Origin story of Visual Basic (aka Tripod, aka Ruby, aka Thunder)

Tripod was a third party interface builder toolkit, sold (in prototype form) to Microsoft to be included in Windows 3, daringly rewritten instead of polished, but not then shipped after all even though it arrived on time whereas Windows was delayed. Passed off to a junior team, but eventually succeeded wildly (as one part of the VB product, and almost completely rewritten in the process)

Alas, the final product horrified Cooper—who loathed BASIC—when he heard about it. When Visual Basic 1.0 was released in 1991—just a year after Windows 3.0—Cooper flew up to Redmond and sat in the front row at the event, frustrated with what Microsoft had done to his baby.

Luckily for Microsoft, the market didn’t share Cooper’s opinion. Visual Basic was an immediate hit.


Officially, Ruby wasn’t included as the default Windows 3.0 shell because it wasn’t keystroke-for keystroke, pixel-for-pixel, identical to the OS/2 shell. The more likely reason, though, was that Ruby was political collateral damage inside of Microsoft. Few remember that Microsoft was at this time simultaneously developing Windows and jointly developing the OS/2 operating system with IBM. Tensions between the teams—OS/2 was originally considered the more strategic product and Windows the underdog—boiled over with Ruby as a proxy fight. Cooper suspects that the root issue was professional jealousy; some of the engineers on the Windows team had been present at the 1988 demo when Gates had been ever so effusive about Tripod. “He was making all those guys hate me,” Cooper suggests, “because I showed them up, really badly.”

Whatever the cause, Ruby was now orphaned inside of Microsoft less than a year after it was delivered. Frustrated, Cooper flew to Redmond, met with Bill Gates, and offered to buy the software back. “I said, ‘I’ll release it myself, as a shell construction set for Windows’.”

Gates refused.

Edit: HN discussion here

Thanks to @Maurici_Carbo for the link!


It sounds like when the product was called Ruby that it had its own language and a way of connecting event/data flows akin to InterfaceBuilder on NeXT at the time. I doubt any of the documents on that survive but it’d be interesting to see what that looked like if it did.

It took a lot to program Windows before VB came along. I had to read the Windows 3 Petzold book, change all my variable names to Hungarian prefix, learn to manage memory with handles, learn about x86 segment registers, learn about threads and message passing. You could make a lot of money writing Windows code until VB came along and changed all that.

1 Like

Also you needed to spend money. Somebody had to pay for all that documentaion.
Windows I think killed all the ‘out of the garage’ software developers.

You did have to buy the Microsoft C compiler, and it was not pocket change.

You mean I can’t use ‘DEBUG’ to write code for Windows.:slight_smile:
Back then I never had the money for windows, untill Win 95.
I allways seem the get the low end computer, that never seems to be supported.
What did the development require, for Windows 3. as hardware.
Games I know always require better hardware.

My roommate and I quit our jobs, pooled resources and started a Windows software development company. I bought a Gateway 2000 25 MHz 386, an ESDI hard disk, a 5.25’ floppy, a 3.5" floppy, and a QIC tape drive. With a VGA video card and a 15" NEC monitor it cost $5000. I wrote the first animation program for Windows, Animaxx. Later we released PhotoMorph, Conversion Artist, and Power Browser as retail products. This was not an amateur venture but it was not deeply funded, either.

1 Like