At a Glance
Does your mental image of BASIC involve line numbers, procedural code, and single-character variable names? If so, you don't know how far the language has come. Real Software's RealBasic 3.2 offers all the convenience of a modern object-oriented language while retaining the simplicity of the venerable BASIC syntax, making it a lot easier to create applications with. And because the program takes a visual approach to building user interfaces, it's the simplest way for nonprogrammers to start coding.
Not Your Father's BASIC
Programming on the Mac used to involve writing line after line of C or C++ code, primarily just to create standard user-interface elements. Fortunately, RealBasic's Rapid Application Development (RAD) support allows you to make a prototype of your interface quickly. To begin constructing an application, you create a blank window and drag predefined user-interface elements into it from the Tools palette. Once you've laid out the interface, it's much easier to add the code to power that interface. Though there's still plenty of code to write at this point, RAD enables you to see--and, more important, test--how well each piece works within the larger picture.
Version 3.2 is both more powerful and easier to use than version 2 ( Reviews, October 1999), with a new Sprite engine, which gives you greater control over animation, and a handy autocompletion feature. The List box
and Edit fields offer greater functionality, such as improved scroll bars and scroll positioning, and their appearance is now more accurately reflected in the Window editor.
The Three OSs
RealBasic 3.0 was advertised as being compatible with Mac OS X, but it had problems with the final version of the OS. RealBasic 3.2 remedies them; both the development environment and the applications it produces are
Carbon compliant. Although it's too bad that RealBasic can't produce Carbon and Classic applications simultaneously (you have to run the compiler twice, picking a target environment each time), the Carbon applications run just fine under OS 9.
RealBasic is available in both a $100 standard edition and a $300 professional edition (add $50 if you want a software CD and printed documentation); the latter lets you compile Windows applications and includes a single-user relational database engine that can also connect to any ODBC-compliant database.
At first glance, the documentation--a tutorial, a developer's guide, and a 1,200-page language reference--looks impressive. However, neither the table of contents in the developer's guide nor the index in the language guide matches the actual contents. Worse, the tutorial assumes you already know something about programming, using terms such as properties and classes without defining them. Fortunately, novice coders who need help can turn to the active online community of RealBasic users--just follow the links from Real's Web site.
Macworld's Buying Advice
If you're looking for the easiest way to start programming your Mac, RealBasic 3.2 is the answer. Its closest competition--Metrowerks' $50 CodeWarrior Learning Edition 2, which includes C, C++, and Java-- has a harsher learning curve, due to the professional development environment it shares with its predecessor, CodeWarrior Professional. RealBasic isn't without flaws, but its ease of use and drag-and-drop approach can quickly turn novice coders into programmers, and programmers into coding machines.
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