Not a month goes by without Microsoft rebranding something. Visual Studio Online is now Visual Studio Codespaces. It’s still the same remote development tool, though: Visual Studio, cloud-hosted developer environments, and a web-based editor meshed together. Most importantly, Microsoft will be slashing pricing on May 19.

At its Build 2019 developers conference in May, Microsoft announced Visual Studio Online in private preview and then released a public preview at Ignite 2019 in November. Visual Studio Codespaces lets you access remote environments from common templates, clone from a GitHub repo, and edit code in a browser. I’m not sure if Visual Studio Codespaces is a better brand, but Visual Studio Online never got quite the message across. It’s not just an online version of Visual Studio, but more a cloud-hosted dev environment that speeds up project onboarding, lets you switch between local environments and the browser-based editor, and integrates Live Share for coauthoring, editing, and debugging.

Visual Studio Codespaces is a response to a bigger trend wherein AI, big data, and cloud computing are shifting development beyond the “standard issue development laptop,” as Microsoft puts it. That was happening long before the coronavirus pandemic arrived, but it’s more important now as millions of developers are working from home. Microsoft, like many tech companies, is jostling to offer the best tools “that will help you be productive from wherever you’re working.”

Lower prices

A price cut never hurts. On May 19, when the digital Build 2020 event is supposed to kick off, Microsoft will start charging less for the time and resources developers use. The company will then post full details on the pricing page and calculator.

Microsoft is also introducing a new instance type for the scenarios that do not require much power. The basic instance type (2 virtual cores, 4GB RAM) costs $0.24 per hour when it launches today and will go to $0.08 per hour next month (67% less). Update on May 1: Microsoft accelerated the pricing change for the basic instance. $0.08 per hour is effective day.

The existing two instance types will also get cheaper. The standard Linux instance type (4 cores, 8GB RAM) will go from $0.45 per hour to $0.17 per hour (62% less). The premium Linux instance type (8 cores, 16GB RAM) will go from $0.87 per hour to $0.34 per hour (61% less). A Codespace, as Microsoft now calls it, also incurs storage charges ($0.0088 an hour for a 64GB SSD), billed to the second. Developers will still be able to create and delete Codespaces at any time.

If you want to avoid being charged at all, Microsoft recommends self-hosted environments. You can register any machine to Visual Studio Codespaces and connect to it from either Visual Studio Code or the browser-based editor. You’ll have to pay your own costs, but at least Microsoft won’t charge you anything.