It’s become a custom with me and my kids to hit the yard sales during the summer and fall weekends.  They can get a lot more for their allowance money at those sales than they can at the toy stores, and sometimes I find stuff that’s such a bargain I can’t pass it up.  We recently went to one that turned up one of the most amazing finds I’ve ever run into at a garage sale yet.

Visual Basic 1.0

Sitting in between Turbo Tax ’99 and Mavis Beacon’s Typing Tutor was this gem….  Visual Basic 1.0.  I almost couldn’t believe my eyes.  To me, this was on par with finding the missing link.  As a programmer, this was archeological gold, and it was on sale for fifty cents.  My kids saw the excitement on my face and must have thought that I’d found an XBox 360.  For them, Visual Basic was a major let down.

A lot of people think that VB is soft and if you program in it, you’re automatically a drooling hack developer who couldn’t program their alarm clock.  I cut my teeth on VB 4.0 in my first job, and learned that when combined with COM in C++, VB was a fantastic language for the job of making a user interface. That being said, VB still has some special memories for me.

The contents of the box were practically undisturbed.  The disks were all still in their original plastic wrap and the manual didn’t seem to have ever been opened.  Immediately, there are certain clues that tell you just how old it is (even though the box is copyrighted 1991).  First, the box contains two forms of media; 3.5″ and 5.25″ floppies.  To actually take a 5.25″ floppy out of its sleeve and hold it brought me back to the days of floppy doors and the red LED that told you the disk was being read.  The system requirements for VB 1.0 were Windows 3.0, a 286 processor and 1MB of memory.  Somewhat of a far cry from the Visual Basic of today.

I also loved the included “Companion Products and Services Directory”.  The third party marketing rush had already begun back then.  Most of the components in the catalog, though, are for connecting to a VAX server or to a dBase or Btrieve database.  There are a handful of charting components and widgets such as tree controls (not yet standard in 1991) and grids.  The reminiscing continues.

This box goes right up on my bookshelf at home next to the most revered books in my collection. Say what you will about Visual Basic, but it may be one of the most important developments in programming over the last 20 years for the simple reason that it allowed any non-programmer to write a Windows program.  If you think that’s not a valid reason for such importance, let me repeat… it allowed any non-programmer to write a Windows program.  It was Prometheus, stealing fire from Zeus and giving it to mere mortals for their use.

You no longer had to know C, and wade through Petzold, to write “Hello World” in a window.  Employees from any company with core business knowledge, but no degree in programming, could now quickly write customized applications.  Of course, the debate of whether this was a good thing for programming or not still goes on today.  However, regardless of which side you’re on, you can’t deny that VB was a major victory for bringing the PC to the business market.  Without VB, we may not even have a Microsoft today.

So thank you very much, guy from two streets down, who decided that Visual Basic 1.0 wasn’t important enough to keep, but too important to just throw away.  One man’s junk is another man’s gold, and I really struck it rich that weekend.