Reviewer System: Performa
6116CD with Sonnet G3 240 MHz Upgrade Card, Dual Monitor, 72 MB RAM, OS 9.0.4, 9.1
GB SCSI HD.
REALBasic 3.1 has emerged as a visual development environment that hobbyists and
professional software engineers alike can use to build fully functional programs
on the Macintosh. Although version 3.0 was incompatible with the late March, 2001,
Mac OS X release, REALBasic 3.1 resolves a lot of OS compatibility issues and contains
many bug fixes. REALBasic 3.1 also supports the creation of Windows Applications,
serving as a cross-platform compiler solution.
This review, however, will focus on the Macintosh version of REALBasic 3.1, running
on OS 9.0.4.
The REALBasic software package provides a development environment based on the BASIC
programming language, with an object-oriented programming (OOP) structure of classes.
It includes extensive prepackaged toolbox objects that can be plugged into the REALBasic
workspace application framework. This type of visual environment allows for
rapid prototyping and less time creating and debugging the user interface code.
REALBasic's workspace, windowing system, and toolbox objects aid in designing a Mac
OS or Windows GUI enabled application. Without having to learn an event driven graphical
user interface API associated with a hot object-oriented language, the user gets
to spend more time on getting functionality integrated with the program's user interface. Time
spent on training is significantly reduced using this type of development environment.
Associated learning and guide materials in PDF files are available from the REAL
Software, INC. web site: http://www.realbasic.com, and in the REALBasic product
With the above materials, a used copy of Matt Neuburg's REALBasic: The Definitive
Guide, information from user forums and web sites, and past academic experience
with Microsoft's QBasic and Visual Basic 6.0, I began my evaluation of REALBasic
3.1. Given my previous experience with the Windows equivalent of the development
environment and understanding of object-oriented programming concepts, my evaluation
is from an expert perspective, not a beginner's perspective. A new user would be
better prepared to orient themselves with good GUI design practices, object oriented
methodology, and Mac toolbox knowledge (graphics, file I/O, etc.) before tackling
commercial software development with REALBasic's built-in functionality.
This review focuses more on the IDE and the compiler. Whether you are new to REALBasic
3.1, had experience with Microsoftăs Visual Basic, or no visual programming experience,
there is a wealth of materials available in this package, and you are only limited
by your desire to learn, imagine and create innovative REALBasic applications.
Many BASIC language users might remember that they had to start up an interpreter
and then load a basic program to run it. Later, companies such as Microsoft, introduced
modularity to the market in programs such as QBasic. Not until the commercial release
of Microsoft's Visual Basic 4 in the mid 1990's was there a visual project environment
with prepackaged drag and drop functionality. Object oriented features were limited
in this release, but future releases would further improve on OOP implementation.
The Mac OS, which is already known for its mastery of design and function, has benefited
greatly from the availability of REALBasic for the Mac. REALBasic 3.1 has improved
upon the non-stop simplification of GUI aided visual development. The exceptional
design of the compiler allows the user to build for 68K (Motorola 68020 or greater,
MacOS 8.1 and earlier), PowerPC (MacOS 9.1 and earlier), Mac OS X (PowerPC G3 or
greater), and Windows. While I was using the compiler to build and run my program
within REALBasic, I found the build process quick and easy on my old upgraded Apple
PowerPC Macintosh. For example, I created a small database program that read entries,
displayed data in different views, performed searches, and saved data to database
tables. The program I built was a card catalog that ended up being 1.1MB after the
build. That's a small footprint on my hard drive for a fully functioning database
application with a graphical interface!
The build application window has a lot of modifiable features that allow you to configure
settings prior to the build process. I found this method to be more efficient than
opening another window and changing the preferences like other commercial compilers
force you to do.
The project workspace has the feel and look of a Macintosh application, but it
resembles the Microsoft Visual Basic version for Microsoft Windows. This is not a
design flaw. Since REALBasic 3.1 is a cross-platform compiler, not just an Apple
Mac OS compiler, the user interface designers have a similar layout to Visual Basic
for those Microsoft Windows developers who want to convert to Macintosh. The project
workspace consists of the following windows: the tool window, the properties window,
the code editor, and the window editor.
On my dual display G3 upgrade system, I found it simple to arrange the tools window,
property window and code editor on one monitor, and the window editor on the other
monitor. Using the components in the tools window to create and manipulate their
position was effortless. Dragging and dropping control components from the tools
window saves a lot of time and reduces repetitive coding tasks. Many of these coding
tasks, such as buttons, text fields and many GUI structures, would be a pain to code
using C or C++ under a standard IDE. Controlling object geometries, appearance style,
font style and tab index speeds up the development process. For each object, you
know what options are available to modify and don't have to look at a language or
API specification to find information on a certain property.
While the GUI code framework is coded by placing objects in the window editor, the
code editor allows users to add functionality to toolbox components by adding code
to the handlers. The code editor is very useful since it has the handlers listed,
with expanded lists on one side of the browser and the code displayed on the other. The
same browser is used for debugging and tracking program errors.
Debugging with the code editor window is intuitive for the beginner and the professional
alike. Just as with any commercial compiler, there is a debugger that allows the
developer to set breakpoints and step through the program to find the error. With
the help of the stack and variables window, array and object viewers can go to specific
handlers in the code to see how the variables are being modified. The object viewer
is extremely helpful when stepping through a program and checking for memory leaks.
XML File Formatting Features
REALBasic Versions 3.0 and greater can export REALbasic projects in XML format,
edit them, and then read them back in. This is a new important feature that allows
developers to publish documents to the corporate intranet or internet for quality
assurance review or transfer to others. Tools developers can create metrics tools
and other XML processors to improve documentation and exploration of code during
a review. Inexpensive tools can be used to improve code integration without purchasing
high priced software from Rational or other software corporations. This expands
on REALBasic's commitment to true cross-platform compatibility.
In conclusion, this is an environment that both beginners and professionals can
use to explore GUI object oriented programming and create commercial applications.
Academic staff, students and other beginners can use this software package to start
developing GUI enabled software on the Macintosh in a relatively short period of
time. The windowing system is a pleasure to use and the tools are abundant for developing
commercial grade applications. The amount of functionality included in this third
major release of REALBasic is amazing compared to others in the same software market.
Every few months, more code is being developed with REALBasic, and forums on the
Internet are overflowing with information, code examples, libraries and documentation.
The REALBasic web site is easy to navigate and has detailed information on the language
spec, fixes, downloads, examples and other materials relevant to REALBasic development.
With major support from REAL Software, INC. and other REALBasic users, any ambitious
programmer can use REALBasic to create the next "killer" app for the Macintosh.
- XML file formatting
- Edit code in an external
- Cross-platform compiler
(MacOS and Win32)
- Good windowing layout
for project workspace and IDE
- Intuitive Debugger
- REALBasic language
simple but powerful
- Lots of support available
(web sites, user groups, etc.)
- Debugger window layout
could be improved
- Stability of debugger
could be improved
4 1/2 out of 5 Mice