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VB 9.0 and beyond: Tea leaves from PDC agenda

You're going to see a flurry of mentions of Visual Basic 9.0 in the press in the near future. It is premature for headlines, however. by Mike Gunderloy

You're going to see a flurry of mentions of Visual Basic 9.0 in the press in the near future. In case you've lost track, Visual Studio .NET 2003 uses the VB 7.1 compiler, and Visual Studio 2005 will ship with VB 8.0. So that means VB 9.0 is the version for "Orcas," the codename for the version of Visual Studio that will follow Visual Studio 2005 at some as-yet-unannounced future date. [My own bet would be early 2008.]

So isn't it a bit premature for headlines that trumpet the new features of VB 9.0?

In a word, yes.

But you need to understand a bit about the way that the computer press operates.

Keeping track of Microsoft's doings is so important that we tend to seize on any little tidbit of information and try to build an entire story on it, whether there's really enough there to justify a story or not.

In this particular case, it's easy to pinpoint the tidbit. Microsoft recently made available for download the complete session abstracts for this year's Professional Developer's Conference (PDC), coming up in Los Angeles in mid-September. Buried in the middle of the abstracts there is precisely one session titled "Visual Basic: Future Directions in Language Innovation." Here's the entire abstract, which is literally all of the information that Microsoft has so far released on VB 9.0:

     Visual Basic 9.0 will offer radical improvements in its ability to
     work with data in all its forms: as objects, as XML, as
     relational data. Join the language architects for a detailed
     discussion of features such as query comprehensions, object
     initializers and anonymous types that enable querying data
     in a more flexible, natural way than ever before. Also, get a
     glimpse into the future of dynamic programming in VB with
     coverage of new features intended to radically simplify
     working with dynamically typed data on the .NET platform.

That's it. Want to know what a "query comprehension" is or just how working with dynamically typed data will be simpler? Wait until after the PDC. Microsoft's not answering questions at this point.

And don't get too antsy about falling behind the curve just because you can't be there to hear about VB 9.0. Microsoft bills the PDC as its most forward-looking conference, the place where you go to learn about the technologies it will ship in a few years. It's not the stuff that you'll be using in your job next week. So even though we journalists will get all excited and breathless, you don't have to worry just yet.

Meanwhile, a closer reading of the PDC abstracts provides some other news that might be much more interesting to long-time VB coders, though it doesn't have the headline appeal of VB 9.0. The PDC this year features a batch of sessions related to Office 12, the next version of Office. And yet the only mention of writing code for Office is in a session about using the Visual Studio Tools for Office, the existing external .NET framework for Office programming.

If you put on your Sherlock Holmes deerstalker cap for a moment, I think you'll agree that if Microsoft were making VB.NET the integrated programming language for Office 12, they'd certainly be making a big deal about it at the PDC. But they're not. From this I deduce that Office 12 will continue to feature VBA, and that VBA programmers need not worry about following their VB6 cousins into obsolescence just yet. Whether that's good news or bad depends on how you feel about making the transition to .NET.

Mike Gunderloy is an independent developer and author working in eastern Washington state. His recent books include Painless Project Management with FogBugz (Apress) and Coder to Developer (Sybex). You can read more of Mike's work at his Larkware Web site, or contact him at MikeG1@larkfarm.com.

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