Microsoft pitches Visual Basic for Web development

As developers move away from building traditional two-tier programs and begin focusing on distributed, n-tier Web applications, Microsoft Corp. wants to make sure that its popular Visual Basic development tool is not left behind.

At its TechEd conference held recently in Dallas, Microsoft attempted to show that a Windows Distributed Internet Applications (DNA) architecture-based program can meet the needs of a demanding Web site. Microsoft officials demonstrated an application written in its Visual Studio suite of tools that handled interaction with 5,000 concurrent Web clients and maintained an average response time of two seconds per page, they said.

The application demonstrated at the show relied heavily on Component Object Model (COM) components built in Visual Basic.

While this tool has enjoyed enormous popularity among developers — particularly during the client/server days of the early 1990s — many have since viewed it as simply a rapid application development environment that builds attractive interfaces. Common belief is that for heavy-duty Web sites, tools like C, C++ or Java are more appropriate.

That’s not necessarily so, said Microsoft, which yesterday launched the Visual Studio Solutions Center Web site to give developers application design information, coding tips and performance tuning hints for the tools in that suite.

“As Visual Basic evolves, people still think of Visual Basic as a GUI (graphical user interface) builder,” said Greg Leake, lead product manager for Microsoft’s Visual Studio, in Redmond, Wash. But since the company has added features to Visual Basic such as a multithreaded model and the ability to build COM objects, the tool is a logical choice for building server-side applications, he said.

“You can apply (server development practices) to Visual Basic for server development,” Leake said.

“Historically, people have thought that you couldn’t do something that was transactional with VB,” said Brian Kalita, a senior analyst at the Aberdeen Group Inc., in Boston. “What (Microsoft) has done is they’ve found out where VB breaks. So they’re putting together a tutorial set that allows developers to learn some of the tricks; they’re saying ‘Here’s the right way to use VB.'”

By unearthing and promoting these Visual Basic capabilities, Microsoft may be helping out itself as much as it’s helping out developers steeped in Visual Basic know how, Kalita added.

“This is critical for Microsoft — there are many VB developers are out there, and this extends their capacity for (building) new things, and for things that are already written, to continue that growth. So if someone already has an application done in VB and they’re running into a bottleneck, the developer can go back and fix this now,” Kalita said. “At least this (demonstration) gives Microsoft some hard evidence to show that it’s possible to build a VB application and have it run” an active Web site, which might keep developers from switching to tools that may be perceived as more robust, he said.