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Windows developers can now port Visual Basic applications to Linux without modifying their code, using an open source project backed by Novell.

The Mono project has built a compiler that lets developers code using Visual Basic inside Visual Studio or other preferred tools environments and run the Visual Basic code on non-Windows platforms without the time and cost of modification.

The Mono Visual Basic compiler, written in Visual Basic 8.0, is available as a preview in the latest Mono release, version 1.2.3. The compiler is built for version 2.0 of Microsoft's .NET framework released by Microsoft in October 2005 in anticipation of Windows Vista, while the runtime supports version 2.0 and 1.0.

Visual Basic is one of the World's - and certainly one of Microsoft's - most widely used programming languages. Sixty two per cent of developers use Visual Basic, while 37 per cent of big businesses specifically use Visual Basic.NET - launched for Microsoft's .NET architecture. Visual Basic has a solid following that, over the years, has forced Microsoft to re-think aspects of the .NET roadmap.

Mono began life in 2001 as a project to replicate some of the architectural improvements introduced with the then new .NET Framework for Unix. Early milestones saw a version of Microsoft's Common Language Infrastructure (CLI) and C# language. Later this year, Mono plans a full Visual Basic compiler and improved ASP.NET 2.0 support.

Much hangs on the maturity of the Mono compiler, but the long-term concern for Microsoft will be if Visual Basic developers follow the example of many of their C/C++ colleagues and experiment with Linux platforms. That would mean Microsoft can no longer count on their default support for Windows or Microsoft's applications and tools.

Should this happen, Microsoft will have to decide how to work with Linux and open source vendors to ensure it remains relevant to Visual Basic developers. In recent years Microsoft signed a number of technology agreements with open source middleware and application vendors to keep developers on-side by ensuring Windows worked properly with open source. ®

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