TweetFollow Us on Twitter

REALbasic Release 1

Volume Number: 14 (1998)
Issue Number: 10
Column Tag: Tools Of The Trade

Review: REALbasic Release 1

by Scott J. Anchin
Edited by the MacTech Magazine Editorial Staff

The Power and Simplicity of BASIC

For some time now, Macintosh developers have been searching for a Mac OS equivalent to Microsoft's popular Visual Basic. Enter REAL Software's REALbasic, a visual object-oriented development environment well suited for a variety of tasks ranging from RAD to full-scale commercial application development.

The Basics

REALbasic uses an object-oriented implementation of the BASIC (Beginners All-purpose Standard Instruction Code) language. Like all modern object-oriented programming languages such as C++ and Java, REALbasic uses classes, inheritance, properties and methods. This allows a simplified approach to programming by allowing code to be reused throughout a project. REALbasic's syntax is also highly compatible with that of Microsoft's Visual Basic, a similar (but in this author's opinion inferior) development tool. This allows developers accustomed to writing software on the PC to feel at home with REALbasic, a definite advantage to cross-platform software authors.

REALbasic supports automatic garbage collection, much like Java. This frees the developer from having to worry about memory management, which in and of itself takes up much of the development time when working with many other languages.

The IDE

The Interface

The IDE (Integrated Development Environment) contains all of the expected features in a small streamlined package. Occupying as little as 1.5 Mbytes of RAM, the IDE is blazing fast and incredibly simple to use. The IDE consists of six main components: the Toolbar, the Properties window, the Colors window, the Project window, the Code Editor, and the Debugger

Figure 1. The Toolbar and the Properties window.

The toolbar (see Figure 1) is located by default on the left side of the screen and contains a large number of colorful icons. Each icon designates a Control, which can be best described as an interface object such as a button, a tab panel, or a contextual menu. To add a Control to your project, simply drag the desired Control from the Toolbar to the desired window. Once the desired Control is positioned in the desired window, editing the code for a Control is as simple as double clicking on it.

The Properties window (see Figure 1) is located by default on the right side of the screen, opposite the Toolbar. It contains a variety of changeable settings that pertain to the operation, location, and appearance of the selected Control or window. While many of the settings can also be modified through code, the Properties window provides a convenient central location to specify default values for each of the specific Controls.

The Colors window provides the developer with a single location to store colors frequently used throughout the project. The Colors window is a small floating palette consisting of sixteen small squares, arranged in a four by four grid. Clicking on any one of these brings on screen the standard Mac OS color picker, from which one can then choose the desired color. At that point, the developer can drag the color from the Colors window into the Properties window to change the colors of various interface elements. This small but useful feature can save a great deal of time when dealing with application-wide custom colors.

Figure 2. The Project window.

The Project window (see Figure 2) provides the central location to view all of the elements comprising one's project, i.e. windows, classes, modules, AppleScripts, pictures, movies, shared libraries, and XCMD/XFCNs. To enhance organization, folders can be added to the Project window, and the aforementioned elements can then be placed inside of them. In order to access one of the listed elements of one's project, all that is required is a double click. As an added convenience, clicking once on the element concurrently displays pertinent information in editable form in the Properties window.

Figure 3. The Code Editor.

While much of the REALbasic developer's time is spent visually creating interfaces, a great deal of it is also spent in the Code Editor (see Figure 3), writing and tweaking code in order to attain perfection. The Code Editor is a two-paned window. The left pane is a hierarchical listing of all Controls along with their related events, the events for the window, menu handlers, methods, and properties. With the exception of properties, clicking on any one of these items displays its source in the right pane; properties can be edited by double clicking on their specific names. The Code Editor supports auto indenting, keyword highlighting, and auto completion, resulting in code that is easy to read as well as easy to write. The Code Editor also supports contextual menus which serve the same function as the left pane and are often more convenient. The two panes in the Code Editor are also resizable, allowing the developer to tailor the display to their unique tastes.

The final main component of the REALbasic IDE is the Debugger. Just as with all powerful debuggers, REALbasic's supports breakpoints, step over, step in, and step out. When running your application in the IDE, two windows are displayed in the background: a Variables window and a Stack window. The Variables window displays the current values of one's variables and has a simple object viewer. The Stack window displays the current stack so as to help the developer detect any memory leaks or other memory-related bugs. The debugger is a solid and necessary portion of the REALbasic IDE and is truly useful in tracking down and squashing bugs.

Its Runtime!

After spending hours developing your interface and code, it is time to test your budding killer app. When the developer chooses to run their application from within the IDE (with a simple "Run" menu command), REALbasic brings its advanced, dynamically recompiling compiler into action. This is described as having "all the benefits of an interpreter, while running at fully compiled speed," i.e. every time the developer runs his or her application, REALbasic recompiles it instantly. This provides the speed and versatility of a HyperCard-like interpreter, while allowing the application to run just as any compiled C++ application would.

If You Build It, They Will Come

When it comes time to compile an application and show it to the world (or at least to some beta testers), REALbasic's Build dialog (see Figure 4) comes into play. This dialog houses all information relevant to a final application, including its name, icon, and version information. It also lets one specify whether they want a 68k app, a PowerPC app, or a FAT app. Compiling a PowerPC app also has an additional option: Compress. Compressing a PowerPC app applies a proprietary resource compression scheme which cuts the size of the application dramatically while allowing it to retain full speed despite requiring only an additional 600 kbytes of RAM. Clicking on the Build button compiles the application and places it in the same folder as the project file.

Figure 4. The Build dialog.

It should be noted that, unlike many similar languages, REALbasic compiles applications to machine code; it does not use an interpreter. Thus, REALbasic applications require less RAM, less hard disk space, and run considerably faster than one might expect.

Create Truly Powerful Mac OS Apps

Advanced Features

REALbasic allows the developer access to a wide variety of features without the need to delve into the toolbox. With support for a number of industry and Apple standard features, REALbasic makes it easy to create truly powerful Mac OS apps.

Game developers will appreciate REALbasic's advanced sprite engine. Based on SpriteWorld, it is fast, efficient, and simple to use. With complete control over virtually every aspect of sprites, the developer is freed of virtually all creative limitations. Using the sprite engine also creates animations which are flicker free, thereby creating a professional appearance.

REALbasic's graphics support is also very powerful. With support for off screen drawing areas, developers can modify information displayed on the screen without flicker, and can preload images for enhanced speed. Text drawn with the graphics object can support automatic word wrapping, and can be drawn with varying fonts, sizes, styles, and colors. REALbasic also supports drawing various simple shapes. Additionally, it can display any graphic supported by QuickTime, giving the developer convenient access to a wide variety of file formats.

Still another advanced feature of REALbasic is its text handling. It is second to none. By using the WASTE text engine, fields can contain greater than 32 kbytes of data, a limitation imposed by standard TextEdit. Fields can contain varying fonts, sizes, styles, and colors, all of which can be changed on the fly through code. Fields also have a number of filters which can be applied to them in order to limit input to a specified type of data.

Getting information in and out of an application is essential to many programs. Thus, REALbasic provides excellent support for file i/o. REALbasic can retrieve and change almost every aspect of a file, and can read and write to them with a great deal of speed.

REALbasic also allows for transferring data through the serial ports or via TCP/IP. The Serial Port Control makes communicating with custom pieces of hardware a breeze. The OpenTransport native TCP/IP Socket Control allows the developer to add support for various Internet protocols to their applications quickly and efficiently.

For added speed and efficiency, REALbasic supports the use of threads. This allows code to be running in the background, will still allowing the user access to the program's interface.

Support For Key Mac OS Technologies

REALbasic embraces virtually all technologies that have made the Mac OS such an excellent platform. With built-in support for such technologies as QuickTime, AppleEvents, Drag and Drop, Contextual Menus, and the Appearance Manager, REALbasic applications can be as advanced as the developer desires.

Using the MoviePlayer Control, the developer has access to a wide variety of QuickTime features. Users can specify how a movie will be played, as well as when it begins to play. One particular benefit of the MoviePlayer Control is that it supports the display of any media type that the currently installed version of QuickTime allows. For example, an animated GIF can be played back from within a REALbasic application with the presence of QuickTime 3.

REALbasic includes extensive built in support for AppleEvents. AppleEvents, the Mac OS standard method of interapplication communications, provides a way in which developers can send messages between their applications and others in order to perform such tasks as transferring data. For example, data could be entered into a REALbasic app which could then be transferred to FileMaker Pro for subsequent addition into a database.

With Drag and Drop becoming more and more standard throughout the software industry, REALbasic's support for Mac OS standard Drag and Drop is a most welcome feature. Developers have full control over drag regions and the contents of the drag data. As an added bonus, Multiline EditFields support Drag and Drop without the need for any code. REALbasic also provides a mechanism for easily adding these capabilities to ListBoxes with very little code.

It is also a comfort to know that REALbasic-built applications will look at home in future versions of the Mac OS. With built in support for Apple's Appearance Manager, all of the Controls are Appearance-savvy. With the release of Mac OS 8.5 and switchable themes, the Controls will alter their appearance to fit in with the current theme.

REALbasic's support for the latest Mac OS technologies does not stop there. It allows you to quickly and easily apply balloon help to any control or menu item, and allows placement of items in the Help menu. This allows for the creation of custom help systems, such as HTML help viewers. Also supported is the creation of Contextual Menus which, through a custom implementation, are displayed regardless of whether or not Mac OS 8 is installed.

Extending REALbasic

While REALbasic's built-in capabilities are generally sufficient for virtually all tasks, one occasionally needs access to an unsupported feature or the Macintosh toolbox. For this reason, REALbasic is easily expandable through the use of AppleScript, XCMD/XFCNs, shared libraries, and REALbasic native plug-ins.

Compiled AppleScripts and XCMD/XFCNs can be incorporated into a REALbasic project by dragging and dropping it from the Finder to the Project window. Once added to the project, they can be called just as a built-in method would be called.

Shared libraries can be added to a project in the same fashion as AppleScripts and XCMD/XFCNs. Double clicking a shared library once it is in the Project window displays a window, from which one can define entry points for the shared library. The entry points can be accessed through code with support for such items as MemoryBlocks, enabling one to store data returned from the libraries.

Perhaps the best way to add functionality to REALbasic is through a REALbasic native plug-in. Plug-ins have full access to the toolbox, and can add either methods or Controls to REALbasic. Placing a Control plug-in into REALbasic causes the Control to appear in the Toolbar just as any built-in control would, and is used in the same way. Developers wishing to create plug-ins can download the SDK directly from REAL Software's web site, free of charge.

Port Your Windows Apps

The high level of compatibility between REALbasic and Visual Basic's syntax makes REALbasic the perfect tool for porting Windows-based Visual Basic applications to the Mac OS. By dragging any Visual Basic 2.0 or later form (.frm file) into REALbasic's project window, it is automatically converted into a REALbasic window, and incorporated into your project. Additionally, REALbasic supports dragging and dropping Visual Basic Code Modules (.bas files) into the project. This too incorporates the file into your project. The extensive Visual Basic support provides an excellent opportunity for Windows software developers to expand their market, while adding to the growing number of Mac OS applications on the market. This approach is also extremely cost-effective, as it requires very little time on the part of the software developer to perform this porting.

Community

The center of the large REALbasic community is the REALbasic NUG mailing list. From here users of any level can ask questions, request features, and hold discussions on almost any aspect of REALbasic programming. The members of the list are helpful, and for the most part courteous. As one of the first members of the list, I have seen it grow from a small resource to an essential aspect of REALbasic programming.

On the web, REALbasic users have set up the REALbasic Webring. With a fairly large number of members, this is another excellent resource for any developer. Pages on the webring range from companies which utilize REALbasic in their development, to individuals offering code snippets, to extensive FAQ listings. REALbasic users have also set up a Hotline server, the REALbasic Café, as a place to discuss the language, ask questions, share ideas, and upload your programs for others to see. When visiting the Café you will notice that the people there are always willing to help you out, and during discussions, will even create programs for you to illustrate their points.

Overall, members of the REALbasic community are an enthusiastic, helpful, and pleasant bunch. They hail from many countries across the globe, and together make up an indispensable programmer's resource.

What Will The Future Hold?

Quite appropriately, a primary concern of those interested in purchasing a new development environment is whether the company is planning a future for the software. It seems clear indeed that REALbasic has a long and bright future ahead. As of this writing, REAL Software is in the early development stages of Release 2. As of this release, REAL Software will be producing two versions of REALbasic: a standard version and an extended version.

The standard version of Release 2 will be similar to the current version, with the addition of numerous features, including improvements in such features as QuickTime support, Sprite support, and the Socket Control. Release 2 will also feature a Java compiler, which will allow Java applets to be compiled just as easily as standard Mac OS applications are compiled.

The extended version will be identical to the standard version, with two important differences. The first is the addition of ODBC and SQL database support, with the inclusion of a single user database. The second of these differences is the addition of a Windows compiler. Much like the Java compiler, the Windows compiler will create applications that will run on Windows 95/98/NT as easily as creating a Mac OS application. This will give developers the exciting capability to create a single code base, and deploy their applications on the Mac OS, Windows, and on the web.

Documentation

REALbasic's documentation is extremely thorough. Consisting of over six hundred pages, the printed documentation is divided into three parts. The first of these parts is the tutorial. As step-by-step guide to creating your first application, the tutorial assumes absolutely no prior programming experience, making REALbasic accessible to the beginner. The second portion of the documentation is the developer's guide. Made up of fourteen chapters, this guide covers everything from the basics of object-oriented programming to the complexities of interapplication communication. Finally, REALbasic provides a comprehensive language reference indexing every part of the language. The documentation is bound with a spiral binding so that it can lay flat on any surface, a convenience that should not be underestimated.

Though printed documentation is essential, it is often inconvenient to attempt to locate a volume while deeply engrossed in coding. For this reason REALbasic includes an online reference. Simply select any Control or word in the Code Editor, open the online reference (through either a menu selection or command-1), and it will automatically display the proper help topic. This feature proves to be indispensable over the course of the development process while working on a given project.

Conclusions

Being a first release and having so many features, it is almost inevitable that REALbasic would contain a few of minor bugs and inconsistencies. Though numerous work arounds exist, they are often bothersome nonetheless. To their credit, REAL Software has pledged to release free updates to the software in an effort to fix all outstanding bugs.

REALbasic is without a doubt a solid new entry into the Mac programming world. With HyperCard-like simplicity, C++-like power, and compatibility with Visual Basic, REALbasic is a most powerful tool. Whether you are involved in RAD, building front ends for AppleScripts, or developing custom software, shareware, and/or commercial software, REALbasic has the tools for you. In short, REALbasic is worth many times its $99 price.

Online Resources


Scott Anchin, scott@psrsoft.com is the founder of Precise Sales & Research, http://www.psrsoft.com, a software development company. He is also associated with Fisher, Towne & Associates, a national developer of electronic catalog and commerce systems for several Fortune 500 companies. Additionally, he is an online support editor for MacTech Magazine.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Macs Fan Control 1.5.0.0 - Monitor and c...
Macs Fan Control allows you to monitor and control almost any aspect of your computer's fans, with support for controlling fan speed, temperature sensors pane, menu-bar icon, and autostart with... Read more
Daylite 6.7.7 - Dynamic business organiz...
Daylite helps businesses organize themselves with tools such as shared calendars, contacts, tasks, projects, notes, and more. Enable easy collaboration with features such as task and project... Read more
OpenOffice 4.1.7 - Free and open-source...
OpenOffice.org is both an Open Source product and a project. The product is a multi-platform office productivity suite. It includes the key desktop applications, such as a word processor, spreadsheet... Read more
Backup and Sync 3.46 - File backup and s...
Backup and Sync (was Google Drive) is a place where you can create, share, collaborate, and keep all of your stuff. Whether you're working with a friend on a joint research project, planning a... Read more
iClock 5.5 - Customizable menu bar clock...
iClock replaces the old Apple's default menu bar clock with more features, customization and increases your productivity. Features: Have your Apple or Google calendar instantly available from the... Read more
Garmin Express 6.18.0.0 - Manage your Ga...
Garmin Express is your essential tool for managing your Garmin devices. Update maps, golf courses and device software. You can even register your device. Update maps Update software Register your... Read more
MarsEdit 4.3.5 - Quick and convenient bl...
MarsEdit is a blog editor for OS X that makes editing your blog like writing email, with spell-checking, drafts, multiple windows, and even AppleScript support. It works with with most blog services... Read more
Xcode 11.0 - Integrated development envi...
Xcode includes everything developers need to create great applications for Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. Xcode provides developers a unified workflow for user interface design, coding, testing... Read more
DaisyDisk 4.8 - $9.99
DaisyDisk allows you to visualize your disk usage and free up disk space by quickly finding and deleting big unused files. The program scans your disk and displays its content as a sector diagram... Read more
VMware Fusion 11.5.0 - Run Windows apps...
VMware Fusion and Fusion Pro - virtualization software for running Windows, Linux, and other systems on a Mac without rebooting. The latest version includes full support for Windows 10, macOS Mojave... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Marvel Strike Force is adding Agent Coul...
Marvel Strike Force, the popular squad-based RPG, is set to receive a bunch of new content over the next few weeks. [Read more] | Read more »
Lots of premium games are going free (so...
You may have seen over the past couple weeks a that a bunch of premium games have suddenly become free. This isn’t a mistake, nor is it some last hurrah before Apple Arcade hits, and it’s important to know that these games aren’t actually becoming... | Read more »
Yoozoo Games launches Saint Seiya Awaken...
If you’re into your anime, you’ve probably seen or heard of Saint Seiya. Based on a shonen manga by Masami Kurumada, the series was massively popular in the 1980s – especially in its native Japan. Since then, it’s grown into a franchise of all... | Read more »
Five Nights at Freddy's AR: Special...
Five Nights at Freddy's AR: Special Delivery is a terrifying new nightmare from developer Illumix. Last week, FNAF fans were sent into a frenzy by a short teaser for what we now know to be Special Delivery. Those in the comments were quick to... | Read more »
Rush Rally 3's new live events are...
Last week, Rush Rally 3 got updated with live events, and it’s one of the best things to happen to racing games on mobile. Prior to this update, the game already had multiplayer, but live events are more convenient in the sense that it’s somewhat... | Read more »
Why your free-to-play racer sucks
It’s been this way for a while now, but playing Hot Wheels Infinite Loop really highlights a big issue with free-to-play mobile racing games: They suck. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying going for realism, cart racing, or arcade nonsense, they’re... | Read more »
Steam Link Spotlight - The Banner Saga 3
Steam Link Spotlight is a new feature where we take a look at PC games that play exceptionally well using the Steam Link app. Our last entry talked about Terry Cavanaugh’s incredible Dicey Dungeons. Read about how it’s a great mobile experience... | Read more »
Combo Quest (Games)
Combo Quest 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Combo Quest is an epic, time tap role-playing adventure. In this unique masterpiece, you are a knight on a heroic quest to retrieve... | Read more »
Hero Emblems (Games)
Hero Emblems 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: ** 25% OFF for a limited time to celebrate the release ** ** Note for iPhone 6 user: If it doesn't run fullscreen on your device... | Read more »
Puzzle Blitz (Games)
Puzzle Blitz 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Puzzle Blitz is a frantic puzzle solving race against the clock! Solve as many puzzles as you can, before time runs out! You have... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

2019 iMacs available for up to $350 off MSRP,...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2019 21″ & 27″ iMacs now available starting at $929 and up to $350 off the cost of new models. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, shipping is free, and each... Read more
Get a clearance 2018 13″ 2.3GHz Quad-Core Tou...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2018 13″ 2.3GHz 4-Core Touch Bar MacBook Pros available starting at $1489. Apple’s one-year warranty is included, shipping is free, and each MacBook has a new outer... Read more
11″ WiFi iPad Pros on sale today for up to $2...
Amazon has new 2018 Apple 11″ WiFi iPad Pros in stock today and on sale for up to $200 off Apple’s MSRP. These are the same iPad Pros sold by Apple in its retail and online stores. Be sure to select... Read more
Select 12″ iPad Pros on sale for $200 off App...
Amazon has select 2018 Apple 12″ iPad Pros in stock today and on sale for $200 off Apple’s MSRP. These are the same iPad Pros sold by Apple in its retail and online stores. Be sure to select Amazon... Read more
Get one of Apple’s new 2019 iPhone 11 models...
Boost Mobile is offering the new 2019 Apple iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max for $100 off MSRP. Their discount reduces the cost of an iPhone 11 to $599 for the 64GB models, $899 for the 64GB... Read more
13″ 1.4GHz Silver MacBook Pros on sale for $1...
B&H Photo has new 2019 13″ 1.4GHz 4-Core Touch Bar Silver MacBook Pros on sale for $100 off Apple’s MSRP. Overnight shipping is free to many addresses in the US. These are the same MacBook Pros... Read more
4-core and 6-core 2018 Mac minis available at...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2018 Mac minis available on their online store for $120-$170 off the cost of new models. Each mini comes with a new outer case plus a standard Apple one-year warranty... Read more
$250 prepaid Visa card with any Apple iPhone,...
Xfinity Mobile will include a free $250 prepaid Visa card with the purchase of any new iPhone, new line activation, and transfer of phone number to Xfinity Mobile. Offer is valid through October 27,... Read more
Sprint is offering the 64GB Apple iPhone 11 P...
Sprint has the new 64GB iPhone 11 Pro available for $12.50 per month for new customers with an eligible trade-in in of iPhone 7 or newer. That’s down from their standard monthly lease of $41.67. The... Read more
Final week: Apple’s 2019 Back to School Promo...
Purchase a new Mac using Apple’s Education discount, and take up to $400 off MSRP. All teachers, students, and staff of any educational institution with a .edu email address qualify for the discount... Read more

Jobs Board

Best Buy *Apple* Computing Master - Best Bu...
**734646BR** **Job Title:** Best Buy Apple Computing Master **Job Category:** Store Associates **Location Number:** 001220-Issaquah-Store **Job Description:** The Read more
Best Buy *Apple* Computing Master - Best Bu...
**734517BR** **Job Title:** Best Buy Apple Computing Master **Job Category:** Sales **Location Number:** 000685-El Camino Real-Store **Job Description:** **What does Read more
*Apple* Mobility Pro - Best Buy (United Stat...
**734830BR** **Job Title:** Apple Mobility Pro **Job Category:** Store Associates **Location Number:** 000423-West Broad-Store **Job Description:** At Best Buy, our Read more
Systems Analyst ( *Apple* & Android) (Jo...
Systems Analyst ( Apple & Android) (Job ID: 572513) + 11751 Meadowville Ln, Chester, VA 23836, USA + Full-time Company Description Computer Consultants International, Read more
*Apple* Mobile App Developer - eiWorkflow So...
…eiWorkflow Solutions, LLC is currently looking for a consultant for the following role. Apple Mobile App Developer Tasks the role will be performing: ? Mobile App Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.