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Every time I install VS (whichever version going back years) it installs with the Solution Explorer on the right. Now as most UIs have the navigation in a left hand column (and at the top of the viewport) and the content to the right of this navigation this always seems wrong to me.

So I drag the solution explorer to the left of the screen and dock it there. But I've never seen another developer do this.

Considering how most programmers usually like to customize their environment, adding their favourite text editor, browser, plug-ins, greasemonkey scripts etc why do Visual Studio developers never seem to make this simple UI change? Does anyone else do this or am I just screaming in the dark?

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  • 2
    I prefer it to be on the right, since I read from left to right.
    – mauris
    Commented Mar 15, 2011 at 12:06
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    Because it's the right place to put it.
    – DavRob60
    Commented Mar 15, 2011 at 12:09
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    If you actually choose C++ as your default environment (this is asked the first time you start up), the solution explorer is on the left (it mimicks the pre .net visual studio interface and keyboard shortcuts, which I still prefer).
    – fretje
    Commented Mar 15, 2011 at 12:42
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    I also prefer the having the solution explorer on the left. One reason I like it like that is that because the text in the file viewer is left-aligned, this arrangement means most of the code is in the middle of the screen, rather than all the way over to one edge.
    – Ergwun
    Commented Jul 22, 2011 at 12:51
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    I agree completely. It seems to completely go against the trend of a tree view on the left, with details on the right. I've never understood why. I always change mine to the left-hand side.
    – Yann Duran
    Commented Apr 15, 2013 at 14:10

5 Answers 5

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User Interface design is not a pure science, primarily because people's preferences are different. However, there are a few principles that we've learned over the years:

  • The eye naturally gravitates to "power points". i.e. in art it is the golden rule, and photography it is simplified to "the rule of thirds". In essence if you drew a grid on your screen three cells across and three cells down, the points where the lines intersect are the power points. These are very important real estate, and it also explains why the 1/3-2/3 split works so well.
  • We've learned that there is an order of importance when we learn to read. In short, the most important column on a the screen is the one that comes first in reading order. For us western hemisphere folks, that means the left (left-to-right reading order). For folks in the middle east and some far eastern countries that means the right (right-to-left reading order). For other folks in other far eastern countries that means the top (top-to-bottom, typically right-to-left reading order).

Using these two principles, we can organize the screen in a way that users can get the most out of it. The MS Visual Studio developers surmised that the source code is the most important element, and the other panels support that content.

Now, if you have a preference to have the navigation on the left, it is because you place a different value on the importance of the navigation than the VS developers. Neither position is right or wrong. If you find yourself jumping from file to file often, it can be handy to have the navigation on the left.

You'll notice that even in this site, the content is on the left and the navigation and support information is on the right. This echoes what the designers felt were the most important aspects of the site.

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  • Great explanation. Now I know how I came up with my answer.
    – JeffO
    Commented Mar 15, 2011 at 12:35
  • +1 and also: I seldom use the project-explorer (prefer Tabs/Search via shortcut), but I always want to see code. So that makes priority even clearer for me.
    – Flo
    Commented Feb 19, 2014 at 10:49
  • I actually understand why by default it is on the right, since that way you see more of your code, which makes more effective use of real estate, but for some reason my mind subconsciously looks for it on the left. I just placed it on the right and let's see how long it will last:) good answer though!
    – SantaHopar
    Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 20:36
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It's similar to Adobe Photoshop. Toolbox on the left, navigation (layers, etc.) on the right.

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I just docked it to the left side (after having it on the right side for years) as an experiment. It's strange why I never thought about it until now, because I use a dual-monitor setup for 3 years and I always have VS on the right screen (the browser - I'm a web developer - and other tools, e.g. source control client are on the left screen). The total width of my two screens is a little over 1m, so the Solution Explorer was quite far away on the right side - now it's where the two screens meet.

Another important aspect is that the solutions I'm working with have a lot of projects (with a lot of files), so before, every time I wanted to open another file I had to move the mouse across the screen to right side and then back to the left side on the beginning of a line (or close to that) - now the Solution Explorer is much closer to the beginning of a line.

The funny thing is that the code editor window "feels" wider since the Solution Explorer is on its left side and the code editor now ends with the end of the screen.

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Never isn't correct but it's rare. When helping a colleague I noticed that his solution explorer was on the left of his screen. It's rare enough to notice when someone does change it.

As to why we keep it on the right? Visual studio often used to loose your view settings resetting them to their original state. Dragging the solution explorer each time you open VS becomes tiring quickly.

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  • Really I should have said 'I've never seen anyone else do it'.
    – amelvin
    Commented Mar 16, 2011 at 0:41
  • +1 I put all my windows as tabs in the centre, nothing on the left or right, I'm sure lots of people have all sort of weird arrangements
    – jk.
    Commented Feb 19, 2014 at 10:52
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The left gets saved for items that I'm currently using more frequently. Digging into a database and need to know table structure, the Server Explorer gets placed there. Same as if I'm dumping a bunch of controls on a form, the Toolbox ends up there.

I pay less attention to items on the right. If I've opened a few files and need to go back and forth, I'd use the tabs at the top.

Besides, what can be simpler than doing nothing?

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    You really use the Toolbox and Server Explorer more than the Solution Explorer? Wow.
    – BFree
    Commented Mar 15, 2011 at 16:42
  • Like @BFree I'm not convinced that more traffic passes through the toolbox than the solution explorer.
    – amelvin
    Commented Mar 16, 2011 at 0:43

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