In the late 1980's Microsoft's DOS was getting unpopular and Windows 3.1 which had been introduced in 1985 was not able to get any breakthrough either. At that time Alan Cooper who had worked for CBASIC came out with a neat tool for "power users" - the dedicated users who loved to putter with their PCs but were not computer professionals. Cooper had been inventing software and selling to publishers and in 1986 he switched to Windows platform. At that time Windows GUI was not matured enough and relied on MSDOS shell which was terrible.
Birth of Tripod
In 1987 Cooper was interviewing a corporate client when the idea for a new shell for Windows came to his mind. "As this IS manager explained to me his need to create and publish a wide range of shell solutions to his disparate user base, I realized the conundrum that there is no such thing as an ideal shell. Every user would need their own personal shell, configured to their own needs and skill levels", Cooper recalled.
In spare time Cooper immediately began coding a better shell for Windows and named it "Tripod". Tripod was driven mainly by drag and drop design. User started with an empty rectangular "slate" on the screen. User could then stitch two controls or "gizmos" together by right-clicking and dragging from one gizmo to another. A visual arrow connected them logically, going from an event at the first gizmo to a method of the second gizmo. It enabled the user to fine-tune, customise and launch applications.
From Tripod to Ruby
Cooper first tried to sell "Tripod" to other companies and none of them was quite impressed. Cooper then decided to take his invention to Microsoft. In February 1988, cooper went to the Corporate campus outside Seattle and showed his prototype to Gabe Newell, one of Bill Gate's young lieutenants who later founded and became the Managing Director of Valve Software ( creator of games like Half-life) . Five minutes into the hour-long demonstration, Newell rasied his arm and said "Bill has to see this". The meeting was scheduled for the following month and Gates declared it cool. Microsoft wanted to buy his invention and since "Tripod" had had significant amount of exposure, so its name was changed to "Ruby".
The Second Life
Cooper was under a tight non-disclosure agreement with Microsoft, and could tell no one about what he was working on. Since Microsoft owned exclusive rights to Ruby, they could do with it as they pleased. The original intention was to ship it with Windows 3.0 as a new, more powerful and sophisticated shell. Instead, Microsoft decided to ship Windows 3.0 with a shell that looked almost exactly like the shell that came with OS/2, a product Microsoft owned at the time. The decision was made to delay shipping Ruby because Windows was well behind Apple's Macintosh in terms of ease of use and a geeky tool like Ruby would not help the cause. Somehow, Microsoft had to find a way to make people code for Windows. So, Gates decided to merge Ruby with Microsoft's QuickBasic.
This decision frustrated Cooper first but when he was amazed on seeing the final product. "The team at Microsoft did some great work, but I was pretty surprised. Its's like sending your kid to college and he comes back summa cum laude, but he has sex change operation. It took some time getting used to", Cooper said.
The Power of Visual Basic
Visual Basic was first introduced in May 1991 and played an important role in making Windows the industry-dominant operating system. Earlier As much as 80% of a programmer's time was spent writing code to create the user interface to his applications (the visual interface). Microsoft's Visual Basic provided the programmer the built-in capability to create the user interface using nothing more than a mouse!
This built-in interface creation capability has had the further benefit of standardizing on the user interface to Windows applications. Today, users can move from one Windows program to another and see the same basic interface tools to work with - allowing them to concentrate solely on the unique capabilities of the application.
In visual Basic some programmers joke that the only thing left original of the original BASIC is the five letters. In a nod towrads all the changes Microsoft droppped the upper casing of the language in the name Visual Basic.
Cooper made about $1 Million in total from selling ruby to Microsoft. But above that he has earned the title "Father of Visual Basic". In May of 1994, at the Windows World conference in Atlanta GA, Bill Gates awarded Cooper one of only seven Windows Pioneer Awards for his part in making Windows a success through the creation of Visual Basic.