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Jumping in with Both Feet: A Visual Basic 2008 Programming Tour

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James Foxall gives you a feel for the overall programming process and shows you how to build a simple yet functional Visual Basic Application.
This chapter is from the book

What You'll Learn in This Hour:

  • Building a simple (yet functional) Visual Basic application
  • Letting a user browse a hard drive
  • Displaying a picture from a file on disk
  • Getting familiar with some programming lingo
  • Learning about the Visual Studio 2008 IDE

Learning a new programming language can be intimidating. If you've never programmed before, the act of typing seemingly cryptic text to produce sleek and powerful applications probably seems like a black art, and you might wonder how you'll ever learn everything you need to know. The answer, of course, is one step at a time. I believe the first step to mastering a programming language is building confidence. Programming is part art and part science. Although it might seem like magic, it's more akin to illusion. After you know how things work, a lot of the mysticism goes away, and you are free to focus on the mechanics necessary to produce the desired result.

Producing large, commercial solutions is accomplished by way of a series of small steps. After you've finished this hour, you'll have a feel for the overall development process and will have taken the first step toward becoming an accomplished programmer. In fact, you will build on the examples in this hour in subsequent chapters. By the time you complete this book, you will have built a robust application, complete with resizable screens, an intuitive interface including menus and toolbars, and robust code with professional error handling. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

In this hour, you'll complete a quick tour of Visual Basic that takes you step by step through creating a complete, albeit small, Visual Basic program. Most introductory programming books start by having the reader create a simple Hello World program. I've yet to see a Hello World program that's the least bit helpful. (They usually do nothing more than print hello world to the screen—what fun!) So, instead, you'll create a Picture Viewer application that lets you view Windows bitmaps and icons on your computer. You'll learn how to let a user browse for a file and how to display a selected picture file on the screen. The techniques you learn in this chapter will come in handy in many real-world applications that you'll create, but the goal of this chapter is for you to realize just how much fun it is to program using Visual Basic 2008.

Starting Visual Basic 2008

Before you begin creating programs in Visual Basic 2008, you should be familiar with the following terms:

  • Distributable component: The final, compiled version of a project. Components can be distributed to other people and other computers, and they don't require the Visual Basic 2008 development environment (the tools you use to create a .NET program) to run (although they do require the .NET runtime, which I'll discuss in Hour 23, "Deploying Applications"). Distributable components are often called programs. In Hour 23, you'll learn how to distribute the Picture Viewer program that you're about to build to other computers.
  • Project: A collection of files that can be compiled to create a distributable component (program). There are many types of projects, and complex applications might consist of multiple projects, such as Windows application projects, and support dynamic link library (DLL) projects.
  • Solution: A collection of projects and files that make up an application or component.

Visual Studio 2008 is a complete development environment, and it's called the IDE (short for integrated development environment). The IDE is the design framework in which you build applications; every tool you'll need to create your Visual Basic projects is accessed from within the Visual Basic IDE. Again, Visual Studio 2008 supports development using many different languages, Visual Basic being the most popular. The environment itself is not Visual Basic, but the language you'll be using within Visual Studio 2008 is Visual Basic. To work with Visual Basic projects, you first start the Visual Studio 2008 IDE.

Start Visual Studio 2008 now by choosing Microsoft Visual Basic 2008 Express Edition from the Start/Programs menu. If you are running the full retail version of Visual Studio, your shortcut may have a different name. In this case, locate the shortcut on the Start menu and click it once to start the Visual Studio 2008 IDE.

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