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Book Review: Visual Basic 2005 in a Nutshell by Tim Patrick, et al.

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It’s certainly rare for a software developer to be writing code and not be connected to the internet, or have a copy of the MSDN Library readily available on DVD. It really begs the question, what is the point behind a quick reference made out of paper, when I can just Google what I’m looking for, or search on MSDN?

The answer is the problem of search result overload. Oftentimes you’re bombarded with every article ever written on a particular language feature or method name, and have to scroll quite a ways to find the one that actually explains how to use that particular feature. And, of course, some of us also still enjoy the tactile sensation of paging through a good old-fashioned book to find what we’re looking for.

Visual Basic 2005 in a Nutshell tries to fill that gap with a concisely written and well-organized desktop reference covering the language as it stands today. The first several sections are devoted to the Visual Basic language, its structure, data types and operators. Although there is a section on “Object Oriented Programming,” it is not detailed enough to teach someone object-oriented programming if they don’t already understand it. Instead, it contains an overview of the different features of object-oriented programming and how they’re supported in Visual Basic specifically. New Visual Basic programmers may find this very useful as they begin to adopt good programming techniques.

The bulk of this reference concentrates on the Visual Basic language, and some of the more common classes and methods that are contained in the .NET Framework Library, in alphabetical order. Of course, trying to document all of the classes and methods in the .NET Framework Library would take several volumes of books, so only the most common items are listed here, without any mentions to Windows Forms or ASP.NET specific libraries.

Finally, the last sections are devoted to changes in the language through several versions. There are sections devoted to “What’s New in 2002″ which goes over the differences between Visual Basic .NET and Visual Basic 6, as well as “What’s New in 2003″ and “What’s New in 2005.” Of course, the changes between Visual Basic 6 and Visual Basic .NET 2002 are so large, and effect the underlying architecture so much, that trying to condense them into a dozen pages hardly seems worthwhile. Instead, they concentrated on the superficial language changes, which really has minimal value for someone who only knows Visual Basic 6, since so many other changes are left out.

Probably the most useful section regarding the language changes is the “My Reference”, which goes over everything included with the “My” keyword — a new feature to Visual Basic 2005. The “My” keyword is meant to be a one-stop shopping ground for Visual Basic programmers to get at things like local disk drives, assembly resources, system sounds, and a host of other things that are normally not intuitively found in the .NET Framework library. However, because so many things have been brought into the “My” umbrella, it can be hard to navigate, making this reference especially useful.

Overall, Visual Basic 2005 in a Nutshell continues the fine lineage of O’Reilly’s Nutshell books, and should be considered a useful addition to a developer’s reference shelf.

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