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Visual Basic 5.0 set to launch

Now looking to dominate development tools, Microsoft announces that Visual Basic 5.0 will ship in March.

Not content to control the PC operating systems and desktop applications markets, Microsoft (MSFT) now wants to dominate development tools with its near-ubiquitous Visual Basic package.

The company this week disclosed the final feature set for VB 5.0 and announced that the latest incarnation of its flagship development tool for client-server and intranet applications will ship in March. Studies show that applications built with VB 5.0 run up to 20 times faster than those constructed with its previous version, company officials said.

Microsoft officials said Visual Basic now controls a sizable share of the corporate application development tools market. Nearly 900,000 of the estimated 2.4 million professional developers in the United States now develop in Visual Basic, according to company surveys. Few use VB exclusively; most developers use a combination of VB and other tools, the officials said.

Still, its reach makes VB something to be reckoned with. Microsoft has made VB its flagship tool, has added the Visual Basic for Applications macro language to its key desktop applications, and is actively licensing the language to independent software vendors for inclusion in other shrink-wrapped packages.

Visual Basic 5.0 adds features that aim it squarely at the heart of corporate IS departments. "They are trying to allow VB guys to build larger apps and Internet apps with three tiers to expand the realm of apps that you can build," said John Rymer, an analyst at Giga Information Group.

The tool includes a code repository to allow teams of developers to share and reuse code, as well as a long-anticipated code compiler that drastically improves application performance, according to Microsoft. The compiler will most directly benefit large Visual Basic applications, according to officials.

"If you have 100,000 lines of code in your application, you're going to see a big improvement in performance [with VB 5.0]," said Jon Roskill, a Visual Basic product manager at Microsoft.

VB 5.0 allows developers to generate compiled applications using technology borrowed from the company's C++ compiler, as well as VB's traditional interpreted applications. Roskill said developers may choose to deploy interpreted pseudo-code, or P-code, which requires a run-time component, to keep applications small enough to be distributed electronically. One example would be an application intended for distribution across the Internet. P-code applications are typically 25 to 30 percent smaller than compiled applications, Roskill said.

Also new in VB 5.0 is the ability to generate ActiveX controls that can run within the company's Internet Explorer Web browser or be used in other applications.

VB 5.0 includes a slew of new wizards for accelerating application development, such as an Application Wizard that guides developers step-by-step through building an entire application and a Control Wizard for building ActiveX controls in either P-code or compiled form.

Other features of VB 5.0 include the capability to launch Visual Basic applications as ActiveX documents so that they can be loaded onto Web servers. VB 5.0 will also include support for the DCOM cross-platform technology and Microsoft Transaction Server so developers can build cross-platform transactional applications.

Originally expected to debut last December, Microsoft delayed VB 5.0's shipment in order to synchronize elements of its tool family in anticipation of Visual Studio, an upcoming development tool bundle which includes VB 5.0, as well as Microsoft's Visual C++, Visual FoxPro, and Visual J++ tools. Visual Studio is also set to ship next month, according to the company.

Microsoft has not disclosed pricing for VB 5.0. Company officials said today that the tool will be available in three versions: Visual Basic 5.0 Leaning Edition, a bare-bones desktop package aimed at beginning developers; Visual Basic 5.0 Professional Edition, detailed today; and Visual Basic 5.0 Enterprise Edition, which will include code reuse and management tools.

The company today posted additional information on planned VB 5.0 enhancements to its Web site.