Write your own programs with this powerful free programming tool
As much as we like the Small Basic software for introducing programming, if you want to write useful Windows apps, something more is needed. The logical next step is Microsoft Visual Basic 2010 Express. It offers a big step up in what you can achieve but still offers plenty of help.
Visual Basic 2010 Express can be used to create programs that work with the .NET Framework. This is installed with recent versions of Windows but may need a separate download for users on Windows XP. Completely native Windows programs can be created with with VisualC++ 2010 Express, which is also free.
The installer is 3.11MB but this tool only manages the download of the full software, which is much bigger at 239MB. Optional software offered during installation includes Silverlight (4.7MB) and Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Express (82MB).
Initially Visual Basic 2010 Express works as a 30-day trial. If you want to use it for longer, you will need a license key from Microsoft. There is no cost to this but you will need to complete an online registration form first. A key will then be emailed to you. Simply copy and paste it into the registration window and the software will be unlocked.
Unlike some programming software we have used, Visual Basic 2010 Express doesn't drop you in the deep end with no help. The Start Page has links to getting help with learning to use Visual Basic and other programming languages on the Microsoft website.
There is a link to a tutorial on making your first program, in this case a picture viewer. This opens a page on the Microsoft Developer Network (msdn) of the 12 steps of this tutorial. Other tutorials cover working with the mouse and creating quizes.
Rather than the simple program files of Small Basic, Visual Basic uses Projects that can store many different files. This makes it easier to reuse code from other projects as well as including pictures and sounds in your programs.
If you choose to create a Windows Form (as opposed to a console application that works in a terminal) you will see a basic form with a button for the Toolbox on the left. We suggest clicking on the small pin icon at the top right as soon as the Toolbox is visible to 'pin' it into place. This can then be used to add items to your form.
Double-clicking on an item reveals the code that starts running when the item is used. As with Small Basic, Visual Basic 2010 Express includes code completion that shows both available commands and variables that you have already set up.
As well as autocomplete it will also show a wavy blue line when it detects an error, just like the red wavy line in Word for spelling mistakes. As well as explaining what the error is, Visual Basic 2010 Express will also have a go at fixing the error.
Visual Basic 2010 Express is a big step up from Small Basic but it will give you all the tools required to make some fairly advanced programs and comes with plenty of help both built in and through the Microsoft website.
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A very good programming tool for intermediate and advanced users
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