VB6: David Platt’s Inside Pitch

David Platt has been writing the back page Don’t Get Me Started column at MSDN Magazine for going on five years now. The author of “Why Software Sucks” pulls few punches, and has shown a willingness to kick a hornets nest from time to time.

So when Platt wrote a column titled “The Silent Majority: Why Visual Basic 6 Still Thrives,” back in June 2012, I should not have been surprised. That article produced a flood of responses from developers arguing both the merits and flaws of Microsoft’s legacy VB6 programming language. I should have been even less surprise when, exactly two years later, Platt penned a second column exploring the enduring appeal of VB.

VB6 and the Art of the Knuckleball” ponders the question of how a modest programming language like Visual Basic can endure for so long, and enjoy such ardent support among its supporters. I caught up with Platt and asked him about the column, and some of the response he’s seen from it.

You wrote about VB6 a couple years back. What motivated you to return to the topic?

Not only did that 2012 column got more comments than anything else I’ve ever written, by a factor of ten, but the comments kept coming and coming, even a year and a half after publication. I’m greedy enough to do anything for that many page views. And certainly the opportunity to once again set VB adherents and detractors at each other’s throats works well with my back page columnist mission of pouring oil on troubled fires.

You've seen a lot of user comment and feedback. What's most surprised you about the user feedback?

It’s not just the passionate response from those who love VB; I expected that. I’m floored by the rage of those who hate it. Not just, “I don’t want to use it,” or even “It encourages bad patterns, so I won’t let it into my shop,” but “VB is evil and should be wiped from the face of the earth.” Do these guys really have nothing better to do than lambaste someone else’s choice of development tools?

Why do you think it is that Visual Basic produces such passionate response among developers?

Those who love VB6 clearly fear it being taken away. There’s less of it every year, and the new world of mobile devices generally doesn’t allow VB6. But the bus drivers do not want to become fighter pilots. They are happy being bus drivers. They wouldn’t mind a shiny new bus, with air conditioning and GPS. And they’d especially like it if someone would open up roads for their busses onto new devices.

For the detractors, there is probably a certain amount of an adolescent’s sneering at their younger selves, as my 14-year-old daughter winces when I show her baby pictures. They enjoy wallowing in H.L. Mencken’s definition of Puritanism: the haunting fear that someone somewhere is happy. Or perhaps they fear that management is going to take away their fighter planes and make them drive busses instead.

Do you really think Tim Wakefield could survive a nuclear war?

With his knuckleball, maybe.