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Book Review: Murach's Visual Basic 6

This book was written for anyone wanting to learn the Visual Basic programming language to develop business applications. Even though no programming experience is required, this book isn't intended solely for beginners. Those of you searching for reading material beyond the typical beginner's fare should keep reading, as you will also benefit from this book. Although a reader may start out as a complete beginner, the goal of this book is to take you a good deal further than the average beginner book.

This book was written for anyone wanting to learn the Visual Basic programming language to develop business applications. Even though no programming experience is required, this book isn't intended solely for beginners. Those of you searching for reading material beyond the typical beginner's fare should keep reading, as you will also benefit from this book. Although a reader may start out as a complete beginner, the goal of this book is to take you a good deal further than the average beginner book.

Chapter 1 is available as a PDF document so that you can view and print it with the Adobe Acrobat Reader. Click here to download a Sample Chapter from the publisher's web site.

Section 1 - The basics of Visual Basic programming
Master what's covered in the typical VB6 beginner's book - in 4 chapters instead of 24
01.) Introduction to Visual Basic programming 3
02.) Visual Basic coding essentials 47
03.) How to work with forms and controls 103
04.) How to test and debug an application 139

Section 2 - The essentials of database programming
90% of all VB applications process database data - here's how to develop them using ADO (without buying a second book!)
05.) Introduction to database applications 171
06.) Introduction to database programming 207
07.) How to use ADO to build bound forms 253
08.) How to use ADO to build unbound forms 289
09.) How to use the Data Environment Designer to build forms 335
10.) How to use the Data Report Designer to develop reports 373
11.) How to use the Data View window to work with databases 403

Section 3 - Other development skills
The professional polish you need to be an entry-level VB programmer in industry
12.) How to enhance the user interface 435
13.) How to use class modules and ActiveX components 475
14.) How to create an application for the Internet 519
15.) How to distribute an application 543

How to download or create the Access databases 581
The specifications for the SQL Server databases 597
Special considerations for users of the Learning Edition 603

If you're like me, you probably never heard of the publishers, Mike Murach & Associates. On the other hand, if you're a mainframe programmer, their name may be very familiar to you. Mike Murach & Associates has been providing programmer training since 1974. Their latest book, Murach's Visual Basic 6, consists of 15 chapters, is 620 pages in length, and contains 230 illustrations.

Not just another reworked Visual Basic 5 book, Murach's Visual Basic 6 was co-written by Ed Koop, Anne Prince, and Joel Murach specifically for Visual Basic 6. The conversational writing style is easy to follow and comprehend, and is complimented by the user-friendly layout and page design.

If you've read any tutorial type books at all, you're already familiar with the list of exercises at the end of each chapter. No doubt you've also noticed that you had to double back to refresh the material in your mind before you could complete the exercises. Instead of waiting until the end of the chapter, this book takes a more friendly approach by spreading the exercises out more frequently. The lessons are served in bite-size portions, followed by immediate reinforcement with short exercises to ensure your understanding before moving on to the next lesson.

It's also apparent to me that a lot of thought went into the design and page layout of this book. I thought the unique format of the book was very efficient, and made for comfortable reading. For instance, the pages on the right side of the book contain screen shots, code blocks, etc. that help summarize and enhance the subject matter that you're studying on the left side. This eliminates flipping pages back and forth trying to locate the screen shot or example that pertains to the paragraph you're reading.

The book provides a much more comprehensive Table of Contents than the condensed one I've provided in the example above. The actual Table of Contents in the book takes the form of numerous "How to" statements. This makes it very convenient to pull the book off the shelf later to look up a specific topic (i.e. How to create a toolbar using a PictureBox control and command buttons, etc.).

Like a good Web site, this book is easy to navigate. The first page of each chapter repeats it's own Table of Contents for quick reference. Chapter pages also feature gray bars running down the edge of the page to enable readers to quickly locate the beginning of chapters as they flip through the book. This is visible even when the book is closed-a nice touch.

SECTION ONE - The Basics Of Visual Basic Programming
First, you'll be introduced to the Visual Basic Intergrated Development Environment or VB IDE. After you're comfortable with the VB environment, you'll build the user interface and the underlying code for an Investment Calculator in the very first chapter.

This fast start immediately gets the reader involved hands-on, but without burdening him or her with learning countless features that aren't needed at this stage. Actually, this is the philosophy of the entire book, or as the publisher puts it-"Application-oriented instead of feature-oriented so you aren't buried by details about features you'll never use."

Next, you'll tackle variables, constants, statements, procedures, functions, and other syntax-related knowledge necessary in becoming a Visual Basic programmer. Always concentrating on the essentials, the authors present the material in small understandable chunks.

Now that you have these fundamentals under your belt, you're ready to tackle a more ambitious assignment. This time you'll build a multi-form project containing additional controls. Then to cap off this section, the last chapter covers how to properly test and debug an application.

This first section is really a beginner's book all by itself. By the end of this section, even a total beginner will know how to get around the Visual Basic environment, how to build a user interface with forms and controls, how to write the code that ties it all together, and how to test and debug an application.

SECTION TWO - The Essentials Of Database Programming
The applications built by the reader in the earlier chapters do not store or retrieve data. Now it's time to be introduced to database programming, as this is the heart of most Visual Basic applications.

The majority of modern Visual Basic business applications are multi-user and manipulate stored data in a database. For that reason, you'll learn the organization of a relational database and how to manipulate and modify the data using Structured Query Language (SQL) statements. For the purposes of illustration and examples, Microsoft SQL Server 7.0 is used in this book.

Your preparation begins with learning database programming concepts and terminology. But unlike most beginner books, the slant is from a more realistic business point of view. You'll also be learning what takes place on the server side of your application. The hardware and software components of a typical multi-user application are dissected and explained in clear and simple terms.

You'll learn about Active Data Objects (ADO) and you will build bound and unbound forms. In subsequent chapters, you'll learn additional skills and discover the advantages and disadvantages of using bound and unbound forms. You'll also build forms that require data from multiple tables.

Some of the latest features of Visual Basic 6 will be covered, such as the Data Environment Designer, Data Report Designer, and Data View window. The authors state that after completing this section you should be able to develop bound and unbound forms at a professional level for a wide variety of database applications.

SECTION THREE - Other Development Skills
The third and final section of the book contains four chapters that cover interface design, object-oriented programming, Internet applications, and distribution of your completed application.

Interface Design: You'll learn how to enhance your application by adding splash screens, menus, toolbars, status bars, and help. Polishing your application makes it easier to use, as well as more attractive and efficient.

Object-Oriented Programming: You'll learn how to create and use your own class modules. And you'll learn to implement your class modules as ActiveX components.

Internet Applications: You'll be learning the basic skills and concepts for developing Internet applications using Dynamic Hypertext Markup Language (DHTML) and Internet Information Server (IIS).

Distribution: This last chapter covers the Package and Deployment Wizard that is included with Visual Basic. You'll learn how to create an installation setup that will install your application and the files it requires on client machines.

There's a lot to like about this book. The authors have for all practical purposes taken a beginner book and database book and boiled them down to the essential data. Then they present these essentials formatted in a manner that promotes quick learning.

Cons: The one minor complaint I had with this book is that it's a tad more expensive than other beginner books currently on the market, but not by much.

Pros: The writing style is clear and concise. Also, the smaller lessons allow greater retention of the study material. The book's page layout and format provide easy reference and navigation, allowing the reader to concentrate on learning. It's almost like getting the distilled information from two books in one.

The appendixes provide information on how to download the example databases from the publisher's Web site. If the reader doesn't have Internet access, directions are provided on how to create these databases.

There are also a few exercises that you can't do if you're using the Learning Edition of Visual Basic and the appendix covers these differences as well.

Murach's Visual Basic 6 deserves a serious look from anyone who is seeking a book that goes a step beyond the usual introductory tutorial. A recommended read by

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About the Author: Ed Koop
Ed Koop is a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) and Master Certified Netware Engineer (CND) with 10 years' experience in networking and consulting. He has previously authored books on Windows and NetWare networking.

About the Author: Anne Prince
Anne Prince is the author of VS COBOL II and the highly skilled technical editor of most of Mike Murach & Associates best-selling mainframe books. She's equally adept at handling PC programming and in the last year, has co-authored all Murach books on Visual Basic and Access development.

About the Author: Joel Murach
Joel Murach, the author of Crash Course: Windows 95 & NT 4.0, honed his skills as a trainer at Harper Collins Publishing, where he was responsible for teaching courses in PC applications. Last year, Joel worked as a researcher on client/server programming. This year, he co-authored new books on Access and Visual Basic 6.

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