Preparation for .NET
Since this site has just started .NET articles, I feel like there is a necessity to bring introductionary information about .NET technology. Basically, .NET is a technology that comes from Microsoft (R) that offers a programming platform. By platform I mean compilers, linkers, and executing environment. .NET executing environment, Common Language Runtime (CLR), executes special type of machine code if you wish, known as MSIL. .NET compilers do the job of translating a code written in some programming language to the code that CLR will understand. There are over 20 languages that can work with .NET, Microsoft (R) is responsible for Visual C++, C#, VB.NET, and J#. By responsible, I mean they are the leaders in producing compilers and tools for those languages.
Why do we need .NET framework? Why couldn't there be another version of VB or C++? Well, .NET offers a unity to programmers. No matter what language you pick you are equal (some languages have advantages over others). Also, .NET framework (classes that come with .NET) comes with built functionality ready to be used in your projects. The functionality I'm talking about is, for example, Hashtables, Dictionaries, Encryption classes, Mail classes, Data access classes. All these and more are ready for you to be used in some project you are working. All these classes act alike no matter what language you use, as long as that language at the end is able to produces CLR compatible code. I have been programming with VB and C++ for years, and believe me, moving to .NET is a joy. Especially as VB programmer. I love my VB 6 and I fire up that thing once in a while all the time, but all the new projects that I work on, I roll them out using .NET.
What do you need to get started? If you have Visual Studio.NET CDs, then to get started you just need to intall them and start programming. If you don't have VS.NET and will not buy or, forgive me for saying this, get pirated download :), then you can get stuff for free that will enable you to program with .NET. First of all go to http://www.microsoft.com/net/ to download .NET Framework. The latest version is 1.1 and that's the one you should get. Remember to get Redistributable first, and then Framework SDK. Quite a lot of downloads. Once you install these, you are ready to program. I started .NET learning with Notepad and command prompt, it was a pain and don't want to do it again. There is a free C# and VB.NET Integrated Development Environment called #Develop. I love that thing and use it all the time. You can get it from http://www.icsharpcode.net/. It's open source project too, and is quite nice. Not as good as VS.NET, but the next best thing, in my opinion.
Get the tools and go learn .NET! One more advice, you might want to program with C# instead of VB.NET. I think VB.NET is, no matter of what MS says, a little bit inferior language when compared to C#. Maybe I feel this way because I do a lot of C++ besides VB, but it sure seems that way. It's your choice at the end, and what you choose will be the best for you, but the code samples in here will be mostly in C# and will come in VB.NET only after some requests.