Mercury Is Latest 3rd-Party Visual Basic Effort: 'Multiplatform VB++'
Notwithstanding Microsoft's death knell for Visual Basic, a new project is scheduled to debut this fall that aims to keep at least some semblance of the iconic programming language going and evolving.
That death knell sounded in March when Microsoft finally acknowledged "We Do Not Plan to Evolve Visual Basic as a Language" in the age of .NET Core/.NET 5.
VB, with a loyal, vociferous following that refuses to see the language end, has seen many efforts to keep it going -- open source and otherwise -- since it became clear Microsoft had put the language on the back burner. However, none seem to have gained enough traction to emerge as the frontrunner in the race to provide a successor.
The latest incarnation of that effort is the brainchild of a professional VB coder since VB3, Theo Verweij, who told Visual Studio Magazine that "since VB2010, I began to worry about the future of Visual Basic as in the following versions (almost) nothing new was developed for VB."
"Therefore, around February this year, I contacted RemObjects -- who have already their own version of C#, next to Object Pascal, Go, Java and Swift -- to ask if they could build a new version of Visual Basic on their tool chain. And they did. I worked with them as a consultant to get the VB specifics in to place and at this moment Mercury (the RemObjects version of VB) is in beta stage, hoping to release this Autumn."
RemObjects is a private company with addresses in Hanover Park, Ill., and Curaçao. It offers the Elements development system, a toolchain comprising a compiler, IDE and various supporting tools and technologies including its own versions of the languages mentioned above.
Verweij said the company "added Unsafe, the Null keyword and a whole bunch of thing that were already available in the other RemObjects languages."
The RemObjects web site for Mercury describes it as "a BASIC language implementation that is backwards code-compatible with Microsoft Visual Basic.NET."
The company says developers will be able to use Mercury to build existing VB.NET projects while leveraging their VB skills to write code targeting platforms including:
- .NET, .NET Core, Mono and ASP.NET Core
- The Java VM and any device that runs Java code
- Android, both the Java-based SDK and the CPU-native NDK
- iOS, macOS, tvOS and watchOS
- Windows (CPU-native)
- Linux (CPU-native)
- WebAssembly, for web browsers and Node.js
That code can be mixed with code from the other five languages, and it has been boosted with a number of extensions and requests, including:
- Compiler based cross-project Obfuscation (no external obfuscation tool needed anymore)
- Aspect Oriented Programming (generate code from aspects)
- Duck Typing (convert types to other types that you normally could not)
- Soft interfaces (lets you use a type that does not implement an interface, but has the correct functions for that interface use as that interface)
Verweij said "Mercury is about 98 percent code-compatible with VB, but almost all projects will run from Mercury without user intervention."
Interested developers can learn more about Mercury on his Twitter site (where he says "I am VB! and PROUD of it!") and in RemObjects Elements documentation (though it says Mercury is in alpha stage).
There's also an active "Talk" site, where the latest comment, posted five days ago, suggests adding the "Procedure" keyword as an alternative for "Sub."
Whether Mercury rises to a top orbit in the VB solar system remains to be seen. We've been speculating about the future of VB for years ("Viva, Visual Basic! Or, Does VB Have a Future?"). Meanwhile, variants of the language have performed surprisingly strongly recently ("Popularity Index: Classic Visual Basic Hangs In There" and "VB.NET Popularity Still Rising").
For now we'll give Verweij the last word (here, anyway) on his pet project: "Mercury will, unlike VB, evolve in the future and support anything new that emerges."
David Ramel is an editor and writer for Converge360.