A Hobbyist's Review of Visual Basic 2005 Express

by Pete Mather


Microsoft is pushing Visual Basic 2005 Express as the best language for hobbyists and novices, and are offering it free of charge from the Microsoft Visual Basic Express website. Since the price is right, and I fall into the hobbyist category, I decided to give it a try. This review is intended for amateur programmers, students and hobbyists who are interested in programming their computers.

I consider myself a fairly advanced computer user. I'm not a professional programmer, but I have been playing around with computers for a long time. I started out on a Sinclair ZX81, where games were either loaded from the unreliable tape interface, or typed in using the machine's strange dialect of BASIC. The first real OS I used was CP/M 3 on an old Amstrad word processor. Since then I've used MS-DOS, DR-DOS, OS/2, Windows from 3.1 to XP, and Linux. I'm currently tied to Windows XP because of applications that I need. As for programming, I've never created a serious application, most of my experience has been in some form of BASIC. Back at high school I had some computer classes, and I've had the dubious pleasure of hand-assembling 6502 machine code using pencil and paper. More recently I've dabbled a little in PHP and Javascript when need be. All of my coding has really been of the quick hack variety, get it to work and move on.

I think this qualifies me as the kind of hobbyist that Microsoft are talking about. Somebody who's not scared of computers, but doesn't have a proper qualification as a programmer. Since the advent of Windows it has been much harder for somebody to rustle up a quick program than it was in the old days. There wasn't a programming language provided with the OS any more. Things might just have changed with the new Visual Studio 2005 Express, which has the advanced features stripped out, and the price tag chucked away altogether. It should let people like me create their own Windows applications. If a professional product costs too much or doesn't do things just the way you like, or if you want to automate something, why not do it yourself?

Now, I do realize that many professional coders spit chunks of pizza all over their keyboards at the idea of civilians being able to program a computer. We should be chained up and muzzled, not allowed near a line of code. But if you're just making an application for your own use, or need to automate something in an office where the boss refuses to buy decent software, I don't see any problem in the DIY approach. You're not taking food off a professional's table, and the only person you can really hurt is yourself. 

Next, I'll outline my reasons for choosing Visual Basic 2005 Express.