Exploring the Visual Basic .NET Resource Kit
Vice President of Software Development
ImagiNET Resources Corporation
Updated December 2005
Microsoft .NET Framework
Microsoft Visual Basic® .NET 2003
Microsoft Visual Studio® .NET 2003
Summary: Joel Semeniuk examines the Visual Basic .NET Resource Kit and highlights the best of the hundreds of documents, videos, and samples that can help you build proficient solutions. (9 printed pages)
Note The Visual Basic .NET 2003 Resource Kit is no longer available. Watch the MSDN Visual Basic Developer Center for information on when the Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 Resource Kit will be available.
Developers are an interesting bunch. Generally speaking, they learn best by doing, yet still require a reliable set of resources they can use as a launching pad to relevant information and examples. Effective development-oriented resources are those that are geared to self-paced learning and should include plenty of sample code, task-based videos and demonstrations, and lots and lots of reading and reference material.
In order to fully experience the VBRK, you will not only need Visual Studio .NET, but Microsoft Word (or the Microsoft Word viewer), Macromedia Flash Player, Adobe Acrobat Reader, and Windows® Media Player. You should also note that the Cassini Web Server will be installed during the installation of the resource kit, which allows you to view the contents of resource kit even if you don't have IIS installed on your system. The Cassini Web server is a free Web server written on the .NET platform available, source code and all, from www.asp.net. Additionally, many of the samples that the resource kit provide require a named instance (specifically \NetSDK) of the Microsoft SQL Server Desktop Engine (MSDE) that must be installed and configured according to the instructions provided by the resource kit, accessible after installation.
Once you have successfully installed the resource kit and all of its dependencies, you will have access to its wealth of resources through an easy to navigate Web-based portal launched from your local machine (http://localhost/VB.NETResourceKit/Welcome.aspx to be more specific). The VBRK is like no other resource kit you have ever worked with. For convenience, the resource kit categorizes all of its information and samples into a number of sections:
- Windows Applications
- Web Applications
- Mobile Applications
- Web Services
- Data Access
- Visual Basic 6.0 Upgrade
- Additional Resources
Each main section contains subsections that further group related resources, as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Screenshot of main sections in the Visual Basic .NET Resource Kit
For example, most sections contain a Conceptual Overview subsection that provides a number of documents (.pdfs) and/or tutorial videos (.wmv or Flash) that provide a foundation of knowledge on the topic area for those developers that are new to Visual Basic .NET. Most sections also include code samples, step-by-step walk throughs, Quick Start guides that contain details of how to perform specific tasks, summaries of related training and certification events and resources, samples that represent best practices, .pdfs of recommended reading, as well as actual excerpts from books (in .pdf format) that you are free to use. Table 1 provides a summary of the information and samples included in the kit.
Table 1. Document and Sample Summary
|Windows Apps||Web Apps||Mobile Apps||Web Services||Data Access||Visual Basic 6.0 Upgrade||Additional Resources||Total|
|Quick Start Guides||14||16||16||2||1||4||53|
|Best Practice Sample Apps||3||4||2||9|
Not only do you get hundreds of documents and samples that will help guide you through your learning process, but you also receive free controls that you can use to help create stunning Windows or Web Visual Basic.NET applications. The resource kit gives you a special edition of ComponentOne Studio Enterprise that includes a development license for all ComponentOne Studio Enterprise .NET (Windows Forms) and ASP.NET (Web Forms) components. Studio Enterprise for Microsoft Visual Studio .NET is a comprehensive suite of components including grid, reporting, charting, data, user-interface, and eCommerce components for .NET and ASP.NET. You can create and distribute solutions using these controls after you register the suite online and obtain a license key that you enables you to use the controls. A summary of these controls can be found in Table 2.
Table 2. ComponentOne Free Control Summary
|Windows Forms Components||Web Forms Components|
|Grid Components||True DBGrid for .NET
FlexGrid for .NET
|WebGrid for ASP.NET|
|Reporting Components||Reports for .NET
Preview for .NET
|WebReports for ASP.NET|
|Charting Components||Chart for .NET||WebChart for ASP.NET|
|Data Components||DataObjects for .NET
Input for .NET
List for .NET
Zip for .NET
|WebDataObjects for ASP.NET|
|User Interface Components||Menus and Toolbars for .NET
Spell for .NET
|WebMenus and WebBars for ASP.NET|
|Ecommerce Components||PayPal eCommerce for ASP.NET|
|Bonus||ComponentOne Doc-To-Help 6.5
A one-time update to the components included in Studio Enterprise for Visual Studio .NET
Once you have installed the controls, you will still need to obtain a key that enables you to freely develop and distribute applications built with these controls.
Note For ComponentOne controls, a fully paid-up license to distribute the developed Web server software on the first CPU is included as an integral part of the Visual Basic Resource Kit. For additional CPUs, separate licenses must be purchased. This restriction does not apply for Windows client applications.
As a bonus, ComponentOne also allows you to download the Doc-To-Help 6.5 utility that you can use to produce help files for your applications, as well as allow you to download updates to all of your new components. The Doc-To-Help utility is shown in Figure 2 below.
Figure 2. Doc-To-Help 6.5 utility
Some of my favorite ComponentOne free controls include Zip for .NET, Chart for .NET, and WebMenus and WebBars for ASP.NET. The figures below are screenshots of each of these controls to give you a better idea of what they do.
Figure 3. Zip for .NET
Figure 4. Chart for .NET
Figure 5. WebMenus and WebBars for ASP.NET
In addition to the ComponentOne controls, other vendors have jumped on board with the resource kit by either providing free or trial versions of their controls. Take a look at Table 3 to see a summary of what you get.
Table 3. Third Party Controls Summary
|Free Controls||Trial Controls|
|Dundas Software: Charting Solutions||Crystal Decisions: Analysis and Reporting controls|
|Infragistics: Ultra Web Navigator, Ultra Win Tree||DART: TCP/IP based functionality (FTP, SMTP, Sockets, Telnet)|
|SAX.NET: Serial Communication||FarPoint Technologies: Grid/Spreadsheet controls|
|LeadTools Multimedia and Imaging controls|
|SoftwareFX: Charting and Data Analysis|
|SyncFusion: Wide assortment of tools, charting, grid, and edit controls|
As you can see, this resource kit is quite expansive and it might take you a while to familiarize yourself with all of it. What you will appreciate right away is how well the information and samples are organized and referenced. Take, for example, the 67 code samples provided for the Windows Applications section. Each sample is specific to a common task such as Create an Explorer Style Application, How-To: Inherited Windows Forms, or Use Regular Expressions. Samples are shipped as complete Visual Studio .NET 2002 solutions, allowing you to instantly step-through and modify code as well as being able to cross reference code with online and dynamic help. You should remember that if you choose to convert the sample solution files, all of its projects would be converted as well. Once a solution or any of its projects has been converted, it can no longer be edited, built, or run in previous versions of Visual Studio.
One of the most important aspects of the resource kit is its emphasis on upgrading both developer skills and code from the Visual Basic 6.0 world to Visual Basic.NET. To help migrate your Visual Basic 6.0 skills, the resource kit provides an entire section devoted to Visual Basic 6.0 upgrading containing conceptual overview documents and samples. This reference material doesn't just focus on the new features of Visual Basic .NET, but on how the new features of Visual Basic .NET relate to Visual Basic 6.0. The samples provided in this section emphasize the significant differences in the way you perform common tasks in Visual Basic, such as binding data to a grid, building custom collection classes, implementing callbacks, as well as string manipulation, exception management, and the implementation of role-based security. There are also samples that focus on the process of upgrading code, where you are provided with a Visual Basic project that can then be converted to Visual Basic .NET using the Upgrade Wizard. A very important aspect of the Visual Basic 6.0 upgrade process is the topic of COM interop, since Visual Basic 6.0 made heavy use of COM for application partitioning. COM interop can be explored through examples and through a number of Quick Start guides.
The Visual Basic 6.0 Upgrade resource area also has one additional subcategory called Multimedia Education, which contains links to Web presentations on the Microsoft Web site. You can watch online presentations on how to migrate your skills to Visual Basic .NET, reasons to move to Visual Basic .NET, as well as details on how to effectively migrate your Visual Basic Applications (VBA) to Visual Basic .NET. Please note that in order to make best use of the samples, you should also have Visual Basic 6.0 installed on your machine. Additionally, if you want to take advantage of the Multimedia Education presentations, a high-speed Internet connection can be helpful.
For those interested in migrating Visual Basic 6.0 projects to Visual Basic .NET, the Visual Basic 6.0 Code Advisor is shipped with the resource kit. The Visual Basic 6.0 Code Advisor is a new add-in that can assist developers in making a successful transition to Visual Basic .NET. Once installed, the add-in can scan your Visual Basic 6.0 projects to ensure they meet predetermined coding standards. The Code Advisor can also suggest changes and best practices to ease your migration from Visual Basic 6.0 to Visual Basic .NET. The tool also enables you to create custom scanning rules to check your Visual Basic 6.0 code for compliance with your own personal or development team best practices. Writing Visual Basic 6.0 code that is easier to migrate will save you significant time and money when you decide to make the transition to Visual Basic .NET.
Finally, you are also provided with some additional resources that don't quite fit into the categories already discussed. These additional resources include training and certification resources, such as online skills assessments, links to online labs, course outlines, and training offers. The Additional Resources section also helps you get connected with MSDN events, which tend to focus heavily on Visual Basic .NET. From the MSDN Events site (http://www.connect-ms.com/msdn/) you will be able to find and sign-up for events in your area, as well download PowerPoint slides from past MSDN events. Under Additional Resources you will also find some useful utilities, such as the Visual C# to Visual Basic .NET Converter Utility, links to Power Toys for Visual Studio.NET 2003, links to additional recommended reading sites, detailed case studies, and of course a link to the Microsoft Patterns and Practices site.
The Visual Basic Resource Kit provides you with everything you need to start developing real-world Visual Basic .NET solutions for both Windows- and Web-based applications. As you can see, the kit comes packed with hundreds of documents, videos, and samples to provide you with much of what you need to become proficient building solutions with Visual Basic .NET. The dozens of free controls that are shipped with the kit allow you to build functionally stunning applications without having to go out and purchase the controls yourself. If you are currently a Visual Basic 6.0 developer looking ahead to Visual Basic .NET, or even an advanced Visual Basic .NET developer, you should take the time to get and explore what the Visual Basic Resource Kit has to offer.Joel Semeniuk is a Microsoft Regional Director and Vice President of Software Development for ImagiNET Resources Corporation, a highly specialized Microsoft Gold Partner in ECommerce and Enterprise Systems based in Canada. Joel is also an INETA Liaison helping to support .NET User Groups throughout Canada. Reach him by e-mail at JoelS@ImagiNETs.com