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Is Visual Basic that basic? Check out the history of VB and where to learn Visual Basic Programming on your own

Visual Basic is a Microsoft language, used for writing Windows applications. With Visual Basic, or VB, a programmer can design applications in a programming environment that looks a lot more like Windows itself.

Visual Basic ranks #7 on the TIOBE Community Index as of November, 2012.

The current version is Visual Basic.NET, which is used for .NET applications. There is also Visual Basic Applications, used for Excel applications.


Visual Basic has evolved a lot over its more than 20 year history. As the name suggests, the programming language has its origins in BASIC, which was used largely as a student language. The goal of Visual Basic was to simplify the process of writing Windows programs, to build some steps into the programming environment and make it so that the programmer didn't have to waste time writing lines of unnecessary code. Visual Basic was built with GUI applications in mind – visual indeed.

The first version was released in 1991. For a while, there were new releases every year or two. VB 2 came out in 1992, VB 3 in 1993, 4 in '95, 5 in '97 and 6 in '98. VB 6 reigned for five years until it was replaced by a significantly different product, Visual Basic.NET 1.0.

The goal of Visual Basic was to simplify the process of writing Windows programs.

The environment necessitated changes. One big change was that there was now a shared library between VB and other .NET languages. VB became more similar to .NET languages like C#. This created some controversy in the Visual Basic community. The language has become more flexible, but some argue that it's not quite as simple or intuitive. It's arguably still one of the easiest languages to pick up.

For the first time, VB was placed within the reach of hobbyists. Microsoft did something with the VB.NET programming environment that it hadn't done with earlier releases: It released a free (Express) version. There are of course multiple versions of Visual Basic to suit different needs.

The VB.NET language is not to be confused with Visual Basic Applications (VBA), although VBA incorporates elements of Visual Basic. VBA does things like automate reports and database communications. It can also extend the functionality of other Microsoft Office applications.

Visual Basic in the Work World

Microsoft is ubiquitous and so are its programming environments. Visual Basic is among the more popular computer languages. TIOBE places VB at #7 -- the same spot it was at a year earlier (in October of 2011).

VB.NET is often used for business applications. Positions may favor those who have experience with SQL and other Microsoft languages -- and a college degree. [Check out computer science and software engineering undergraduate degree programs]

Although Visual Basic 6 is no longer supported by Microsoft, you will still find job ads citing experience with the language.

Learning Visual Basic

There are many online resources for learning Visual Basic. The main thing is to make sure that you are learning the current version (or the one that matches what you have installed on your computer).

How to Start Programming starts with the most basic concepts -- and a reassurance that you won't be typing binary -- and progresses through 52 lessons. Do them all or select particular concepts (if statements, progress bar etc.). Tutorials are taught primarily through video.

Make sure that you are learning the current version of Visual Basic. has a different sort of tutorial. There are lots of categories and subcategories -- you click on what you want and see the code. It's quite a reference, but it's not necessarily written for the true beginner.

FunctionX also provides an introduction to Visual Basic.NET.

Of course Microsoft itself provides lots of resources. You can access conceptual documentation and a video library through the Visual Studio section of the Microsoft Software Developer Network (MSDN). You’ll also find a link to the language reference section -- it includes a table with all the keywords and another with all the attributes.

You may want to explore CodePlex for add-ons and projects. There are a few additional Visual Studio resources that are common to both Visual Basic and C#.

You can visit the Visual Basic forums in a separate part of the MSDN site. (Forums appear on the “social” subdomain of the site.)

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