Microsoft's Web site (http://www.microsoft.com/vbasic) offers a free beta version of Visual Basic 5.0 Control Creation Edition (VB5CCE) for downloading. The file I downloaded was about 7MB, and it expanded to take about 20MB of hard disk storage. You must download the documentation and Help files separately.

The development environment of VB5CCE offers several significant changes to earlier versions of VB. Screen A shows VB5CCE's main development environment. Let's take a quick look at the main changes, starting at the top of Screen A.

The VB5CCE toolbar looks a lot like the VB 4.0 toolbar, but it contains some subtle differences. First, notice the small arrows next to the New Project and New Form icons at the left end of the toolbar. Clicking each arrow displays a drop-down box that lets you select different options. For example, the arrow next to the New Project icon lets you select a new ActiveX project, a new Standard EXE project, or a new CTLGROUP project. You can configure the VB5CCE toolbar, and you can attach other toolbars. For instance, on the far right of the toolbar in Screen A, you can see the Debugging toolbar.

On the left side of Screen A, you can see the VB5CCE toolbox, which looks different from the old toolbox because it doesn't display its icons in separate boxes. Despite the change in appearance, the toolbox's functionality remains unchanged.

The interactive design window (displaying the NT Magazine - Test Network Systems Control dialog box in Screen A) works the same as the design window in earlier versions of VB. However, VB5CCE adds one important capability: You can use the design window to manipulate UserControl objects and build ActiveX controls.

The code-editing window (displaying the Form_Load subroutine in Screen A) contains some of the most obvious changes. Instead of restricting the editor's view to a single subroutine or function, the new editor displays all the subroutines and functions found in a given file. A solid line separates each subroutine and function.

The new editor (not shown in Screen A) is intelligent--it automatically displays pop-up menus. For example, if you begin typing UserControl., when you reach the dot, the new VB5CCE editor displays a pop-up list that contains all the valid properties and methods for the UserControl object. Below the code-editing window is VB5CCE's debugging window.

VB5CCE's Project Group window has changed significantly. The new window can contain multiple projects. One project can contain an ActiveX control and another project can contain a Standard EXE routine that you can use to test the ActiveX control. For instance, in Screen A's Project Group window, you can see an ActiveX project (NetworkSystems) and a Standard EXE project (TestNetworkSystems) contained in the same project group (Network System Group). Below the Project Group window you can see the Properties window, which is essentially unchanged from earlier versions of VB.

Below the Properties window is the new Form Layout window that displays a small representation of the form in the design window. This view is handy because working with a large number of windows can obscure much of the development environment. I found that using a large monitor (17 inches or larger) and high screen resolution (1024*768) provides ample desktop workspace.

Although the new native code compiler in VB5CCE can create ActiveX controls and Win32 .exes, these modules can't run as standalone programs. Executing VB5CCE applications requires the VB5CCE runtime dynamic link library (DLL), msvbvm50.dll. On the plus side, this requirement means that the resulting .ocx and .exe files are generally quite small. On the negative side, you must have large runtime files present to run your ActiveX controls and .exe applications.

One word of warning to readers interested in trying out the VB5CCE beta version: The VB5CCE beta replaced my existing comctl32.ocx and comdlg32.ocx files with new versions that were incompatible with applications on my system--including VB 4.0 projects that used the older versions. You will want to back up these files before you install the VB5CCE beta.