This is the long part of winter. Through the holidays, and up until about New Year's Day, winter is portrayed as a wonderful, well-lit, flurry-filled wonderland. Rosy-cheeked kids catch snowflakes on their tongues. Skaters enjoy the rink at Rockefeller Center. Clydesdales haul a frosty keg of beer right to your easy chair, where you're sitting and watching football.
The moment the calendar page flips to January 2, however, the very nature of winter changes. Suddenly, the charming, horse-drawn carriage rides are gone. What's in their place? Grainy images of Buffalo during a snow emergency. Unlucky commuters stepping in sepia-toned puddles of slush. Cars fishtailing and skidding into snowdrifts the size of battleships. Steaming cups of lemon-flavored cold and flu medication.
But this winter promises to be different. Visual Studio .NET will officially greet the world in February. While this event will mark perhaps the most drastic shift in the world of computing in a decade, in a way it has a weird feeling of anticlimax. We've been covering Visual Studio .NET and the .NET Framework for so long now—since September 2000, in fact—that news of the final release seems like an incremental step rather than a revolution. But February will—come hell or high puddle—bring the real, official version of Visual Studio .NET.
One of the reasons this feels like the third release of Visual Studio .NET is because of the rapid evolution of the .NET betas. There were significant changes between Beta 1, Beta 2, and the RC and release versions of the framework. There's already a bit of confusion, since some people are grabbing older code samples and finding that they don't compile. So what's a working geek to do?
The first, and most important, step is to read up on what changes to expect between beta versions of the framework. This is truly an unprecedented situation. In most cases, changes between versions of a program aren't that big a deal. Maybe a menu item gets turned on, or a dialog choice moves around. This is perhaps the first time that so many people have used early betas of such a pervasive computing platform. A lot of changes were made after seeing how people used the .NET Framework in its early days. Certain classes were combined or simplified to make the final experience better.
The process of getting people up and going with .NET has caused an unusual number of early beta samples to float around. We still have some on our site. We haven't changed the original code or articles because our Web site is designed to be an exact archive of the print version. But when you look at older pieces, use them for their concepts more than for their exact coding hints. Gotdotnet.com has documentation about the change between beta versions, and MSDN Online will be providing similar information once Visual Studio .NET is released. Using that knowledge, along with the numerous articles we've provided over the past year and half, will be your surest path to .NET Nirvana.
One of the exciting things in Visual Studio .NET is its language agnosticism. If a vendor has written a .NET-compliant language, you can use it in Visual Studio .NET. It'll work just as well as C# or C++ or Visual Basic. This isn't just a future feature-in-planning. There are already nearly two dozen languages being developed for Visual Studio .NET: Visual Basic, C#, C++, JScript, APL, Cobol, Eiffel, Fortran, Pascal, Perl, Python, RPG, Smalltalk, Oberon, Component Pascal, Haskell/Mondrian, Scheme, Mercury, Alice, and even the Java language.
Of course, years ago we used to cover C programming. When MFC was first released, people would complain that they longed for the days of pure C articles. While MFC has had a great run, we really think that it's time to check out the framework. MFC's purpose was to normalize the oft-confusing Win32 API, to make it easier to perform common programming tasks. Its popularity is testament to the great job it did in smoothing out some of the rougher edges of the underlying programming model.
We know it's hard to migrate to new technology, even if it's better. And we're not suggesting that you rush out and rewrite your existing projects just to take advantage of .NET. But think of future generations. The youth of today are looking up to you. Are you going to just abandon their hopes and dreams and cling to an outdated programming paradigm? Or are you going to show your leadership and stick your toe into the warm waters of the framework? It's really quite simple when you think of it that way. If you still love C++, we have several articles in this issue that will cheer you as you tackle Visual Studio .NET. And if you love C, well, you can still use a .NET-compatible version of the language!