Is VB Pro Step by Step another in-21-days clone?

Looking for a beginner's guide to Visual Basic? Lamont Adams has one you might want to check out--if you're truly a beginner.

When Microsoft Visual Basic 6.0 Professional Step by Step came across my desk, I was excited. After all, here was a VB how-to book priced at less than $50, including sample code. That’s a rare combination in today’s world.

After I spent some time with the book, however, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed with this “Teach yourself a computer skill in less than a month” clone. Aimed squarely at beginners, it does provide a good survey of Visual Basic’s features, but there is little in-depth information.

Microsoft Press’ Visual Basic 6.0 Professional Step by Step runs $39.99. It’s written by Michael Halvorson and contains 632 pages.

The book is laid out in 24 “lessons” of about 25 pages each. Each lesson includes a time-to-completion estimate and objective list. The tasks are not exactly practical—as one would expect with a beginner’s programming book. Instead, the text aims to make the user comfortable with the IDE (Integrated Development Environment), which admittedly can be a daunting task.

Each lesson has at least one code project, and the book guides the reader through the creation process of each one. The projects are adequate. They are not overly challenging and neither are they thought-provoking. Readers can expect to find themselves learning a lot about the IDE, forms, and controls, but not much about the core language.

Solution code for each lesson is included on CD-ROM, along with some rather simplistic “extras,” such as finished versions of the mini-programs covered in the book. In what I would consider a cardinal programming sin, the code on the CD-ROM is completely devoid of any comments. This is an unforgivable omission, as it makes examples potentially hard to follow and teaches a very bad habit to beginners.

Personally, I have problems with books that follow this “in 21 Days” format. They typically eschew quality in favor of quantity, wind up being somewhat incomplete, and more often than not, they become useless after you've worked through the examples. While later chapters in the book may have some value as a reference, VB Pro Step by Step suffers from such incompleteness. There is no mention of class modules; there is but one paragraph in the book concerning error handling, and barely five paragraphs exist for program structure and design—all of which seems inadequate.

For all the flaws, though, there is some good information here. The book includes entire sections on database access, Internet programming, and individual lessons on automation and the Windows API.

At a suggested retail price of $39.99 ($31.95 from Fatbrain), the price is right, too. VB Pro Step by Step is a good buy for true beginners, but it will probably have limited reference value after a short time. Those trying to transplant their skills, or programmers who are already comfortable with the forms and controls aspect of VB, should probably look elsewhere.

Lamont Adams is currently developing banking applications for Louisville-based FAST Software. He has over four years of Windows development experience with Visual Basic and Access.

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