My Wish List For REALbasic In 2008

There’s been an interesting discussion going on over at Norman Palardy’s blog.  It started innocently enough by Norman complaining that he’s been getting support and change requests for some of his free and unsupported code that he has on his site.  The discussion has morphed into a life of its own so I figured I’d start the “My Wish List For REALbasic in 2008” thread and get some additional feedback.

First, a word of warning.  These are my opinions only.  Let’s not get personal and drag people through the mud.

There are also not in any particular order.

Continue with the bug fixes first and new features last in new releases
The people that use RB are developers and as developers require rock solid performance.  RS has done a great job with recent releases with a lot of bug fixes and for once the forums are actually praising RS.

Keep up the good work, RS, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.  There are bugs that have been present in RB since version 5.5.  These ever present bugs give outsiders (and some current users) the impression that you don’t give a darn about quality.

Continue releasing ‘Pro’ features
Delegates was a good start.  Object introspection would be another great feature.  I think it’s time that RS focuses more on the pro developer than the hobby.  From a money standpoint the hobbyist can’t/won’t pay for anything while pro developers can justify paying extra for pro features.

Kill (or Update) the Visual Basic Project Converter (VBPC)
The VBPC is worse than bad.  It’s the first experience many VB6 developers will have of REALbasic.  Remember the old saying that you can only get one first impression?

VBPC mangles code in the worst way.  If you want to try converting from VB6 to REALbasic, try VB Convert! from AYB Software.  It’s not perfect, but it’s a damn site better than the VBPC.

Eliminate the Not Invented Here Syndrome
It sure seems like RB tries to be all things to all developers.  The problem is that there are too many things that RB can do from games to utilities to database front-ends.  Their limited resources should be focused on making their ‘core product’ markets better.

I suspect we might already be seeing some of this already with a new power tool in the language (delegates) and the deprecation (bindings) or possible open sourcing of other parts of the language (RB3D).  In the long run this is a good thing, in my opinion, because it seems like they’re looking at their core components and jettisoning the ones that don’t make sense or have always been poor substitutes for the real thing.

If there’s a market or need for something they don’t do then some enterprising developer will probably fill the need.  I think of VB Convert! from AYB Software for filling the glaring void left by the incompetence of Visual Basic Project Converter (VBPC).

Use a Standard Bug Reporting/Feedback System
I mean this as no offense to the people that wrote the current feedback system:  It’s not very good.  When compared against Mantis, Trac or Bugzilla it’s really, really bad and it’s hard to use.  It’s marginally better than the old bug tracker system (that was a standalone application) but it just doesn’t look very professional.  Try finding a bug sometime and you’ll know what I mean.

Help Foster a 3rd Party Controls Market
This is a tough one because I don’t think it’s the lack of opportunities for 3rd party developers and it’s not that the price of entry is too high for a thriving 3rd party market – I think the market is too cheap.  If I’m a developer that is interested in developing a killer grid component how can I compete against Einhugur that offers his entire suite of controls for $99?  Don’t get me wrong I love the Einhugur controls and I’m a very satisfied customer but his low prices are a hindrance to other developers trying to enter the market.

On the other hand, I’m also a satisfied customer of True North Software and their Formatted Text Control.  The FTC is a great replacement for the standard EditField and the developer is very, very responsive.  I feel that at $450 it’s a great deal.  It’s written in native RB classes and it does everything that I’ve wanted it to do and I get the source code for it.

REAL needs to foster more developers like True North Software.  They also need to help Einhugur expand their market by promoting these controls as an alternative to their own.  “Don’t like our ‘x’ control, well, here’s a couple of alternatives.”  This might help with the Not Invented Here problem.

Report Generator
Printing with RB is harder than it has to be.  On-Target Reports is a low-end product that works well, but cannot compete with the likes of Crystal Reports and ActiveReports that most VB6 developers use.  For RB to take off in the corporate environment I think this is the most important thing they could do.

IDE Add-On’s and Power Options
IDE scripting is a nice addition but it’s not what I’m talking about.  In Visual Basic, MZ-Tools was the most important tool I ever used.  Every VB6 developer I know of has used MZ-Tools which allows a VB6 developer to quickly an easily modify code in the IDE:  Add comments, line numbers, error handling, check for unused variables and much more.

Power options would include allowing the user to map keys to what they want.  For me, the F5 button is Run and F8 is the debugger command to step into because that’s what Visual Basic has been for years.  I’m sure there are people that would like to map their keys like xCode or CodeWarrior or the current version of Visual Studio.  This seems like a no brainer!

Other power options would be little mini-programs that would say allow users to generate and insert code templates.  How about implement their own search engines?  What about even the possibility of writing a power-user code editor!?

Fix RBScript
RBScript has been around how long, now?  Give it some of the power features that people have asked for and make it robust.  Fix the bugs that are causing people to stick with RB 2006 versions.

RS stated at last years Real World that they wanted to use REALbasic in stored procedures for REALSQL Server.  I can’t imagine them using regular RB so RBScript is it.  If they can’t get it working in the IDE no one will ever trust it for serious database work.

Fix the Plug-In Documentation and Keep it Up to Date
If you want to write a plugin for RB, good luck.  The documentation has recently changed for the better, but it’s still not good enough.  Aaron on his blog has done some recent posts on how to create the Windows part of the plugin.

This goes back to fostering the 3rd party market.  If you want other people to develop for your product you need to make it easy for them to do so.  As much as I bag on Microsoft products they make using their development products easy because they know once you get locked into their product it’s tough to move to another environment.  RB could do this as well.

Make Better Use of the Web From Within REALbasic
The web is the great communicator.  Take a hint from the likes of php, PostgreSQL and java and integrate user comments into the official language reference.  Make it moderated if you don’t trust people to be civil.  It would eliminate mistakes and would let the community fill in where the Language Reference is shaky.

Support An Official REALbasic Wiki
Unless RS supports a wiki, all efforts will fail.  Anyone remember RBWiki from a few years back?  It died a lonely death.

Charles Yoemans was nice enough to put a wiki up on his site.  As best as I can tell, there’s no one posting to it.  It’s too much work to duplicate the efforts of Language Reference.

Go After the Enterprise Market
At last years Real World conference, Novel was pushing Linux.  If big companies really want to switch to Linux like Novel says they do, then RS should put together a small team and work with Novel to switch some large corporations to REALbasic.  This would be a much better white paper than the current white paper that recommends using the VBPC.

If there’s that much money in the enterprise market then this ‘division’ of RS would earn its keep.  Maybe Novel should front their own RB based organization?  This would be the put your money where your mouth is moment.

I think that about does it for this edition.  In a future article I’ll talk about what we, as users, can do to help REALbasic.