Visual Basic at 25: Microsoft looks back and ahead

The Silver Anniversary Celebration will include such details as forthcoming language features

Visual Basic at 25: Microsoft looks back and ahead

Microsoft is marking this month as the 25th birthday of its Visual Basic language with an eye toward future upgrades.

The company is planning a marathon Silver Anniversary Celebration, said Anthony D. Green, Microsoft program manager for Visual Basic and C# compilers. Discussions covering the history of the language as well as existing features, including tuples and pattern matching, will be posted, along with details about features under consideration for VB 15 and beyond. The company has been reaching out to participants in the development of Visual Basic and is seeking comments from developers who have used it.

Visual Basic has been intricately linked to Windows application development. In a 1991 presentation introducing the language, preserved on YouTube, Microsoft founder Bill Gates remarked about this linkage. "This morning, we announced our Visual Basic product, and one of the things I like about this is it makes it possible for me to, even with my limited time, to do fun Windows programming."

The original "classic" Visual Basic was a revolutionary language arguably responsible for the success of Windows, analyst Rob Sanfilippo, of Directions on Microsoft, said. "It widened the developer base of Windows applications with tools that were easier and more fun to use than the typical offerings of the day, but those tools were still powerful," he said. "A massive community was formed around that original VB, and some of it still thrives today, 18 years after the last version of VB classic was released."

Lately, however, Visual Basic has taken a hit in popularity, with the author of the Tiobe index of language popularity expecting both classic VB and successor Visual Basic.Net to drop from the index's top 10. But the fact that the two languages still rank 13th and 10th, respectively, attests to the staying power of the platform. Tiobe gauges popularity based on a formula assessing search engine searches on specific languages.

"VB.Net has seen some success, but it is typically shadowed by that of C#, the poster-child language of the .Net Framework," said Sanfilippo. VB.Net was first met with disappointment from the VB developer base as it drifted from tenets of VB classic, he said. "VB.Net has gone through varying design philosophies in its 15 years of existence: originally it strayed from C# parity, then it went through several years of staying in sync, but now the team claims it will stray again. VB.Net has a following, but it will never match that of C#."

Microsoft recently detailed a planned divergence for feature sets in Visual Basic and C#; the two had been on parallel paths, but now, the company wants to meet the different needs of the two sets of developers.

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