What are your options to survive in the next decade?

clock May 29, 2008 07:51

Well, I really mean "what are the options to have your VB6 application survive in the next decade?". After nearly 30 years in the field - I started my Computer Science studies in 1979, go figure! - many of which spent consulting for companies in Europe and United States, I have seen many tecnology revolutions, including the advent of IBM PC and of Windows 1.0. Each one thaught me a little piece of experience.

Let's quickly see the alternatives. 

If the application is at the end of its life cycle, for example because it doesn't fullfil a widespread need any longer, you might decide to have it die of a natural death. There is no reason to invest in a dying creature, therefore you might stay with VB6 and just fix some major bugs when your users complain aloud. Don't add any new feature or extend it in any way, because it would be too expensive too.

In this case you leave the main application in VB6 but extend it by invoking .NET components using COM Interop, or display .NET forms using Microsoft's Forms Interop Toolkit. Version 2.0 of this add-on is a major improvement, as it even supports hosting of .NET controls inside VB6 forms. Best of all, the toolkit is fully supported by Microsoft and comes with full source code. [Thanks to Rob Windsor for remainding me of this option, see comments]

While the toolkit is free, adopting it has some obvious and hidden defects and costs, though. First and foremost, this approach isn't really a solution to the problem, is more of a technique to soften the migration path and lessen its impact on your organization. If you need to migrate because your app doesn't work well under Windows Vista, or because it's slow, or because you don't want to rely on a language that Microsoft doesn't support any longer, using COM Interop and the Forms Interop Toolkit is just a way to postpone the time when you truly need to find a reliable solution. Second, the communication between the VB6 and VB.NET portions of the application is often awkward and leads you to inefficiencies (due to COM Interop) and complex roundtrips that don't make your code easily maintanable.

The bottom line: you should use the Forms Interop Toolkit only in the bigger picture of a phased migration (as Rob suggests in this comment). That is, while a group of developers is working on the porting from VB6, another group is already extending the application using VB.NET. Before taking this approach, you should compare it with the effort required by migrating it to VB.NET in one step using a *good* migration tool (ours, that is :-) )

Why not giving it a try? it's free! While your hard disk spins for hours trying to convert your real-world business app, you can have enough time to google for less-then-gentle comments about this tool from the VB community. Let's skip to next option.

Using our conversion tool to migrate to VB.NET makes sense in many cases. First, when the original application works well and is thoroughly tested, but needs to be extended with new features and implementing these extensions with VB6 would be too difficult or expensive. Second, when the application is so large that rewriting it from scratch would require a very intensive test phase. Third, if time-to-market is essential to beat your competition and make your existing users happy. In these cases you can leverage VB Migration Partner higher speed and precision (as noted by our beta testers)

There are other VB6-to-VB.NET migration tools on the market. Choosing a conversion tool is a critical decision, so you might want to ask our competitors for a trial version and compare it with our VB Migration Partner. Please do it! Please compare its feature, precision, and speed with VB Migration Partner and then let us know. If you don't have time to waste, however, ask yourself the following questions before considering another conversion tool:

a) how many VB Migration Partner's feature does this tool support? for example, does it fully support all 60+ VB6 controls, drag-and-drop, graphic methods, arrays with any LBound, Gosubs, As New semantics, IDisposable objects, As Any parameters and callbacks in Declares, etc. 
b) are there any significant features that this tool support and that VB Migration Partner doesn't?
c) why they don't make their entire documentation available online before you buy?
d) why don't they dare to publish real-world VB6 apps and the VB.NET code that their tool generates?

As far as we know, Code Architects is the only vendor who has uploaded dozens of VB6 code samples and the corresponding, converted VB.NET project, to let potential customers see and test the VB.NET applications we produce. We don't upload artificially-conceived tiny VB6 projects that highlights the tool's strengths and hide its weakness. Instead, our code sample section gathers open-source VB6 projects taken from the Internet, and we guarantee that we edited neither the original VB6 code (which is in fact downloadable from its original URL) nor the converted VB.NET.

Now ask yourself: why no other vendor took this obvious step to show the world how powerful their tool is?

In some cases, manually re-writing the application to VB.NET is a viable solution. Well, let me be absolutely honest on this point: in (very) few cases, this is the solution we recommend to our customers. If the application is a huge amount of contorted spaghetti code, has a orrible architecture and a ugly user interface....well, in this case you don't want to spend more time and money on automatic porting, because you would also port these issues to VB.NET. 

When weighing a complete re-writing from scratch against automatic porting, you should take several factors into account, including:

a) rewriting often takes from 50% to 90% of the time and money that was necessary to write the original application. (Sorry, no official statistics on this, just our field experience...)
b) you need a team of developer who are experienced in both VB6 and VB.NET, and they also need to be familiar with issues related to the specific application, therefore you can't simply hire them from outside your company
c) how do you cope with continuous edits/improvements to the original VB6 code during the months required by the rewrite? In other words, can you count on something similar to our convert-test-fix methodology?
d) can really you afford the extra time required by a complete re-write? what will your competitor do in the meantime?

I heard that a few ISVs are taking this path. In my opinion this is an irrational decision, often motivated by the anti-VB (or even anti-Microsoft) feeling that is so fashionable today. Let me explain why you shouldn't even think of jumping from VB6 to any .NET language other than VB.NET.

Rewriting a complex VB6 application into a different language has all the drawbacks of rewriting it to VB.NET (see point 6), plus the many problems that you have when switching from VB.NET to C# or Java. How do you implement On Error Resume Next in C#? How do you render a DTPicker control in Java without carefuly mapping each and every property, method, and event? But the decisive argument is: do you have enough developers who are equally familiar with VB6 and C# or Java and the application being migrated?

Briefly stated: taking this route is a technological suicide similar to point 1), except it takes longer, costs more, and is more agonizing. You can only hope that your competitors are in love enough with C# or Java to invest their energies in this option. If you hear that they are doing it, relax and be happy: you don't have anything to worry about for a long time :-)

Come on! To get an idea of how tough this "solution" (so to speak) is, take all the issues listed at point 5) and multiply them by all the problems mentioned at point 7). Then double the result to have a more reasonable estimate of the actual cost and effort.

More seriously, just think of this: there are a few commercial tools on the market that can automatically migrate VB.NET to C#, for example Instant C# or C-Sharpener for VB. I have actually used a couple of these tools, they do a great job. However, they still require a few manual edits after the conversion, to adjust minor differences between VB.NET and C#. The main reason is that the resulting C# code doesn't look like native C# and requires some fixes to be more readable and easily maintainable.

Before your consider this approach, ask yourself two questions:

a) if you believe that automatic conversion between two .NET languages (VB.NET and C#) is difficult, how can you expect that a tool be able to automatically convert from VB6 to C# in one single step?
b) on the other hand, if you think that conversion from VB.NET to C# can be fully automated, why not going from VB6 to VB.NET using our VB Migration Partner (or another tool, if you prefer) first and then using Instant-C, C-Sharpener for VB, or another similar tool for doing the final move to C#?

If you really want a C# app as the final deliverable of your conversion efforts, keep in mind that jumping from VB6 directly to C# doesn't give you more than switching from VB6 to VB.NET first and then from VB.NET to C#. Well, it actually does give you something more.... many more headaches, for precision's sake :-)

Project Dependency Collection tool

clock January 8, 2008 02:55
Many of the code samples on which we've tested our VB Migration Partner tool have been downloaded from Planet Source's All-Time Hall of Fame, a page that gathers hundreds of VB6 samples that have won Planet Source's monthly contest or that have proved to be superior quality code. Even if you don't care for VB6 any longer, you can find some compelling code in that page. Pay it a visit, it won't be a waste of time.
Today I stumbled into a nice and very useful utility, named Rutu's Project Dependency Collection tool. It analyzes a VB6 project, lists all the type libraries and DLLs it depends on (and highlights missing DLLs), optionally extracts them to a folder, and include a BAT file that registers all of them. It even comes with a Shell Menu extension that allows you to run the tool from inside Windows Explorer.

It's useful, it's free, and even comes with full VB6 source code!