Programming Windows: Visual Basic to the Future (Premium)

Looking back at Microsoft’s history from a software development perspective, I’m struck by how dedicated the firm remained over time to BASIC, the language that co-founder Bill Gates sold as its first commercial product. Microsoft championed BASIC far past the point that its competitors did, and it even proved some wrong about this dated language with the blockbuster release of Visual Basic in 1991.

But as the 90s unfolded, Microsoft’s obsession with BASIC may have given it a bit of tunnel-vision with regards to the language innovations and new platforms that were happening outside the company. By the time the decade ended, the Internet had arrived as a major disruptor that was driven by companies other than Microsoft, platforms other than Windows, and languages other than BASIC.

That story factors very heavily into the future of this series, as you can imagine. But before we get to that, I will for now conclude the BASIC portion of the series with a look at the other BASIC and BASIC-like products that Microsoft released between the late 1980s and the early 2000s. Not all of these were strictly derivates of Visual Basic, but it’s fair to say that the success of Visual Basic at least inspired most of them.

Because of the timeframes involved here, this article doesn’t slot neatly into our timeline either. That’s going to happen from time-to-time, and I suspect that I will jump around a bit more as we move forward and not tell the story as chronologically as I’ve done so far. (Actually, I had expected to run into this issue before now.) As I think I noted early on, however, I’m keeping track of what I’ve written in a table of contents that will eventually let readers access the content chronologically, for the most part, and topic-by-topic.

But first, a quick and sometimes personal tour of what I think of as Visual Basic’s family tree.
In 1992, my wife and I were planning a move to the Phoenix area so that so I could go back to school to study software development. As an Amiga user at the time, I knew that I was going to have to switch to the PC, and to MS-DOS and Windows. And that meant that I was going to have to learn more about Microsoft’s software and development platforms. So, my wife’s parents bought me a book about WordBASIC by Woody Leonhard that year. It was transformational.

And I wish I could tell you with certainty which book it was. Researching this article, I found two titles that might be the right book, but the dates seem wrong: Hacker's Guide to Word for Windows (1993, second edition in 1994) or The Underground Guide to Word for Windows: Slightly Askew Advice from a Winword Wizard (1994). Regardless, Leonhard, like Jerry Pournelle, wrote in a conversational and humorous style that I immediately became quite enamored of. And it’s fair to say that both writers profoundly impacted my own future career: Technical writing, I discovered, needn’t be dry or boring.

The other ...

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