Microsoft Refuses To Open Source VB6
Written by Mike James   
Monday, 23 June 2014

VB6 was once the most used programming language on the planet and then Microsoft killed it. Now that they no longer have any interest in it one way or another, and with a new commitment to open source, why not let the community have VB6?

The VB6 community still misses its language. You may not like VB6, and it is a language with many flaws. You could say that it occupied the position that JavaScript does now - misunderstood, misused and commonly thought to be ugly and inadequate. However, used correctly it could be simple, clean and elegant. After all it was the driving force behind VB .NET which took the language in a different direction while trying to maintain its easy-to-use aspects. 

You may not like VB6 and you might even be glad it's gone, but have some sympathy for the programmers who regard it as "their" language. Microsoft simply wiped it off the face of the planet, and this is not something that could happen for an open source language - a lesson that many VB6 programmers took to heart. 

With Microsoft's new warmth towards open source it seems a small thing to ask for VB6 to be open sourced. Also Windows 8 WinRT makes use of COM and VB6 was a language designed to make use of COM object in the form of ActiveX components. 




Back in December 2012 an anonymous programmer asked Microsoft to reconsider releasing VB6 and perhaps an improved version of VB6 - VB7? 

This is a request that is unlikely to be granted - Microsoft has nothing much to gain in the revamping of VB6. It would have to put in a lot of work and switch resources from current more important projects. You can certainly see why after abandoning VB6 Microsoft wouldn't want to pickup that burden again. 

At the start of June the Visual Studio Team declined the request and explained why it wasn't a good idea for Microsoft to breathe life back into the corpse of VB6. The arguments presented seem reasonable from Microsoft's point of view - basically that things have moved on and the work needed to bring VB6 into the modern world of web apps and cloud computing would be too much. 

The team's response also points out that while VB6 may be gone the runtime is still included in Windows 8 and the promise is to support it until at least 2048.  

All very reasonable but then right at the end there is a single short sentence:

"It is not feasible to open source VB6 tools chain and ecosystem. "

No discussion, no explanation - nothing - just the statement. 

As an anonymous comment puts it:

"Microsoft Unwilling to bring back Classic Visual Basic, I can forgive Microsoft. 
But it Unwilling to open source it, I can't forgive Microsoft. "

Why won't Microsoft give the VB6 community their language back?

What would it cost them?

Back in the early days of .NET Microsoft needed to kill off VB6 to promote .NET. Now it isn't even clear that Microsoft wants to support .NET let alone promote it. Microsoft seems happy to exploit open source software for its own use - JavaScript, Python and so on - but open sourcing its proprietary code is another matter. 

There is also the argument that Microsoft isn't particularly interested in Visual Basic .NET any more as it lags behind C#, C++ or JavaScript when it comes to creating Universal Apps.

What is a VB programmer to do? 

VB .NET has effectively been open sourced in the form of the Rosyln compiler so why not VB6?

Even if you hate VB6 and think that the VB6 programmers should move on -  you must see that the forced removal of a language by Microsoft is not just.

It never was and they just turned down a chance to make it right. 




The Bring back Classic Visual Basic petition has over 1200 comments and one that was added since this news item was written comes from Sten2005 who has been actively participating in since the beginning of 2013. Sten is a UK based developer who started with VB6 in 1998. He also programs in JavaScript and C++ (and also SQL and HTML) and while he has programmed VB.Net, but stopped writing any new VB.Net code in 2011.

Sten latest comment takes the form of an open letter to Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella and since I agree with the points it makes and it includes new information we are reproducing it here with the permission of the original poster:

Dear Mr. Nadella,

I have emailed you, sent you a Facebook message and posted on Facebook. As you have not replied I assume you haven't seen any of these.

I have asked you for an explanation of Mr. Paul Yuknewicz's refusal to update the VB6 programming language with the same modifications Microsoft have already done to VB6's sister language VBA.
Mr. Yuknewicz raises several straw man arguments ("Current needs ranging from distributed applications and services, to web applications and services, to devices, to new architectures and languages, required fundamental changes to the whole stack") in an attempt to explain why this is "not possible". The reality is that it is very possible, if Mr. Yuknewicz does not understand we can explain the details to him. Again, these changes are very possible - you have already done them in VBA 7.

Whilst most VB6 developers would prefer that Microsoft did these modifications and that VB6 remained a Microsoft product, if you are not willing to do this then Microsoft has a duty to safeguard the investment of VB6 developers by open sourcing VB6.

Microsoft could, of course, supply the C++ source code of VB6 to the community and let us do the modifications, but Mr. Yuknewicz again refuses, stating that is "not feasible" to open source VB6. Presumably the reason it is "not feasible" is a business decision rather than a technical one. If your concern is that the language is still current in VBA presumably you could license the VBA element to the community - certainly whatever objections you may have cannot be insurmountable.

Even Mr. Yuknewicz admits Microsoft will have to continue supporting VB6 until 'at least' 2024. In reality I'm sure we all know it is likely to be much longer.

So, Mr. Nadella, could you please explain why is it not possible for Microsoft to add the same modifications to VB6 you have already added to VBA7.1 ?

And why is it not feasible for you to open source VB6 ?

The vote for an updated VB6 on the Microsoft UserVoice site had reached the fifth highest position (out of over 8,500) and looked to be well on the way to the top position. Rather than seeing this as an indication of the popularity of VB6, it looks as though Mr. Yuknewicz has declined our call merely because of the perceived embarrassment to Microsoft of a language he cancelled back in 2002 reaching the top of a 'popularity' poll.

I would also like to question why the UserVoice vote wasn't placed 'Under Review' as seems to be the normal practice. Instead Mr. Yuknewicz moved straight to declining our call.
And why was Mr. Yuknewicz the person to make the decision ? He apparently is the Group Program Manager, Microsoft Visual Studio Cloud Tools. What relevance does that have to VB6 ? Other than being instrumental in the original decision in 2002 to abandon VB6, what involvement with VB6 does he have now ?

I'm sure you will have seen the Gartner Inc. research which found there are 14 billion lines of VB6 code extant in the enterprise. You may also have seen the Microsoft UK poll which showed that only 30% of businesses didn't have VB6 code. I presume you also have internal Microsoft research. All of this code needs supporting, and will do for years to come. There is already the suggestion that one of the reasons the 25% of Windows XP users haven't updated is because of doubts that their legacy software will still run. I'm sure you know that support doesn't just mean keeping the software running (which can be an issue with new features in new releases of Windows) but also adding minor modifications as needed - this becomes increasingly more difficult when trying to use a language no longer fully compatible with that in Office.

The effect of this refusal is that Microsoft has destroyed the investment of it's VB6 developers. Developers who, until now, have been amongst the most loyal Microsoft supporters but who are now looking to move to non-Microsoft tools.

If you haven't yet seen the call for an updated VB6 it is here:

Mr. Nadella, please have the courtesy to reply.

Best regards,

S Ten.

So far there's been no response but we've asked Sten to let us know if he hears anything.


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