Syntax coloring, welcome to the dark side, maybe

Being a web worker, I find myself staring at walls of markup, code and text on a regular basis. As we all know, syntax highlighting and coloring plays a big part in making our lives easier. Editing a huge file of code in nothing but Notepad with black text would drive almost anyone crazy. A recent job change forced me to reevaluate my work space, to try and spice up my environment a little, while also making it easy on the eyes.

What kicked this all off was the big move from a PHP environment, to an ASP.NET setup. This meant working with Visual Studio. I’ve never used it before, but when you break it down it’s like any other code editor, just way more featured in some ways, and more complicated in other ways. I’m still getting used to it, so the complexities may be nothing in a few months.

In the first few days of many jobs, there’s a bit of down time. I used this as an opportunity to try and find something more pleasing to the eyes than the extremely blue and red tags which Visual Studio uses by default for a lot of it’s syntax coloring. Some Googling led me to an excellent resource for color schemes, Studio Styles which is a site for nothing but Visual Studio color schemes.

I actually thought this would be a real quick side project. Google, grab a new .vssettings file, install and done. But what I quickly realized was that I had to reevaluate whether I wanted to remain on the light side, or move over to the dark side.

This might be one of those topics to which there is no easy answer. Do you like a light screen, or a dark screen while editing code? I’ve always been in the light camp, mostly because programs like Edit Plus and Komodo Edit came with them by default. But Studio Styles had quite a few dark schemes featured, so I figured I’d try some out.

After a lot of experimentation, I’ve now been using Son of Obsidian for about a week, and I’ve found it to be easy on the eyes and just outright attractive. I’m just about to declare my love for the dark side, but I’m going to give it another few weeks before I make that powerful of a statement.

As a backup, I also installed Web Matrix as a light background theme, just in case I get in a mood, or just need to change things up down the road. You never know, so better to get the testing and research out of the way now and just switch the color scheme in 30 seconds if I ever feel the need.

The actual install process of a .vssettings file is very easy by the way.

  • Download & put the .vssettings file here: \My Documents\Visual Studio 2008\Settings (or something very similar depending on your environment).
  • From inside Visual Studio,  go to the ‘Tools’ menu, then ‘Import and Export Settings’, then select ‘Import Selected Environment Settings’, click ‘Next’.
  • You can save your current settings, or just select ‘No, just import new settings, overwriting my current settings’.
  • Select the .vssettings file from under My Settings, click ‘Next’, then ‘Finish’. Bam, all done.
  • If you find yourself needing to make a tweak to the colors & settings, then just go to the ‘Tools’ menu again, then ‘Options’. Under Environment, select ‘Fonts and Colors’, and edit away!

One last note, Studio Styles offers these color schemes for Visual Studio 2010, 2008, and 2005. A big thank you to those who put in the work for the rest of us.

When not at the job, I actually prefer Komodo Edit for all of my freelance. I like the default light color scheme much better than Visual Studio, but since I was going this whole ‘dark’ route, I figured I’d do it with a Komodo as well. Long story short, Kolormodo is now my go to place for any color schemes. I found a fantastic dark scheme called Wombat Sosia, which I’d recommend to anyone. I would use this for Visual Studio as well, but I didn’t find a working version of it.

The install of a Komodo color scheme is much easier than the already Visual Studio method:

  • Download the .ksf file.
  • Drag & drop the file into Komodo, done. It will offer to install automatically.
  • If you need to tweak it, go to the ‘Edit’ menu, select ‘Preferences’, and then ‘Fonts and Colors’ to edit whatever you’d like.

So that’s about it. Get out there, and test out some syntax color schemes. In all honesty, my current feeling is “What the heck took me 10 years to figure out that a dark theme is easier on the eyes.” Dark side, or light side, what do you think?


About the Author:

I like technology, sci-fi, fantasy, and anime. You know, cool geeky stuff.

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