20 Years of Visual Studio: Visual InterDev 1.0

Posted on March 3, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Dev, Paul with 14 Comments

20 Years of Visual Studio: Visual InterDev 1.0

20 years ago, I was heavily invested in Microsoft’s developer stack. Here’s my 1997 overview of the release of Visual InterDev 1.0, which was part of the very first version of Visual Studio.

A few notes about this text.

  • This is one of a series of looking-back posts I’ll be making timed to the 20th anniversary of Visual Studio. So you can expect more like this, including The Faces Behind Microsoft Visual Studio, which is already available.
  • This is the introduction I wrote for the book Implementing Microsoft Visual InterDev, which was published in 1997 by Ventana Press. It was the first of two books I wrote about this amazing product, and looking back at this today, I’m actually pretty proud of both my technical acumen—vestigial these days, thanks to my career change—and writing style. It’s goofy to say this about something that I wrote, but seems really good to me.
  • In reading this, I see that my memory is a bit off: I had the Boston event pegged to late 1996, but that is when the CDs arrived. The event was early 1997. That’s life.
  • I used the iPhone version of Microsoft’s excellent Office Lens app to scan this text in from the paper version of the book. It did an excellent job, but obviously there could be a few typos in there.

OK, check it out.

Introduction

I remember the day very clearly: Adam Ray, the president of Big Tent Media Labs, had picked me up at the airport in San Francisco and we were driving to his home in Berkeley. I had arrived in California to install and set up our new Dell PowerEdge Web server at a colocation facility in San Jose and everything was looking good. It was early December 1996.

Adam began to discuss a new Web site we had decided to pursue, called “LOFY” (“Looking Out For Yourself”). It was pretty ambitious—lots of interaction, Web discussion groups, and user personalization. I was pretty excited about it and began planning it all in my head when Adam said something I only half-heard.

“We need it to be database-driven.”

Suddenly, things didn’t look so bright. I looked out the window past the Bay Bridge and began wondering about my future. I was a Webmaster, not a magician. What did I know about databases? We’re a small company even today, but at the time I was the only technical person in the group.

Besides, databases are boring. right?

I told Adam I’d look into it, then began preaching caution: Perhaps we could start off with a static site and add database interactivity as we (read: me) figured it out. Adam seemed OK with that, but the database thing bothered me for days. I just didn’t know much about this.

After I arrived home in Phoenix a week later, I got an interesting little package from Microsoft that contained a set of CDs called “Boston.” I had signed the NDA a week earlier without even knowing what the product was. As I sifted through the set of CDs, my eyes widened: Visual Basic 5.0, Visual C++ 5.0Internet Studio!

Finally. I had been asking about Internet Studio for over a year, since it was an MSN content creation tool known as “Blackbird.” The “Boston” beta, as you may know, went on to become Visual Studio 97. Then, a few days after my first beta CDs arrived, Microsoft announced that Internet Studio had been renamed Visual InterDev.

Yuck.

Well, the name took a while to sink in but the importance of the product didn’t: I was holding in my hands the very key to my future, digitally encoded in a shiny silver disk. Internet Studio, no, Visual InterDev (keep saying it, get used to that name . . .) was designed specifically to tie Web sites to databases. Microsoft’s vision of “Activate your Web site” was finally coming to the Web server. This was exactly what I needed.

Granted, I had spent time looking at other solutions. I could have written ISAPI applications in Visual C++ or used a proprietary add-on to HTML such as Allaire’s Cold Fusion. I did look into the predecessor to Active Server Pages, Microsoft’s HTX/IDC extensions, but found it awkward. I actually did have a working version of a Visual Basic 4.0 WinCGI program that could display information from an Access database on a Web page. These solutions all had their problems, however, and the WinCGI app I had worked up only ran on the O’Reilly WebSite Web server: I never did figure out how to get it to work on [Microsoft] IIS.

As I looked at the beta documentation for Active Server Pages and Visual InterDev, it was very clear to me that Microsoft had finally “gotten it.” This was the right product for the right time. Like you, probably, I was immediately sold.

Within a month, I had examples running on the Web server that grabbed information from an Access database and dynamically displayed it on a Web site: If the data changed, the Web site changed. With years of Visual Basic experience, coding ASP in server-side VBScript was a natural. In January, I attended a Microsoft “Mega Summit” in Redmond that acted as a prelude to the “V5” product launch in March, when Microsoft would formally release the Visual Studio 97 product. I made two key observations about Visual InterDev at this summit:

  • I knew this thing. I had spent so much time hacking away at Visual InterDev in the past month that I didn’t really learn any new technical tidbits about it at the show.
  • When Greg Leake’s InterDev presentation ran long, he finally announced that he had been given an extra half-hour to talk. He was greeted with a rousing ovation from a crowd that was simply pumped about this product. I realized right then that InterDev was going to be huge.

Microsoft has a saying you’ll hear at trade shows, developer conferences, and the like. It goes like this:

“…and it just works!”

With Visual InterDev, it’s true: It just works. I’m now basing all of my company’s Web sites on this product, not to mention my career. Sitting in the crowd at the summit, I knew that I wanted to write a book about it. No, I needed to write a book about it. The message had to get out.

Which leads me to you.

I figure there are two possibilities that can explain why you’re reading this. You are either standing in a bookstore flipping through this book, wondering if it’s worth it, or you’ve actually bought it, and you’re settling in for a little reading. Either one is fine with me, actually, now that I have your attention. Here’s what this book is all about:

  • “Activate your Website” does not mean that you will tie your Web sites to proprietary client-side ActiveX controls and VBScript that only half the browsers in the world can use.
  • Databases are not boring. Seriously.
  • You, a mere mortal, can use SQL Server with your Web sites. Yes, really.
  • You can create Web sites that will virtually update themselves.
  • I’ll tell you how.

Are you still with me? Now that we’ve gotten the theme of the book out of the way, I’ll tell you what I expect from you. Yes, this is a real relationship, so I have expectations too. Don’t worry, they’re not unreasonable:

  • You know HTML.
  • You know some VBScript, or at least Visual Basic.
  • You can install Visual InterDev and Internet Information Server 3.0 (including ASP).
  • You are at least passingly familiar with Microsoft Access (that is, you looked at it at least once),

I also have a guess about you, though I might be wrong: I think you might have tinkered around with Visual InterDev but didn’t quite get it. Maybe you got a little ASP-based “Hello, world!” sample going and called it quits right there. Maybe you bought the entire Visual Studio suite and you’re still freaking out over all the choices you have in the “New” dialog box. Hey, maybe your boss is making you use it. If so, good news: This stuff is fun.

This book is for Web developers. You know: people who eat, sleep, and breathe HTML and Web site design and development. People like you and me who stay up until 4 o’clock in the morning, hacking away at code just because.

What, you thought you were the only one?

You can activate your Web sites! You can add database integration, and you can create Web-based forms that let your non-technical co-workers update your Web site content without writing any HTML.

Let’s do it. Let’s take your wimpy little static sites and activate them.

We’ll start slow and add some basic active content. In the book, the Publisher refers to this section as “Part One,” but you can think of it as your first steps into a whole new world of interactivity. There’s even a beginning database chapter to get your feet wet.

In Part Two, you’ll explore the server-side objects and components in ASP, expanding your knowledge of Web/database integration along the way.

Finally, in Part Three, we tackle the big kahuna—SQL Server. Everyone, myself included, fears this bad boy, but a little understanding goes a long way. I wish I could tell you that reading this book will make you a SQL Server database administrator, but the truth is that you’ll need months of training for that. I can, however, give you the only “real mortal’s” guide to this behemoth that you’ll find anywhere. You’ll learn enough to use it with your Web applications (and if you’re into appendices, you’ll even learn how to install it). We also touch on some other advanced Visual InterDev topics in Part Three, such as cookies and personalization.

By the time you get through this book, you’ll be able to create living, breathing, dynamic Web sites. We even have a Web site called the Internet Nexus that you can visit to download source code from the book and the pages we create here. It has a live chat area and threaded discussion groups if you need support, plus I’m only an e-mail message away: You can reach me anytime at [long-gone email address].

Let’s go activate the Web.

 

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