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GBIC >> VB >> History
This page is provided to answer some of the following questions about the Visual Basic programming language which I regularly get from visitors to my site:

History Versions Advantages Competition

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VB History

There is actually a lot of controversy surrounding the development of Visual Basic. However, here are some release dates:
  • 1991 VB 1 (May)
  • 1992 VB 2 (Fall)
  • 1993 VB 3 (Summer)
  • 1995 VB 4 (August)
  • 1997 VB 5 (February)
  • 1998 VB 6 (Summer)
  • 2001 VB.Net?
I personally failed to see the value of VB when it was first released and continued working with DOS QBASIC up until VB3 was available. By that time, VB was mature enough that most pundits declared that it had "arrived". Even though I switched over, I continue to use DOS BASIC for very short file manipulation routines where a user interface is generally unnecessary.

The history of VB is actually pretty exciting. You might think that VB was a natural follow-on to the DOS versions, but remember that BASIC was considered a non-professional programming language and that Microsoft had no real reason to push BASIC to the next level - Visual Basic.

So what happened? I wasn't there, so I'm limited to 3rd hand versions of the story. Most versions seems to agree that a visual programming environment known as Hypercard was created by Bill Atkinson and that it was demonstrated to Bill Gates who then supported it's development as a Microsoft extension to BASIC

What's not clear from my readings is how much of VB was a Microsoft invention or how much of VB's genesis is owed to the MacIntosh industry. There's an interesting online version of VB history that you might be interested in reading - one that might explain why there is no Mac version of Visual Basic.

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VB Versions

Visual Basic comes in 3 commercial editions. For beginners who do not expect to move to the next level as a paid professional programmer I suggest the Learning Edition. For anyone who does plan to program as a career I strongly recommend the Professional Edition. If you're a corporate programmer then the Enterprise Edition is the way to go - but let the company pay for it !
  • Learning Edition
    This is totally suitable for learning to program in Visual Basic. It includes all intrinsic controls, plus grid, tab, and data-bound controls. Documentation provided with this edition includes the Learn VB Now CD plus the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) Library CDs containing full online documentation.
  • Professional Edition
    Has the complete set of tools that almost any VB programmer requires. It includes all the features of the Learning edition, plus additional ActiveX controls, the Internet Information Server Application Designer, integrated Visual Database Tools and Data Environment, Active Data Objects, and the Dynamic HTML Page Designer. Documentation provided with the Professional edition includes the Visual Studio Professional Features book plus Microsoft Developer Network CDs containing full online documentation.
  • Enterprise Edition
    Geared towards the large project that is normally handled by a team of programmers, this edition is usually seen in a corporate setting. It includes all the features of the Professional edition, plus Back Office tools such as SQL Server, Microsoft Transaction Server, Internet Information Server, Visual SourceSafe, SNA Server, and more. Printed documentation provided with the Enterprise edition includes the Visual Studio Enterprise Features book plus Microsoft Developer Network CDs containing full online documentation.

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VB Advantages

So what makes VB a great programming language? The answer is simply that VB provides more of the actual code for a programmer than any other non-visual programming language.

If you've ever programmed in the older BASIC or other command line programming language, then you'll remember that the programmer had to write the code for the entire user interface. Todays windows, buttons, lists, and other application features such as menus were not built-in to the BASIC programming language. Programmers had to create the code for these features on their own!

As much as 80% of a programmer's time was spent writing code to create the user interface to his applications (the visual interface). To eliminate this huge drain on a programmer's time, Microsoft has provided Visual Basic with the built-in capability to create the user interface using nothing more than a mouse!

This built-in interface creation capability has had the further benefit of standardizing on the user interface to Windows applications. Today, users can move from one Windows program to another and see the same basic interface tools to work with - allowing them to concentrate solely on the unique capabilities of the application.

The bottom line is that you can create an entire application shell (the user interface) very quickly and then spend most of your time working on the features which differentiate you application from its competition.

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Other Programming Languagues

Visual Basic is hardly without competition. Languages which previously were command line tools have now adopted the visual IDE strategy. From my viepoint there are really only two general-purspose, and very popular competitors to VB - Visual C and Delphi. That's not to say that there aren't other visual languages around, but these two have the largest following and are similar to VB in that they both support visual creation of the application's user interface.
  • Delphi
    Based on Pascal programming language, Delphi has developed a huge following. Designed to be compatible with the OCX family of controls that support VB, Delphi is very similar to VB. The single best feature of Delphi is that it creates completely stand-alone EXE files - unlike VB which requires the distribution of a huge number of supporting files for even the smallest of applications. Delphi's use of Pascal, instead of a BASIC-derived language is probably one of the primary reasons that VB programmers don't jump ship.

    One of the reasons I stay with VB is the huge following that VB enjoys. for programmers, this translates into the widest range of books, USENET newsgroups, commercial controls and other tools than any other programming language. Delphi suffers strongly from this. While Delphi users are known to be fanatical about their choice, the overwhelming popular vote goes to VB.

    Bottom line is that if I had the money I'd defintely become bi-lingual and use Delphi as my second language. The small distributable EXE's are very important, especially for Internet distribution of applications. However, with limited funding I choose to stay with the industry leader.

  • Visual C
    If you've take a C class, you'll understand easily the reason that Visual C has not become the most popular programming language. The visual part of Visual C is virtually identical with VB in terms of the ease of creating Windows/NT programs. It's the underlying difficulty of the C coding process that keeps users away.

    Many programmers get their start by reading/learning on their own. Unfortunately, C (or C++) simply is not an easy language to learn. Beginning programmers usually need a classroom environment with a skilled instructor to enable them to understand the intricacies of the C programming language. At the overview level, C is just another progarmming language and is not that difficult to understand in concept. It's in the details of coding that new users find themselves bogged down with questions that give the most difficulty. VB, on the other hand, is a more intuitive, English-like language which users have found they can work through on their own (or with minimal help from other programmers).

    Bottom line is that if I were planning a corporate career I'd easily take on Visual C++ as my second language. The huge corporate base of C programs and the continued reliance by corporations on the more powerful C language means that job opportunities will continue to be strong for programmers with C experience.