Good Luck, Mr. Gates
Looking ahead to Bill's departure later this year.
Bill Gates is stepping down from his day-to-day duties at Microsoft in June to tend to his charitable foundation full time. This isn't news -- the announcement of his impending departure was made some time ago -- but the date is approaching rapidly.
This issue marks the 17th anniversary of the magazine's publication, which seems like a good time to reflect for a few moments on Gates' contribution to Visual Basic (VB) and Visual Studio (VS). Bill Gates' ties to Basic and VB have always been strong. A Basic programmer himself, Gates played a key role in VB's development. In an interview with this magazine (then called VBPJ) in 2001, Alan Cooper cited Bill Gates as the person who made the decision to marry the QuickBasic language to a shell construction kit Cooper had created and sold to Microsoft (you can read the full interview here). This marriage became version 1 of Visual Basic, and by all accounts, Gates played a pivotal role in the tool's development. For example, there had been a push late in VB's development to drop the ability to add third-party controls to the IDE in the initial version of the tool. This feature--one of the signature features of Visual Basic 1.0--is probably a good reason you meet so many "I have programmed in VB since version 1" developers.
Bill Gates also wrote the Guest Opinion for the inaugural edition of this magazine when it launched under the name Basic Pro. Visual Basic 1.0 hadn't yet been released, but the magazine was created for the express purpose of covering that language, and Gates' article refers quite plainly to what would become Visual Basic. In his article, Gates laid down the formula for what would become Microsoft's signature DIY language--not just for developers, but for department heads and those more intimately familiar with business rules than programming per se:
"Imagine designing the visual components of an application graphically--merely by placing controls on a form. All programs would be designed, created, and run with the Windows environment. Taking the ease of use that is common to both BASIC and Windows, the result would be a visual, productive, and interoperable tool for creating applications in the environment that is currently the most popular for personal computers."--Bill Gates, Guest Opinion, "Gates on BASIC's Future," Basic Pro, February/March 1991.
The goal of the upcoming computer language Gates described was (and still is) productivity. As Rockford Lhotka notes in this issue's Guest Opinion, the RAD-oriented, business solution-oriented approach that informed Visual Basic is much in evidence in the languages of the .NET Framework. When you consider the reasons you use it and the kinds of solutions you can implement with it, C# has more in common with VB than it does with its nominal parent languages, C or C++. The imperative productivity that informs VS .NET today was there from the outset in Visual Basic 1.0.
If you're curious what Gates will do when he finally retires, be sure to check out the keynote that he delivered at the 2008 International CES conference in January. At the show, Gates gave what has been called his last official keynote. The speech included a short film spoof of Gates' last day at Microsoft that featured him soliciting movie roles from Steven Spielberg; pleading for a spot in U2 from Bono; and sounding out Hilary Clinton, Barak Obama, and Al Gore on becoming a potential running mate. The highlight of the short skit for me is Bill saying to Jay Z: "So let me get this straight: You can retire, and then … unretire?" (You can see the full keynote here; you can find a copy of the skit itself here. The blurb on this page is in Portuguese, but the video itself is the same version that you can see in the full keynote. And you didn't hear this from me, but if you have any trouble viewing any of these links, you can probably find a copy of the skit on YouTube, which is where I saw it initially.)
We at VSM wish to salute Mr. Gates' accomplishments at Microsoft and wish him luck in his future endeavors.
Patrick Meader is editor in chief of Visual Studio Magazine.