Paradox as a Windows database manager. (Borland International's Paradox for Windows) (Programming Power) (Column)
by Tom Campbell
This month, I find myself in a strange position. I'm going to tell you why I think Paradox is a great Windows database manager to use for serious applications development. Then I'm going to tell you to break all the rules. Borland has some of the best manuals I've ever seen for a language product, but it tells you to use them the wrong way. Below, you'll find my new rules, which will tell you how to use them the right way.
Remember that I'm looking at this from a programmer's standpoint, but you don't need experience in any other computer languages to learn how to program Paradox. It will take a while, probably at least three months, to get the hang of it if you've never programmed before. This is true for any programming language. Learning ObjectPAL (PAL stands for Paradox Application Language) is very easy in some respects but daunting in others. It is well worth the time you put into it.
1. Read the tutorial first if you don't think you need it; read The ObjectPAL Developer's Guide first if you think you need the tutorial. The Borland documentation says you should read the Learning ObjectPAL tutorial if you don't have any programming experience. The problem is that it jumps right into hard-core concepts like objects and methods while neglecting to explain more basic things like constants and variables. All are important, but the basics are called that for a reason. They should always come first. If you understand none of these things, worry not. The Borland manuals offer hope if you break the rules. The ObjectPAL Developer's Guide, ostensibly for programmers who have read Learning ObjectPAL and are now ready to start developing full-fledged applications, has four introductory chapters that really belong in the tutorial. They are very well written, just misplaced. The first rule, then, is to read chapters 1-4 of The ObjectPAL Developer's Guide if the Learning ObjectPAL book leaves you a bit unfulfilled. None of this is to say that the guide falls short. It's a milestone in Borland documentation and should be a model for all language products. Usually, languages give you a reference and, if you're lucky, a tutorial. The problem is what happens in between. They never seem to have a book that addresses the needs of the person who has mastered the rudiments but doesn't know where to go next. It's the basis of a multi-million-dollar book industry. I'm delighted to see Borland tackling this very difficult subject. I'd like to see Borland do the same thing with its Pascal and C products, and Microsoft should do the same with its languages.
2. Use the reference as a tutorial no matter what. As good as The ObjectPAL Developer's Guide is (and that's very good), you can learn even more by thumbing through The ObjectPAL Reference. Reference books aren't designed to be used as tutorials or even to be browsed. You're expected to have an idea of what you're looking for before you crack the book. ObjectPAL is such a big language that no tutorial could cover all its facets. Spend an occasional lunch hour or bus ride just thumbing through The ObjectPAL Reference, and you will assuredly discover useful, timesaving features that you might never learn about otherwise. Do this once while you're learning ObjectPAL, expecting to learn very little, and then several times after you've learned it. It's a synergistic process. The more you learn about ObjectPAL, the more useful these free-form sessions will become and the more they'll help you learn the language. A side note: If you're trying to learn how to program Windows in C, this technique might be the glue you need to hold together the concepts you've been learning.
3. Quit planning. The ObjectPAL Developer's Guide quotes the party line of database programming, which is that you should plan an application extensively before starting it. This may make sense in large corporations, although there is ample evidence suggesting this isn't automatically true. It's also the first rule of every database textbook written since the Jurassic Period. Throw that rule out the window if you use Paradox. Object-oriented programming tends to seal off the parts of large programs in such a way that shuffling them around and trying out new ideas is easier than it ever was before with traditional programming techniques. Paradox enforces many good object-oriented techniques, and because of this, I've had a lot more, well, fun letting applications evolve naturally.
The Paradox programming environment is responsive, efficient, flawlessly designed, and a joy to use. Borland's language manuals used to be full of corny jokes and asides about just how fun the products were to use. And they were right! Paradox 1.0 is as cool as Turbo Pascal 1.0 was, but the manuals forget to mention it. Quit planning. Learn the language, but play as you go. The rest will take care of itself.