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NewTech Viewpoints

Analysis: VB6 as COBOL: The VB.NET Effect

VB6 is the new COBOL, and the dynamics of Visual Basic 6 and .NET may actually help Java gain more short-term traction.

Related Articles: Microsoft .NET vs. J2EE: How Do They Stack Up?, Compare Microsoft .NET to J2EE Technology

Position: NewTech believes with the release of Visual Basic.NET, VB developers have no idea how severely the rug has been pulled out from underneath them. By 4Q2002 those who are not prepared will be left with a severely reduced set of career options.

Prediction: When .NET development gets going in earnest, most positions on .NET projects will go to developers with actual experience in Java and C++ rather than Visual Basic. IT shops with no commitment to training and predominantly “VB Only” skill-sets will have a difficult time writing high quality .NET applications. Training may not be sufficient to fill the gap, and some development efforts may even end in disaster.

Visual Basic Dominance: It’s Over

Current Visual Basic developers are probably excited about the upcoming release of Visual Studio.NET, and rightly so. Finally, all those features they have been waiting for, Inheritance, Overloading and Free Threading, just to name a few. It’s all there and more.

But VB programmers should be nervous. VB.NET is similar to VB6 in syntax only. All VB developers are starting at square one. For those developers out there who have no experience and little knowledge of inheritance, overloading or free threading, we can safely guarantee “career suicide” by 4Q2002.

Assuming solid VB experience is going to buy you any leverage whatsoever on the .NET platform is at best a misguided position. The transition will not be like going from one release of VB to another. This transition to VB.NET is more like going from VB to Java. The new concepts (Overloading, Inheritance etc) are absolutely core to using the new product. In addition, all the familiar tools such as ADO, The File System Object and the MSXML parser are nowhere to be found. Finally, the .NET framework itself, which contains all the power of the new programming model, will require a steady understanding of how to actually use the new powerful features of VB.NET. In other words, understanding the new power in VB.NET is not optional.

But I Liked My Familiar, Bulletproof VB6 Tools

All that is really leverageable from a solid VB programmer in the .NET world is knowledge of Class modules, Events, Property Procedures and the basic knowledge of control structures such as If…Then…End If. Other than that, they are in completely uncharted territory with VB.NET. Furthermore, the history or VB has proven that new object features are slow to penetrate the VB community and become mainstream—taking at least 18 months to catch on. After the launch of VB4, for example, VB developers were very slow to use Class modules and other key features, such as Property Procedures. Expect the VB community to move very slowly. This means there is an obstacle to .NET development inherent in the current community of VB developers. Our viewpoint is that C++ and Java skills map more certainly to .NET development, and at a lower cost to IT application sponsors.

VB developers will be “under the gun” by 4Q2002. Features such as Windows Forms, Web Services and ADO.NET are radically departures from the past. Within this context, the VB developer must consume and completely digest inheritance, overloading constructors, the complexities of concurrent programming, and asynchronous callbacks. This is very large effort when compared to the learning curve of the experienced C++ or Java Programmer. These developers are already quite familiar with the latter concepts. All the Java/C++ developer has to do is focus on is the .NET Platform APIs and what they have to offer his application.

The Jump to Conclusions

The majority of the heavy lifting on new .NET projects will most likely go to developers who have previous experience with C++ and Java. This is very bad news for the VB developer. In addition, for VB developers, their level of pay on .NET projects relative to fast-track C++ and Java programmers will be less, even though VB.NET no longer suffers from any meaningful gaps in the feature set relative to C++ and Java.

VB has, for all intents and purposes, become COBOL. The likelihood this status will change before 1Q2003 is remote.

The C# Connection

The .NET framework was written in C#. All of the sample code in help files and fact, the .NET framework itself is written using C#. For .NET development, VB.NET clearly came later.

In order to get a language to work within the .NET framework, the language must be compiled into what is known as IL, or Interpreted Language for use in the CLR. If a developer did a side by side comparison of C# and VB.NET, he would notice there is practically a one to one mapping of the keywords and characters in each language. Check out the code samples below:

C# Web Service Hello World Sample

	<%@ WebService Language="C#" Class="HelloWorld" %>
	using System;
	using System.Web.Services;

	public class HelloWorld : WebService{
		[WebMethod] public String getHelloWorld(){
           	return "Hello World";
    	}
    }
VB.NET Web Service Hello World Sample
	<%@ WebService Language="VB" Class="HelloWorld" %>
	Imports System
	Imports System.Web.Services

	Public Class HelloWorld :Inherits WebService
		<WebMethod()> Public Function GetHelloWorld() As String
			Return("Hello World")
		End Function
	End Class
It is arguable that VB.NET is actually a kind of Trojan horse, carrying C# and J# to the VB community. Since no IT manager wants a ‘Tower of Babel’, the rational decision is to settle on one language for all .NET development, or risk the dangers inherent in multi-language development. In the end, C#, J# and especially Java developers have the inside track. Java developers have the perspective to compare and contrast what .NET has to offer relative to the alternative: the J2EE platform. Relative to the VB, C#, or J# developer, this makes the Java developer more appreciative of what the .NET framework actually has to offer. It also makes this developer a more valued resource because of the depth of knowledge of tools and platforms building complex, distributed apps. Prediction: Rational IT managers will be recruiting Java/J2EE developers and/or leveraging in-house Java skillsets for the first .NET projects. C# developers will be next, followed by VB developers.

Action Required

VB developers should look to history to understand what may happen. For instance, look at COBOL. VB developers may find themselves being compared to Cobol programmers, except the situation is worse because there isn’t any Y2K aberration to keep them going longer than is necessary. This was the case with COBOL.

For all intents and purposes, Visual Studio 6 is dead. VB programmers will be relegated to strictly maintenance roles until newer applications are brought in as replacements. These will be based on the .NET or J2EE platform. When one considers the current state of the economy, it becomes obvious that companies will have no other choice but to squeeze every last drop out of their existing applications. This means there won’t be a mass exodus to VB.NET from VB 6. Our prediction is that VB6 is going to be kept on ‘life support’ in most organizations for a very long time.

The VB6 lifespan will be deceptively long. If VB developers make the unfortunate mistake of not updating skillsets until the very end of the VB 6 lifecycle, they will find themselves on the outside looking in. Once .NET hits, it is very likely that positions will be filled by Java and C++ programmers at the margin, because their object-oriented skill-sets are a better fit. In addition, if entire departments choose to make a switch to .NET with “VB Only” developers, their projects run the risk of failure because their developers aren’t ready for the technology they are being asked to work with. Further, it is unlikely that technical training in .NET will actually patch all the COM/VB-only gaps.

VB.NET has a multitude of new features that are very Java-like. These have been discussed at great length in developer magazines everywhere, so we will not elaborate. And what of the overall .NET platform? Learning the .NET Framework is going to be a lot like learning J2EE, the Java-based alternative to .NET (for a concise comparision or J2EE and .NET from the Java point of view, see Microsoft .NET vs. J2EE: How Do They Stack Up?). The aformentioned comparision is written by Sun. To be fair, you have to read the propaganda of both sides in this war. NewTech will help you decode the marketing hype of both sides, as your independent resource. This link will take you to the place where the Microsoft spindoctors compare J2EE to .NET...you will also find .NET compared to Websphere and other competitive products at this link:  Compare Microsoft .NET to J2EE Technology

Learning to be a decent .NET developer will require a detailed understanding of many important new concepts. Understanding Java, C# or J# will allow developers to more quickly ‘get’ .NET. Why?

First, that developer will be a faster learner. By learning object-oriented concepts now, developers are sure to be more receptive to a complete understanding of .NET when it begins to get real traction late this year. Second, by learning Java/J2EE now developers will be comparing VB.NET to a real and true comparable- namely, Java. If we are right, there is time between now and 4Q2002 to accomplish this. Doing so will help you learn VB.NET faster, and have more insight into the inner working of the tool, and the framework, and the thinking behind its design and implementation.

VB6 Skills are Soon to Be History

By having a Java/C#/J# clue, developers will armed and dangerous in any .NET discussion, or any .NET classroom. They will have insightful questions, they will challenge the instructor’s premises, and they will demand more from any so-called .NET “education” event they attend. They will shine in any interview. Developers, quite simply, are facing an enormous learning curve.

How Should Developers Plan?

No self-respecting software developer actually wants to attend a VB.NET training course as a passive spectator. To participate actively in a real discussion about VB.NET, you must enter the discussion with more than just an object-oriented/Java/C# clue. Real knowledge of object oriented languages is going to be required in the new world.

Prediction #1: If VB programmers don’t start addressing deficiencies in their skill-sets by the 4Q2002 they will be positioning for failure and a dead-ended career. Any new .NET programming positions will most likely go to Java and C++ developers with short-term maintenance roles going to the VB-only developer. There is little for the VB-only developer in the new world, except for maintenance and a role in application support—not development.

Prediction #2: If VB-only IT shops try to develop .NET applications without truly understanding such topics as free threading, inheritance, overloading, etc, then they run a serious risk of failed .NET projects and/or apps that are nearly impossible to maintain over the long haul.

Prediction #3: Smart developers will kick the tires on J2EE and Java, pronto. This move positions them to speak with authority at any seminar, discussion, or key technical interview. Being able to compare and contrast J2EE and .NET is a mandatory communication skill in the new world order of software development.

Prediction #4: Developers will embrace Web Services—regardless of platform-- instantly. Web Services is the junction point where key platforms (J2EE and .NET) have the most overlap. Accordingly, developers should focus all study on Web Services knowledge and skills regardless of subject platform. This is a leveraged use of time that will do more to position developer skills than any other domain of study with respect to platforms and tools.

Related Articles: Microsoft .NET vs. J2EE: How Do They Stack Up?, Compare Microsoft .NET to J2EE Technology

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