VB.Net: Is It Too Complex?

It exploded onto the software development scene 10 years ago and quickly grew to become a dominant force in programming for millions.

It exploded onto the software development scene 10 years ago and quickly grew to become a dominant force in programming for millions.

Now, on its 10th anniversary, Microsoft Corp.s Visual Basic programming language is facing its biggest challenge yet. But unlike past threats from Borland Software Corp.s Delphi or Sun Microsystems Inc.s Java, the latest challenge comes from within Microsoft itself.

While some programmers say Visual Basic.Net, the new iteration of the language, is a necessary change to keep up with the times and accelerate development, others call the language an "abomination" that is unnecessarily complex and different.

"Im still sitting here wondering what hit us," said Dan Barclay, president of Barclay Software Inc., in Orange, Texas. A longtime Visual Basic user and a user of Microsoft Basic before that, Barclay is now looking at other options, including the Delphi and Kylix tools from Borland. Barclay said many of the .Net changes, such as altering the definitions of keywords and data types, are unnecessary, will break existing code and show a lack of respect.

"There will always be people like us whose life isnt to explore the unknown. Its to deliver services to our customer base," Barclay said.

Microsoft is expected to release 2 million copies of the second beta version of Visual Basic.Net at its TechEd conference in Atlanta this week. Winning support from its estimated 3.3 million Visual Basic developers is crucial to making its .Net software-as-a-service strategy a success.

Ken Spencer, another longtime Visual Basic developer who has been in on the .Net planning, said he thinks once developers get their feet wet, the transition wont be that difficult.

"Anybody who says that your skills dont translate is crazy," said Spencer, vice president of 32X Tech Corp., in Greensboro, N.C. VB.Net "is a very solid product and very fast."

Regardless of the split opinions on the changes, developers said they agree that Visual Basic changed the landscape when it hit in 1991. The drag-and-drop functionality and graphical way of building applications eliminated painstaking coding.

"It changed everything," said Karl Peterson, an independent programmer in Vancouver, Wash., who started using Visual Basic with the first version. "Windows took off when VB was released because everyone could write applications for Windows."

A team started working on what became Visual Basic in 1988, looking at numerous models before settling on a graphically drawn user interface with a programming language connected to it through an event model. Its release coincided with Windows 3.0.

Challenges such as Delphi and Java have helped shape Visual Basic over the years, with Java pushing it toward a more object-oriented model. Borlands first release of Delphi, in 1994, was designed to tackle performance and extensibility needs.

A major shift came in 1994 with Visual Basic 4.0, which moved to a 32-bit architecture and a totally object-oriented model. That change also created controversy among Microsoft developers for breaking compatibility.

But developers say the changes in Visual Basic 4.0 pale in comparison with the ones on the table now. The first .Net beta release included more than 70 changes to the way Visual Basic has traditionally worked. In response to the complaints, Microsoft pulled back a few of the changes, including a change in the value of the constant true.

Tom Button, the first Visual Basic product manager and now vice president of developer tools for Microsoft, in Redmond, Wash., acknowledged .Net may be a difficult transition for "meat and potatoes" developers but said that the Internets requirements are so different that Microsoft didnt want to settle for incremental changes.

"To open up a brave new world, were going to do brave new things with our development tools," Button said. "Its definitely a project; I dont want to understate it."