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Basic, It Ain’t!

Get ready for a new generation of Visual Basic. [Hed]: Basic, It Ain’t! [Dek]: If your small business has built applications using Visual Basic (or you’ve had consultants who have used it) – heads up! – a new generation of the language is coming. What can you do? By Maggie Biggs

During the 1980s and even into the early 1990s, many small businesses leveraged Microsoft’s Visual Basic to build the applications that would run their company. Either a savvy staffer or an outside consultant built the applications using Microsoft’s tools, which were easy to use and understand.

If this describes your company, you should know that the Visual Basic language is about to become a little more complex. Microsoft is introducing “Visual Basic.Net,” the next generation of the Visual Basic language.

This is not merely a software upgrade: Microsoft aims to give Visual Basic as much power as other programming languages, such as C++ and Java. This may be good for large companies who are heavily invested in Visual Basic, but it could affect your small business applications if you’re not careful.

This is not to say that once Visual Basic.Net is in production that the applications you’ve previously created will stop working. Microsoft will undoubtedly support earlier versions of the language for some time.

Issues will come up down the road, though, if you decide to make changes to your applications. Some of the syntax of the language is changing. Some portions of the language (e.g., certain keywords) will no longer be supported. And major new constructs–known as object oriented programming–are being introduced to Visual Basic developers.

If you use Visual Basic today, you’ll want to take some precautionary measures. You might start by asking your staffer or consultant to identify changes that will be introduced with Visual Basic.Net. This information is available at the Microsoft web site. You then could have your staffer or consultant examine your existing business applications to see if any changes are warranted.

If you decide you want to upgrade your applications to Visual Basic.Net, Microsoft is providing a migration tool that will automatically upgrade some parts of your applications. When the tool cannot fix something, it will identify it for your staffer or consultant and he or she can then manually make the needed changes.

As an alternative, you might want to consider other packaged business applications. Or, you might ask your staffer or consultant to migrate your Visual Basic applications to another language, such as Java. There are tools available to help with this, too. Both Halcyon Software and Diamond Edge provide useful tools to migrate away from Visual Basic.

If you use Visual Basic-based applications to run your small business today, you needn’t panic. But you should take some proactive steps to plan the future of these applications given the sweeping changes that come with Visual Basic.Net.

Contributing Editor Maggie Biggs has developed software applications for businesses both small and large for more than 15 years. She has leveraged many different programming languages, including Visual Basic.

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