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Visual Basic for Web Apps?

The most controversial session at tomorrow's Microsoft Internet strategy event will focus on the tools group. Microsoft's Visual Basic group will present its existing programming language as a better alternative for Net development than rival software. But most analysts agree it will take an award-winning performance to make a convincing case.

"They'll try to say that Visual Basic is better, that Java isn't easy to use and VB is ubiquitous," said Melinda Ballou, senior tools analyst for Meta Group, a Westport, Connecticut, technology consulting company.

"But Java is significantly more robust in terms of security than Visual Basic," added Ballou. In addition, there are still important pieces of Visual Basic and its attendant Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) technology that still aren't in place, Ballou said. "The OCXs within Visual Basic are Windows-specific and won't be distributable until Cairo arrives, which will realistically be in 1998."

Aside from the technology however, Microsoft does have an advantage with Visual Basic, and it's a familiar one---sheer volume. "Microsoft has a huge advantage in the Visual Basic installed base," commented Windows Watcher editor Dwight Davis. That installed base, along with the fact that Visual Basic can be used to build applications on Windows PCs, will also give Microsoft an advantage, said another analyst.

"VB's strengths are that it's easier to use than Java, and it's on Windows," said another tools analyst, who requested anonymity. "Java apps will run on Windows, but you still have to create them on Unix systems. As of now, there are no Windows tools for building Java applications. Sun and Borland are working on them, but they're not out yet.

The bottom line, however, is that Visual Basic was not built to create Web applications. "Visual Basic wasn't meant to do this," said a tools analyst. "It's more of a glue to bond OCXs, and now they're saying, 'No, now it's a Web developer.' It's definitely backpedaling on their whole message.

"All along they've positioned VB as a glue to bond parts of other applications, and now they're going to say VB will fit the browser together with the server. They'll have to change their marketing message quickly. I've no doubt they can do it, but it sure will be a spin tour de force."