visual Basic 2010 Express

Targeted at beginning developers and hobbyists, Visual Basic (VB) 2010 Express enables you to develop WinForm (Windows) applications. Although it’s free, VB 2010 Express is a capable Windows development platform, and it’s completely capable of creating database applications and performing data binding with SQL Server databases.

2. Visual C# 2010 Express

Like VB 2010 Express, Visual C# 2010 Express is intended to be used by hobbyists and novice developers and is also limited to developing WinForm applications. It can also be used to create data bound applications. The choice of VB or C# is largely just a matter of preference. Both offer full access to all of the features in their respective languages.

3. Visual C++ 2010 Express

I have doubts about the real audience for this product. C++ has long been the domain for professional developers, not beginners or hobbyists. Nevertheless, Visual Studio C++ 2010 Express is the only tool here that’s capable of created native unmanaged Win32 applications. However, it lacks support for the Microsoft Foundation Classes (MFC) and Active Template Library (ATL) classes, which are the basis for many commercial Visual C++ applications.

4. Visual Web Developer 2010 Express

Targeted toward beginning web developers, Visual Web Developer enables you to develop web applications using either VB or C#. Unlike the other Express products, it can also be used to create Windows Azure applications. No doubt attempting to further confuse customers, Microsoft has also released an early version of its Web Matrix tool, which is also a free download targeted toward beginning web programmers. Having tried both Visual Web Developer 2010 Express and Web Matrix, I can’t see any reason to recommend Web Matrix over the more full-featured Visual Web Developer.

5. Visual Studio 2010 Express for Windows Phone

A new addition to the VS Express line of products, VS 2010 Express for Windows Phone enables you to develop mobile applications for Microsoft’s upcoming Windows Phone 7 platform. To get it, you install Windows Phone Developer Tools, which includes Visual Studio 2010 Express for Windows Phone Beta, Windows Phone Emulator, Silverlight for Windows Phone, XNA Game Studio 4.0, and Expression Blend 4 for Windows Phone.