Tech Industry

Visual Basic 5.0 in final beta

Microsoft sends what will be its biggest carrot, the Visual Basic 5.0 development tool, into final beta testing. And if that's not enough, the company is expected to throw in a compiler with it.

Microsoft (MSFT) has now sent what will be its biggest carrot, the Visual Basic 5.0 development tool, into final beta testing. And if that's not enough, the company is expected to throw in a compiler with it.

Visual Basic is Microsoft's strongest foothold on the corporate development world with nearly two million developers already using the tool, according to the company. Microsoft intends Version 5.0 of the tool to help ActiveX achieve a comparable presence on corporate intranets.

Visual Basic 5.0, for example, will let developers build ActiveX controls through simple, step-by-step Wizards. Developers will also be able to launch Visual Basic 5.0 applications as ActiveX documents so that they can be loaded onto Web servers.

Microsoft has been talking about this upgrade for months, but one major question remains unanswered: whether Version 5.0 would include a compiler that will make VB applications run faster. Sources close to the company told CNET that Microsoft has now made up its mind to include a compiler, borrowed from its Visual C++ toolset.

The current release of the tool generates what is called pseudo-code, or P-code. This requires a dynamic link library installed on each machine that interprets the code for the computer before it runs the application. But compiled code is written for each kind of processor so that the computer can understand compiled code without the need for any run-time interpreter.

P-code applications are smaller, but the library takes up another 1.2MB. Compiled applications are slightly larger but don't need the library and, in many cases, will run faster. With VB 5.0, developers will have the option of compiling applications to C++ or P-code, depending on application requirements.

VB 5.0 will generate native compiled applications for Pentium Pro, Pentium, and x86 processors running Windows 95 and Windows NT on PowerPC, MIPS, and Alpha processors. Sources said the company is also planning on Macintosh and Power Macintosh versions.

Microsoft is considering making the library part of future versions of Windows 95 and Windows NT, sources said.

Although developers have been anxiously waiting for Microsoft to make up its mind on the compiler question, VB 5.0 will also introduce a host of other new features intended to make development simple. For example, it will include Microsoft's Developer Studio development interface, a common look and feel--already implemented in Visual C++--that the company is attempting to implement in all of its development tools.

VB 5.0 will also support for the DCOM cross-platform technology and forthcoming Microsoft Transaction Server so that developers can create multitiered applications. And it will introduce tools for defining and debugging stored procedure code for Microsoft's SQL Server database.

To make the tool easier to use, Microsoft will include a handful of new Wizards such as the Application Wizard to help developers customize the bare-bones application. Another Wizard will help users convert VB 4.0 applications into ActiveX documents, sources said.

Also included will be new ActiveX controls, such as an HTML and CGI controls, as well as a TCP/IP control, borrowed from Microsoft's Internet Control Pack.

Like the current version, VB 5.0 will include Microsoft's code repository for storage and management of software components. But sources indicate that it may also include application modeling tools recently acquired from Rational Software

Visual Basic 5.0 will ship in Standard, Professional, and Enterprise editions. The company has not decided on the final pricing yet but plans to deliver final code to manufacturing in December. That means that shrink-wrapped copies of the tool should appear on store shelves in January.

A previously announced Control Creation Edition will be available from the company's Web site next week.