Jargon Buster

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"Lions and tigers and spiders oh my!"

Those are the eternal words of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, as she slowly steps through the eerie forest, her heart pounding, her mind full of fear.

She feels lost and afraid, worried about what may happen, concerned about the scary whatnots just around the corner.

As I watched this scene, it struck me that I’d observed this exact sensation before. No, not because this was the tenth time I’d seen the flick. Rather, because those precise feelings can be found right here in our Visual Basic forums.

Dorothy just broke out into song and the world was at peace once again. Visual Basic developers however are hit by that rather annoying factor they call reality.

And no matter how good your rendition of Jitterbug, it ain’t gonna get you out of the impending clasps of VB.Net, XML, SOAP and all the other terrifying buzzwords that are also ‘just around the corner’.

So, pack away that ‘How to Sing’ book and pull up a chair as we attempt to banish your concerns by delving straight into the wonderful world of buzzwords!

Let’s start off with one buzzword that’s been getting a lot of press recently. It’s the ever-ambiguous .Net strategy from our favourite software giant, Microsoft.

So what’s this all about then? Well, it’s simply the master plan behind tools such as the next version of Visual Basic. It’s a vision that states where Microsoft want to be in the next few years and how they’re going to get there.

And where do they want to be? I’ll tell you – in a position where they are creating software that ‘drives the Next Generation Internet‘, yet another strategy that says people should be able to access any information at any time and on any device. And all those devices should be able to freely communicate with one another. And perhaps eventually take over the world, though that hasn’t yet been confirmed.

But how are they going to deliver both these and other promises of a more technologically-smooth world?

Billy Gates says there are five key points that will really fulfil the .NET dream (and make him a richer man). First off, the .NET Framework and Visual Studio.NET tools. In other words, the next version of Visual Studio with all its wizzy features and that’s the important one for us.

This is followed by server operating systems, the .NET Foundation Services, device software and something called ‘targeted user experiences’. Don’t look at me, I’m just a lowly editor.

So that’s the .Net strategy. But what about this next version of Visual Basic?

So, you’ve heard about Visual Studio.NET and VB.NET? Well, this is the juicy part of the .NET strategy that will most likely affect you.

VB.Net is the next version of Visual Basic, scheduled for release in the first quarter of 2002. It’s currently in Beta 1 yet is already receiving an amazing amount of attention.

Wrox have just released their first book on the technology. Develop.com are already running courses on it. Entire conferences devoted to the new tools are springing up every few hours.

In short, people are going crazy. Crazier than they were about Visual Basic 6 or 5 or 4, or indeed 3 or 2.

Why? Because VB.NET is the biggest change the Visual Basic language has seen since its launch back on my birthday in 1990.

I don’t want to pretend that this is a small change. It brings along with it features that will require a shift in thinking, such as the Object Oriented feature, Inheritance. It brings with it a completely new syntax for all the old built-in functions. It brings with it a ‘Common Language Runtime‘, a chunk of code that all the Visual Studio.NET applications will reference and work with.

In brief, it’s going to mean change. But that’s a good thing and you can read more about it in my VB.Net update here, plus learn how to prepare for the up-and-coming changes here.

SOAP is a complete new buzzword for most self-respecting nerds. They can’t even justify its existence in the bathroom, never mind their hard disks.

Thankfully, we cool folk aren’t in this category so can rise above the masses and look at exactly what this SOAP thing is all about.

If you’ve ever used DCOM, you’ll know that it’s one helluva cool tool. Basically COM on a longer wire. Well, SOAP is COM on an even longer wire.

It’s a method of ‘calling an object’ and getting a result via the Internet.

As an example, imagine a happy, shiny customer with plenty of plastic in his pocket stopping by your site. He has a peek around and sees that pair of fluffy pink slippers he’s been desperate for.

When he submits the order, your lil’ computer may send a SOAP request through to Fluffy and Pink Inc, checking the availability of those gorgeous slippers. This information can then be returned to your customer all without him being aware that anything quite so hip even occurred.

The possibilities here are endless. This technology throws away the need for tightly-coupled DCOM applications but does currently hold a number of security concerns. Nevertheless, this is looking like one hot technology of the future.

With VB.NET, it’ll apparently be easy to create a Web Service like this. But if you’re not using Beta 1, it’s unfortunately a little more difficult nevertheless, you can still get down and dirty with the SOAP Toolkit at msdn.microsoft.com/xml/general/soap1and2.asp

Incidentally, SOAP stands for Simple Object Access Protocol. Now wasn’t that interesting.

Here’s another amazing fact. SOAP is XML-based. And we’ll be dealing with what that means, next…

This is a good one. It’s a buzzword that has been used, overused and completely abused in the past few months. People have written 1500-page books on the matter. Companies in the same industry have banded together to create ‘document standards’.

But what exactly is XML? Well, it’s a structured method of representing data. And it looks a bit like the source to a HTML page.

Let’s take a peek at a sample XML document:

<Customers>  <Customer>    <Forename>Johnny</Forename>    <Surname>Briggs</Surname>  </Customer>  <Customer>    <Forename>Peter</Forename>    <Surname>Rabbit</Surname>  </Customer></Customers>

Here we have two customers listed inside a .XML file, each having a Forename and Surname tag.

Fine, so it’s a method of representing structured data. But why is it so brilliant?

First off, actually having structure inside a flat-file is a concept developers have wanted and worked around for a long time. So bringing the XML format on-board as an industry standard is certainly the first plus point.

It’s also been hyped as being completely platform-independent. It doesn’t matter whether you’re reading the information on a Mac or Unix box – so long as you can ‘interpret’ the XML file, you can speak its language. And that opens up a whole host of new development opportunities.

On the Web front, XML is being used to separate the actual data on a Web page from the presentation layer. In addition to all this, XML is the language used by SOAP. So there we go.

And if you’re looking to impress a geekess sometime soon, remember that XML stands for Extensible Markup Language. Another interesting fact there.

If you’re wanting to take a stroll down XML Avenue, Microsoft has a parser and further information up for grabs here.

If you’re writing applications for Windows 2000, you can’t showcase its new logo unless you adhere to a set number of rules. And one of those is that your setup has to utilise Windows Installer technology.

Erm, what?

Windows Installer technology is an exciting new way to simplify your installation, whilst at the same time giving you greater control over the entire process. Essentially, you tell the Windows Installer ‘component’ exactly what files you want to copy, which registry entries you require and so on putting all this information into ‘installation tables’.

The Windows Installer then goes and dumps all your files, registry keys and such into the relevant areas and you’re finished.

But why bother using it in the first place? Well, the Windows Installer also packs a bunch of incredibly cool features. If a problem occurs during installation, the Windows Installer can very easily rollback any changes it’s made. If a critical file is missing when you startup your application, the Windows Installer can automatically reinstate it. You can even install parts of your application ‘on demand’, just like Office 2000.

You can create Windows Installer scripts manually (eugh!) or using Visual Studio Installer (see link below). You might also want to go for a third-party package, such as the Installation System for Windows Installer, from Wise Solutions (www.wisesolutions.com).

You can find out more about Windows Installer on the Microsoft site. Get the lowdown here.

COM+ Services

With Windows 2000 comes a new and improved version of COM, cleverly christened COM+. This new architecture provides developers with greater security features, better object pooling and a new threading model. It also bundles with COM+ Events, a method of ‘raising events’ through a network of publishers and subscribers. You can get further information on COM+ at www.microsoft.com/com/ or read the developer documentation here we’ll also be listing appropriate COM+ reading on this site within the next few weeks.

Windows XP

Windows XP is the next home operating system, the upgrade to Windows ME. It’s short for "Windows Experience" apparently and is built on the same engine as Windows 2000. Expect a groovy new interface. Codenamed Whistler and currently in beta, the title is scheduled for release later this year.

And so there we have it a rundown of all the latest technology buzzwords in one short article.

Every day, half the messages I receive ask why Microsoft is removing the Line control in Visual Basic 7, why they have to keep messing around with the language syntax, why they’re abolishing WebClasses. They’re worried, concerned about retraining, uneasy about what might be around the corner.

The other half? They ask why it took so long.

In short, change is inevitable. Without it, we can’t progress, we can’t move on to the next level. So brace it with both hands and rest assured that here at VB-World, we’ll provide you with all the information you need to keep on top of the times.

Anyway, enough serious geek speak. Who’s gonna sing a round of Jitterbug with me?

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