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by Mark Trescowthick - GUI Computing
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With Visual Studio 6 comes the new version of Visual Interdev. Those who've been reading AVDF for some time will know that, though I do quite a bit of ASP work, I was no fan of Visual Interdev 1 - it just seemed to be such a mish-mash of technologies that I couldn't really see the point of battling with it. A halfway decent text editor and FrontPage seemed a thoroughly better alternative.

Well, a first look at VI6 indicates that much of what I didn't like has gone. The technologies are certainly now "integrated" - at least, much more so than before. But let me tell you a story, folks…

Am I dumb, or what?

I've developed and deployed a number of ASP sites, and I've been knocking around VB since VB1. I'll grant I'm no gun programmer, but I reckon I can at least make things work most of the time. So I installed VI6 from my MSDN CD and started it up, expecting that I could at least get something happening in double-quick time (I could with VI1, this couldn't be much harder, surely?).

As I sit here writing, I have spent two two-hour stints with VI6 and am yet to get anything more than the most trivial application working.

My first dilemma was to choose between "vanilla" HTML controls or Server-side controls. I chose vanilla HTML. To do the data-binding on these, VI6 uses MSHTML, which of course I didn't want - funnily, some of my clients use Netscape. Junk that idea.

Now, Server-side time. These "controls" are, of course, simply a library of ASP code that comes with VI6. Problem - it's all in JScript. What use is that to a VBScript developer? Yes, I know that I can mix the two, and I shouldn't need to maintain MS' code. Do they really expect me to believe that? I hope not, because I doubt that even MS produce perfect programs all the time and, rare though it may be, there'll be a bug or two in there somewhere.

And even if there's not, why do I have to have all that JScript cluttering up my code? Why can't MS supply VBScript as well? What is the point of offering me an option as to which Server-side scripting language I want, then delivering all the libraries in only one language. Why would ... oh, forget it!

Even with that restriction, I couldn't get the beast to do much more than the very basics. So, naturally, I turned to the Help.

What Help?

Well, of course, there is help. It just isn't in Help format. All the Help in Visual Studio - every last bit of it - is in MSDN viewer format. Such a lightweight little tool! I have no idea what prompted this decision, but I've got to say I'm not too enamoured of it. Why is it that Microsoft feel compelled to break their own standards so often? I realise that HTML is flavour of the month, but it is just not as useful as Help, and a lot bigger to boot.

Anyway, let's move on. The real problem here is the same as that in VI1 I believe - essentially, VI6 is trying to make developing ASP apps like VB or VJ. And to do that it has to turn triple somersaults with double pike to "hide" the underpinnings from you, the developer. I have always loathed this sort of application generator, and firmly believe that it is worse than unwise to have developers effectively develop at one level then be forced to maintain at another.

Given the nature of what it has to achieve, VI6 is probably doing a good job. It's actually quite hard to tell under all those layers and maybe I'm being a bit harsh, so let's move on to the good bits...

There's server-side debugging, for a start (though this seems a little fraught at times). This should save back some of the hours I'll lose coming to grips with the tool itself. There are also a raft of (MS)HTML features to provide a deal of client-side interaction. And if you're working with a controlled Intranet, these should come in very handy. I'll certainly be looking into them further.

Support for the editing environment is much improved, too, and in general a number of things have been combined to tidy up what was a messy environment. In part, I suspect, because they had to make room for another group of new things, which in turn tend to mess things up again.

I had such a negative view overall, that I thought I must have been missing something major, or perhaps just being dense. With no comment at all, I passed it on to one of our VI1 users for evaluation. His reaction almost mirrored mine. In fact, his analysis was that he'd prefer to stay with VI1 for now. And he, too, felt that he must be missing something.

Somehow, I just don't think he was.

Existing VI1 users should certainly take a look at this tool, but for me it's no coincidence that Word97's spellchecker's suggestion for 'Interdev' is 'interred'. For me, it should be. I'll be moving more and more to VB for this sort of development, with ASP just a scripting glue. For generating that glue, I'll stick to my text editor.

Written by: Mark Trescowthick
August '98

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