In show #92 of Hanselminutes, Paul Vick mentioned something that really surprised me and others. It wasn’t the fact that Visual Basic .NET Express Edition is the most downloaded Express Edition, but that the C# Express Edition was a distant third behind C++.

I trust Paul’s data, but what could explain this? Does this simply mean that the majority of .net programmers have professional Visual Studio licenses or does this data reflect the real usage as a whole?

When I was in college and .net just came out, I immediately jumped into using C# 1.0 because I was immersed in Java and C++ programming at the time. After graduation and starting working in the “real world,” I drifted more towards VB.NET (when writing managed code anyway) because I was doing quite a bit of COM interop with Office and I despised the fact of having to explicitly declare “missing” parameters to the methods of the Office object model. Furthermore, I thought that the VB syntax was easier to maintain. I even defended the decision saying that great projects like DotNetNuke proved VB was a viable language.

After a few years though, I drifted back to C#. More than anything, I came to admire its terse syntax quality. While VB has no problem with things like End If, C# simply says } In the latest generation, it’s more of the difference between the lambda syntax of Function(x) x + x versus x => x+x.

Maybe there’s something to be said about the last statement? Maybe C# attracts those that just prefer terse notation? I’m sort of reminded of 16th century mathematics when solving a cubic equation (e.g ax^3 + bx = c) was all the rage. What’s most impressive is that this was done using rhetorical methods instead of modern algebraic notation that would kicked off by Viète a few decades later.

I don’t mean to imply that VB is inferior. I owe a lot to BASIC, it was GW-BASIC that got me started in my love of programming. It’s just that VB (and BASIC in general) has a rhetorical quality of being easier to pick up since it looks closer to natural language rather than the symbolic mathematical world. This is probably why lots of people are using it to get started programming. I think that’s fantastic since it brings more people to the .NET platform. Sure, they might be “spreadsheet gurus” who started in VBA, but at least they’re learning.

Maybe we can learn from the three thousand years of the evolution of mathematics. It wouldn’t surprise me that in 15 years, a language like F# ranks third place or higher. Maybe the popular language will be closer to Sun’s Fortress?

What do you think? Were you surprised that C# ranked third? Will terseness win out? Feel free to comment.

UPDATE: When I wrote this post, I forgot about Paul’s post on “The silent majority.” It and its comments are a better discussion of the topic than I gave it.