In this three part series about the new "Express" developer tools from Microsoft, I reviewed SQL Server 2005 Express Edition and Visual Web Developer 2005 Express Edition. But I saved the best for last! And the best is Visual Basic 2005 Express Edition! (It will universally be known as VBE.)
One thing I'll say about Microsoft. They plan strategically.
For years now, VB 6 programmers have been (rightfully) complaining about the radical changes introduced by VB.NET, the loss of support for all their VB 6 efforts, and the relatively steep learning curve represented by a move to .NET. Although (as I first documented in the About Visual Basic article, Get VB.NET Cheap!), you can get started with VB.NET for less than $100, many programmers protested that it was still wa-a-a-a-a-y too much, especially since they feel like they're being forced to upgrade. The plan is now to ask you to ante up $49 each for the Express products once they're released. You can get the Beta 2 versions right now for free! Microsoft states in their FAQ that, "Express is a great entry point to professional software development, and Microsoft is committed to helping you graduate to higher-end products."
In November, all these concerns will be history. Visual Basic 2005 Express Edition will melt away these complaints like the summer sun melts away the ice of a hard winter.
What's cool about Visual Basic 2005 Express Edition?
First of all, it's VB 2005 through and through and based on the same Framework 2.0. This is where Microsoft's long range planning really kicks in. Once they get their hook into you with this free version, you'll never go back. VBE has almost all of the tricks that the big brother VB 2005 has, including:
Microsoft has traditionally included applications designed to show off the new features of their technology. (Who can forget NorthWind Traders? I thought they were a real store.) This time VBE has them right there in the template menu along side the standard 'Windows Application', 'Class Library' and 'Console Application'. We get My Movie Collection and Screensaver. My Movie Collection shows you how to do Web Service programming ... using a data supplied by Amazon.Com. And ScreenSaver demonstrates RSS (Real Simple Syndication). A Club Site Starter Kit and TimeTracker Starter Kit are also available.
Features, features, and more features.
- Smart Tags
- Snap Lines for alignment of components or the text inside them,
- new controls like Menu Strip, GridView, ToolStrip, and WebBrowser,
- new keywords like "My" to address the local machine,
- Intellisense Code Snippets that even show you what part of the code you need to update,
- AutoCorrect with the suggested corrections for automated programming.
The list goes on and on.
XML comments and improved XML processing.
They take a page out of the C family of languages and go one better by providing a way to both extract the XML comments for self documenting programs and integrate them with Intellisense.
Built in developer community support.
Everyone knows that you get the best information from other developers. VBE now features online integration with Microsoft's latest effort to corral and harness developers to do their bidding. They're calling it the "CodeZone Community" this time and the Help system searches it right along with the local machine files and MSDN.
And last, but certainly not least ...
Edit and Continue in a debug session!! Yay! We're finally back to where we were with VB 6!
I wouldn't call it a "down side" but Microsoft continues to absolutely insist that their products be "activated" with an emailed registration key. They are determined that every fish that swims in the ocean will contribute to their overflowing money bins. But it does level the field by making the people who use their products actually pay for them.
The current Beta 2 seems solid. Microsoft says you can operate side by side with VB.NET 2003 and VB 6 and that works for me.
Expect to see much more about Visual Basic Express on this page!