by Wei-Meng Lee
The tag line for “Visual Basic Jumpstart” is, ‘Make Your Move Now from VB 6 to VB 2005’, but the book also includes introductory and summary material rather than staying focused on VB 6 users. The book has a few good examples and some useful information about Visual Basic 2005, but the information, including links to the Internet, doesn’t seem complete or up-to-date. This book isn’t the help you need.
My current (small) applications are in Access and Visual Basic for Applications rather than VB 6, but with that caveat I’m part of the audience for this book, since I’m actively considering moving them to Visual Basic 2005. I want to like this book more than I do. Part of my confusion is that all of the chapters are useful, but I don’t think they’re useful to the same people.
I have no idea who the audience is for Chapter 2, “Programming with Visual Basic”. Some of the information is useful and relevant, with specifics on differences between VB6 and VB2005, but some of it just seems plain silly: “Just as in VB 6, in VB 2005, you make decisions using the If-Then-Else construct”. The wording is sometimes odd, too. The fact that parentheses in function calls are now mandatory in VB 2005 is explained backwards: “VB 6 Tip: In VB 6, you can call the PrintMessage subroutine without using parentheses to enclose the parameter list.” The chapter could have been collapsed into a very clear and not very large table giving the differences between VB 6 and VB 2005.
In VB 2005, Microsoft has introduced a new bag of functions under the My. namespace. It’s not a very big bag – it feels like the product manager wrote down the first four or five functions he thought of. For example, My.Computer.Network contains just five elements: IsAvailable, DownloadFile, UploadFile, Ping, and the NetworkAvailabilityChanged event. Jumpstart describes it as ” … one of the most useful and unique additions to VB 2005 … The aim of the My namespace is to provide direct access to commonly used libraries in the .NET framework that were previously difficult to access.” I’m sorry, that just sounds too much like a press release.
If you’re really interested in the status of a network interface, for example, you need to look in the 30+ classes in the System.Net.NetworkInformation namespace. But this is not included in the list of “some other useful namespaces in the .NET framework” (p61). Also, Example 4-3 (p117) uses the System.Net.HttpWebRequest and System.Net.HttpWebResponse classes to download an image, not any of the classes mentioned in Chapter 3.
On the face of it, Chapter 3, “Putting Object-Oriented Programming to Work”, provides a very clear and thorough introduction to the object-oriented programming constructs in VB 2005. Unfortunately, it’s not complete. Microsoft has a summary of “Object-Oriented Programming for Visual Basic 6.0 Users” which points out that the Binary Compatibility option from VB6 is no longer supported in VB 2005, but this is not mentioned in Jumpstart.
If you’re moving from VB6 to VB2005, you’re also moving to NET 2.0, but the book has only the most cursory introduction to NET 2.0. Part of the problem is that the book needs to be either more or less reliant on online information. If it was less reliant on online information, it would be more useful as a stand-alone resource. If it was more thoroughly linked to the estimable resources at Microsoft.com, it would be more complete and up-to-date.
Jumpstart mentions two MSDN Help Topics: “Programming Element Support Changes Summary” and “Help for Visual Basic 6.0 Users”. The former is very useful, perhaps more useful than found in this book, although it’s organized in MSDN’s one fact per page style. The latter can only be found via Google, since it is now part of MSDN2, the “new MSDN” for Visual Studio 2005 and SQL Server 2005. MSDN2 is not mentioned in the book, nor is VBRun, the Visual Basic 6.0 Resource Center, which has a boatload of information on moving to VB 2005.
The database application in Chapter 4, “Developing a Windows Application” is useful and clearly presented. It’s a nice example of the new SplitContainer control. But it’s no better than examples in other introductions to Visual Basic, and it’s a little hard to see how it’s suited to the stated purpose of this book – of introducing developers with an existing Visual Basic 6 code base to Visual Basic 2005.
The term “jumpstart” cuts both ways. The goal of the book is to give VB6 programmers a rapid introduction to Visual Basic 2005. But the book itself was published rapidly – before Visual Basic 2005 was released – and some of that speed shows. On page 126, Jumpstart instructs you how to configure Windows XP to run IIS, but on page 139 points out that this isn’t possible in XP Home.
Chapter 5, “Building Web Applications”, explains that Visual Studio includes its own web server, so you don’t need to run IIS, but the fact that Visual Basic 2005 Express doesn’t include this feature is mentioned only in the preface (page xi). To provide IIS, you need either Windows XP Professional, or Visual Studio Standard or above, or Visual Web Developer 2005 Express. Wouldn’t it make sense to explain the various combinations of operating systems and Visual Studio editions in one place, at the beginning of the chapter where they’re relevant?
I’m not an ASP programmer, but I feel as though the 35 pages devoted to ASP probably aren’t enough to give the topic a decent introduction, which perhaps deserves a separate book. For example, authentication is covered in just three short paragraphs. The 35 pages could have been devoted to something more central to the topic, such as more details on .NET 2.0. Obviously, there are other books on .NET 2.0, but while you can use Visual Basic 2005 without ASP, you can’t use it without .NET 2.0.
If we take the book’s tagline seriously, Chapter 6, “Moving from VB 6 to to VB 2005”, should be the core of book, but it seems like more of an afterthought. Much of the content is from Artinsoft. Rather than reading about about it third-hand in this book, or second-hand on MSDN, I recommend you go to the the Artinsoft web site, where they have plenty of information for download.
It’s hard to put a numerical rating on a book like this, which doesn’t seem focused or particularly thorough, but still contains a lot of useful information. The book could have been better if it had been linked more systematically to Microsoft’s online resources. It might have seemed better if the audience had been clearer. A rating of 5 (“Neither terrible nor terribly good”) seems about right. By all means buy the book if you think it will be worth the money to have the information and examples in book form. Just don’t expect too much.