What it is: Visual Basic was a ground-breaking development tool that made it easy to create Windows programs quickly and easily.
When graphical user interfaces became popular, they posed a huge problem for developers. Not only did developers need to write code to make their program work, but they also had to write code to make the user interface work. Graphical user interfaces like Windows and MacOS defined a standard user interface of windows and pull-down menus, but creating graphical user interfaces proved cumbersome and difficult.
That’s why when Microsoft introduced Visual Basic in 1991, it proved revolutionary. Instead of writing code to design your user interface, you simply drew the user interface much like using a drawing program to place buttons, labels, and text fields in a window. By eliminating the ned to write code to create a user interface, Visual Basic made it easy to create graphical user interfaces quickly, reliably, and consistently. Then by using the much simpler BASIC programming language, you could write code faster and easier than traditional programming languages like C and C++.
Although professional programmers dismissed Visual Basic as a “toy” language, it proved so popular that even C++ programmers used to create their user interfaces in Visual Basic and then write the actual code in C++. This spawned copycat development tools like Delphi (which used the Pascal programming language) along with C+ Builder and Visual C++ (which used C++). Visual Basic defined the idea of creating a user interface visually and then attaching it to code.
Unfortunately, Microsoft made two decisions that helped kill Visual Basic. First, they decided to create a new software framework called .NET, which Visual Basic 6 couldn’t use. Second, they decided to update Visual Basic for the .NET framework by creating a new version called Visual Basic.NET. Unlike the original Visual Basic, Visual Basic.NET was nearly as complicated as C##, Microsoft’s other programming language, which made learning Visual Basic.NET pointless.
Even worse, Microsoft unofficially made C# their official programming language and neglected Visual Basic.NET. So it’s no surprise that Visual Basic has gradually plummeted in popularity over the years. One company, called Xojo, has offered a Visual Basic clone that runs on Windows, Linux, OS X and can create iOS app as well. However with the decline of Visual Basic in general, Xojo’s future looks cloudy and dismal as well.
The idea of making programming easy started with BASIC and became popular on the Macintosh with he introduction of HyperCard. Apple later abandoned HyperCard and there hasn’t been a simple programming tool for OS X since, with Swift still being way too difficult for casual users to learn and use.
So the decline of Visual Basic (and the abandonment of HyperCard years ago) eliminates easy programming tools for beginners. If you want to write programs for Windows, your best bet is to learn C#, which is a better version of C++. If you want to write programs for OS X and iOS, your best bet is to learn Swift, which is a better version of Objective-C (which is an alternative to C++).
Both C# and Swift closely resemble the original C programming language, which was complicated and confusing to use and learn, even for professional programmers. That means there’s currently no good development tool for beginners.
The one option is Xojo, which is a Visual Basic clone, but given Visual Basic’s gradual decline, it’s hard to imagine Xojo suddenly picking up in popularity. The alternative to HyperCard is LiveCode, which also runs on Windows, Linux, and OS X while allowing you to create Android and iOS apps. However, both Xojo and LiveCode are still more complicated than the original Visual Basic and HyperCard. If you’re going to learn programming, you’re still better off learning C# or Swift.
The decline of Visual Basic means there’s no longer an easy to use development tool for beginners. Yet so many people want to create apps for Android and iOS, so there should be a market for a simple tool. Perhaps someone out there will come up with a simpler tool than C# or Swift, but until then, the decline of Visual Basic defines fewer opportunities for novices to make their own programs. Programming has always been difficult, and the lack of a tool like Visual Basic simply makes that problem even worse no matter which operating system you prefer using.