Development environments for Windows. (Column)
by Tom Campbell
You can create complex data-validation procedures and filters without any programming at all.
This month we'll walk through a couple of significant Borland products, Borland C++ & Application Frameworks 3.0 and ObjectVision 2.0. Each will probably have a column of its own in the future, as each has a wildly divergent means of creating applications.
Because there's so much to cover, this column won't have any code this month. Check out COMPUTE/NET anyway because I've uploaded the source code to a number of utilities I use constantly.
Borland pulverized its competition when it entered the C++ market last year, simultaneously legitimizing what was--hard as it is to believe now--an uncertain future for that language. The company's flagship product is now Borland C++ & Application Frameworks 3.0, a gigantic development system for both DOS and Windows. It includes the latest version of Turbo Debugger, Turbo Assembler, Turbo Profiler, a C compiler, a C++ compiler, integrated environments for both DOS and Windows (finally), the Turbo Vision (for DOS) and ObjectWindows (for Windows) development libraries, the Whitewater Resource Toolkit, a Windows help compiler, a C++ container class library, support for C++ version 2.1 including some proposed extensions (notably templates), a ton of utilities, and the best example programs in the business.
It's become my preferred development environment for both C and C++, but it's not without problems. The integrated Windows environment is actually Turbo C++ for Windows, which also sells as a $149.95 product on its own; more on it in a moment. You still don't get a Windows-style debugger; Turbo Debugger runs under Windows, true, but in character mode. While it's a vast improvement over Microsoft's CodeView, which is no fun to use in Windows unless you have two monitors, it's no fun to snap in and out of graphics mode each time you step over a function call.
Debugging Windows apps is hard enough as it is. Turbo C++ for Windows, which is the first C++ integrated editor/compiler that runs under Windows, is a wonderful development environment. It has everything you'd expect in a Windows-based editor and the increasingly trendy toolbar for quick selection of common actions, but my favorite part is the ObjectBrowser. It's a visual representation of your program's function calls in a tree format, the programmer's equivalent of an outliner. My version of Turbo C++ is much buggier than a first release should be; I hope a .01 release fixes some of the bugs. Plan on saving your files all the time.
If you're on a budget, either Turbo C++ for Windows or Turbo C++ 2.0 for DOS is a great buy. Another recent Borland release is ObjectVision 2.0, a Windows database builder that straddles an uncomfortable line between being an end-user tool and a development environment--but it straddles it well. Nowhere does Borland have a quotable sentence or two describing just what ObjectVision is, so I'll try to do it.
ObjectVision is a visual design tool that lets you create Windows data-entry forms and the databases behind them with little or no programming. A form isn't limited to one database or even one format. Unbeknownst to you, a single form window can simultaneously be updating dBASE, Paradox, Btrieve, and ASCII databases while you enter data. OV lets you create stand-alone Windows databases, and you're allowed to distribute all the support files required to create turnkey systems for redistribution.
Whew! While that paragraph may not be pretty, it does the job. OV looks somewhat like a drawing program or forms-design program, but what you draw is the "live" data-entry form itself. Borland tends to view this as a front end to other databases, but I have nothing but praise for its use on a single-user system.
You can create complex data-validation procedures and filters without any programming at all, and a novel (if you haven't used such Macintosh products as Double Helix) visual "decision tree" lets you program using 1-2-3- or Quattro Pro-style @functions as a rudimentary, foolproof programming language. As a programmer, I found it a less-than-perfect environment; as a user, I must confess it's easy to learn and very fast to program in. A poorly documented but effective DLL interface allows plenty of access to OV's innards and a seamless way of extending its already considerable abilities. An obvious idea would be a DLL that lets you modify the access to dBASE memo fields, which are limited to 4096 characters through OV's editor. OV doesn't pretend to create reports or offer debugging facilities, but what it does, it does magnificently.
Should you buy it? At $100 (street price), if you need to create Windows data-entry forms of simple-to-medium complexity, it can't be beat. I imagine forward-thinking MIS departments are going wild about ObjectVision because it allows a naive user to update many, disparate databases from what appears and behaves like any other data-entry form.