From initial release it has swiftly become the de-facto Integrated Development Environment (or IDE) for the majority of developers - that's an enviable level of market dominance... But how and why did this happen?
It should be remembered that Microsoft already had a very successful and well-established IDE called (confusingly) Visual Studio. So why develop another tool that, at least some extent, is a rival to its own product? Part of the answer is that they wanted to be attractive to non-Microsoft Windows developers. That is, those developers who might not choose to use a Microsoft product and might otherwise choose to use tools such as Sublime Text, Atom (or indeed even old-school editors such as Vim or Emacs).
One question that this can raise is ‘why the name?’. In what way are VSC and Visual Studio related? The short answer is not very much at all, apart from sharing the family name.
So why would Microsoft do this? The answer of course is marketing. It meant that developers who were used to using Visual Studio, tended to take a look at the new kid on the block, to see what the difference was. This worked to some extent but was also confusing as VSC did not look anything like Visual Studio. It also probably put some non-Visual Studio developers off using it (initially at least). Of course, Microsoft have some history with this sort of thing as illustrated by the unrelated Skype and Skype for Business!
VSC is relatively new; it was released in April 2016 only a year after Microsoft announced it at the annual Microsoft Build Conference. This makes it only just 4 years old.
We first came across VSC in late 2016 when a company with which we were working proposed it as the development tool for use with their Web Technology stack. The stack used AngularJS and related technologies (and later Angular 2 and TypeScript).
At the time it seemed quite a minimal editor, that was easy to pick up and work with. However, it did not quiet feel in the same league as the far more powerful commercial tools such as WebStorm from JetBrains but certainly a competent competitor for the likes of Sublime Text or Atom.
Later, in 2017, we began to exploit the burgeoning market in third party VSC plugins while working with Node.js. These plugins significantly enhanced the range, flexibility and power of the VSC editor (often making it more of an IDE than a humble editor).
The short answer is ‘very popular indeed’. The annual Stack Overflow Developer Survey found that in terms of editors and IDEs, VSC was placed 13th in 2016, 5th in 2017 and 1st by 2018; a position it retained in 2019.
As seen in the following graph, just over 50% of respondents were using VSC by 2019 just 3 years after it was released. It is now the most popular editor beating its namesake Visual Studio as well as Sublime Text, Atom, IntelliJ and all the rest in many cases by some margin...
This of course begs the question ‘why is it so popular?’. There are several reasons for this:
The future already looks bright for VSC with its popularity appearing unassailable given the current crop of editors and IDEs. This is probably only going to be enhanced by the next development for the editor: being hosted within a browser-based environment.