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InfoQ Homepage News Visual Basic 6: The Looming Crisis

Visual Basic 6: The Looming Crisis

One of the major factors that is preventing older enterprises from leaving Windows XP is the prevalence of mission critical applications written in Visual Basic 6. Updating a VB 6 application to run on Windows 7 can be a daunting challenge, especially if it relies on obscure COM or control libraries. Compounding the problem is UAC or User Account Control, a necessary but much hated security measure that many large organizations require be turned on.

In the past, users of Windows 7 could install a feature called XP Mode. This would enable an XP virtual machine specifically for running older software. But when the support for Windows XP ends on April 8, so does the support for XP Mode. Microsoft writes,

After April 8, 2014, technical support for Windows XP and Windows XP Mode will no longer be available, including updates that help protect your PC. This means that if you continue to use Windows XP or use Windows XP Mode on a Windows 7 PC after support ends, your PC might become more vulnerable to security risks and viruses. Therefore, to keep your Windows 7 PC secure after April 8, 2014, we recommend that you only use Windows XP Mode if your PC is disconnected from the Internet. Learn more about Windows XP end of support.

If that’s not enough, many Visual Basic 6 applications are still under active development. Dice reports 176 open positions for VB 6 developers and Monster has 312. While that shows there is need out there, those numbers are not high enough to encourage new developers to learn the aging language.

And even if they wanted to, there are a couple serious barriers to entry. For one, Visual Basic 6 is only available via a MSDN subscription. So it is unlikely that a typical junior or even mid-level developer will even have access to it. On top of that the Visual Basic 6 IDE is designed to run on Windows 95/98. Officially the IDE is supported in Windows 7, but in practice we have found that it often doesn’t work correctly for non-trivial applications. Again, the culprit seems to be third-party COM and control libraries.

So what are companies to do? It is incredibly expensive to rewrite decades old applications even under ideal circumstances. And even if you can find enough talented developers to pull it off, your staff will still need to be retrained on the new software.

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