Back in February, Microsoft announced that a new version of Visual Basic would soon hit the market. And that was that.
Eager journalists cried out for release dates, to which a vague "sometime in 2001" answer was given. All further questions What new features will it sport? How will it integrate with the Internet? Any additions on the OOP scene? were fended off by mysterious-looking Men in Black characters.
Six months down the line now and still the software giant is keeping most of the juicy Visual Basic 7 features close to its chest.
When I personally approached the company a month ago, requesting an alpha version of the software – I was told that only "select and key" individuals attending some far-flung conference were allowed a copy. They didn’t even humour me with a simple feature list.
Thankfully however, last week I accidentally-on-purpose bumped into an old friend of mine that just happened to have a copy of the program lurking around in his CD collection. So I decided to take a sneak geek peek…
So what does Visual Basic 7 hold in store? Let’s find out…
When I first heard about Web Forms coming to Visual Basic, I groaned. I imagined it to be ‘goodbye desktop/distributed applications, hello HTML’. Time to follow the visionaries and start learning new techniques all over again. In reality, it’s not like that at all.
Apparently, Web Forms are only really an extension of regular forms. You design them much the same way as you would a typical application screen and when finished, compile into a DLL.
This magical DLL sits on a server and works hand-in-hand with the next version of ASP, aptly titled ASP+. When someone visits your ‘Web Form’, ASP+ automatically generates the required HTML code on the fly, ready-to-run on any browser. It’s all completely automatic, with just a few small special considerations for the developer to make.
Other rumours doing the rounds include that the new VB7 will host a fully-fledged HTML editor, with IntelliSense features. You will also apparently be able to create just the backend of a Web application and allow designers to handle the HTML. It’s your call.
DCOM allows you to use regular COM objects over a network. Programmers describe it as "COM on a longer wire". If that’s the case, Web Services is "COM on a huge whopping great mound of wire".
Basically, Web Services work in a COM-like manner, exposing features to developers over the Internet (HTTP protocol). So you could go onto the Net and grab the latest pricing details direct from your suppliers all with absolute ease thanks to Web Services.
It can be used for business-to-business whatnots, plus connecting company intranets with the Internet. Sounds like great stuff, though smaller shops not owning their own Net server may feel a little left in the dark.
On the object oriented programming scene, hardcore developers will finally get what they’ve been crying out for… inheritance.
Nope, not the cash you receive when Aunt Bettie pops her clogs – rather, a method of allowing one object to derive its characteristics from another predefined object.
Overloading and polymorphism will also be thrown in for good taste, turning Visual Basic into a fully-fledged OOP tool, meaning all those nasty C++ programmers may finally stop picking on us.
Structured Error Handling
On Error Go Home? Not in Visual Basic 7.
If you use an error handler right now and an error occurs within the handler, you’re up a certain creek without a certain implement. In Visual Basic 7 however, you can handle such problems via a different method using Try, Catch and Finally keywords.
Used in the likes of rivals Java and C++, this allows you to easily Try something out to test the error, then possibly Catch a further error and Finally produce a solution.
Sounds like a neat way to replace the often inflexible Goto statements, so we’ll wait with baited breath.
New Menu Editor
A groovy new menu editor will also be shipped with Visual Basic 7.
It comes in the shape of a control called MainMenu which, after thrown onto a form, allows the developer to add new items with a mere single click. Early snapshots look promising.
Today in Visual Basic, you initialise a variable, then give it a value. In future, you’ll be able to do all this with just one line of code. Sounds like a trivial addition? Maybe so, but it allows for the creation of simpler, more compact code.
Full debugging tools allowing you to step through everything from SQL Server stored procedures through to client-side code in HTML pages is also said to be included in the next version of VB.
ADO+ will also be bundled with VB7, an improvement on the last bunch of ADO data access objects, with support for sharing XML data across different platforms.
Free threading after all, why pay for it? is another feature expected to be included in the next version of Visual Basic. In essence, free threading allows our applications to do more than one thing at a time, improving scalability.
Strict typing, a vague feature which apparently takes the ‘Option Explicit’ keywords one step further, is also expected, making code safer and more reliable (they say).
Dynamic Help, a feature that watches your every movement in a Big Brother-like bid to assist you in the most appropriate and eerie way possible, is also expected in VB7.
That’s All Folks!
Well, that’s about all we know on the Visual Basic 7 front so far. Don’t forget you can keep up-to-date with all the very latest happenings by subscribing to the VB-World newsletter (plug plug). Alternatively, you can try checking out the official Visual Studio ‘Next Generation’ Web site at http://msdn.microsoft.com/vstudio/nextgen
Thanks for reading happy developing and bye for now!