What is it?
In the 1990s, Visual Basic was used to build client applications for Windows. In making Visual Basic.net, Microsoft has extensively re-engineered its workhorse language to add the ability to create XML web service applications as well.
The result is a language with more productivity improvements, but with significant differences from its immediate predecessor Visual Basic 6.
Microsoft dropped its "lifetime compatibility" commitments, conceding that only about 95% of Visual Basic 6 code could be automatically upgraded to Visual Basic.net, and that the rest would have to be manually modified.
Following a hostile reaction to the beta version, Microsoft backtracked on some of the more radical changes. But hopes that the old-style Visual Basic would continue to evolve in parallel with its successor have been dashed. Microsoft is dropping the .net suffix from the next version, Visual Basic 2005, which is now downloadable in beta.
Where did it originate?
Visual Basic was launched in 1991, providing a relatively simple alternative to C++ for Windows application development. It offered an intuitive, graphical development environment which enabled programmers at all levels of skill to produce applications by dragging and dropping controls onto a form.
What makes it special?
Among many productivity and debugging improvements in Visual Basic 2005, Microsoft has reinstated edit-and-continue and other rapid application development features which were dropped in Visual Basic.net.
Benchmarker Doculabs indicates a threefold increase in throughput of Visual Basic.net applications over Visual Basic 6, and a doubling of supported users.
What's it for?
Visual Basic.net represents the convergence of Microsoft's desktop and web development technologies. It provides a single drag-and-drop development model for both desktop and web applications. It can also be used for much larger server-side developments. Visual Basic 2005 includes new ways of managing the .net framework, such as the My hierarchy.
How difficult is it to master?
You can learn to programme with Visual Basic on a five-day crash course. Microsoft claims that existing Visual Basic 6 developers will have few problems moving to Visual Basic.net. With the restoring of some of the productivity features of Visual Basic 6 in Visual Basic 2005, this may be true.
There is a lightweight version for first-timers: Visual Basic 2005 Express Edition, a beta version is available for download.
Where is it used?
From its ubiquitous role on the desktop, Visual Basic is scaling up to server side developments. It is available from single-user to team-development Enterprise editions.
What is coming up?
Visual Studio 2005 is also downloadable as a beta.
Microsoft training is delivered through the network of authorised technical education centres, via the web or using CD-based courses. There are some free tutorials on the web, but if you want to be certified, you will need to use the authorised route.
Rates of pay
Salaries are typically between £25,000 and £35,000, less for the very junior roles and much more in the City or with mobile device programming experience.
This was first published in November 2004