Microsoft .NET framework is an entirely new platform introduced in early 2002. A detailed discussion of the .NET Framework is well beyond the scope of this chapter and at this stage is indeed a daunting prospect. We attempt here to supply the reader with some key features that make .NET worth considering. Visual Basic 6 (VB 6) is a platform unto itself. However, in .NET VB is just one of a number languages such as C++ and C# provided for programming the .NET framework. All .NET languages fully support object-oriented programming concepts such as class inheritance and polymorphism. VB.NET offers a substantial increase in the number of built-in user-interface components. Many core Windows functions are included in the .NET framework and are easily accessible from the IDE. Many of these functions would require advanced knowledge of Win32 API programming in VB 6 in order to access them. VB.NET allows programmers with experience developing Windows applications to quickly migrate toward Web development with ASP.NET. ASP.NET is a Web programming technology that substantially improves previous Microsoft Active Server Pages programming. Most notably ASP.NET provides real-time debugging and diagnostics that VB programmers are familiar with. Real-time debugging of Web applications is a vast improvement over the debugging of client and server side scripts that was required for ASP. Developing ASP.NET in Visual Studio requires that Microsoft's Internet Information Server Software be running. Some other exciting technologies supported in .NET are XML Web Services and the .NET compact framework for developing applications for portable devices. ActiveX Data Objects .NET (ADO.NET) provides a rich and powerful object model to access, sort, and manipulate data. Despite all of this additional power and functionality, there are some omissions. The most notable omission for automation scientists is that the widely used serial port control (MSCOM) was not provided in the .NET framework. Interoperability with preexisting components is supported since .NET is backwards compatible with COM and Win32 API. However, interoperability within .NET can be more complex than standard COM programming . The net outcome of the preceding is less simplicity and accessibility for casual programmers and a longer learning curve. However, the integrated development environment provides many more integrated components and controls than what are available in VBasic 6.
The emergence of the Microsoft .NET platform has a significant potential impact on the use of VB. Based on the large population of experienced laboratory programmers implementing VB, it is likely that eventually a migration to VB.NET will occur. It has yet to be seen how this might impact automation applications, though adoption appears to be slow to occur. Interested readers can find a wealth of current .NET information on the Microsoft Web site (www.microsoft.com/net/).
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