Like the earlier versions of Visual Studio, the new Visual Studio 2012 release includes several completely free Express editions. They're surprisingly full-featured and powerful. For example, you get full-featured visual editing, complete with IntelliSense and debugging. However, the Express editions lack some of the advanced enterprise and team-oriented features found in the Professional, Premium, and Ultimate editions of Visual Studio 2012.

The lineup of the Visual Studio Express 2012 editions has been changed quite a bit. All the editions are definitely capable of creating production applications.

Visual Studio Express 2012 for Windows 8

Visual Studio Express 2012 for Windows 8 is a new edition to the Express family. It lets you create Windows 8 UI (formerly called Metro) style applications that can run on Windows 8. This edition supports building applications in Extensible Application Markup Language (XAML) in conjunction with C#, Visual Basic .NET, and C++. You can also use HTML5 and JavaScript.

Visual Studio Express 2012 for Windows 8 includes the tablet emulator for building tablet applications. You can also submit applications created with this edition to the Windows Store.

It's important to remember that this edition is designed to support only Windows 8. It isn't designed to develop applications for the older versions of the Windows desktop. For that, you need to use Visual Studio Express 2012 for Windows Desktop. This edition can only be run on Windows 8.

Visual Studio Express 2012 for Windows Desktop

Visual Studio Express 2012 for Windows Desktop is geared toward developing applications for Windows 7 and Windows Vista. However, you can also use it to develop applications that run on Windows 8. This edition supports building Windows Presentation Foundation, WinForms, and Win32 applications using C#, Visual Basic .NET, and C++. Visual Studio Express 2012 for Windows Desktop runs on Windows Server 2012, Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1, Windows 8, and Windows 7 SP1.

Visual Studio Express 2012 for Web

Designed to develop ASP.NET and ASP.NET MVC web applications, Visual Studio Express 2012 for Web provides full support for HTML5, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), JavaScript, jQuery, and jQuery Mobile. Like the paid versions, it includes the new Page Inspector to help with debugging. Visual Studio Express 2012 for Web has also been enhanced with the inclusion of an F# add-on, which lets you incorporate functional programming into your web applications. Visual Studio Express 2012 for Web can be used with Windows Server 2012, Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1, Windows 8, and Windows 7 SP1.

Visual Studio Team Foundation Server Express 2012

Another new member of the Express family is Visual Studio Team Foundation Server (TFS) Express 2012. It provides source control, work item tracking, and check-in and checkout. Like the full-blown version of TFS, TFS Express 2012 supports team development. It also supports Team Explorer Everywhere, which allows Eclipse-based Java tools to use TFS Express 2012.

 Like the other members of the Express family, TFS Express 2012 is completely free but it's limited to use by five developers. TFS Express 2012 is supported on Windows Server 2012, Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1, Windows 8, and Windows 7 SP1.

No Edition for Windows Phone 8 Development

Notably, there's no Visual Studio Express 2012 edition for Windows Phone 8 development at this time. However, you can use Visual Studio 2010 Express for Windows Phone or Visual Studio 2012 Professional, Premium, or Ultimate to develop applications for Windows Phone 8 (and earlier). For more information and to download the Express editions, go to the Visual Studio Express 2012 Products page.