Interview – Karl Moore, VB.NET Writer and Guru
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I’m sitting here now with Karl Moore: well-known author, BBC radio personality, syndicated computer columnist and .NET guru. He’s the man behind White Cliff Computing Ltd and, according to his Website, spends most of his time "playing with technology toys and then writing about them".
Is that a fair summary, Karl?
If it’s on my site, it must be about right. I’m just a regular Yorkshire guy with two core passions: technology, and words. Put them together and you’ve got this chappie!
I also enjoy eating sprouts.
Let’s get a little more background. For the purpose of those who aren’t familiar with White Cliff, what does the company do?
White Cliff Computing Ltd is basically a big think tank for enthusiastic, exciting individuals. We all get together to produce fresh, innovative products for the modern world. One of our big projects right now is WebZinc .NET, a programming component which essentially replaces the need for Web Services.
More about yourself: how would you describe yourself? Creative, funny, logical… fat?
A bit of all the above. Except funny. Oh, and fat.
Actually, I’m starting to question the creative and logical bits, too…
Are you looking forward to the rest of the questions?
Like Da Vinci looked forward to stereo.
Your Evolution to .NET
Now, one of the reasons we asked you to take part in this interview was to talk about .NET. Obviously, it’s one big move from Microsoft. Let’s jump straight to the core: how did you get into .NET? Was it really as simple as it being "the next version of VB"?
To be honest, the shift came while I was gobbling down a couple of free Microsoft ice creams with Gary Cornell in Barcelona a few years ago. My online tutorials had been given a big thumbs-up, and we’d talked about putting them into book form. Then .NET came along and mucked things up.
Yes, I was reluctant to move away from the cosy world of VB6, but I enjoyed the early betas and began working with the tool full-time back in 2000. Eventually I wrote the book, based on VB.NET rather than VB6.
Was it really as simple as being the next version? It wasn’t simple, no: it took months for some of the concepts to truly sink in. But it is still the next (all-singing, all-dancing) version.
Some people reading this will be wondering exactly what .NET is all about. The Microsoft marketing machine did a good job of mudding the waters for us all, and the technology is obviously huge, so can you condense the essence of .NET into a couple of sentences?
I guess .NET means different things to different people. Officially, it’s a vision based on distributed computing, Microsoft’s idea of different bits of different applications running on different computers. At the heart of .NET is the .NET Framework, with is basically a big base of code you can tap into. Many Visual Basic 6 developers enjoy thinking of this as an easier-to-use, more advanced version of the Windows API.
Did you consider other languages and platforms before moving to .NET?
Sure thing. I’ve worked with a large cross section of technologies during my time in the industry. In recent years however, I’ve found that .NET provides solutions to most of my development requirements. So I’ve stuck with it.
Do you know everything about .NET?
Hell no! The .NET Framework, which sits at the centre of the whole .NET vision, is massive. There are over six or seven thousand classes within it. I know a little about a lot, and a lot about a little. But everything? Oh no.
Is there anything you’d like to add to or change about the .NET tools, or the way they work (besides an auto-deposit of one cent into your bank account every time someone runs a Karl Moore app)?
As with any set of development tools, you always get a handful of little irritating omissions. Like the fact you can no longer edit code in debug mode, a feature old VB’ers took for granted. But I guess Microsoft need an excuse for VB.NET II…
Some people say .NET is nothing more than a glorified templating system. How would you respond to this?
.NET and a "templating system"? I suppose there are similarities. The letters "N", "E" and "T" for a start.
But presuming the "templating system" refers to the actual structure of the Framework, it’s a little like saying a skeleton is just a well put together mound of bones. It’s what’s inside that makes it do its magic. And yet still, that skeleton is essential.
Did that make sense, or am I drunk again?
What language are you most wanting to see get .NETed next (python.NET, php.NET, perl.NET etc)?
I should hope PHP. It might help me start understanding some of that code my friend John Percival keeps wafting about.
Quick! VB.NET or C#.NET — and why?
The technical differences are so miniscule, you should just go with whichever language you know best. Visual Basic guys go for VB.NET. Java and C++ chappies head toward C#. No problemo.
Have you tried Everett (VS.NET 2003)? If so, is it any good and is it a major advancement over VS.NET 2002?
Ooh, good question. I actually have a sealed copy from Microsoft on my desk right now. Although I haven’t installed it yet, I have played with Everett during an even earlier "hush hush" beta.
The changes aren’t shocking. You can now upgrade just a snippet of VB6 code over to VB.NET, for example. Structured error handling has been made a little more "automatic", plus there’s a managed Oracle data provider. Changes, yes, but no assuredly no "major advance".
What’s your favourite feature of ASP.NET?
I think ASP.NET on its own is my favourite feature! We had this split in the Microsoft community a couple of years ago: you had Web developers and desktop developers. With the .NET tools, regular desktop VB guys can write Web applications in seconds.
If you forced me, I’d have to say the advanced data binding features really tickle my fancy. Oh, and that fancy Calendar control. Very cool looking.
Outside of OOP, what is your favorite new feature of VB.NET over VB6, and why?
I’d probably have to say that the fact that it is VB .NET — which means it can plug directly into all those .NET Framework classes — is my favourite feature. Most days, I find a new class somewhere that does something I would have used five-dozen API calls to do back in the golden olden days, or was just simply impossible.
It doesn’t always fit the bill, but it’s definitely my number one benefit.
How would you convince the corporate decision makers to move from an entrenched VB6 philosophy to .NET? Should they get existing developers to move applications to .NET?
The corporate world has so many considerations to take into account, it’s not always just new wizzy programming features that count. I’m pretty unbiased too, so don’t make much of a "convincer". Perhaps I’d better finish that "Make Friends and Influence People" thing…
When it comes to upgrading VB6 applications to .NET, I’d say don’t do it. Yes, VB.NET includes an upgrade wizard, but it’s a rocky road — and you’ll see few benefits at the end of the journey. My advice? Use it for new development work only.
The Book… How and Why?
How did you become a published author?
I’d already met both Gary in Barcelona, then Dan Appleman in London, and struck up friendships with both. Together, they’re the directors behind Apress — so when the idea for this book came around, they were obvious targets!
Even better, WHY did you become a published author?
To enjoy all those glitzy, luxurious, complementary celebrity author evening events I never get invited to.
Even better, WHERE did you … Okay, never mind. Let’s try a different question. Why buy the book? Who’s it for?
"Karl Moore’s Visual Basic .NET: The Tutorials" is a book for people that want to learn .NET without all the drudgery associated with those usual 1500-page draft excluders. It’s light-hearted and covers "real life" areas of .NET: from doing databases the easy way, to knocking out fully-interactive Websites in minutes; from utilizing the latest Web Services, through to the secrets of putting together your own supercool desktopI’d recommend it to those new to .NET, or moving from VB6. But then again, I’m 100% bias and on commission!
I’ve had 3 friends get curious about .NET just in the first few days the book lay on my table, and they were all interested in the technology because of the way you wrote about it. What would you say to these people, besides to stop hanging around at my place picking up books off my table?
I think I’d just apologise profusely for my humour. I wrote the whole book in a conversational style, with a little giggle material here and there to help ease the learning curve.
Actually, the Apress legal department even had to remove a few of the more risquÃ© gags, just in case. Still, at least the Irish, the Pope and Kathy Bates can now all learn to program without getting offended…
Seriously though, it was all very light hearted and nothing but good fun. Read it and learn .NET in style!
The NEW Book: Tell Us More, Give Us Juice!
Your next book is titled "VB.NET and ASP.NET Secrets!". Could you give us an example of a "secret"?
Ooh, you crafty devil. The new book will basically teach a whole bundle of those nifty .NET secrets that you only find once in a blue moon, usually hidden inside some ten-page magazine article.
You’ll learn, for example, how to convert the contents of a RichTextBox control into HTML, how to create a default ASP.NET "Enter" button, how to send an Excel data page straight down to the browser — even if your server doesn’t have Excel, the ten steps to doing absolutely ANYTHING and EVERYTHING with a DataGrid, what to do when debugging stops working, how to quickly create applications that will run on mobile phones, the three tricks to using XML, how to generate amazing ASP.NET images on the fly, how to incorporate encryption in your applications in just twelve lines of code, plus how you can steal Microsoft code — and save yourself hours of development time.
These are all real life secrets, with ready-to-run, thoroughly tested code snippets presented throughout the book.
I’ve also include a full .NET introduction in the book, plus a quick C# translation guide, along with an introduction to a powerful "hidden" language in .NET. I can’t say any more!
Can we expect more books after this one, or are your hands simply too sore?
I’m guessing I’ll have a little rest, actually. Get out the ice bucket and soak my pinkies. But who knows.
The NEW Software Project
Our rumour mill also tells us you’re releasing a new version of your WebZinc component in 2003. Is that right?
That’s right: on January 10th we unveiled WebZinc .NET. We’ve been selling WebZinc for two whole years and this is a huge revamp.
What exactly does WebZinc do?
It’s a tool that allows you to manipulate the Internet in code. You could, for example, extract data from a Website or fill out a form. It has many more features, too: customers such as British Telecom, Network Solutions (and even ComponentSource itself) have applications using it every single day. The official site can be found at www.webzinc.net
Your SitePoint readers can win a copy of it in that competition you’re running. I hear you’re also giving away a copy of my book…
We are… But wait! Why "WebZinc"? Who came up with such a bizarre name?
Erm. Me. Something to do with Vodka and the periodic table, methinks.
I understand you live in Yorkshire, England?
Ayy, that’s right: home of Puddings, Moors and Terriers. I live in the middle of a field, over in the East Ridings. I haven’t picked up the Yorkshire accent yet, but there’s still time.
What’s so special about your tongue?
Wow, you’re well researched. Nothing’s special, it’s just that a few members on the VB Forums site commented on a photo someone had scanned in. It was of me, at some crazed Mexican restaurant, looking distinctly satanic — and with my tongue in full stretch. I don’t even remember it being taken.
The forum members soon started a "what a big tongue you’ve got" thread and the lewd and suggestive comments haven’t stopped since. Oh boy.
What music are you listening to right now?
Barry Manilow and "Turn the Radio Up". But please don’t tell anyone.
Karl, thank you for this interview. I really appreciate it, as does the community at SitePoint!
Win a copy of Karl’s book — or his software! Visit SitePoint’s .NET Feature Guide to find out how!