Computer Science Teacher
Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

October, 2005

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Visual Basic 2005 Frequently Asked Questions

    • 6 Comments

    I regularly get questions from teachers about Visual Studio and Visual Basic. This is my frequently asked questions list. Feel free to send me more questions about using Visual Basic in the classroom either by leaving a comment or by sending email to me at Alfred.Thompson at Microsoft.com

    Why should I upgrade from Visual Basic 6.0 to Visual Basic .NET?

    Why should I choose to teach using Visual Basic .NET?

    Why should I upgrade from Visual Basic .NET 2002/2003 to Visual Basic .NET 2005?

    When will support for Visual Basic 6.0 end?

    How much does it cost for a high school to upgrade to Visual Basic .NET 2005?

    What are the configuration requirements for Visual Basic .NET 2005?

    Why should I upgrade from Visual Basic 6.0 to Visual Basic .NET?

    • The ability to teach true Object Oriented Programming with a beginner friendly syntax (i.e. think better preparation for students later learning AP CS)
    • Use of the .NET Framework libraries – lots of things that used to be hard to do are now much easier. For example, sorting and searching arrays, playing sounds and getting system information can all be done without complicated system calls or writing a lot of code.
    • A more helpful and productive IDE – IntelliSense, the error messages, especially in VS 2005, are much better than in VB 6.0
    • Opportunities to use the same IDE for other languages (C++, C#, J#)
    • Lots of new teaching and learning resources (http://msdn.microsoft.com/coding4fun  , www.mainfunction.com)  

    Why should I choose to teach using Visual Basic .NET?

    • The syntax for Visual basic is very friendly to beginners. While Visual Basic is a full strength professional grade programming language its roots are embedded in BASIC which was invented to teach programming to everyone.
    • Windows Forms allow students to create real Windows programs quickly and easily. By achieving early success students are encouraged to continue.
    • Visual Studio supports Pocket PC programming in Visual Basic though the use of a built-in emulator. Students can also install programs on their own Pocket PCs and share them with friends.
    • Unlike tools designed just to be simple introductory environments,, Visual Basic scales up to very sophisticated programs and projects.
    • Visual basic is today one of the most widely used programming languages in the world with millions of programmers using it.

    Why should I upgrade from Visual Basic .NET 2002/2003 to Visual Basic .NET 2005?

    • Edit and Continue. This feature that was popular with VB 6 and earlier is back and more powerful than ever. It allows more flexibility in debugging and in correcting errors.
    • Better debugging. The newest Visual Studio gives more and better warnings and error messages before the code is compiled. Autocorrect provides suggestions for many common errors.
    • The Immediate window in Design mode. This feature allows students to execute and evaluate code without running the whole program. This is another great feature from VB 6 which has been brought back to meet customer needs.
    • The My Namespace. Students can easily access system information and resources. For example: My.Computer.Audio lets students play sound files without complicated system calls.
    • Snap lines help students line up objects on a Windows form far more easily and accurately than ever before.
    • Generic data types. Similar to Java generics or C++ template classes.
    • Read more about these and other new features here.

    When will support for Visual Basic 6.0 end?

    The answer depends on “what do you mean by support?” The complete support explanation for Visual Basic 6.0 is available at http://support.microsoft.com/lifecycle/?p1=2971

    • Mainstream support ended in March of 2005.
    • Extended support will continue until March 2008.
    • The Visual Basic 6.0 runtime system will be included in Windows Vista (the next generation operating system from Microsoft) so teachers who have Visual Studio 6.0 and want to use it into the future will be able to do so with Windows Vista.
    • There will be some support for VB 6.0 applications in Vista. Read about that here.

    How much does it cost for a high school to upgrade to Visual Basic .NET 2005?

    • The software is available via the MSDN AA program for $299 for the school. This allows a school to install the software on all of the CS lab computers, the CS teacher computers, and lets students install the software on their own computers at home.
    • An alternative is the free download of Visual Studio Express Editions. The Express Versions do not offer the complete set of features available  in the full IDE of Visual Studio 2005
    • A number of states have a state-wide MSDN AA agreement that provides the MSDN Academic Alliance (MSDN AA) program to all high schools in the state. There is a map of these states at MainFunction.com
  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Diane Zak at ACET

    • 4 Comments

    The lunch speaker for ACET today was Diane Zak, noted text book author. This was the first time I have heard her talk or met her. She gave a very interesting talk about teaching with Visual Basic .NET. Like me, she is in the process of updating a book for Visual Studio .NET 2005 and excited about the new features that are coming. Of course she also complains a bit about how fast things in computer science change and how much work that creates for teachers. And that is an issue. It is a struggle to keep up with technology. One of the things I am hoping we at Microsoft can help with over the next year or so is ways to prepare teachers for these changes. I'm planning a number of web casts that I hope to start later this month.

    The other think that Diane Zak talked about was the controversy over using console applications against GUI applications. Her opinion is to use both. That is what I have been doing in workshops lately. I still have mixed feelings about it. I like GUIs but I am aware of the issues that can cause. It will be interesting to see how she develops her ideas in a future textbook. I'm also always interested in what others think about this issue so feel free to leave comments.

    By the way, tonight's dinner is at Billy Bob's Texas. Apparently they are the world’s largest honky tonk. Contrary to the suspicions of most students teachers do know how to have a good time so I am looking forward to this.

    - Alfred Thompson

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Should teachers teach secure programming

    • 3 Comments

    I found [via SlashDot] an interesting article at ZD/Net News. Howard Schmidt wants developers and their companies to be held liable for security issues in their code. But he doesn't completely blame developers. He also blames the companies they work for and their education.

    Schmidt also referred to a recent survey from Microsoft which found that 64 percent of software developers were not confident they could write secure applications. For him, better training is the way forward.

    "Most university courses traditionally focused on usability, scalability, and manageability, not security. Now a lot of universities are focusing on information assurance and security, but traditionally Web application development has been measured in mouse clicks — how to make users click through," said Schmidt.

    I hear all the time from teachers who say they don't have time to include secure programming in their courses. The AP CS exam doesn't test it either. It seems to me that security along with ethics are two issues that must be concidered in all programming courses in today's world. It is just too late when someone starts programming for a living. It's all about priorities. Is there a particular coding concept that is more important than security? That's a loaded question of course. But we do need to start thinking about the value of adding one more data structure or one more type of sort weighed against adding a unit on secure design and programming.

    - Alfred Thompson 

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