Is Windows 8 the End of VB6 Support?

I was a Visual Basic developer for many years.  Despite the perception that VB 6 made crappy apps, I know of many successful commercial apps that were written in VB6 and, what matters more, is that those apps are still in service.  Despite Microsoft dropping support for VB6 years ago developers were able to limp along and get their apps working in Vista and Windows 7 with few headaches.

Does this change with Windows 8?  I don’t know, but I’m already seeing an uptick in developers that are looking to convert from Visual Basic 6 to Real Studio.  Uncertainty is a bad thing and even the full-time Windows developers I know don’t seem to know what’s going on.  Some of them are even worried that .NET and Silverlight support is up in the air.

The only thing that’s been mentioned for Win8 is JavaScript and HTML5.  No mention of .NET, Silverlight, or even Win32.  It’s very uncharacteristic of Microsoft to be so secretive and up-in-the-air over a future product.  Are they trying to be more Apple-like?  Perhaps that’s why people are freaking out.

Do I think MS is going to drop support for .NET, Silverlight, or even Win32?  Not a chance.  They have way too much invested in each of those to abandon them.  From a corporate standpoint there would be a revolt since almost everyone has invested, heavily, in one or more of those technologies/platforms.

But are Visual Basic 6 apps still safe?  That is a very good question and from the research I’ve done it appears that the VB6 runtime will not be shipped with Win8 though some in the community suspect that a hack will be found before release.  Other comments I’ve seen indicate that Win8 will ship as only 64 bit.  The VB6 runtime is 32bit only so that will mean running in compatibility mode which adds to the possibility of it not working properly for all applications.

Microsoft, at some point, has to kill compatibility.  Visual Basic is an old development environment that doesn’t take advantage of many new technologies.  It’s also not a very good object oriented language – it just wasn’t designed to be that way.  If the MS dev tools of the future are Silverlight, .NET, and JavaScript/HTML5 (does anyone really believe that!?), then it sure seems that VB6 might be on its way out.

So while VB6 apps might work with Win8 using hacks and compatibility mode, I believe developers have every right to be worried.  They’ve invested heavily in VB6 tools and controls and now the (long) honeymoon is over and it’s time to look at alternatives.

If you are only interested in Microsoft then the options are easy with .NET or Silverlight (assuming they aren’t going away).  If you’re thinking of a Mac or Linux version than the options are limited.  You could do Java, but as a long-time Mac user I’m not a big Java fan and try to avoid them because their UI generally isn’t native (I’m a Mac snob, but then most of us are).  Qt is a possibility but it’s not a RAD option either.

I am a little biased but I think Real Studio is a good choice for those coming from Visual Basic.  They are very much alike in how they work though REALbasic is MUCH better at object oriented programming than VB ever was.  It’s newer and is on a regular update schedule.  And, with just a little work, you can easily make apps for Mac, Windows, and Linux that look the same on all three platforms.  And now that Real Studio can make Web Apps there’s a fourth platform that you could potential support (though making a web app involves different controls, editors, etc so it’s not as easy as clicking a checkbox).

Is it a quick and easy conversion?  No.  Don’t trust any conversion program and, from experience, any converter will be just as time consuming (if not slightly worse) as rewriting from scratch.  We’ve found that taking a look at the UI and making it a bit more object oriented to take advantage of the strengths of REALbasic is always worth the investment.  We like to say you’re writing the apps for the next ten years and not only for right now.  So doing the extra work now will pay off for years.

Is Real Studio perfect?  Absolutely not.  It currently is not 64 bit compatible either though I know of many developers that have no issues with running in Windows 7 64 bit.  I do know that 64 bit compatibility is the next big upgrade for Windows after Real Software finishes up on Cocoa builds for the Macintosh side.  If memory serves they are on track for late 2011 64 bit compatibility (though that’s always subject to change).

With Win8 on schedule to be released next year (does anyone really believe that either?), you might need to be proactive and start thinking about the alternatives now.  Waiting until Win8 is released might be too late for your product.  Do you really want to be under the gun from management to get something that works on the CEO’s new shiny Win8 laptop?

If you would like to get a rough estimate on cost to convert from VB6 to Real Studio, we (BKeeney Software) have a VB6 Analyzer Tool for you to download (written in RB of course) that analyzes your project and gives us some metrics on lines of code, controls used, numbers of classes, etc, that help us give you an estimate.  More information can be found at http://www.bkeeney.com/consulting/vb2rbconversion.