What Feature Would You Remove From Real Studio?

I ran across a Twitter post today that asked what feature they’d remove from FileMaker Pro.  I don’t use FileMaker (not in many, many years at least), but I thought it was a very good question.

It’s a good question in regards to Real Studio too as it makes you think about what you don’t use.  I’ve asked the question before on what’s the one thing you need above all else in Real Studio.  But removing something is a much harder question.  So it should probably be something that’s not very good, or makes things worse, or something made irrelevant by 3rd party tools.

After thinking about it for just a few seconds I came up with the one thing that I never use in Real Studio:  The Database Editor.  For me, it’s the one thing that is worse than useless since it makes the job of managing your databases harder.  I mean,it’s just not very good, in my opinion.  Based on my experience answering questions in the Real Software forums it’s not an uncommon experience.

In reality, the database editor experience is much like any generic tool:  it just doesn’t have the features that match up well to tools built for the specific database.  If you want a good SQLite tool there are some awesome commercial versions available.  Heck, there is a freeware version that works inside of FireFox that’s better than the DB editor, IMO.  The same goes with MySQL, PostgreSQL, Oracle and any other database that RS supports.

I’m a big fan of Navicat as they have versions of each of the aforementioned databases.  Granted, Navicat has a generic user interface and it’s a Java app (I think) but it’s the only thing that Navicat does (database admin tools).  It’s interface is consistent across all of their versions so it’s no big deal to move from the SQLite version to the PostgreSQL or the MySQL version.

If the Database Editor was removed from Real Studio would anyone really notice?  What would you remove from Real Studio if you had the chance?

REAL Server Discontinued

REAL Software quietly announced on the NUG yesterday that REAL Server is no longer part of its stable of products.  They also said that current licenses for REAL Server will be honored by SQLabs, the once and current owner of the product.

This is not particularly good news for those that use REAL Server.  REAL Server was a product that was heavily hyped for several years and is no longer available for sale and support through REAL Software.

The good news is that the product isn’t going away.  REAL Server (or REAL SQL Server for those that have been around long enough) was purchased from SQLabs years ago and the primary developer, Marco Bambini, became a REAL Software employee and continued development of the product.

Marco and REAL Software parted ways several months ago.  It was not until this week that REAL Software acknowledged his departure and its effect.  It seems that as part of their separation deal, REAL Server will go back to SQLabs and be sold and supported by them.  More info here.

REAL Server, for those that don’t know the history, was originally written by Marco Bambini of SQLabs.  It was original called SQLite Server  and it made SQLite database files networkable and multi-user.

This was pretty exciting at the time because even though SQLite databases were lightweight and easy-to-use they didn’t work very well across network drives, it had none of the mechanisms required to handle multiple users, and it had no foreign key constraints.  From a certain perspective the acquisition and subsequent development of the product made sense from REAL Software’s perspective because it gave a migration path from the single-user SQLite database to an easy-to-use, install and administer database server.

Unfortunately, making SQLite into a database server proved to be difficult.  Until very recently, an SQLite database knew nothing about foreign key constraints (and even now you have to go out of your way to use them).  It also didn’t do any logic to handle concurrent users and all the headaches that go along with it (like record locking and user access control).  The fact the REAL Server did do some of this was a testament to how much work they put into it.  They fit the proverbial square peg into the proverbial round hole.

Unfortunately, REAL Server cost money and it was hard to compete against the MySQL and PostgreSQL database servers of the world which were mostly free.  For a while the license of MySQL was  a huge unknown mess (is it really any better now?) and REAL Server was marketed as a safe alternative to MySQL.

It’s hard to compete against free and well established database servers with hoards of developers contributing to it.  Foreign key constraints and stored procedures and all sorts of other goodies were already in MySQL and PostgreSQL and both continued to evolve with new features while REAL Server stagnated.

At REAL World 2008 Geoff Perlmann showed off a demo of a new version of REAL Software that allowed for plugins, written in c, to become its new pseudo stored procedures.  It was also supposed to show huge improvements in the number of concurrent users, have server side cursors, have client messaging and a host of other new features.

The demo was light on details but it was released later that year.  The last official release of REAL Server was in 2009.  However, many developers have found some of those new features to be buggy, and have stuck with the 2008 version.  Meanwhile, REAL Server has been stuck in perpetual beta since then with no appreciable work.  Now, users are stuck in limbo waiting for SQLabs to come up with a new release version.

Am I surprised by any of these developments?  No.  I always thought (http://www.bkeeneybriefs.com/2009/03/real-studio-the-good-the-bad-the-ugly/, http://www.bkeeneybriefs.com/2008/11/changes-at-real-software-part-deux/) that REAL Server was a product waiting for an audience.  And, as I said earlier, it’s very hard to compete with free, especially when you get into all of the drawbacks.  Heaven help you if you tried to get REAL Server inside of a corporate environment where database servers are specified to the nth degree and require dedicated support personnel.

This news sucks – especially if you had invested a lot of time and effort into REAL Server development in your projects.  The lack of new versions in the past year should have been a good clue, though.  Also, there were very few posts about REAL Server in the REAL Software forums.

I feel that the focus on the hobbyist developer blinds RS, sometimes, to what professional developers will gladly pay for.  Don’t get me wrong, there are a LOT of hobbyist REAL Studio developers and that’s great, but it’s been my experience that the hobbyist developers can’t pay for much and REAL Studio was a cost (even as inexpensive as it was) that most couldn’t afford.

It was a losing battle from the start, really.  It’s too bad that RS had to go through the painful realization that buying and building upon a product sometimes isn’t good enough.  It was too expensive for hobbyist developers and it wasn’t powerful enough for the professional developers.

In a nutshell it never took off and that’s sad.  It was a distraction and a drain on resources during a time when multiple developers were laid off due to the hard economic times.  Cocoa is now running into its third year of development and one has to seriously wonder if the distraction of REAL Server, even if it was just one developer, cost them some serious development time.  Certainly one could argue the money spent on development and marketing of REAL Server could have been better spent on other things.

Ultimately, the message this sends to the community is not a very good one.  From now on, we, as users, will have to weigh the impact of relying upon any tool from the company since it may or may not be supported years from now.  Granted, in this case, REAL Server is finding a new home and there will be support for the foreseeable future but what about the next new thing?  Do we have to wonder about Linux or Web App support five years from now?

What are your thoughts?

Is Valentina Reports as Unstable For You As It Is For Me?

Perhaps I’m cursed when using Valentina.  I’m using version 4.2 of Valentina Studio Pro for Mac OS X.  I’m trying to test out their new Reporting tool because it’s part of my presentation at the Colorado REALbasic Summit.  Whenever I attempt to drag a picture object or chart object onto my report I get a hard crash.

It’s very hard to evaluate and report on how well it works if I can’t even use it for more than 2 minutes (and no, I’m not running into the 10 minute demo limit).  It really makes me wonder what their QA process is or if we’re the QA  guinea pigs process.

Looking at Valentina…Again…

I’m doing some research for my presentation at the Colorado REALbasic Summit at the end of September.  One of the Reporting tools that I’m excited to take a look at is Valentina Reports.  Valentina has been around for a long time in the REALbasic community and I’ve used them in the past for several projects and I’ve more or less kept up-to-date on updates but recently stopped because I hadn’t used it for a long time.

There are a number of things to really like about the Valentina database.  It’s fast – there’s no doubt about it.  Valentina is truly a relational database (you cannot say that about SQLite or REAL Server) and it comes with a file (single connection) version as well as a server (multiple connections) version.  It’s been around a long time in REALbasic and you can use Valentina in a variety of ways including a class-way that is very object oriented.  It is also strongly type-cast meaning it won’t let you put a string into an integer field and so on (again SQLite and REAL Server are NOT like this).

There are a number of reasons why I stopped using Valentina but the biggest was bugs.  In one of my projects I got caught in a transition between db formats and because of my project deadline I was forced to use beta versions.  Which meant, of course, that they’d fix one bug and create another.  It was an ugly couple of months and it’s (obviously) left a bad taste in my mouth.  And yet I keep coming back for more….

It’s been a few years and I was really hoping that it was a nice stable environment.  Alas, I can’t say that it is.  I downloaded Valentina Studio 4.2 (their general admin tool) and decided to import my standard SQLite demo database for reporting tool comparisons.  Everything started off fine but when using their import wizard and hitting Finish it just goes *poof* (hard crashes) and a standard Apple error dialog comes up.

I suddenly remember why my eye tick comes back when I start working with Valentina.  Hard crashes were a common occurrence when I last used Valentina and is still obviously an issue (at least in Studio).  When you can’t perform a simple data import using a standard text file it makes you wonder what’s going to happen with your database.

It’s a trust issue, really, because the first experience with the product is the admin tool.  Instability in the showcase application (in my opinion), hints at deeper problems in the entire database.  Hard crashes are evil, bad things because it means the app quit in an uncontrolled fashion.  What happened to your database write just then?  Is the data good, bad or in some unknown state?  Either way I have a hard time telling a client that things will be okay if it happens to them.

If you are a Valentina and REALbasic user I’d like your opinion.  Am I just having a bad day or do you have these same frustrations as well?  Have you used the new reporting system?  Do you like it or not?

REALbasic Project Requests up, Up, UP!

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this or not, but requests for quotes for REALbasic projects has been through the roof the past couple of weeks.  Between the REALbasic Developer Network (i.e. the Find a Consultant web page) and the ARBP Find a Developer web page it sure has been busy.  I can only find one “help me learn REALbasic” post in the past month or so.  This is a good thing since there used to be a bunch of them.

I don’t know if  RS marketing efforts are leading to these requests or if the ever-increasing Macintosh presense in the business world is making more people want cross-platform applications but something seems to have changed.  (Or it’s a combination of everything!)  Of course there’s nothing to say if the requests dry up in the next month or so.  Only time will tell.

I find it interesting that a lot of the recent projects are converting from either FileMaker or 4D.  RB can make a nice database application (assuming you know what you’re doing).  RS is always looking to enhance the user experience and I encourage RS to enhance their database tools.  I, however, do not want them to become another FileMaker or 4D because a generic application environment can do things better than a database-centric application, in my opinion.  Likewise there are things that FileMaker, 4D and MS Access do better than a generic application environment like RB.  It depends upon the requirements, in the long run.

Since I help run ARBP you can take this criticism with a grain of salt.  One of my biggest beefs with the RS developer program is that it’s simply a forwarded email.  If you signed up today you’d miss everything from last week (if you did sign up I’d certainly ask for all recent posts since $1k is nice chunk of change).  With ARBP we keep them around for a while (which is a problem all by itself that I’m trying to correct).  Another point is there isn’t a whole lot of information in the posts.  A contact information (name, email, phone) and a brief description of the project.  It would be nice to get more information.  What platforms?  Is it an existing project?  Is it a conversion project?  From what language?  Is it commercial or internal software?  I could probably continue on what I’d like to see, but I’d be repeating myself.

As a consultant, are you busy?  Better yet, are you as busy as you’d like to be?  Have you seen any trends in the past six months?

Looking At MySQL Again

I installed everything on Mac OS X (Leopard) using the standard Mac installer.  I didn’t have any issues.  There are two other parts of the installation package, a startup item installer allowing the db server to start at startup and, a prefpane that allows you to start/stop the server from System Preferences.

MySQL has an optional package that installed the MySQL Administrator and MySQL Query Browser applications.  It’s obvious from both of these tools that they’ve spent a lot of time and effort in making these tools usable and for the most part I was happy with their smoothness in Mac OS X.  They definitely don’t feel like a port of Windows apps to Mac OS X.  (Without using them in Windows I can’t tell you that the opposite is true or not, however.)

The REALbasic MySQL Plugin now available from Alacatia Labs at http://alacatialabs.com/products/realbasic-mysql-plugin/ and works with the Community and Enterprise Edition.  I had absolutely no problems connecting to my newly installed database (after adding a new db and user using the Administrator tool).

If it weren’t for the stupid licensing issues that accompany MySQL I’d recommend it for everyday use.  Alas, the licensing issues make that problematic.  From the Alactia Labs website:

It allows access to community installations of MySQL database servers using REALbasic’s built-in database API. While we are not lawyers, our interpretation of the GPL is that it is viral, and any applications that are distributed publicly must also contain the source code of the application and plugin. If you are in doubt about how the GPL applies to you, please consult your attorney.

Emphasis added by me.
That sucks because I think they’ve got some things going for it.  I know a lot of RB developers have stopped using MySQL due to the GPL licensing rules and I can’t say that I blame them.  Oh well, I guess it’s time to look at PostgreSQL or maybe MS SQL Server.