20 Years of Visual Studio: Visual InterDev 6.0

Posted on March 6, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Dev with 1 Comment

While the first version of Visual InterDev promised to be "Visual Basic for the web," it wasn't until the second release that Microsoft really delivered on that vision.

While the first version of Visual InterDev promised to be “Visual Basic for the web,” it wasn’t until the second release that Microsoft really delivered on that vision.

Note: This is one of a series of looking-back posts timed to the 20th anniversary of Visual Studio. So far, a few other similar articles are available, including The Faces Behind Microsoft Visual Studio, 20 Years of Visual Studio: Visual InterDev 1.0, and 20 Years of Visual Studio: Visual Basic.

As I noted previously in 20 Years of Visual Studio: Visual InterDev 1.0, the release of this Microsoft web development tool and its supporting technologies drove my career for several years in the late 1990s. And I look back on this time with a curious sense of both amusement and longing.

One source of amusement: The original version of this product was Visual InterDev 1.0, and it shipped as part of Visual Studio 97, which was the first version of that suite of tools. But the second version of this product was called Visual InterDev 6.0. And it shipped as part of the second version of Visual Studio. Which was—wait for it—called Visual Studio 6.0.

Microsoft has arguably never found its footing from a branding/versioning perspective. But Visual Studio generally—and, for me in the late 1990s, Visual InterDev specifically—was all kinds of right.

I followed up my first Visual InterDev book, called Implementing Microsoft Visual InterDev with a second InterDev book tied to the second release of that product. That massive tome, called Visual InterDev 6 Unleashed, weighed in at over 1,000 pages and was released by SAMS in 1999.

But it’s time to set the record straight here: Though my name is the only one listed on the book’s cover—it literally says Paul Thurrott, et al.—several other people contributed to this book. And I’d like to finally give them the credit that SAMS never did, at least on the cover, since at least a few of them wrote as much as, if not more than, I did. They are Ken Cox, Steven Banick, Brian M. Fino, James Kindred, Michael Marsh, Doug Mitchell, and Michael R. Starkenberg.

Anyway, my contribution to Visual InterDev 6 Unleashed starts at about 250 pages—or one-quarter of the way—into the book and it maps closely to what I wrote in the previous InterDev book. That is, I wrote an entire section called Creating Data-Bound Web Applications. But I also expanded on that content with some new material, including a chapter called Building Web Application Components with Visual Basic. I was moving full-steam in a very specific direction for sure.

Here, I’ve recreated two introductory bits I wrote for this book: The actual Introduction to the book, plus my introduction to the section about creating data-bound web applications. Together, they continue the history I outlined previously in 20 Years of Visual Studio: Visual InterDev 1.0.

Introduction

In February 1998, I found myself sitting in on the first public demonstration of what would become Visual InterDev 6. I was in Los Angeles for a week-long SQL Server 7.0 “Sphinx” workshop that Microsoft was holding as part of an early information release program. Although we were still bound at the time by a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) for the SQL Server information, InterDev Product Manager Garth Fort told me that anything and everything he demonstrated that day was for public consumption. Microsoft really wanted to get the word out.

And for good reason. Visual InterDev 6 represents a major leap forward over its predecessor. I’d always wondered when a truly visual tool would arrive that would be good enough to make me leave behind hand editing. Although products such as Microsoft FrontPage, NetObjects Fusion, and even the venerable Allaire Homesite have offered varying degrees of visual Web development, these products have always left me cold. The first version of InterDev, although a throwback visually, offered up the excellent Visual C++ code editor, a boon to hand coders such as myself.

Still, I knew that the technology was changing and that it was only a matter of time before a tool would arrive that would change everything.

Yes, Visual InterDev 6 is that tool.

As I watched Fort manipulate recordsets visually in the beta InterDev, I saw my whole world crumbling. Here, finally, was the tool that would take dinosaur hand coders such as myself into the brave new world of visual editing. What I didn’t realize at the time, however, was just how much of InterDev 6 was brand new. The company had rearchitected the product from the ground up, while adding support for a host of new and exciting technologies. When I finally got my hands on InterDev 6 during the early days of the beta, I quickly realized that I had no idea where to begin.

Is this starting to sound familiar?

At its most basic level, Visual InterDev 6 is all about choice. Indeed, one could effectively argue that there’s too much to choose from this time around. For example, your options for adding live data to Web applications are almost limitless. InterDev 6 builds on the primary strength of the old product—programmable access to Web/database integration—and enhances it with a heady and often confusing array of options, leaving the Web developer to decide which path to take.

Of course, that’s where this book comes in. Written by a team of experts—Visual InterDev masters, all—Visual InterDev 6 Unleashed gives you the answers you need in order to take your Web applications to the next level. Yes, we assume you have a basic understanding of the product. Perhaps you’re an old hand at Visual InterDev 1.0, confused by all the new options and capabilities (don’t be ashamed, it’s a natural reaction). Perhaps 6 is the first version of InterDev you’ve tried to experiment with, and you’re not sure where its true powers lie.

Welcome. We’re all friends here.

We won’t insult your intelligence. You’re no dummy. You know where the File menu is, and you can work the mouse and chew gum at the same time. You have work to do, a boss to please, and maybe clients to blow away. The Web sits still for no one. For the professional Web developer, Visual InterDev is the right tool, and this book is its perfect companion. Unlike many rush-to-market books (that is, every InterDev 6 book published in 1998), we’ve actually worked with this product on production Web sites, and we’ve used the final release version, not an early beta, to write the book.

You say you’re looking for answers? You’re holding them in your hands. We not only have the answers, but we’d also love to share them with you. As with every book I’m involved in, our relationship doesn’t end at the bookstore checkout line. Please visit my Web site for the latest InterDev information, sample code, and errata from the book (sure, we’re human). See you on the other side.

Paul Thurrott
Boston, Massachusetts
January 1999

Creating Data-Bound Web Applications

In mid-1996, Microsoft’s Blackbird project—then positioned as a multimedia tool for the Microsoft Network—was extensively revamped, Microsoft had caught the Internet bug, and the product, briefly named Internet Studio but soon changed caught to Visual InterDev, was repositioned as a way to combine back-end data from database servers such as SQL Server with Web sites. At the time, it was a radical idea, and most Web developers didn’t quite get it.

Microsoft was pushing a new concept called the Web application. In Microsoft parlance, a Web application includes the collection of HTML and client scripting files most users would call a Web site and combines it with server-based scripting (ASP), site management logic, executable programs (ISAPI applications and IIS components), and a way to access information in a database.

Using these technologies, Web applications are dynamic (not static like a normal HTML-based Web site) because the content and business logic are separated from the HTML user interface. A Web application appears in the browser just like any other Web site, but offers the developer (and content creator) far more powerful options on the back-end. Perhaps most importantly, the need to hand-code and edit HTML pages is becoming a thing of the past. With a dynamic (that is, database-backed) Web application, content creators can use the tools they’re most comfortable with and don’t have to learn arcane languages such as HTML or JavaScript.

The move toward Web applications created a need for a tool, Visual InterDev, that could make these seemingly disparate technologies come together. However, the move to Web applications also created a major tremor in the then complacent data access industry. The client/server model of yore was suddenly thrust on its behind when the concept of n-tier or multitier applications appeared. With an n-tier application (typically three-tier, really), a third position is added to the classic client/server (two-tier) approach so that business logic is separated from the client and the server.

The very nature of the Web caused this change. Web clients (Web browsers to you) are connected to the server for very short periods of time and then disconnected immediately. More importantly, corporations don’t want their business logic on the client (that is, exposed in client-side script that anyone can read). In the n-tier model, the Web client is responsible only for displaying the user interface and making requests of the Web server. The middle tier, represented by the IIS Web server in the NT-based example, responds to requests from clients and acts as a middle man between the client and the database server. Business logic is typically stored in server-side script or executable server components that the user never sees. The client never directly accesses (or even knows about) the third (database server) tier. It’s tidy, secure, and responsive.

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