Microsoft Visual Basic has been a favorite for object-oriented programmers since, well, before the millennium — but now it’s getting an additional facelift, as Microsoft comes out with the next version of this software along with its overall Visual Studio 2015 package.
What’s In A Name?
One of the things that’s confusing about this software release is that Microsoft chose to name this new version "Visual Basic 14."
Originally, Microsoft released successive versions by integer, up until Visual Basic 6.0 was released in 1998. This was then replaced with Visual Basic.Net to operate on top of the .Net platform, as Web design became predominant over hand-coded executables. However, that led to a rift between those who choose to use the .Net version, and purists who continued to use Visual Basic 6.0 until Microsoft ended support in 2005. Even now, hardcore VB 6-ers continue to celebrate the older version of the software, and there’s a lot to love about old-school Visual Basic.
The Core of the Visual Basic Studio Platform
Looking at the old VB 6, you can understand the hearty appeal of an object-oriented programming language that’s uniquely visual. Developers use forms, and paste in controls such as buttons, text boxes, images, scrollbars and more, all in a very visually accessible format. In the same way that Microsoft Windows introduced a more user-friendly approach to take over from old command-line systems, Visual Basic made programming more accessible in terms of combing through pages and pages of code. Of course, you still have tons and tons of source code to look at, but it’s nested into those forms and controls that you can toggle between with mouse clicks.
To developers of the 1990s, the possibilities with Visual Basic were endless. Plug a few algorithms into a command button, and you had computers crunching numbers at many times the speed of human computation, which back then was still something of a novelty.
Part of the key appeal of Visual Basic at that time was the ability to build simple programs, with a simple workbench. This article by David Platt in MSDN Magazine talks about how Visual Basic was, in some ways, a novice’s tool, although probably more accurately, more of an intermediate resource, not built for crafting corporate-level behemoth programs, but more for putting together "artisan projects" that, at the time, pushed the boundaries of what folks could do with computers. You could make a pretty nifty mortgage amortization with VB6, or even put together some impressive graphics filters, or your very own chatbot.
Now, a lot of what’s in Visual Basic is old hat, so developers are looking at what Microsoft has done for them lately with Visual Basic technology.
New Branding for Visual Basic
So going back to the issue of Visual Basic 14, which ships with Visual Studio 2015, and replaces Visual Basic 12, a substitute label for Visual Basic.net, it actually looks like the company got a little bit superstitious and wanted to bypass a number that’s pretty ingrained in our collective consciousness as bad luck. However, ostensibly, Microsoft is claiming they switched to 14 to keep the version numbers in line with the Visual Studio package, even though 14 and 15 are still not the same number.
What’s to come with Visual Basic 14?
Some of the changes with Visual Basic 14 are meant to make syntax easier to use. For example, there is a new "?" operator that checks for null values. There is a "NameOf" operator that can be used for things like customer identifiers. Then there are features like string interpolation and multiline strings that will help with handling those variable text pieces that make the text output of VB programs seem so darn intelligent. This Microsoft blog goes into more detail about what else you can find under the hood in this new package, and since Visual Studio 15 CTP1 shipped in February, users can get a peek at how to use new VB 14 controls.
The bottom line is that, despite the plethora of tools that have come along after it, Visual Basic is enduring, and it’s worth looking at how Microsoft is responding, in trying to meet the needs of a diverse audience and community of users, and in balancing its "classic" products with those to come.