Microsoft used to crow that there were 3 million VB programmers. This was several years back, certainly the number today is much higher.
I'm one of them. I've built a business first on the old QBASIC compiler under DOS, then on the various versions of VB. I've hired programmers, I've invested time, treasure, and travail in building an application set that includes hundreds of thousands of lines of tested VB code. My software has hundreds of distinct features, and my packages sell for tens of thousands of dollars and my programmers work almost exclusively in VB 6.
I once looked forward to the release of VB.NET, the "new generation of VB". When I first read that key features of the VB language were missing, and that using it would cripple all of our code and force a rewrite from the ground up, I thought it would be a matter of a small period of time before Microsoft "finished development" and included the features, so VB.NET would become a superset of VB6, rather than a crippled subset with additional features.
Now it's years later, and VB.NET is still a "VB-like" language, not true VB.
What will it cost me to retrain my programmers in VB.NET, and then rewrite applications, one after another, from the ground up, and test all of those hundreds of features? How much business am I going to lose while I do this? How much is going to hurt my business to have Microsoft declaring that the language I wrote all of my software in, with the reasonable expectation that Microsoft would continue to support it, is obsolete and unsupported?
I used to think that Microsoft wrote VB.NET with their eye on J2EE and I still suspect that is true. I also have the distinct impression that the VB.NET project was and perhaps is overseen by 'C' zealots, who don't consider VB a true, serious, professional language. They tried, and succeeded, in 'stripping down' Visual Basic syntax to a core that is more like C. Bravo for this fundamentalist religious movement within Microsoft. They also saved a lot of money in not having to develop support for the full VB 6 syntax and features.
VB.NET isn't a bad language. It seems well suited to writing web server applications and web services. But meanwhile, more than 3 million real VB programmers are about to go over a cliff. Major corporations and major application developers have millions, and possibly billions, of dollars in development at risk, and face perhaps billions of dollars in conversion and reprogramming charges and lost business because of Microsoft's cavalier attitude towards VB 6 developers. Microsoft looks like a natural monopoly. It's like they have laid all the railroad tracks in the country, and everyone has been building locomotives and railroad cars to fit those tracks, and suddenly they are ripping up the tracks and laying down a new, narrower gauge. I love VB, I love having a unified environment for computing, and I think that it should continue. I'm not ignoring the Linux and Unix camps, but realistically they are a special purpose niche (or two or three) and can't begin to match the application development environment of VB 6 and ActiveX/COM.
Other languages have expired over the years, but generally due to the bankruptcy or absorption of the companies that produced them. There has never been the prospect of economic disruption even remotely on the scale that is contemplated here, based on the voluntary act of a corporation withdrawing support for a development language. The losses to those who have depended in good faith on Microsoft are in the billions of dollars. The cost to Microsoft to actually upgrade VB.NET to a true rendition of VB, or continue to support and develop VB 6, might be in the millions of dollars per year. If they have to face the true cost of their internal decision through sharing in the damages that they are causing others, it will be far more.
I hope Mr. Gates returns to his roots, looks at his own customer base, and stops worrying about Scott McNealy (of Sun) so much. But perhaps the only answer to get Microsoft's attention is a class action lawsuit.
I don't have the intention of suing Microsoft. I think it would be a bad idea. But it would not surprise me if others decide to - and I think they have a strong case.