Visual Studio .Net gaining acceptance

Microsoft’s development environment Visual Studio .Net officially celebrated its first anniversary in mid-February. When the environment was publicly released last year, many developers had already tried their hand at beta versions, and there was much ballyhooing from cranky Visual Basic devotees who adopted a Visual Studio .Not attitude.

Rob Windsor, vice-president of the Toronto Visual Basic Users Group (TVBUG), said most of the pre-release fuss was due to confusion about what was going to be new in the framework.

“This was a fairly significant change in the VB world. People were calling it Visual Fred, because it looked like VB but it isn’t,” Windsor said.

However, once people got their hands on the later beta versions and the final release they discovered a lot of the nuances and features of Visual Studio .Net, and much of that bitterness disappeared, he said.

But John Lam, a Toronto-based independent consultant and developer, said the VB community’s concerns were serious and valid.

“As far as the language itself goes, it’s a dramatic departure, and for some of these developers it was a pretty steep learning curve. There are a lot of new things to learn, including new language semantics, and people who hate change will typically raise the biggest stink,” he said.

According to Windsor, a big surprise for many developers was the lack of bugs found in the initial release.

“Microsoft has a reputation of having buggy product the first time it’s put out, but with this framework it hasn’t been an issue,” he said.

One of the biggest concerns with Visual Studio .Net was the relative difficulty in moving Visual Basic 6 applications over to VS.Net. Greg Demichillie, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft in Kirkland, Wash., said many developers have reckoned with this issue by side-stepping it altogether.

“Microsoft produced a migration wizard to help migrate code, but in reality, most VB6 applications are still running as VB6. When business needs change, then they’ll move it to VS.Net, but developers aren’t converting VB6 over to VS.Net just because. By and large people decided it wasn’t worth it to try and migrate code,” he said.

Windsor agreed. Out of the members of TVBUG who are using VS.Net, nearly 100 per cent of them are also still using VB6, he said, based on an informal showing of hands at a recent meeting.

“The people using VS.Net are generally starting new projects that don’t need to be converted from VB6,” he said.

Not so, according to Michael Flynn, Microsoft Canada’s .Net developer specialist in Mississauga, Ont., who said that code is being migrated all over the country.

“It’s a real mixture of new projects and existing projects moving over to .Net,” he said. “But it’s absolutely being done.”

If this is the case, it’s at pretty high levels, Lam said.

“To port VB6 to VS.Net is a non-trivial task – it’s not just the click of a button. If you’re the guy in charge of money at an organization, it’s a serious business decision to move it or keep it where it is,” he said.

Besides, Microsoft has agreed to support VB6 for four years, which Windsor described as an eternity in developers’ terms, so there’s little need to move.

“My personal opinion is that VB6 is going to be like VB3. There are still projects out there that were written in VB3 and that’s because there was no direct path to VB4 from VB3. VB6 is in the same boat with no direct upgrade path, and the investment to convert it would be massive,” he said.

Demichillie said it’s hard to know exactly how many developers have adopted the framework, but based on what’s been built it’s gaining a lot of use.

Windsor predicts that once the economy picks up, so will the adopters of VS.Net.

“It’s a robust framework, and after using it for a year I’m still finding stuff I didn’t know about before that makes my job so much easier,” he said.

“I see a bright future for VS.Net.”

Visual Studio.Net 2003 is scheduled for release in April.