If money is an issue, then Microsoft is usually not the way to go (in my experience - that company has sucked up a lot of my income). Also, and someone else can probably embellish on this more than I can - VS.NET uses "managed" C++, which means that the C++ libraries and such provide a direct coupling with the .NET libraries. It's possible to program in "non-managed" C++ in VS.NET (and I've even programmed in plain C, but it requires some fooling and indirect ways), but the learning curve may prove inefficient. I have to say that overall I didn't enjoy programming C++ in VS.NET. It may (or may not) be worth a look at the free GNU C++ compiler (http://gcc.gnu.org/
), but keep in mind that it is a command line compiler, without cool graphics and drag and drop functionality (though that may have changed). There are also some good cheap and free C++ compilers for LINUX (which may or may not be an option for you).
Again, someone else could embellish more on the C++/VS.NET thing than I can, but at least one author I've read stated "I'd personally rather have my teeth pulled than use managed C++" - from what I saw I agree with this.
Hope this helps.