Sunday, March 28, 2010

Welcome to My Research and Development Lab

In search of the perfect next development tool to create our shop floor control system I was now in full blown research and development mode. I would read lots of magazines looking to learn as much as I could. I had a modem and a phone line in my office now too, and I was downloading free programming tools and trying them out.

Bob allowed me to take off and go to the public library so that I could read magazines articles about languages and programming. There were plenty of articles about object oriented extensions to languages like C and Forth. I found all this very interesting, but I had no experience with object oriented programming so I really didn't know what to think.

I saw an ad in a magazine for a language called Actor by the Whitewater Group, and this really caught my attention. The code looked like C, but it was supposed to be object oriented. There was a code snippet in a screenshot in the ad that implemented a very simple drawing program. The code was just a few lines long. The screenshot also showed the simple drawing program and they used it to draw a version of the product logo. The idea was that you could create very sophisticated software with very little code. The only thing was that the software was not cheap, and it required a copy of Microsoft Windows 2.1. We weren't yet running Windows on any computer in our office. This was in the summer of 1988.

One other tool I was interested in was called Matrix Layout. This was a visual flowcharting tool that produced graphical DOS applications. I guess you could call it a kind of HyperCard, which is a Macintosh programming tool for end users. It was only $149 so I obtained a copy for myself. The developer's office was in Boston, so I just drove there one day after work and bought it at the receptionist's desk. I was ultimately quite disappointed by this product. I tried to prototype a version of the video rental application I wrote in BASIC, but it was too much effort for the result. Once you've used a real programming language, these visual tools for non-programmers feel very limited. Clarion is really a lot better because it has a real programming language you can use to script extensions beyond the visual layout tools. Matrix Layout did not provide any way to write scripts. A simple BASIC interpreter would have done great things for this tool.

Then there was Ashton Tate's Framework. This was a fascinating programming system where modules of your application are in a frame, which can hold more frames, and these can hold yet more frames, etc. It had a scripting language called FRED which was based on a Lisp, a very powerful language. Framework was an integrated office suite, and it was extensible using the frame concept and the the scripting language. I never actually got to try it out, but I'm not sure it would have been suitable for the shop floor control system I wanted to develop anyways.

If Bob was beginning to wonder about whether I was ever going to produce anything for all the time and money spent, I never knew it. He was very patient. I did manage to stay busy with smaller projects. He had lots of ideas to enhance the applications I had already written, and he would come to me and we would talk about what he would like.

No comments: