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Microsoft redrawing Visual Studio.Net

The company goes back to the drawing board to retool its Visual Basic programming language in response to developer complaints over planned changes.

    Microsoft has gone back to the drawing board to retool its Visual Basic programming language in response to developer complaints over planned changes.

    Microsoft has been developing a new version of its software development tools, called Visual Studio.Net, that will allow people to write and build Web-based software and services.

    But in its first public test version of the tools released in November, software developers complained about three revisions to the Visual Basic language that changed the way programmers historically wrote their software.

    Now Microsoft plans to undo those changes in its next public test version, which will be released this summer.

    The new suite of software development tools is part of Microsoft's new .Net strategy aimed at making its Windows operating system and existing software available over the Web for traditional PCs and handheld devices.

    The package, expected by the end of this year, includes updates to programming languages Visual Basic, Visual C++, and the first version of C# (pronounced "C-sharp"), a new Java-like language intended to simplify the building of Web-based software and services using Microsoft software.

    Microsoft has been sprucing up Visual Basic, a visual-oriented tool that will allow software developers to build Web software as easily as they have been able to build Windows-only applications.

    Visual Basic, which has some 3.5 million users, revolutionized Windows development in 1991 because of its ease of use: Instead of writing all the software code by hand, programmers dragged and dropped prebuilt software code on their computer screens.

    Testers of the new version of Visual Basic didn't like three of the proposed changes to the language, however. The alterations were akin to changing the spelling or definition of words in the English language.

    Microsoft executives said they originally made the Visual Basic changes to make the language work better with other development languages and to make the programming syntax more consistent with C++ and Java. Visual Basic programmers didn't like the modifications because it forced them to change the way they write programs, said Microsoft product manager Ari Bixhorn.

    In the second test version of Visual Studio.Net, Microsoft has found a way to make different languages compatible, despite the fact that three of the language alterations have been changed back, he said.

    "They were ecstatic with (most of) the new enhancements, but it came down to these three changes that we heard over and over again," Bixhorn said. "We were looking for interoperability and consistency between languages. But the developer community told us it's more important to have consistency across all versions of Visual Basic."

    Bixhorn said the company had planned to change the value of the programming word "true" to make it uniform with the C++ and Java languages, revamping how collections of items, known in software lingo as "arrays," were defined, and a syntax tweak to the way "and" and "or" were used.

    All three proposed changes will be scrapped, Bixhorn said.

    "What's more important to developers is how they've historically done things," he said.