Historic parallels between Visual Basic and JavaScript

Back in 1991, Microsoft released the Visual Basic (VB) programming language for Windows 3. For many years profession programmers, such as myself, ridiculed the language as an undisciplined (and some might say potentially dangerous) toy.

One of VB’s redeeming features was its drag-and-drop Graphical User Interface (GUI), developed by Alan Cooper of Tripod. This feature of the IDE (Integrated Development Environment) represented a highly productive approach to User Interface design and development. I regard it as being one of, if not the, initiator of renewed interest in the Rapid Application Development (RAD) approach.

RAD, arguably, has evolved into what we know today as Agile development. The RAD technology space grew quickly and included products such as Sybase (then PowerSoft) PowerBuilder (1992) and Borland Delphi (1995), all with their slightly different techniques. Even IBM had a go with Visualizer – what a product!

These tools began legitimating RAD as an approach for the development of Client-Server applications; but customers remained unconvinced. In the modern world, the power of JavaScript is beginning to mature. It is the mechanism that leverages the power of the client-side system encapsulated with the web browser (or mobile apps).

A couple of VB’s other key features include; Object-based (almost prototypical Object-Orientation in nature) and Event Driver programming paradigms. Microsoft tightened up VB through the introduction of the “Option Explicit” statement, which forced the declaration of variables before use. Sounds a bit like the “use strict” statement to me.

The original (not VB .Net) language remains with us in the forms; VB for Applications (VBA) in Excel, Word etc. and in VBScript (VBS). VBS was initially in the Internet Explorer web browser (as an alternative to JavaScript/JScript) but is only really used now by Microsoft-based system administration (Windows Script Host and later PowerShell). Going by the vocabulary and syntax, the Active Server Pages (ASP) technology also has its foundations in Visual Basic.

Both VB and JS are scripting (or interpreted) languages (familiar chime). As VB grew in popularity a marketplace of 3rd party components started to form – and there is the last commonality in this piece.

However, the biggest difference is that VB is a proprietary product whereas JavaScript is an implementation of an open-standard; ECMA-262. Without open-standards where would the World-Wide-Web, Email and the Internet be?

Like VB before it, the time has come for the software profession to recognise JavaScript and the power it presents; and employ it with the software engineer rigger it requires.

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