VB gets a little respect. Very little. Tiny, even.
Joel Spolsky wrote an excellent piece about software prototypes entitled "The Iceberg Secret, Revealed" back in February, and I just ran across it. As I mentioned last month, I did some contracting for Joel circa 1992.
[krp: I originally identified Joel as a Mac-head, then as a Java-head (see comments)] Imagine my surprise when - in his piece on prototypes - he actually referred to VB! Specifically, he said "...mockups, created in Photoshop, not even VB." So, hey, VB's a better mockup tool than...Photoshop? Well, I guess we have to take our victories where we can.
Anyway, I did dozens of VB prototypes for Microsoft in the 90s. I did a bunch for the "Cairo" UI, the original demos for handheld devices back when Microsoft was trying to interest Japanese manufacturers (I think some of the lessons learned have been forgotten in the interim), all of the prototypes for the Microsoft At Work (or "MAW", over my loud objections) devices, and even a cool little consumer app for subscribing to and reading comics online (which required lots of, um, research ). Probably my favorite was a visual programming tool for gradeschoolers that Bill himself was supposed to be excited about. Ironically, while he actually presented a bunch of my demos, sometimes in public keynotes, it was always someone else who showed him how it worked. I also tested a lot of these things in the usability labs, which was always a humbling experience. You've got the most obvious feature, and the "user" can't find it to save their lives. Even with someone sitting there saying "this feature is on the screen you are looking at" they say "no, it isn't".
Often I worked with designers, translating their ideas into something that could be demo'ed and tested. Of course, they used Macromedia Director, not Photoshop. And sometimes things got lost between the prototype and the final product. Tabbed dialogs are a great example: The designer (and I) build in smooth animation showing the selected tab coming forward. The developer says, screw that, I'll just blit the thing and save a bunch of cpu cycles. And the designers overcomensate, so we get crap like the flying folder animations. At least Microsoft at that time had a central design vision and a chief UI designer, Virginia Howlett. She even wrote a book about UI design for Windows (I was the tech editor).
Of course, I also wrote important, production code using VB. Let's see, there was the MindMaze game in the first version of Encarta. And the "Tour" that shipped with Windows 95 (and the reason it came with the VB3 runtime). OK, maybe that stuff wasn't really so important after all. But at least it wasn't Microsoft "Profit", that best forgotten accounting package that was developed by Great Plains. May it rest in peace.
So...much of what Joel said in his prototyping piece rang true for me. In particular, his admonition to do what you think is best rather than to always give the customer what they said they wanted. Frank Lloyd Wright did exactly that, and look where he ended up. Which reminds me of the time I put zooming and panning into the MAW fax prototype, even though the PM told me to delete it. Then Brad Silverberg accidentally demonstrated it to a meeting of the entire Windows 95 team and everybody went "wow"! Sometimes you win, and other times...well, as Keynes said, "in the long run we're all dead anyway".