Visual Basic is a programming language built by Microsoft and designed to be easy to use and integrate with the Microsoft Windows graphical interface. It's a successor to BASIC, the Beginner's All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code, an earlier, text-based language with a similar goal of approachability. Today, versions of Visual Basic are available for Microsoft's .NET programming environment and for automating tasks in Microsoft Office.
Visual Basic and its History
The first version of Visual Basic was released in 1991. It was designed to enable easy construction of Windows programs, complete with the standardized graphical interfaces familiar to users of the operating system.
Microsoft had for decades distributed versions of the BASIC programming language, but those were designed mostly for use in command-line environments like Microsoft's DOS operating system, not for use in modern graphical operating systems. Visual Basic was designed to be a full-fledged programming language, complete with ordinary features like computation, string processing and more. It was integrated with a drag-and-drop approach to building user interfaces that would make it easy to use, even for novices or those strapped for time.
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Visual Basic continued to evolve throughout the 1990s, until the release of Visual Basic 6.0 in 1998. It had support for integration with Microsoft's component object model, or COM, a system for Windows programs and components to communicate and exchange data and commands regardless of what languages they were written in. It also came to include support for the Jet database engine, also used by the Microsoft Access database program in the Microsoft Office software suite, meaning that database support was essentially baked into the language.
During the 1990s, many Windows programs, including some useful free shareware utilities as well as commercial tools, were developed using Visual Basic. While programmers enjoyed its ease of use, some complained that the mix of interface logic and business code made it difficult to spot where features were actually implemented in a program, making VB code hard to maintain. Its support for object-oriented programming, which was quite popular at the time, was also limited.
The Rise of VB.Net
Visual Basic 6 was effectively replaced by a new programming language called VB.NET. It's designed to integrate with Microsoft's .NET programming system, just as its predecessors integrated with COM and Jet. It's also added more support for object-oriented programming than its predecessors had.
While the language has its adherents, it's less commonly used than other .NET languages, especially C#, and Microsoft has said it may not deliver all C# features to VB.NET.
Still, Visual Basic's legacy arguably also lives on in the Windows Forms feature in Visual Studio, Microsoft's development environment. It enables drag-and-drop-style form building that works with C#, VB.NET and other .NET languages.
Visual Basic for Applications
A variant of Visual Basic is still used for automating and scripting tasks within the Microsoft Office suite, including in Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel. Called Visual Basic for Applications, or simply VBA, the language is largely compatible with the traditional Visual Basic 6.