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Visual Basic 6 returns: You’ve been a good developer all year. You have social distanced, you have helped your mom. Here’s your reward

The beast is back… almost. A “100 per cent compatible Visual Basic 6 solution” has been promised to the backers of a Kickstarter. There is, however, no word on how much it would cost to ensure it stayed dead.

Visual Basic 6 was the last hurrah in a succession of languages first introduced in 1991 and seemingly killed off once and for all in 2008 (a decade after Visual Basic 6 first shipped in a hefty cardboard box.)

Although devs may sniff at the old thing nowadays, a good many IT professionals owe their start in the computing world to the Rapid Application Development world of Visual Basic. While Visual Basic 1 and 2 could be filed in the novelty drawer (this hack has a particular fondness for 1992’s Visual Basic for DOS) it was Visual Basic 3 and its bundled Jet database engine that captured corporate imaginations.

The language improved with Visual Basic 4, even if the ditching of .VBX controls in favour of the OLE world of OCX and ActiveX meant for some serious installation headaches thanks mainly to versioning pain. Visual Basic 4 also introduced a 32-bit version and non-GUI classes. Visual Basic 5 ditched the 16-bit edition, sped things up, and finally added the ability to create custom user controls.

Visual Basic 6 was arguably the peak before it all went downhill for the language at Microsoft, beginning with the slapping of a .NET suffix on anything that caught the corporate eye.

However, ream upon ream of legacy VB6 code still exists within the enterprise, and the language remains in use despite Microsoft pulling the plug more than a decade ago. While alternatives exist (and several turned to the likes of Delphi during the lifetime of Visual Basic) the old warhorse is occasionally missed by those with rose-tinted spectacles.

The project

Including the backers of RAD Basic (see here on Kickstarter), which makes the boast “Bring your VB projects to 21th [sic] century with 64 bit support.”

The brainchild of Carles Royan, whose profile lays claim to 15 years of software development experience (and so arguably missed the golden days of the language), the project aims to be “the true VB7 that never existed.”

The plan is to initially allow four types of projects – a standard EXE, an ActiveX EXE, ActiveX DLL and ActiveX Control. The IDE and compiler are to be 100 per cent compatible with the Visual Basic 6 of old, and both compiler and runtime libraries are to be open source. Noting the distress with which the forced transition to VB.NET was received, Royan says “Open sourcing the core guarantees the development will not be ceased or redirected to incompatible ways.”

We’re not entirely sure that’s true, but developing in the open should at least avoid any unpleasant surprises.

It’s an ambitious project, although when one considers how, er, basic the Visual Basic 6 environment really was when compared to the epic IDEs of today, perhaps not impossible.

Royan – who has raised €17,096 out of a target of €60,000 so far – is seeking to elevate the work from a side project via a Kickstarter and it would be churlish not to wish him luck, although the usual health warnings around dropping real money on a crowd-funded project still apply.

Firing up Visual Basic 6 now (and yes, it still works, even in Windows 10 – Microsoft just loves backwards compatibility) feels like stepping back into a different time, although we’re not completely sure we really want to go back to those days.

As the saying goes “the past is foreign country: they do things differently there.” In this case we’d suggest ending off the phrase with … “and seeing the word ‘ActiveX’ made a bit of sick come up.” ®


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