Why Visual Basic 6 Still Thrives

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Why Visual Basic 6 Still Thrives

Postby The Freezer » Wed Jun 20, 2012 6:37 pm

Microsoft recently extended "It Just Works" compatibility for Visual Basic 6 applications through the full lifetime of Windows 8, so VB6 apps will have at least 24 years of supported lifetime (VB6 shipped in '98).

So why has VB6, "the un-killable cockroach" in the Windows ecosystem, managed to thrive? "Cockroaches are successful because they're simple," explains David S. Platt. "They do what they need to do for their ecological niche and no more. Visual Basic 6 did what its creators intended for its market niche: enable very rapid development of limited programs by programmers of lesser experience." But when Microsoft proudly trotted out VB.NET, the "full-fledged language" designed to turn VB6 "bus drivers" into "fighter pilots," they got a surprise. "Almost all Visual Basic 6 programmers were content with what Visual Basic 6 did," explains Platt. "They were happy to be bus drivers: to leave the office at 5 p.m. (or 4:30 p.m. on a really nice day) instead of working until midnight; to play with their families on weekends instead of trudging back to the office; to sleep with their spouses instead of pulling another coding all-nighter and eating cold pizza for breakfast. They didn't lament the lack of operator overloading or polymorphism in Visual Basic 6, so they didn't say much.

(From SlashDot, Why Visual Basic 6 Still Thrives)
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Re: Why Visual Basic 6 Still Thrives

Postby The Freezer » Wed Jun 20, 2012 6:42 pm

Reprinted from "The Silent Majority: Why Visual Basic 6 Still Thrives" David S. Platt of Rollthunder.com:

Microsoft recently extended “It Just Works” compatibility for Visual Basic 6 applications through the full lifetime of Windows 8 (see this month’s Editor’s Note, "Old Soldiers Never Die"). Visual Basic 6 first shipped in 1998, so its apps will have at least 24 years of supported lifetime. Contrast that with the Microsoft .NET Framework 1.0 (2002), which is incompatible with Windows 7 (2009).

A student of mine named Eric once joked that Visual Basic 6 was “the un-killable cockroach” in the Windows ecosystem. That analogy goes deeper than you might think. Cockroaches are successful because they’re simple. They do what they need to do for their ecological niche and no more. Visual Basic 6 did what its creators intended for its market niche: enable very rapid development of limited programs by programmers of lesser experience. It was never meant for heavy-duty coders developing complex applications.

Visual Basic 6 accomplished its goals by abstracting away the complexity of the underlying Windows OS. Simple things were very simple to accomplish. On the other hand, complex things, such as dealing with threads, were impossible. My rule of thumb for Visual Basic 6 was: if I couldn’t do it within 10 minutes, I couldn’t do it at all.

Another key to the success of Visual Basic 6 was the much shorter learning curve demanded by its limited feature set. Learning to drive a bus takes much less time than learning to fly a fighter jet. Becoming a good Visual Basic 6 programmer took much less time than becoming a good C++ programmer, the primary alternative at the time.

When Microsoft made Visual Basic .NET “a full-fledged language,” the company loaded it up with all the power and concomitant complexity that C# has—threads, background operations and inheritance, to name just a few. It therefore required the same skill set as C# programming, the same learning curve and the same experience.

The people at Microsoft did that because that’s what they thought they heard the Visual Basic 6 community demanding. But Visual Basic 6 programmers epitomize the “silent majority,” a term popularized by U.S. President Richard Nixon in 1969 to describe his non-protesting, non-counterculture supporters in those turbulent years. Almost all Visual Basic 6 programmers were content with what Visual Basic 6 did. They were happy to be bus drivers: to leave the office at 5 p.m. (or 4:30 p.m. on a really nice day) instead of working until midnight; to play with their families on weekends instead of trudging back to the office; to sleep with their spouses instead of pulling another coding all-nighter and eating cold pizza for breakfast. They didn’t lament the lack of operator overloading or polymorphism in Visual Basic 6, so they didn’t say much.

The voices that Microsoft heard, however, came from the 3 percent of Visual Basic 6 bus drivers who actively wished to become fighter pilots. These guys took the time to attend conferences, to post questions on CompuServe forums, to respond to articles. Not content to merely fantasize about shooting a Sidewinder missile up the tailpipe of the car that had just cut them off in traffic, they demanded that Microsoft install afterburners on their busses, along with missiles, countermeasures and a head-up display. And Microsoft did.

But giving Visual Basic .NET to the Visual Basic 6 community was like raising a coyote as a domestic dog, then releasing him into the woods, shouting, “Hunt for your dinner as God intended, you magnificent, wild creature!” Most of them said, “Heck with that. I’m staying on my nice warm cushion by the fire while you open me a can of Alpo.” And Visual Basic 6 kept right on going.

Visual Basic 6 was not without faults, of course. OnError Resume Next? If one thing croaks, just keep right on going and see what happens? Probably not the best idea. But the rapid (and therefore cheaper) development of limited (and therefore cheaper) applications by lower-skilled (and therefore cheaper) personnel is an important solution to a very large class of problems.

LightSwitch is now trying to fill this niche, with mixed reviews (see bit.ly/n9crJj). It is, at best, a decade late.

The things that Visual Basic 6 did still need doing. Until and unless Microsoft brings out another tool that does these things, Visual Basic 6 will keep scuttling around. I’ll bet you a beer that Microsoft has to extend Visual Basic 6 support through Windows 9 and 10.
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Re: Why Visual Basic 6 Still Thrives

Postby The Freezer » Wed Jun 20, 2012 7:07 pm

-- Reprinted from "Old Soldiers Never Die" by Michael Desmond, Editor-in-Chief of MSDN Magazine:

General Douglas MacArthur famously said during his 1951 farewell address to the U.S. Congress: “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” A half-century later, MacArthur’s famous statement could just as easily apply to programming languages. Specifically, Visual Basic.

As Don’t Get Me Started columnist David Platt recounts in this month’s issue of MSDN Magazine, Microsoft has formally extended “It Just Works” support for its Visual Basic 6 programming language through the full lifetime of the Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008, Windows 7 and Windows 8 OSes. That means the core Visual Basic 6 runtime in each OS will enjoy five years of mainstream support, followed by another five years of extended support, from the point that a given OS shipped.

While Microsoft has extended support for Visual Basic 6 within its Windows OSes, the announcement doesn’t address support of the actual development tools. Microsoft retired mainstream support for Visual Basic 6 Enterprise and Standard Editions on March 31, 2005. Extended support for the IDE ended on April 8, 2008.

As Platt notes in his column, Visual Basic 6 continues to thrive more than 10 years after Microsoft launched Visual Basic .NET to replace it. At the core of the language’s enduring appeal is its focus on simplicity. “My rule of thumb for Visual Basic 6 was: if I couldn’t do it within 10 minutes, I couldn’t do it at all,” Platt writes in his column.

Karl Peterson agrees. A longtime Visual Basic 6 developer and former columnist for Visual Studio Magazine and Visual Basic Programming Journal, Peterson has forgotten more about Visual Basic 6 than most of us will ever know. He says developers remain loyal to the language because it continues to do what they need it to do. No more. No less.

“There has yet to be a good reason to migrate Classic VB code. There’s nothing wrong with picking up new languages and starting new projects with them. But rewriting functional code, non-recreationally, just doesn’t pencil out,” says Peterson, who calls Visual Basic 6 “the COBOL of the 2020s.”

It’s no surprise that developers are reluctant to port perfectly good code, and often opt to maintain existing code and extend functionality using contemporary tools and languages. It’s an imperfect solution, but one that balances cost against stability.

“Businesses run on Classic VB. Governments run on Classic VB,” Peterson continues, before adding that he doesn’t think Microsoft would expect corporations or governments to “move to an operating system that doesn’t support Classic VB code.”

Visual Basic 6 is hardly alone as a legacy language that continues to appeal to an active community of developers. Platt says he sees “pockets” of support on the Internet for Borland Delphi, Microsoft FoxPro and Sybase PowerBuilder. There are even devs out there still working with DEC software, he says. Visual Basic, however, is unique.

“None of them is anywhere near as large as VB6, though. That huge quantity has a quality all its own,” Platt says.

What’s apparent is that legacy tools and software can thrive long after the vendor has moved on.

“It’s not like hardware, where the lack of spares forces you off the platform,” Platt says. “The Internet makes it much easier to connect with other people who use the same legacy as you.

“I’m thinking of starting a consulting company that does only legacy work, leveraging all these 50-year-old guys with institutional knowledge that can’t be found anywhere else,” Platt continues, and I’m not sure if he’s joking or not. “I’ll call it Graybeard Consulting, or Old Fart Consulting, or something like that. Because of all the books and articles I’ve written on it over the years, I still get calls to do COM now and again, and I do it if the project is interesting. And, of course, if the price is right.”
I would love to change the world, but they won't give me the source code.

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