A recent letter from a computer science teacher in the American Midwest brings up a somewhat compelling issue. The subject is a near and dear one these days: Where is Visual Basic 6.0 going? The special interest here is in VB's use as an instructional system. The writer puts it like this:
"There is not much left for beginners in VB .NET. As a professor who has been teaching a very popular Visual Basic class since 1997 and who has taught BASIC or QBASIC off and on since 1984, I think it is very, very sad if indeed Microsoft is not going to do the minimal support to keep Visual Basic around for years to come."
In fact, Microsoft has reduced its free support of Visual Basic 6.0, and has made it clear that Visual Basic 6.0 will no longer be offered for 'extended' support beginning in March 2008. Custom support contracts are available through 2012. With its .NET Framework initiative, the company has fully embraced modern object-oriented software employing the Common Language Runtime as the way to move its software tools forward in industry. Really, for some time now, such an approach has appeared as the likely future path of corporate software development.
As contributor Mike Gunderloy has noted, the chances of convincing Microsoft to turn back its VB6 plans are extremely slim. Says Gunderloy: "They've made their decision, and they're moving in the direction that they think is strategic for their market."
Is there something exceptional about VB6? The computer science teacher makes some good points. Let's look further at his letter:
"Visual Basic 6.0 and the earlier versions have been great vehicles for giving non-CS majors a great introduction to programming. I teach a class that is taken by many biology, statistics, graphic design, actuarial science, MIS, and mathematics education majors. With Visual Basic, I could give them a great experience with databases, properties, methods and events, graphics, Monte Carlo methods, loops and if statements, Print, Cls, PSet, etc.
"Visual Basic .NET is way too complex for a first course in programming, especially for those who are just seeking an exposure to it and will not go on to major in it."
The author of the letter goes on to ask if there are ways to communicate with Microsoft about this issue, or campaigns to convince them to keep Visual Basic 6.0 around in honor of its Dartmouth roots.
We'd agree that the long history of instructional use of Visual Basic should not be overlooked. The first major goal of BASIC, developed at Dartmouth by John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz, was to make computing simple and easy for unsophisticated users. Should that, too, be Microsoft's charge? Clearly it has benefited over the years as newcomers cut their teeth using the company's BASIC products. But, just as surely, the Microsoft effort has been a commercial undertaking. Couldn't some of the same arguments made about VB6 today be made about QBasic yesterday?
The company is prepping a low-end Visual Basic 2005 Express Edition for hobbyists, students, and novices. But it is a .NET 2.0 product, and probably not what some teachers may have in mind.
Still, as Mike Gunderloy points out, this is not the only BASIC around. He says REALBasic is trying to steer a path toward something modern while still remaining VB "classic" compatible. A new version is just out.
VB6 in schools - Readers respond
Should we teach our students how to be a 1960 people/asset manager, or should we teach them how to create those cute advertisements produced in the 1950s? Or should that information be taught as history to show us how we got to the current place in history? Visual Basic 6 has served its purpose, but to teach someone how to use something that will never be used in their personal life or business life does them a injustice. I have been using the beta versions of the .net 2.0 products for a few months now, an the student/hobbyist version has everything vb6 has, with out all the complexity of .net 1.1 introduced. -D.S., DBA
VB6 is dead now. It is not a good thing, but it is true that it is dead. While I use VB.net at work I do not see a point in VB.Net. VB used to be a "simple" language, but not any more. Furthermore I see no advantage that VB.Net has over C# or Java and it pales in comparison to Python or PERL. This leaves me wondering why we need VB.Net as a language at all. But we should not waste our time teaching dead languages to students, teach them Python instead. Python would make a great replacement to VB. -D.F., MSA
What do you think? Should a non-programmers' BASIC program language be easily available, and should Microsoft support it? Let us know how you feel, and if you are corporate developer, hobbyist, scientist, or what have you. Write to the SearchVB Editor.