Xojo: VB For the Mac

Last week we asked the question “How Did You Find Xojo?”  A vast majority (60%) of the responses said web search of some kind was how they found out about Xojo (or REALbasic or Real Studio).  Some found Xojo via software discovery CD’s that were bundled with Mac specific magazines over a decade ago (that seems wrong to write it like that).

More than a few users had comments that they had been using Visual Basic (VB) and wanted something like it for the Mac.  Some even said that they searched for “VB for the Mac” and Xojo was one of the results.

I get it.  I spent quite a few years working on a big accounting application written in VB6.  It was big enough where we had to refactor the project because we couldn’t add any more modules or class objects to it.  It used many third party controls that helped in development (think text field formatting, fancy grids that could hold any other control, and multiple reporting tools).  

The project was only ever going to be on Windows so there was zero thought about a Mac version.  But that didn’t stop me from thinking about it.  Every now and then I’d try to do something in Xojo to prove that I could do it.  With the exception of the fancy grid there were few things I couldn’t get working in Xojo.

Even though VB6 and Xojo are BASIC languages there isn’t much similarity between them.  VB6 compiled applications that required the VB6 runtime while Xojo applications are compiled into self-contained packages.  On the Mac everything required by the application is in the bundle whereas on Windows and Linux libraries needed by the app are put into a folder right next to the executable.  Xojo Windows apps don’t need to use an installer but since Windows users expect an installer it’s easy enough to use.

VB6 is over fifteen years old.  It didn’t have much in the way of modern language features such as object inheritance.  You spent a lot of time and effort manipulating controls to do what we’d consider ‘normal’ things (I seem to remember ListBoxes being this way).  In Xojo you can extend and subclass practically everything.  Is Xojo a perfect language?  Oh heck no, but it’s light years ahead of the fifteen year old VB6 and it’s still evolving and improving.

Xojo doesn’t make perfect Windows, Mac, or Linux applications.  It’s often a compromise for something that works ‘well enough’ on Mac, Windows, and Linux applications.  So the fancy grid’s that you could purchase for VB6 don’t really exist for Mac and Linux and Xojo reflects that.  But you can certainly design a really good application that doesn’t need the fancy grids.  MacOS users tend to like ‘elegant’ solutions and, to be honest, the fancy grids aren’t an elegant solution but they certainly work (especially for accounting applications).

The third party community for Xojo isn’t nearly as big as the VB6 world.  Generally there are fewer options but the options are considerably less expensive.  We’d spend a couple of grand each year per developer on licensing for third party tools.  As a Xojo consultant we spend about that much for the entire staff each year.

We don’t get many requests for VB6 to Xojo conversions any more.  We used to get ten to twelve a year but it has definitely slowed down the past couple of years.  I suspect that any remaining VB6 applications are in maintenance mode and their owners don’t want to invest in a rewrite.  If they did, they would have already moved to a new development environment.

VB6 applications still work in Windows 10 and if memory serves Microsoft has said they’ll support the VB6 runtime for another ten years.  This means that there must be a LOT of VB6 applications still around.  Support for the VB6 IDE has disappeared and the last time I tried I couldn’t get it to install properly in Windows 10 so I just went back to my Windows 7 VM.  But now that Windows 7 support has expired it seems that those old VB6 applications might be on life support.

Many of us came in to the community looking for VB for the Mac.  We’ve been using it for nearly 20 years and have a stable of clients that are happy with a single code base for their commercial Mac and Windows (and occasionally Linux) applications.  I’d say Xojo has been more than good enough.