Something Beautiful Just Right: A History of Visual Basic

Longtime Slashdot reader theodp writes: In Something Pretty Right: A History of Visual Basic, Retool’s Ryan Lucas has a nice summary of how Visual Basic became the world’s most dominant programming environment, its sudden fall from grace, and why its influence continues to shape the future of software. .

Visual Basic (or VB) burst onto the scene in a magical, transitional moment, presenting a radically simpler alternative for Windows 3.0 development. Bill Gates’ genuine enthusiasm for VB is evident in an accompanying 1991 video in which BillG personally and playfully demonstrates Visual Basic 1.0 at its launch event, as well as in a 1994 video in which Gates thanks Alan Cooper, the “Father of Visual Basic,” with the Windows Pioneer Award.

For Gates, VB was love at first sight. “It blew his mind, he had never seen anything like it,” remembers the reaction of Cooper of Gates to his 1988 demo of a prototype. “At one point he turned to his entourage and asked ‘Why can’t we do things like this?'” Gates even came up with the idea of ​​taking Cooper’s visual programming interface and replacing its little custom internal language with BASIC.

After seeing what Microsoft had done to his baby, Cooper reportedly sat frustrated in the front row at the launch event. But it’s hard to argue with success, and Cooper ultimately appreciated VB’s impact. “If Ruby (Cooper’s creation) had gone to market as a shell,” Cooper said, “it would have made millions of people happy, but then Visual Basic made hundreds of millions of people happier. I was wrong, or rather. , I was quite right, had some rightness. Same for Bill Gates, but the two of us together did something quite right.”

At its peak, Visual Basic had nearly 3.5 million programmers worldwide. Many of the innovations that the teams of Alan Cooper and Scott Ferguson introduced 30 years ago with VB are nowhere to be found in modern development, fueling a nostalgic fondness for the ease and magic VB delivered that we have yet to revive.

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