VB 6.0: A Focus on Data Access and the Internet

NEW ORLEANS -- Falling into sync with other Visual Studio 6.0 launches, the latest release of Visual Basic was announced last week. The enhancements offered in Visual Basic 6.0 land in one of two general categories: better data access and new Internet-aware capabilities.

In older versions of Visual Basic, data access -- particularly access to data stored on non-desktop systems -- was often difficult or performed poorly, forcing developers into using a combination of ODBC and third-party solutions to reach some remote data sources. Showing one of the first thorough implementations of OLE DB, Visual Basic can now access enterprise data located on AS/400s, Oracle databases, remote SQL Server databases or data housed within other data stores through one common interface.

Using a new programming interface called ActiveX Data Objects (ADO), users can access a variety of data sources, including the Jet database engine used to reach Access databases. Also included with all Visual Studio 6.0 development tools are OLE DB drivers that allow access to Site Server and Index Server.

"All you care about at the end of the day is ADO," maintains Lizzie Parker, Visual Studio technical product manager. ADO is claimed to be particularly useful to users who are doing data access over a slow connection. "This is why ADO was created -- to regulate the volumes of data that were sent across a wire," explains Christopher Flores, Visual Basic product manager. He adds, "ADO makes it harder to get in trouble when you have a slower link."

Making database access even easier is a new visual forms designer built into the Visual Basic development environment. The database tool also allows developers to connect with and explore databases before finalizing a query. It also allows developers to create, edit and debug SQL statements and stored procedures.

ADO access to other data sources will be provided by OLE DB engines developed by third-party vendors, which are expected to debut en masse during the next few months. One of the first such products, MetaStar, a data provider for data sources located on the Internet, was announced earlier this month by Blue Angel Technologies Inc. (Valley Forge, Pa., www.bluangel.com).

The second major initiative for Visual Basic 6.0 is improved Internet capabilities. The new release includes 2 different form designers. One designer is for the traditional Win32 deployment environment; the second is a brand new DHTML form designer that can produce a Web-hosted front end to a Visual Basic application. On the inbound side, Visual Basic now has the capability to build "WebClasses," which are COM components that when housed aboard a Web server, enable developers to write URL-specific responses to a browser request.

Visual Basic 6.0 is scheduled for release on September 2 during Developer Days, although a preview release may become available before that time. When released, the product will be available in three versions, a lightweight version called the Learning Edition, a Professional Edition targeted at client/server developers not needing the data access components, and the full-blown Enterprise Edition. Visual Basic 6.0 also will be available as a member of the Visual Studio 6.0 suite.