This week in developer news

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer may not have been bellowing onstage, but the company was all about developers this week just the same.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer may not have been bellowing onstage, but the company was all about developers this week just the same.

More than 100 influential developers using Microsoft products signed a petition demanding the software company to reconsider plans to end support for Visual Basic in its "classic" form.

The developers, members of Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional program, claim that the move could kill development on millions of Visual Basic 6 (VB6) applications and "strand" programmers who have not been trained in newer languages.

The problem, they say, is that when Microsoft made Visual Basic .Net (or Visual Basic 7), the successor to VB6, it actually killed one language and replaced it with a fundamentally different one. It is effectively impossible to migrate VB6 applications to Visual Basic .Net, they say. And for VB6 developers, they add, learning Visual Basic .Net is as complex as learning a completely new programming language.

"The .Net version of Visual Basic is Visual Basic in name only," wrote developer and author Rich Levin in a recent blog. "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."

Despite the outcry, Microsoft remains "firm" in its plans to end free support for Visual Basic 6 at the end of the month, S. "Soma" Somasegar, corporate vice president of Microsoft's tools division, told CNET News.com.

Somasegar said Microsoft's intention is to ease the migration of customers to Visual Basic .Net by introducing enhancements in the forthcoming edition of its Visual Basic 2005 meant to "bring back" some ease-of-use features that appeal to Visual Basic developers. The company also plans to open the VB6 Upgrade Center, an area on its Microsoft Developer Network Web site that will have technical information to help customers learn Visual Basic .Net.

Other Microsoft encounters with development this week included the release of an early version of Indigo, a new communications system intended to let Windows programs more easily connect to other software.

The software giant has also been preparing for the day when software will no longer be sold in a box. The transformation will be substantial for the company and will involve two key changes: subscription pricing; and software that's stored remotely, or "hosted," rather than installed directly on a business' own servers.

The head of Microsoft Business Solutions, Doug Burgum, said his unit is planning for a day when it delivers its software as a hosted service, but the division doesn't plan to create the infrastructure for that itself. Rather than try to develop something unique to his unit, Burgum said, he intends to work off a broader Microsoft-developed platform.

On a different development note, the GNU Compiler Collection, a key open-source programming tool known as GCC, is slated for an overhaul.

Almost all open-source software is built with GCC, a compiler that converts a program's source code--the commands written by humans in high-level languages such as C--into the binary instructions a computer understands. The forthcoming GCC 4.0 includes a new foundation that will allow that translation to become more sophisticated, said Mark Mitchell, the GCC 4 release manager and "chief sourcerer" of a small company called CodeSourcery.

A rundown on what's coming in GCC 4.0 can be found here.

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