| ADO.NET Programming in Visual Basic .NET |
By Steve Holzner, Bob Howell
|Table of Contents|
Tools, tools, tools. It's funny , but if I were asked to name the one thing that has changed the most since the 1980s, as far as programming is concerned , I would have to say it is the tools available to the programmer. As far as the programming itself goes, we really aren't doing much more real work than we were 15 years ago. We're basically making screens, updating data, creating reports , and doing background (now called server-side) processing. Yes, it's a lot cheaper and a lot faster and a lot more complicated. In 1985, $40,000 got me a COBOL compiler for the Data General Minicomputer I programmed, and it was just that, a compiler. No editor (one came with the operating system), no IDE, no tools, just a command-line compiler and a bunch of thick books. No database tools either. If you wanted a database you had to shell out another $20,000 to $40,000, depending on the number of users. Moreover, all you got was indexed sequential access method (ISAM) which came with a database manager and some backup and integrity-checking utilities. There was also a very primitive query tool.
The first IDEs came with some of the MS-DOS PC-based software, such as dBase by Ashton-Tate and Boland's Paradox. I remember seeing my first real IDE in 1987 when I picked up a copy of Borland's Turbo-Pascal (which came on a single 5-inch diskette shrink-wrapped with the book). It had a color -coded editor (which I didn't even know about with my monochrome monitor), on-the-fly syntax checking, and built-in compiler. I was impressed. By the way, this is the tool that would evolve into Delphi a few years later. Even though I was impressed by the IDE, I could never quite swallow Pascal, with its weird block syntax.
It wasn't until VB 1.0 for Windows appeared that I felt that the IDE had finally found its stride. Since then it seems to be more about tools than programming. Originally intended to boost programmer productivity, the tools have become an entity unto themselves , causing programmers to spend more time learning the tools than the actual language. This has created a knowledge gap, where many of today's programmers are just tool users. I have read articles recently advocating dumping the IDE and returning to the simpler days of text editors and command lines.  I would not go that far, but I agree that the IDE can mask enough of the intricacies of programming that it can create a tendency toward laziness . However I also believe that the benefits of the IDE far outweigh the liabilities. Imagine trying to manage one of today's multimodule, multiproject solutions without an IDE with integrated source control. What a nightmare!
Some of my projects have literally hundreds of source files. The real-time syntax checking saves a lot of compile-edit-compile iterations. The dynamic online help is a lifesaver. Interactive debuggers have saved me thousands of hours scouring for bugs . This is not to mention the myriad other aids like spy++, the OLE tools, and so forth. Tools should enhance, not mask, a programmer's abilities . This is what the integrated database tools do in Visual Studio .NET. Without ever leaving the IDE, a programmer can create databases, tables, stored procedures, database diagrams, and views. In this chapter, we will look at the IDE and the tools provided to help with database programming.