January 2015

Volume 30 Number 1

Editor's Note - Building on Connect();

By Michael Desmond | January 2015

Michael DesmondWhen Microsoft convened its Connect(); event in New York City in November, the company released so many vital development technologies—including open sourcing the .NET Core Runtime and libraries—that it prompted us to publish an extra issue of MSDN Magazine covering some of the new updates. Included in that coverage were looks at updated cross-platform tooling in Visual Studio, a dive into ASP.NET 5 and the Azure SDK 2.5, and, of course, a run through the newest versions of C# and C++.

What we weren’t able to include in that special issue, but do feature in our pages this month, is a trifecta of articles focused on developments at Connect();. These include Lucian Wischik’s “14 Top Improvements to Visual Basic 14,” Omid Afnan’s “Hadoop Made Easier for Microsoft Developers,” and Manoj Bableshwar’s “Web-Based Test Case Management with TFS.”

I was particularly interested in Wischik’s article, given that Microsoft essentially rebuilt Visual Basic from the ground up for the version 14 release. Wischik, a member of the Visual Basic/C# Language Design Team at Microsoft, told me that his team spent more than four years rewriting the programming language in Visual Basic (it was written in C++ before). He described the effort as both an opportunity and a challenge. Powerful new functionality, such as native refactoring and support for analyzers, are enabled by “Roslyn” compiler technology that would be impossible to access without the rewrite. And Wischik says the wholesale update offered an opportunity to rearchitect the language from scratch based on what the group had learned over the years.

But the risks involved were not insignificant, he says. “You’re investing a lot of developer years just to regain the functionality you already had, even before you start to add any new end-user value. There’s also the risk that you might fail to reproduce all of the quirks or bugs of the old code base that people might inadvertently depend upon.”

Complicating matters is the surprising complexity of Visual Basic—a function of the extensive array of features that the language, with its cultural roots in Classic Visual Basic, had accrued over the years. As Wischik observes, the team faced the challenging task of both replicating and modernizing the developer experience in Visual Basic.

Looking forward, Wischik expects more IDE improvements to arrive after Visual Studio 2015 ships. “We’ve been working on a Read Eval Print Loop (REPL), a sort of souped-up immediate window for quick experimenting and prototyping. We also want to write more analyzers and other plug-ins,” he says.

Wischik urges Visual Basic developers to migrate to Visual Studio 2015, because it provides a host of benefits—including faster compile times and support for analyzers—while allowing round tripping of code back to Visual Studio 2013. From there, developers can make the decision to move to Visual Basic 14, which boasts new features like string interpolation, nameof and the ?. operator.

Ultimately, the most important improvement in this latest version of Visual Basic may be the ironclad commitment Microsoft has shown for it.

“It’s the strongest vote of confidence a business can make,” Wischik says. “We believe our product has such a strong future in the decades to come, that we can invest all our developer years now to prepare for that future.”

Michael Desmond is the Editor-in-Chief of MSDN Magazine.