Differences between Visual Studio 2017 Community and Professional editions

In the last weeks and months, I am seeing a lot of confusion and doubts in the forums and with the clients of my company about which Visual Studio edition can be used, which are the functionalities and what differentiates the Community edition from the Professional edition.

If we go back many years ago:

  • Visual Studio .NET 2002 / 2003 was initially a paid product in all their editions.
  • In Visual Studio 2005, Microsoft released the “Standard” and “Professional” editions, introducing also the “Express” edition, which was a limited free edition intended for neophytes, hobbyists, newbies and the like. The Visual Studio 2005 Express edition had flavors: Visual Basic 2005 Express Edition, Visual C++ 2005 Express Edition, Visual C# Express Edition, Visual J# Express Edition and Visual Web Dev Express Edition.
  • Visual Studio 2008, 2010 and 2012 followed suit offering flavored Express editions, which legally could be used within companies, but were severely limited for a professional use. For example, they didn’t allow extensions (add-ins, packages, etc.).
  • Visual Studio 2013 also offered flavored Express editions, but it introduced a new “Community” edition, which was intended for professional use and removed many limitations of the Express editions. For example, it allowed extensions.
  • Visual Studio 2015 also offered the Community edition while preserving the Express 2015 for Windows Desktop, Express 2015 for Web and Express 2015 for Windows 10.
  • Visual Studio 2017, at the time of this writing, doesn’t offer Express editions, only the Community edition.

So, if you want to use Visual Studio 2017, your only choices are the Enterprise edition, the Professional edition and the Community edition. And the most common question is: which are the differences between the Professional and the Community edition? Likely you may have also read that the Community edition is almost identical to the Professional edition, so, why to pay for the Professional edition?

There are two aspects that you need to consider: the legal aspect and the technical aspect.

From the legal point of view, Visual Studio 2017 Community edition is free (it requires registration with a Microsoft account, though) but the license doesn’t allow you to use it in all scenarios. The legal document for your lawyer is here:

Microsoft Visual Studio 2017 Community Edition License Terms

which in short specifies this:

  • If you are an individual (you don’t belong to an organization), you can use the Community edition to develop and test applications, even applications that you sell.
  • If you belong to an organization, then there are two cases: your organization is a “non-enterprise” organization, or it is an “enterprise” organization.

An “enterprise” is any organization and its affiliates who collectively have either:

(a) more than 250 PCs or users

or

(b) one million U.S. dollars (or the equivalent in other currencies) in annual revenues

“Affiliates” means those entities that control (via majority ownership), are controlled by, or are under common control with an organization.

  • If your organization qualifies as “non-enterprise” organization, then up to 5 developers can use the Community edition. The 6th developer would have to pay for a Professional edition.
  • If your organization qualifies as an “enterprise” organization, then:
    • Any number of users can use Community edition to develop and test applications in the following scenarios: classroom training and education, academic research, Visual Studio extensions projects or open source projects.
    • No user at all can use the Community edition if it is not for classroom training and education, academic research, Visual Studio extensions projects or open source projects. This is an important difference with the Express editions, which, for example, allowed a single system administrator in a large organization to use legally the Express edition to create scripts. In this scenario, she cannot use legally the Community edition, even if she would be the only user of Visual Studio within the enterprise organization.

From the technical point of view, the resource to be read by you or your team lead is the following:

Compare Visual Studio 2017 IDEs

If you compare row by row the columns “Visual Studio Community” and “Visual Studio Professional” you will find only two differences:

  • “Enterprise” is a supported usage scenario for the “Professional” edition, but not for the “Community” edition.
  • The Professional edition supports “CodeLens”, while the “Community” edition doesn’t. If this feature is important for you, either pay for the Professional edition or vote the CodeLens for Community Edition suggestion on UserVoice. There are also reports that installing SQL Server Data Tools (SSDT) brings CodeLens to the Community edition, at least for Visual Studio 2015.

New download location for Visual Studio language packs and updates

If you try to download some language packs, SDKs and updates for old Visual Studio versions from some links, you will notice that they no longer work, giving “Error 404 – Not found”. For example, this link still works at the time of this writing:

Microsoft Visual Studio 2015 Language Pack
https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=48157

But these ones no longer work:

Microsoft Visual Studio 2013 Language Pack
http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=40783

or

Microsoft Visual Studio 2012 Language Pack
http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=30681

And the same can happen with Visual Studio updates.

Microsoft is complicating things, and what used to be direct downloads now require you an MSDN subscription, or to sign-up for Visual Studio Dev Essentials, which fortunately is free:

https://www.visualstudio.com/dev-essentials/

Once you have an account, then you can go to:

https://www.visualstudio.com/vs/older-downloads/

and click the Download buttons for the desired downloads of older Visual Studio versions:

Alternatively, you can go to:

https://my.visualstudio.com

and once you are logged-in, go to the Downloads section:

https://my.visualstudio.com/downloads/

and use the search functionality to find the desired download: