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Ted Neward posted this blog entry on his thoughts after PDC 2008. Specifically, Ted said:

The language world was a bit abuzz at the barely-concealed C# 4.0 features, mostly centering around the new "dynamic" keyword and the C# REPL loop capabilities, but noticeably absent was any similar kind of talk or buzz around VB 10. Even C++ got more attention than VB did, with a presentation clearly intending to call out a direct reference to Visual C++'s heyday, "Visual C++: Why 10 is the new 6". Conversations I had with a few Microsofties make it pretty clear that VB is now the red-headed stepchild of the .NET language family, and that fact is going to start making itself widely felt through the rest of the ecosystem before long, particularly now that rumors are beginning to circulate that pretty much all the "gifted kids" that were on the VB team have gone to find other places to exercise their intellect and innovation, such as the Oslo team. I think Microsoft is going to find itself in an uncomfortable position soon, of trying to kill VB off without appearing like they are trying to kill VB off, lest they create another "VB revolution" like the one in 2001 when unmanaged VB'ers ("Classic VBers"?) looked at VB.NET and collectively puked.

I disagree.

Frankly, VB.NET has been seen as a second-class citizen for a while – at least among the VB MVPs, who are rather sensitive to the continued slights from Microsoft. The list of SDKs that release without VB support is rather lengthy – XNA (3.0 no less) and the Live SDK come readily to mind. As I mentioned, the cloud computing labs had no VB examples at PDC.

So what? There are incredibly talented developers and architects using VB, for a variety of reasons. Some use it because that’s where they started – VB6 and VBA programming. Some use it because that’s what their entire company uses. I’m not claiming to fall into the “incredibly talented” category, but Colorado Customware uses VB exclusively. The company is nearly twenty years old and has a very successful product, so clearly the choice of language didn’t hinder them much at all. Folks like Steele Price are doing things with VB that literally are not possible with C#.

VB versions of Visual Studio continue to be downloaded far faster than C#. Last I heard, there were something like 6 million VB developer in the US. Of course, I can’t remember where I heard that, or verify it easily. And before you scoff at “hobbyist” developers, the reality is that there is a tremendous number of applications that run businesses that were written by non-professional developers.

I do agree with Ted, however, that Microsoft has pretty much painted themselves into a corner with their poor treatment of VB and the VB community. Every time a Microsoft presenter gets up in front of a group and presents solely in C#, they lend more fuel to the fire, feeding the rumor that VB is dying.

Is the fact that there wasn’t much buzz around VB really indicative of a slow death? Of course not. I’d love to see the demographics on the PDC attendees’ language of choice, but with all the keynotes, labs, etc being C#-centric, it doesn’t do much to encourage hallway conversations of the VB language futures. We also don’t have a messiah figure to rally around – VB has historically had more of a “design by committee” approach, a far healthier long-term strategy even if building consensus can be painful. This is one of the main reasons I’m not terribly concerned that the “gifted kid” Paul Vick has moved on to the Oslo team. After 10 years of guiding the language, I can understand why he wants to try something new. At the same time, I’m sure that Paul isn’t abandoning the team – he was very clear that he’s also wearing the “VB Architect Emeritus” hat.

The new kid on the block, Lucian Wischik, has replaced Paul – or rather, has moved into his spot on the committee. I had the opportunity to have lunch with Lucian on the last day of PDC. Already, I appreciate his enthusiasm and energy. More than that, he is determined to make the language syntactically simpler, more elegant. One of the happy side effects of this approach is that the niggling little things that never seemed to get much attention will finally get fixed. Lucian takes this approach outside the language itself, as well, and is willing to address the IDE issues that take up a developer’s time.

On the subject of “gifted kids",” I’d have to say that Lucian certainly qualifies. Anyone who can pick up a PhD in concurrency theory at Cambridge is a whole lot smarter than I am! And Steve Lucco, Distinguished Engineer, just moved from Oslo to the VS languages team. So, without denigrating or minimizing Paul’s contributions, I think the consequences of his move to the Oslo team are being blown way out of proportion.

Oh… and those C# language features that “everyone” was talking about? They include named parameters and optional parameters as a couple of the biggies... things that VB has had for a decade or more. Hardly worth talking about.

Posted on Wednesday, November 5, 2008 2:30 PM Software Development , MVP , PDC 2008 , VB | Back to top

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