Developers Petition Microsoft To Continue Support For VB6 - InformationWeek

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Software // Enterprise Applications

Developers Petition Microsoft To Continue Support For VB6

Microsoft's decision to end standard support for the popular development tool by month's end has sparked an outcry from developers.

Microsoft Corp. has decided to end standard support for its popular development tool, Visual Basic 6.0, by the end of the month, sparking protests from developers who have started a petition asking the software giant to reverse its decision. Among the standard service offerings Microsoft plans to end on March 31 are free professional telephone and online incident support and free critical updates, according to a posting on the company's MSDN site for developers. Both services, however, would be available through March 2008 for a fee.

In addition, Microsoft will stop issuing service packs for VB6, which comprise the latest collection of product fixes, by the end of the month. Consultants and independent software vendors who signed the petition are upset over Microsoft's apparent move to phase out the older VB platform in favor of Visual Basic .Net. The problem, according to developers, is that the two platforms are so different, that applications written in the older language have to be rewritten in order to run in a .Net environment. "It's basically impossible to migrate programs written in earlier versions of Visual Basic to the .NET version," developer Rich Levin, host of PC Talk Radio, said in a posting on his blog. "That means any organization with an investment in Visual Basic code--consultants, ISVs, IT departments, businesses, schools, governments--are forced to freeze development of their existing VB code base, or reinvest virtually all the time, effort, intellectual property, and expense to rewrite their applications from scratch." Redmond, Wash.-based, Microsoft, which first released VB6 in 1998, said the company notified developers in 2002 that it would be phasing out support of Visual Basic 6 in favor of the new .Net platform.

"In order to continue to help developers bring their skills forward, and move beyond the limitations of Visual Basic 6, we made the decision to have Visual Basic target the .Net framework," Jay Roxe, product manager for Visual Basic .Net, said Tuesday. "We wanted to make sure Visual Basic developers, which remains our largest developer base, could build applications that utilized the .Net framework."

Migration tools are available to help developers migrate legacy VB code to .Net, but even Microsoft acknowledges that the amount of code that can be moved without extensive rewriting varies greatly from one project to another. As a result, Microsoft offers tools that provide interoperability between .Net and VB applications, Roxe said.

Nevertheless, the petition, signed by more than 130 software developers, many of them members of Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional program, asks Microsoft to continue shipping updated versions of VB6 inside its Visual Studio integrated development environment along with VB .Net.

The move, according to developers, would not be unprecedented, since Microsoft currently supports its older C++ language, as well as its new C# (C-sharp) language that's a part of the .Net platform. "With both VBs in the same IDE, it should be possible to extend the development environment to provide a high degree of interoperation between them," the petition said. "That will allow the developer to use both in the same solution, with the interop handled seamlessly by the framework."

In a survey of more than 400 developers in October, market researcher Evans Data Corp. found that North American developers use VB6 and earlier versions of the language more than VB .Net, 45 percent to 34 percent, respectively. In Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, however, Visual Basic use as a whole has lost 25 percent of its developer base since 2003. Use of VB .Net, on the other hand, has grown to 32 percent of EMEA developers today from 16 percent in the fall of 2002. Several million professional developers worldwide still program in VB, experts say.

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