Book Review: Ramblings on REALbasic

A majority of us use the web to do research – it’s faster, easier and the information is fresh.  For years I was a frequent visitor to Ramblings, a website/blog run by Aaron Ballman.  In my opinion, it was THE definitive source for many things in REALbasic.

For those of you that are new to REALbasic, Aaron was one of the REAL Software developers that worked on REALbasic.  We was with the company for seven years which is a long time in the software industry and in many respects REALbasic bears his signature.

In his new book, Ramblings on REALbasic, Aaron took many of his old blog posts, cleaned them up with new information, rearranged the order and put them in book form.  The book is divided up into Knowledge Base, REALbasic Language, User Experience, Windows, Design Patterns, Plugins, Other Languages and Just for Fun.

The Knowledge Base is a rather large collection of changes, gotchya’s, and miscellaneous information dumps about REALbasic that Aaron wrote about for years.  REALbasic is ever evolving and Aaron wrote about the bugs or misunderstandings to give us (the REALbasic developer) a little insight into what or why it happened or how we are misusing it (which happened more often than we’d like to admit).

The REALbasic Language section goes into specific REALbasic features.  I guarantee that you’ll learn something about REALbasic in this section.  Aaron writes it not as an end-user but as someone who is writing the compiler and having to support people like you and me on a regular basis.

A good portion of REALbasic developers use RB on Mac OS X and we sometimes take a Mac-centric viewpoint of developing software for Windows.  In the User Experience and Windows sections, Aaron goes into detail on some of the finer points of the Windows experience.  If you’re not a Windows expert (and even if you thought you were), these are must read sections.

The Plugins section is an alternative to REAL Softwares woefully incomplete documentation.  Aaron does a nice job of explaining how plugins work with the IDE and then goes into details that most of us will never use (unless you want to make a plugin that is).

The Design Patterns section is particularly interesting because he creates the design patterns using REALbasic.  Design patterns are coding patterns that, if you’ve been doing software long enough, you start to see over and over again.  Bigger, more complex applications probably have some of these coding patterns in them already (even if you didn’t know it) but it’s nice to get the theory and uses of them in REALbasic, up front.

Aaron does a good job of pointing out bugs and flaws in REALbasic and which versions they occurred in.  Some of those flaws are fixed in later versions of REALbasic, and he doesn’t always note if they’ve been fixed or not.  I can understand the complexity of finding out when bugs were fixed but it makes the text incomplete in my opinion.

Another missing feature, especially for the design patterns section, is downloadable project files.  It’s one thing to list the source code and explain it, but it’s entirely different to have a working example that you can step through.

While it’s sometimes nice to have a paper book to thumb through it’s getting harder and hard to justify the cost of a book that will lose its relevance in a short period of time.  This is not new to Ramblings or any book on technology but the REAL Software Rapid Release Model guarantees that any paper book will quickly become, if not obsolete, dated quickly.

All-in-all, I think this is a great book to keep on hand because it contains information not found anywhere else.  The RB language reference and user manuals give you minimal information and often leaves you guessing.  Ramblings fills in some of those missing blanks.

Ramblings on REALbasic is available for $59.00 through Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Ramblings-REALbasic-Aaron-Ballman/dp/0615316034 or $50 through Aaron’s website at http://ramblings.aaronballman.com/book/.

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