What is it?
"Nearly all world-class software, from the leading Web browsers to mission-critical corporate applications, is built using the Microsoft Visual C++ (VC++) development system," gushes Microsoft's introduction to Visual C++ 6.0 Professional Edition.
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However, this will certainly be news to the vast number of corporations whose core systems are written in Cobol. And while, post-Cobol, C and C++ may be the languages of choice, and VC++ the obvious choice for Windows developments, it is far from the only C++ development tool.
Where did it originate?
C++ was initially designed and implemented by Bjarne Stroustrup at AT&T Labs (then AT&T Bell Labs). It evolved from C, with the addition of object-oriented capabilities from the Simula programming language.
The first commercial release was in 1985. The language gained widespread use in industry and academia during the 1980s, and in 1990 the major computer and software tools suppliers, Microsoft among them, started to provide C++ to their users as a major implementation tool.
C++ is used by more than 1.5 million programmers worldwide. Apart from Microsoft and AT&T, companies that have contributed to the C++ standard include Ericsson, Borland, HP, IBM, Silicon Graphics and Sun.
What's it for?
C++ is a general-purpose programming language with a bias towards systems programming. It supports low-level programming in traditional styles, data abstraction, object-oriented programming, and generic programming.
Visual C++ is a C++ development environment for Windows and the Web, including scripting, compiling and debugging tools and component libraries. You can develop applications that make use of OLE (Object Linking and Embedding), ODBC (Open Database Connectivity) and the Microsoft Foundation Class (MFC) library. VC++ can be used to build ActiveX controls, and create multimedia-based, interactive, Dynamic HTML (DHTML) pages.
What makes it special?
Microsoft says that by using VC++6, developers will spend less time building applications and less time coding, compiling and debugging. They also benefit from greater component reuse.
While competing IDEs (Integrated Drive Electronics), such as Borland's C++Builder and IBM's Visual Age for C++, may offer the same or better capabilities, the ubiquity of Microsoft technologies makes VC++ a good, safe, bread-and-butter skill.
How difficult is it?
C++ is a complex language, not for beginners. VC++ simplifies the way in.
Where is it used?
In Windows software houses and in-house development teams.
Not to be compared with
A Victoria Cross with two bars. Putting the letters VC after your name doesn't make you a hero, any more than MCP certification makes you a male chauvinist pig.
What does it run on?
It is primarily used for Windows, although since VC++ is said to be AnsiC++ conformant, applications should be portable.
Few people know that
There are more than 400 books in print on C++. Most are expensive. A large proportion simply duplicate material available free on the Microsoft developers network.
What's coming up?
C# (pronounced "C sharp"), an object-oriented language for Microsoft's .net platform. C# is based on C and C++, and has support for HTML, XML, Com and Microsoft's new Simple Object Access Protocol (Soap).
Microsoft's Certified Technical Education Centres offer training in VC++ development, with courses on using MFC, the Active Template Library, ADO, OLE DB and ODBC, Microsoft Message Queue (MSMQ). You can find out about Microsoft's Certified Technical Education Centres, and online and CD-based training at http://www.microsoft.com/train_cert/
Also try www.learningtree.com, which offers various discount schemes.
Rates of pay
Junior Visual C++ developer jobs pay in the region of £20,000. However, salaries of £35,000 to £40,000 can be commanded by those with experience of object-oriented development using Com and ActiveX. Many Visual C++ jobs offer cross-training to other Web technologies.