Visual development languages and tools


Информатика, кибернетика и программирование

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Lecture 11. Visual development languages and tools. Part 1.1

There was a time when programs were written in text editors. A developer wrote an application in a text editor, saved it, exited the editor, ran the compiler, wrote down the error messages on a pad of paper, and then traced back through the code again. This was in the days before Visual Studio and real-time code checking and one-click links to errors being taken for granted. It was otherwise known as the 1980s.

That’s not to say that, early on, there were no attempts at visual programming, where the application is built by visual elements that represent lines of code, actions, or objects. The IBM mainframe had a program called FSE, Full Screen Editor. But somehow it didn’t have the same impact as did integrated development environments (IDEs) on those newfangled “microcomputers.”

In 1983, Borland Ltd. acquired a Pascal compiler from a Danish programmer named Anders Hejlsberg (you may have heard of him) and released it in the U.S. as TurboPascal, which featured an integrated editor and compiler. “That was very handy, to have the error messages from the compiler right there in the editor that you could click on and go to the error,” said Charles Petzold, long-time Microsoft development author and MVP.

David Intersimone, a long-time Borland executive in charge of developer relations who is now with Embarcadero Technologies, remains partial to TurboPascal. “I always liked to claim, in the early days of the PC era, that TurboPascal really was it, particularly because of its price [$49.99]. The compiler, error checker, ability to run in memory, all of that was in the first release on,” he said.

Visual development in its earliest stages was limited by what the PC could do. But for the IBM PC in the early 1980s, with its single-tasking operating system and 8- or 16-bit hardware, the previous software development process was text edit, compile, write down the errors, and debug with your eyes.

Both the hardware and the PC culture needed to advance first, said Jeff Duntemann, programmer and publisher of Visual Developer magazine, which was published until 2000. “The PC culture was inherited from the IBM mainframe world,” he said. “The graphics in that era weren’t very good. Until we had Windows to provide the basic ideas of displaying things in windows, PCs had a foot and a half back in the mainframe world,” he said.

Microsoft officially launched Windows in 1985 but it was a typical Microsoft launch: not very usable for about two or three revisions. It wasn’t until Windows 3’s release in 1991 and then Windows 3.1 in 1992 that people began to think visually in their use of computing, and with it, programmers began to think visually in terms of application design.

Windows 3.0 and 3.1 finally made a graphical desktop useable on the PC, and that’s when visual design finally started to take off. Beginning in the early 90s, typical PCs used 32-bit processors, sported more than 640k of memory, and more importantly, they had a graphical desktop and a mouse.

While TurboPascal launched the idea of an integrated development environment, Duntemann credits Microsoft’s Visual Basic (VB), launched in 1991, with being the first real IDE. It also launched a bit of an arms race. Microsoft was in it with Visual Basic, a nod to its heritage since the company was launched on a BASIC compiler for the Altair computer in 1975. It later added Visual C++ and then Visual J++, a Java compiler that produced native Windows apps from Java code, to the extreme consternation of Java’s creator, Sun Microsystems.

Borland would fire back in 1992 with Delphi, a Pascal-based integrated development environment where you designed, coded, tested, and debugged all within the interface of the program. In addition to helping developers writing their own code, Delphi introduced the concept of building applications from pre-fabricated objects.

The inspiration for Delphi was “How could we rapidly and visually build apps,” said Intersimone. “Initially, it was no code. Just drag and drop components. Ultimately for us it was, ‘How can we get more done with less people.’” Several years later came C++Builder, which put a Delphi-like interface on top of a C++ compiler.

Even Symantec got into the fight thanks to its acquisitions of THINK Pascal, THINK C, Symantec C++, and Visual Café for Java development. Symantec’s development tools never gained significant traction, however. Eventually the company exited the tools business in the late 1990s.

The timing of IDEs was also perfect for a new form of development: the Web. While HTML code is hardly as complex as most C++ or Assembly language programs, for the beginning developer, HTML was still a challenge. In the mid- to late-1990s, visual webpage builders used the same drag-and-drop methods pioneered in Windows application development just a few years earlier. Among them: Microsoft’s Front Page, which built webpages that looked especially good in Internet Explorer.

IDEs took programming out of the realm of arcane coding books as thick as a phone book and reduced many hours of work to just a few clicks. Where IDEs have dumbed down programming and caused bad habits is this idea of dragging and dropping controls, where you can design a window by dragging buttons onto it. The advent of the IDE made programming more accessible. Programmers could make components and use existing components.

IDEs made developers do better work without having to do the heavy lifting of writing all the visual features, such as menus, windows, and radio buttons. Ultimately you still have to write code to do things like business logic.

The tradeoff for the pros was too good to ignore. The big change was the time you used to waste designing GUIs, how you put in forms and check boxes. That used to be done textually. When visual form design tools began to appear, productivity for generating user interfaces went through the roof.

Fast forward to today.

IDEs certainly didn’t stop with those early tools. The newest crop of IDEs takes advantage of cloud computing. Today’s IDEs bring the entire application development lifecycle under one roof. Developers can create applications without any traditional programming abstractions, using metadata-driven application models, and achieve similar productivity gains when it comes to application deployment. They uniquely combine visual development with integrated deployment, monitoring, and sometimes even collaboration, instantly available in the cloud. One day we may look back at this point in computing history with nostalgia and wonder how we ever did without these capabilities.

IDE for WEB. The timing of IDEs was also perfect for a new form of development: the Web. HTML code for the beginning developer was a challenge. In the mid- to late-1990s, visual webpage builders used the same drag-and-drop methods pioneered in Windows application development just a few years earlier. Among them: Microsoft’s Front Page.

NetBeans IDE. It is an open-source IDE for developing primarily with Java. NetBeans began in 1996 as Xelfi (word play on Delphi) a Java IDE student project at Charles University in Prague. In 1997 a company was formed around the project and commercial versions of the NetBeans IDE were produced. In 1999 it was bought by Sun Microsystems. Sun open-sourced the NetBeans IDE in June of 2000. In 2010, Sun (and thus NetBeans) was acquired by Oracle.

Eclipse IDE. Eclipse originated from IBM VisualAge (1991). Eclipse began as a Smart Canada project. In November 2001, a consortium was formed with a board of stewards to further the development of Eclipse as open-source software. The original members were Borland, IBM, Merant, QNX Software Systems, Rational Software, Red Hat, SuSE, TogetherSoft and WebGain.The Eclipse software development kit (SDK) is meant for Java developers. Users can extend its abilities by installing - development toolkits for other programming languages.

IntelliJ IDEA IDE. IntelliJ IDEA is a Java IDE by JetBrains. The first version of IntelliJ IDEA was released in January 2001, and at the time was one of the first available Java IDE with advanced code navigation and code refactoring capabilities integrated. IntelliJ IDEA Community Edition is the open source version of IntelliJ IDEA

Lazarus IDE. Lazarus is a free cross-platform visual IDE using the Free Pascal compiler, which supports dialects of Object Pascal. The first attempt to develop a visual IDE for Free Pascal dates back to 1998. The first final Lazarus version (1.0) was released in 2012. Lazarus 1.2 with significant enhancements was released in 2014.

1 http://www.mendix.com/think-tank/the-history-of-visual-development-environments-imagine-theres-no-ides-its-difficult-if-you-try/


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