At the "VSLive!" industry trade show for Windows developers last week, developers received beta copies of Visual Studio.NET and the .NET Framework, Microsoft's core tools for developing software services that target the .NET platform. The company, which notes that over 750,000 people now have access to the .NET beta code, says that Visual Studio.NET (VS.NET) and its core development environment, Visual Basic.NET (VB.NET), will take millions of programmers to new heights. But there is a growing dissatisfaction in the VB developer community that VB.NET might be too much of a change from previous versions; for the first time, Microsoft has dramatically changed the language's syntax and capabilities. But the company says that the changes were necessary to make VB a more powerful language and bring it forward to .NET.

"Just as \[the original\] Visual Basic revolutionized the way in which developers created GUI (graphical user interface) applications, Visual Basic.NET will revolutionize the way we develop next-generation applications for Windows and the Web," says Ari Bixhorn, the product manager for VB.NET at Microsoft. "Visual Basic.NET is going to transform the millions of VB developers today into the hottest commodity on the job market by giving them the most powerful and versatile Visual Basic to create enterprise-critical applications."

Bixhorn explains how VB.NET makes this possible. "First, VB.NET includes a host of new features that enable developers to maximize their productivity. In addition to a new unified IDE (integrated development environment), VB developers can take advantage of the new Server Explorer to easily integrate server-side components into their apps, the shared Task List to help organize code, Dynamic Help for instant access to pertinent information, and Macros to customize, extend, and integrate the Visual Studio environment. Maximizing productivity was a key design goal of this product, and with Visual Basic.NET, we've delivered. In addition, the Visual Basic.NET language provides a modernized, simplified syntax that will make developers' code more robust, scalable and flexible. Rather than simply adding some new features to Visual Basic 6.0, Microsoft has re-engineered the product to make it easier than ever before to write distributed applications such as Web and enterprise n-tier systems. In Visual Basic.NET, we deliver on all of the top requests we've heard from developers over the past few years. This includes first-class object oriented constructs such as implementation inheritance and structured exception handling as well as power features such as free threading."

Visual Basic has always been an enigma of sorts for Microsoft. Despite being the most popular programming environment on the planet, with over 3 million active users, VB is often derided for its roots in BASIC, an English-like language designed for beginners. And over the years, key VB backers have walked away from the environment because Microsoft refused to address core issues with the underlying language, and instead built on features that it felt its often-unsophisticated users might want. But with VB.NET, Microsoft has finally answered the critics and supplied a major update, one that will unfortunately make upgrading existing applications difficult or impossible. And the critics are back, but for a completely different reason. With VB, it seems, Microsoft just can't win.

Despite pleas from some in the VB developer community, however, Microsoft says it has no plans to offer a "VB7" product that simply extends the existing VB6 environment with a few new features. Instead, VB.NET will continue the tradition of VB, if not the core language syntax that made it easy for beginners to learn Windows programming in the first place. "In VB.NET, we continue this tradition ... that has made VB developers so successful," Bixhorn says. "We are providing tools an Upgrade Tool that converts VB6 applications to VB.NET. We know, however, that not all developers will choose to upgrade their VB6 applications. In these scenarios, the .NET Framework provides a rich compatibility library that enables developers to seamlessly communicate between VB6 applications and those written in VB.NET. By providing both a great upgrade path as well as an excellent mechanism for interoperability, we provide VB developers with a flexible solution to fit their specific needs."

For more information about VB.NET and the changes that have been made to this environment, please visit the Microsoft Visual Studio.NET Web site.