In the last article we walked through the process of downloading and installing Visual Basic 2010 Express edition. What you get when you're done is essentially the same integrated development environment (IDE) you get with the full Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 product. What's missing are some of the features specifically targeted at team development. On the plus side, Microsoft does not restrict what you do with any of the Express editions, meaning you can develop a commercial application and distribute it just as you would with any of their "professional" tools.
When you launch VB 2010 Express, you'll be presented with a Start Page similar to what's shown in Figure 1. All versions of Microsoft Visual Studio use a tabbed interface in much the same way as a modern Web browser. The Start Page is like your default home page and will open in the first tab by default unless you change it. It's also a good summary page with links to recently used projects, learning material and the latest developer news from Microsoft. You can create a new project right from the Start Page as well. Clicking on New Project will launch a wizard like the one in Figure 2.
Your options from the New Project wizard include creating a Windows Forms, WPF, or Console Application, a Class Library, or a WPF Browser Application. We'll take the default first choice which is to create a Windows Forms Application and stick with the default name. At this point there isn't a whole lot you can do because the form designer toolbox is not displayed. To add this to your workspace you need to click on the little icon that looks like a crossed hammer and wrench or use the keyboard shortcut of Ctrl-Alt-X. This will add the Toolbox menu to the left-hand side of your window. You can "pin" the toolbox window open by clicking on the push-pin icon in the top right-hand corner of the Toolbox window. This makes it much easier to drag elements onto the design surface.
For this first application we're going to drag a button from the Toolbox and drop it onto
Form1 as shown in Figure 3. Once the button is on the form you can click on any of the handles (small squares on the corners and mid points of the button) to resize it to your satisfaction. This is a good point to talk about the other windows you should see on the screen at this point. By default, Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 will open the Solution Explorer and Properties windows on the right-hand side of the screen. The Solution Explorer window shows you all the files in your application while the Properties window gives you information about the currently selected design element. You can change the properties by clicking on a specific item such as Text and begin typing in the box to the right of the label. Every user interface element has an associated property dialog with a long list of things you can change. You could also change an element's properties programmatically, but we'll save that for a later time.
Next article we'll walk through the rest of the features of Microsoft Visual Studio that you'll need to complete the sample programs yet to come.