There's a little game I play every year about this time: I look through the Tech Ed Session Catalog to try to figure out what's going to be new and interesting at Microsoft's big developer shindig for the year. Of course, Microsoft does its best to make the game challenging; this year they made sure that the catalog looked awful in my Web browser of choice, and threw a mind-numbing 689 sessions at me with a search function that is basically broken.
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After discovering that a keyword search for Visual Basic returned precisely zero results, I resorted to slogging through the entire list one page at a time to see which sessions even mentioned VB. Of course, this isn't foolproof: Microsoft isn't above adding secret sessions at the last minute in order to hold special announcements close to their vest. But I never claimed this was a scientific analysis.
Anyhow, at this point the pre-conference analysis doesn't seem to show any huge VB bombshells coming our way. There is a session on "Visual Basic: Today and Tomorrow," but the only future features mentioned in the abstract are LINQ and XML integration, which were after all announced at last year's conference. LINQ itself gets a session too, but that appears to be it for forward-facing VB content. This makes sense, as we're a ways off from the "Orcas" release (even though it's already shipping CTP builds).
The past gets nearly as much attention as the future in VB-land, in the form of "Visual Studio: Leveraging Your Visual Basic 6 Investments with VB 2005." Apparently having failed to migrate VB6 applications to VB2002 or VB2003, Microsoft is now hoping to haul the die-hards into VB2005. Well, good luck. Of course the fact that you can't buy VB6 any more will help sooner or later.
And, naturally, you can spend plenty of time with the current product as well, in the form of training sessions. There's a two-part "In-Depth Exploration of Visual Basic 2005" as well as "Delving into Visual Studio 2005 Team Edition for Software Developers" and "Visual Basic 2005: Application Development Tips and Tricks." There are also several other sessions that focus on various parts of Visual Studio Team System, even though the abstracts don't mention VB directly, including the expected sessions on the recently-announced Visual Studio 2005 Team Edition for Database Professionals. You shouldn't be at all surprised that Microsoft is emphasizing the high-end product at Tech Ed; if you can afford to take time off, pay the conference price, get to Boston and stay there, you can most likely afford the stratospheric price tag of VSTS as well.
One nice thing to note in passing is that VB.NET gets equal billing with C# in many sessions that are designed to show how to use other bits of the Microsoft software universe. Sessions on Enterprise Library, Outlook 2007, SQLCLR, and Smart Clients, for example, all promise to deliver content in both languages. Any fear we had four years ago that VB.NET would be the second-class citizen in the .NET world should be safely put to rest by now. Maybe the occasional C# bigot will make fun of us for using a toy language, but Microsoft is clearly dedicated to making sure VB continues to have equal power when it counts.
All in all, though, it seems that this Tech Ed is not going to offer any major surprises for the experienced VB'er. That is, you shouldn't expect the sort of shakeup that we got last year when LINQ was demonstrated for the first time. Instead, this is the year to go see some of the other technologies that are rushing towards release, primarily the Vista wave of APIs (including WCF, WPF, and WF) and Office 2007. Those pieces will be heavily in evidence at Tech Ed, and from all indications their full power will be ready and waiting to be tapped from VB. Not bad for a 15-year-old language.
Mike Gunderloy is the Senior Technology Partner for Adaptive Strategy, a Washington State consulting firm. You can read more of Mike's work at his Larkware Web site, or contact him at MikeG1@larkfarm.com.