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Guest Opinion


A Simple Request

The company that makes programming as easy as Word will capture the next wave of programmers.


By Mike Riley


A couple years ago, I was honored with an invitation from Microsoft to participate in its Visual Studio Strategic Design Review (SDR) process. The fate of Visual InterDev had not been decided yet, and the world at large was unaware of Microsoft's Common Language Runtime (CLR) efforts. When those of us participating in the SDR were given an early glimpse of what would become Visual Studio .NET, we were pleasantly surprised by the streamlined, new feel of the IDE. One thing that bothered me, though, was how overwhelming all the options might be to a newcomer. The several steps required to link to a data source and bind it to a Windows Forms object were nothing like the first time I had used data-aware controls in Visual Basic 3.0.


In Microsoft's defense, the world of distributed n-tier architectures is vastly different from the desktop islands of yesteryear. And yet, given all the amazing advances in computer science, life for developers is getting more difficult and complex.


One objective I had hoped Visual Studio .NET would accomplish is to make programming as easy as it was back in the VB3 days. The code stubs the VS .NET wizards have generated certainly help, but they're not a quantum leap in simplicity. As Microsoft solidifies its new desktop around the .NET Framework, I believe there is an opportunity to create a new programming paradigm for the next generation of business users. Like the early VB adopters of the 1990s, the next generation will become captivated by the simplicity of instructing the computer to do meaningful things.


One possibility is to consider the Lego block approach - that is, construct applications visually using a symbolic graphic-object approach. Several companies have attempted this in the past, the most recent example being Softwire's SoftWIRE 4 for Visual Studio .NET ( However, these solutions will struggle for a sizable user base until Microsoft incorporates them into a code-visualization environment that is as friendly and approachable as Microsoft Word.


I hope some groups at Microsoft are working toward this goal, particularly because James "Java Man" Gosling is busy designing a Java equivalent of this idea, in the form of his Jackpot project ( The company that gets there first will capture the next wave of 21st-century computer users.


Mike Riley is a chief scientist with RR Donnelley, one of North America's largest printers. He participates in the company's emerging technology strategies using a wide variety of distributed network technologies. Reach him at mailto:[email protected].




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