Microsoft Bringing Sexy Back to Visual Basic

The VB development team is looking at revitalizing scripting in the core .Net languages.

REDMOND, Wash.-Microsoft is planning to bring the sexy, uh, the scripting back to Visual Basic.

In a talk entitled "Bringing Scripting (Back) to Visual Basic" at the Lang.Net conference here Jan. 31, Paul Vick, Microsoft's principal architect for Visual Basic said now that his team has shipped Visual Basic 2008, "We found ourselves looking back a lot."

What the team is looking back on are the days when Visual Basic was used as a scripting tool. Yet, Vick made sure to qualify his talk as an "aspirational" one.

"The main point is that the VB team is extremely interested in revitalizing scripting in the core .Net languages," Vick said in an interview.

According to Vick, the first major hurdle is "re-architecting our compiler and editor technology so that it can be used in non-Visual Studio contexts."

He said the VB team is starting by looking at big hosts like Office, "although we have no firm plans there at the moment," Vick said. "But we'd like to democratize it further so that any application can easily add the power of VB to their application."

Vick said he called his talk aspirational because "we're committed to this path, but it's not clear what kind of timeframe we'll be taking to get there. Our product plans haven't solidified enough to the point where we can talk about actual product releases."

During the talk, Vick demonstrated Microsoft Excel hosting Visual Basic. He displayed a scripting pane in Excel that automated Excel and used the Visual Basic engine.

Vick said Microsoft's DLR (Dynamic Language Runtime) is an ideal component for the Visual Basic team to use to present Visual Basic as a scripting environment.

"The DLR is a key piece," Vick said. "We want to use the DLR for script interoperability."

He is looking at the Microsoft experience of bringing Python and Ruby into the Microsoft developer platform with IronPython and IronRuby. He said there is a "coalescing" going on, with Microsoft moving toward a model where it is tying its dynamic languages story together.

"The more we open things up, the more we allow people to plug and play" or use different languages on the Microsoft platform," Vick said.

Jim Hugunin, creator of Iron Python and a Microsoft engineer, said that was Microsoft's goal with the CLR (Common Language Runtime) and is a complementary goal of the DLR.

Meanwhile, in an interview with eWEEK, Vick said, "We're also thinking about the language side of things-what language features might bring more of a -scripting' feel to working with .Net. But those are less well-defined."

However, Vick said the "architectural work is significant enough that we're starting there and will work on things like language design as we go along. This really represents a major commitment, and so it's likely to take more than a single release to fully play out."

Earlier versions of Visual Basic included scripting technology. In fact, VBScript-short for Visual Basic Scripting Edition-was all about scripting. VBScript began as part of the Microsoft Windows Script Technologies, which were initially targeted at Web developers and were launched in 1996.