Development software

REALbasic 5.5 adds Linux, enhances Mac support

REAL Software Inc. on Wednesday released REALbasic 5.5, the latest version of their cross-platform development environment. The addition of Linux to the list of supported platforms is a major addition in this release but is by no means the only change, according to company president and CEO Geoff Perlman, who recently spoke with MacCentral about the new version.

REALbasic 5.5's release comes almost a year to the day following REALbasic 5.0, the last major revision to the development environment. "We spent more development time and man-hours on REALbasic 5.5 than any previous release. We've added more than 100 new features and made tons of improvements to existing features," said Perlman.

With the addition of a Linux compiler, REALbasic developers working on Mac or Windows platforms can build applications that run on Red Hat Enterprise and SuSE Linux distributions, as well as other Linux distributions that have the GTK+ 2.0 and CUPS libraries. The release marks the fulfillment of a promise that REAL Software made last summer, when it first announced that it would support Linux in REALbasic 5.5.

What's more, REALbasic extends its support for applications developed to use Web services by adding support for Extensible Markup Language (XML) and Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP).

REALbasic is a popular solution for IT departments and small developers to create software that works hand-in-hand with Microsoft's Office application suite, and compatibility with Office has been improved in this release.

Up until now, REALbasic applications interacting with Office have depended on the use of plug-ins that have created a lot of operational overhead, according to Perlman. Now, the syntax used to create REALbasic applications is nearly identical -- about 98 percent -- to Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), without any plug-ins required.

Mac support improved

The list of Mac-specific changes to REALbasic 5.5 is quite long, as well. Perlman noted that the new version now allows users to build applications using Mach-O, the native format for Mac OS X. "The benefit to our customers is that as Apple does optimizations to make software run faster, they'll be doing that for Mach-O," said Perlman.

Mach-O support has another benefit as well -- REALbasic developers can now create "faceless" applications that run from a console, as well as "daemons." This is important for developers who want to create REALbasic-based server applications without having a user logged in, which can be a potential security risk.

Also new in REALbasic 5.5 is support for Mac OS X's Address Book database. This enables REALbasic developers to create software that leverages system-based contact management information.

Efforts have also been made to reduce the size of applications created with REALbasic, thanks to some fancy footwork involving compression. "What we've done is for the short term is compressed our framework," explained Perlman.

The framework is now stored compressed inside the REALbasic-made application and uncompressed on the fly when the application launches. What's more, existing developers can recompile their applications without needing to do any redevelopment to shrink them using this method as well.

Perlman also outlined REAL Software's roadmap for future development: He said that REALbasic will eventually "slice and dice" by leaving out the parts of the framework that the application does not use, Perlman said.

Development and usage improvements galore

Other new features in REALbasic 5.5 include support for the "Combo Box," or editable list box control; the ability to create round buttons; full keyboard access and support for Apple's speech recognition technology; speedier scrolling and redrawing; line continuation and a better online help engine.

Compiling speeds have also been greatly improved for large applications. Perlman said that REALbasic 5.5 is up to 10 times faster than its predecessor. Additionally, true control copying has been added in this release -- when a developer duplicates a control, the underlying logic is copied along with the control. Auto-complete capability has been improved, too -- it now works with arrays and does a better job of guessing what developers are typing.

An improved debugger makes it easier to see when and where problems happen, including the ability to watch as graphics render as the code executes.

Also new in REALbasic 5.5 is support for remote debugging. With the installation of a small software program, REALbasic developers can debug their applications on Windows and Linux PCs, or other Macs, without having to cart their code to the other machine. The software uses auto-discovery to locate other machines capable of remote debugging, transfers the file and runs it. This functionality can also be used by custom application developers who want to remotely debug their software over the Internet.

Database support improved

REALbasic 5.5 also overhauls its database support. REALdb, the single-user database included with REALbasic, has been rewritten from the ground up. And while previous releases have restricted REALdb to only the more expensive Professional version of REALbasic, Perlman said that REALbasic 5.5 now adds REALdb to the Standard release as well.

You can now drop tables, columns, change column types at will, and indexing is supported with the new engine. "We've also added field filters and formatting for better front end support," said Perlman.

Support for SQL has also been improved with this release. And while previous releases of REALbasic supported Oracle databases, this new version now supports Oracle 8i and Oracle 9i connectivity in Mac OS X, thanks to the recent release of code from Oracle to allow that to happen.

Language improvements

REALbasic's programming language gets tweaks, changes and improvements too: You can pass and return single and multidimension arrays to and from a method, and new methods have been added for array creation and manipulation. Try and Catch code blocks improve exception handling. REALbasic 5.5 also adds variable argument lists not unlike C and PERL.

Safe for beginners and pros

Perlman said that REALbasic 5.5 is better than ever not just for programming professionals, MIS personnel and others who make their living in code, but also for hobbyists and beginners who want to get started making their own software. To that end, new and improved features like autocomplete, the online help engine and a tips window that automatically adjusts its content depending on how you're working all add to the experience. And while REAL Software -- a privately held company -- doesn't share its specific revenue or customer numbers, the company noted that they have in the neighborhood of 50,000 developers using their product.

Upgrades from previous releases start at US$29.95. Licenses for the Standard version cost $99.95. The Professional version, which provides cross-platform compiling support, database server connectivity and team development support, costs $399.95.

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