RealBasic 2.0

Programming is never going to be easy, since it forces otherwise sane people to think like computers. Folks with the imagination to do just that will appreciate Real Software's RealBasic 2.0.2, a development environment for experienced programmers and novices alike. In spite of its tendency to create large applications, it makes creating user interfaces–a heretofore odious task–uncommonly easy.

The BASIC language has evolved greatly since its invention, in the 1960s. Like other modern dialects, RealBasic is object-oriented. This approach lends itself particularly well to building user interfaces (UIs), whose windows and menus are typically labor-intensive to code with a traditional language such as C. Combining the organizational approach of object-oriented programming with built-in support for the Mac's standard UI elements, RealBasic makes creating an interface as simple as dragging and dropping elements from a tool bar into a window.

Once you've built your application's UI, you attach the BASIC code to each element within a Mac-like editing environment. Programmers who are used to keeping source code in lengthy text files may find this process disconcerting at first, but RealBasic's approach makes sense for nonprofessional programmers and takes only a little getting used to for pros. RealBasic also offers a wealth of Mac-specific features, including support for accessing serial ports or sending and receiving data via TCP/IP.

If you need database access or want to create software that runs under Windows, another $200 gets you the professional version of RealBasic. RealBasic Professional's database-connectivity tools let you develop front ends to large databases and also lets you create a Windows version of your application with almost no additional effort.

But despite the program's ease of use, neither version of RealBasic is perfect. For example, there's no interactive way to examine the methods associated with classes, including built-in ones, unless they're described in the admittedly abundant online documentation. A bigger problem is the size of the final applications RealBasic creates: a simple application for 680X0 machines is around 250K, and the PowerPC-native version of the same application weighs in at a hefty 800K uncompressed.

Experienced programmers who would rather spend their time working on under-the-hood functionality than the UI or database-access glue will find RealBasic 2.0.2 well worth its price. Beginners and occasional programmers will find RealBasic accessible and useful for nearly the same reasons as the pros–the program takes on the error-prone task of getting the UI coding just right, leaving them to concentrate on their software's important internals.

RATING:

4.0 mice
PROS: Useful for pros and novices alike; simplifies UI creation; Pro version creates Windows applications. CONS: Creates large files. COMPANY: Real Software (512/263-1233, http://www.realsoftware.com ). LIST PRICE: Standard Edition, $100; Professional Edition, $300.

October 1999 page: 54

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