As well as the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, Visual Studio 11 and .NET 4.5 will be released on February 29th.
Perhaps the biggest change is that of emphasis:
The list of new features, as highlighted in the press release is:
Reduced toolbar commands
There are now fewer commands on the toolbar. You can still get at the removed commands via the drop down menu and you can add them back using the customization. For example, the copy and paste icons have gone because studies show that most programmers use the keyboard shortcuts.
The use of color within tools, except in cases where color is used for notification or status change purposes, has been removed.
(Top row is the VS 2010 icon and the bottom row is the simplified VS 11 icons)
This is a new search option which will find commands and configuration options, tool windows, and open files.
These combine common tasks into one simplified window
You can view the contents of documents using new Preview Tabs, which get reused. The idea is that you reduce the number of tabs that accumulate while you work.
All of these seem nice extras, but nothing to merit a version number increment. Of course, the bit of the iceberg that isn't in sight are the extras required to support Windows 8 and WinRT.
Overall the look of the new Visual Studio is "grey" and flat. It may be an attempt to look less cluttered and confusing, but it succeeds in looking bland and boring.
Are programmers and programming really colorless?
One of things that isn't clear at this point is whether or not the controversial WPF graphics have been removed as part of the change. Visual Studio 2010 was the only Microsoft application to actually use WPF to implement its UI. Many programmers complained how slow and unresponsive it was compared to earlier versions. It seems unlikely that anything major has happened.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is the announcement of the cut-down version of Team Foundation Server, TFS Express. This will be free and will support up to five users.
On the .NET 4.5 front, most of the new features have been well publicised as community technology previews and the like. Now we have asynchronous commands built in as standard to C# and VB. Less obvious is the upgrade to the CLR, with features such as multicore background JIT compilation. It is claimed that this speeds up startup and execution.
Personally I'm not impressed by the look of Visual Studio 11 - but it's the feel that matters so I have to reserve judgment until I've tried it.
What is clear however is that there are big changes afoot and may .NET developers are in for a big, and possibly brutal shock.