Comments on: Visual Studio .Net BASIC - The Nightmare and the Shame
REBOL Technologies

Comments on: Visual Studio .Net BASIC - The Nightmare and the Shame

Carl Sassenrath, CTO
REBOL Technologies
9-Feb-2005 22:13 GMT

Article #0124
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One of my teenage sons recently decided to try his hand at programming. I think he might even have a knack for it. Of course, I was delighted, and being a into programming a bit myself, I decided to see what I could do to help him get a good grounding in the main concepts and practices.

Several years ago my son wrote a few small REBOL games... with a little help from dad (about 50/50). More recently, I noticed that he had gotten into Flash programming. I think that got started when his cousin visited over the holidays and showed off some interesting demos from a website. My son also explained to me that there are more people who can view Flash demos than REBOL demos, and there are a good number of Flash tutorials as well as script-snippet sites on the web. In addition, the IDE for Flash is not all that bad, once you get the general idea of it. (And young programmers can really benefit from an IDE, unlike us old gurus who are satisfied with just a text editor.)

In order to encourage him to do less hacking and learn more of the concepts behind programming, I thought I would buy him a copy of Visual Studio .Net. I figured he could learn some concepts from a few simple BASIC tutorials. Boy, I was so very wrong. That decision ended up a huge disappointment. Here is the story...

The whole project started down a slippery slope from the moment we inserted the Visual Studio.net CDROM. The installation process was confusing from the start (and being in the operating system and language business, we we are not exactly amateurs when it comes to installing software.)

When we finally got the proper installation sequence started, we were amazed to watch it take nearly an hour to install (on a 2.4 GHz custom-built system with a fast HD) and suck up 2 GB of our hard drive. I thought to myself, "this better really be worth it". Although we did not like it, we accepted it as the "cost of writing modern software" in the year 2005. (Indeed, I had not realized how bad the situation had become in recent years.)

Finally, we were ready to begin trying-out a little BASIC. We typed in a few simple statements to start, like the classic print out of "hello world" in the console window. Back in 1977 I was the ultimate expert in BASIC, and I've used Visual Studio (older versions and with C) almost daily for a decade so I figured how hard could it be?

Our little BASIC program failed to run. We tried a few more statements and many variations. Failed. We messed with the build configuration (eg. target file types) and looked at the online documentation and tried some other ideas. Failed. We opened some examples and cut-n-pasted them. They failed. We searched the web, found a couple nice BASIC tutorial web sites, copied various examples as is. They failed.

It was pretty frustrating, and I was getting really worried about the affect this whole experience might have on my son's interest in programming. Granted, I don't highly revere Microsoft tools, but I figured they would be decent enough to let us get some beginner programming satisfaction without too much effort.

Finally, we opened the GUI builder portion of BASIC, dragged a few gadgets around, and built a few simple graphical programs. They worked fine, although they didn't do anything that was useful, let alone inspiring. And, the final results didn't look anywhere near as nice as results done using Flash. My son was quick to point that out.

My son then suggested that maybe we should uninstall Visual Studio .net, and he could just go back to what he had been doing. How could I argue? Over several hours we had given the project a decent try, and the results were not the least bit motivating or inspiring - in fact, quite the opposite.

So, my son went back to his Flash scripting... and I walked back to my desk, saddened, and I think a bit in shock. I sat at my desk and stared at my screen for a good while. I thought back on the dozens of computer languages I had learned over the years, and some of the powerful IDEs, most of which are now long gone. I thought of systems like Smalltalk, Lisp (including so many nice environments like the MIT/Symbolics Lisp Machine, TI Lisp Explorer, Expertelligence, and others), Scheme, Logo, Self, Clu, and even Forth, BASIC, Java, Python, C, C++, and so many others. I wondered how the world of teaching programming and computer science had come to what we had just experienced.

And, perhaps more than anything else, I was thankful for REBOL.

6 Comments

Comments:

C Ledger
9-Mar-2007 5:43:48
As an ex-programmer, I agree fully with your above statement.

I started as a hobbyist Basic then Cobol programmer before moving to VB simply to get paid.

In Cobol one could have control over things O/S and I/O wise with minimal code as overhead.

In Visual Basic one had to deal with never ending reams of form and subform properties which needed to be declared and defined.

Example code follows for "Hello World":

Begin Form Form1 Caption = "Hello World!" ClientHeight = 540 ClientLeft = 1095 ClientTop = 1515 ClientWidth = 2445 Height = 945 Left = 1035 LinkTopic = "Form1" ScaleHeight = 540 ScaleWidth = 2445 Top = 1170 Width = 2565 Begin Label Label1 Alignment = 2 'Center Caption = "Hello World!" FontBold = -1 'True FontItalic = 0 'False FontName = "Arial" FontSize = 12 FontStrikethru = 0 'False FontUnderline = 0 'False Height = 255 Left = 120 TabIndex = 0 Top = 120 Width = 2175 End End

Thank you for Rebol, Carl,I must try it. I was beginning to think elegance was dead.

chris
31-May-2007 11:06:24
Carl, .NET is a complete nightmare.
Neil Murphy
14-Jun-2008 14:55:32
Microsoft went wrong with programming tools after VB3. It's GUI was easy to use and it was easy for hobbyists to knock together sophisticated programs. The VBX model was technically not very good, but was great for creating interest and providing reusable code.

Then they dropped the VB IDE and went to the all singing all dancing 'professional' visual studio model and it all went downhill.

Microsoft seems hell bent on over complicating everything, having started with simplifying everything for everyone.

Sam D
6-Jul-2008 9:05:22
Development of development tools :) took the wrong direction when someone decided that *real* programming was too difficult (real programming involves thinking, problem solving, data modeling, memory management, performance tuning... all the fun stuff). Instead, a "fleet" of "easy to use tools" was released. Visual Studio is a disaster in terms of software quality, memory consumption (500-800 megs of RAM just to open the empty IDE!!!!!), compiler speed (why is it faster to run VS compiler in batch mode?) and disk trashing (it takes a 10,000 RPM hard drive and 3GB RAM to make VS work nicely).

Microsoft is perpetuating this of course. If you read Scott Guthrie's blog (he is the VS team product manager), you will notice that Scott has the killer hardware to work with and does not even notice important shortcomings of the product.

Tim
15-Sep-2011 21:47:42
Why would you assime proficiency in one area automatically translates into general proficiency with anything you try your hand at? Why would you expect instant results with little to no REAL effort. Trying stuff and cutting and pasting stuff you find on the next is not programming, it's lazy. Just because it's still called BASIC doesn't mean it's so primitive that you should be able to figure it out at a glance. Did your son master Flash/ActionScript overnight? I'm guessing not. You've handed your prejudices down and taught your son that nothing is worth doing unless it comes easy. Way to go.
JimT
16-Sep-2011 2:39:03
I may have a unique perspective on this subject and I agree that VB.Net (and even VB6) is very poor and rather bizarrely opaque environment. I not only wrote lots of programs in ancient MS BASICs, but I also worked at Microsoft on the BASIC interpreters in the early 1980s. I designed and implemented new BASIC language features for GW-BASIC and other versions of MS BASIC. (This was back when MS took up less than half of the building behind the BurgerMaster on Northup Way.)

Then I went off to do other stuff for a couple of decades and did no programming with Windows to speak of. I did read a lot about it, though, and had a decent idea of how a Windows program message pump works, etc.

In about 2003 I tried to write my first VB6 program. Well, let me tell you I DID NOT GET IT. And I am not a dumb guy. What's the big picture? Where do you start? What are all these separate files? Why does this part go here? Huh?

The only way to teach somebody how to program with this mess is to give him or her a working non-trivial example and modify that. Starting from an empty program (or even one generated by a so-called "wizard" (Don't get me started!)) cannot work.

I absolutely f$&king hate it.

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