by Mark Trescowthick - GUI Computing
Ross Mack makes the comment in this issue that he's always amazed by the number of books programming manages to generate. I can only agree. Unfortunately, many seem to be descendants of the "How To Get Rich in 1 Year" variety, wherein the advice is, more often than not, summarised by "Get Rich by Writing a Book Called 'How to Get Rich'" - and other similarly recursive nonsense. If anything, Visual Basic's huge success has worsened this problem. However, be careful not to throw the useful baby out with the proverbial bathwater. Four books of recent times spring to mind as being only too useful in one way or another.
The first, unsurprisingly, is Dan Appleman's latest racy bestseller "The VB Programmer's Guide to the Win32 API" (where does he get these catchy titles?). Weighing in at a little under 2 kilos (!), this certainly qualifies as a heavyweight. It typifies Dan's approach to these things - thorough, well-exampled, encyclopedic, and thoroughly boring... unless, of course, you happen to want to program in Win32/VB.
The next is reviewed by Ross Mack in this issue, "The Art of Visual Basic Programming" by Mark Warhol. This looks the goods to me, and certainly deserves a read from any VB programmer who operates in the "Real World" - which, thankfully, most do.
Book three has only a passing VB relationship, and postulates many ideas with which I fundamentally disagree. Alan Cooper's "About Face" may well be written by the father of VB, but its opinions should challenge any Windows programmer. As I say, I can't agree with much of what he writes, but the book forced me to think through my own opinions and for that alone it is a 'must read'.
The final book sports the most misleading title for quite a while - William Orvis' "Developing a Professional VB Application in 14 days". All you ever wanted to know in 14 days? Well, no. And, again, I don't necessarily agree wholeheartedly with everything it has to say. But a very solid and practically-based approach to the real world of VB, especially in the area of project management. Recommended for those starting out, and no bad read for those who already think they know.
On the software front, we have suddenly seen the long-expected deluge of clever OCXs start to arrive, as more and more users and developers make the move to Win32. Most notably a positive plethora of Internet-enabling addons and a raft of productivity addins.
Mabry Software's Internet Pack contains fourteen 32-bit OCXs, giving you a full range of Internet services. And source is available if required. Weblink X-Works provides a means for easy database access via the World Wide Web, and looks a good way to interface Visual Basic to your web server without any need for intermediate ODBC, DDE, Perl, or suchlike. To round out the best of the Internet bunch, Ergo Pack from Component Graphics (as reviewed this issue) features a complete HTML browser among a series of other custom controls which include a grid, tree control, and scheduling controls.
On the productivity front, VB AppFramework might well be worth a look - if you're thinking of a large-scale VB project. It allows you to capture and store Templates and Styles for VB objects, which makes for very easy reuse. VB/CodeReview is quality control tool with a database of over two megabytes of known bugs, performance zappers, and gotchas. It goes through each and every line in your project and checks it against these conditions to make sure it is complete, and has much to recommend it as both a quality check and standards enforcer.
A couple of other notables also deserve attention. VBXstasy provides a series of what it terms 'custom design sets' that replace VB's normal interface elements, and it aimed fairly and squarely at the games / multimedia market. It features automatic resolution and colour detection, and is surprisingly parsimonious when it comes to resource use. VBXchange is something many VB developers have been looking for for some time, though it's applicable throughout the Windows world - an ODBC driver for the Quicken 5 file format. If you're dealing with the Registry on a regular basis, check out the Wright Registry Control and its companion Process Control - an enhanced Shell command. Finally, Wise users should check out the new SmartPatch addon for Wise.
While the controls market starts to hot up again, one can only shake one's head in wonder at the Internet market. By the time you read this, both Borland's Latte and Microsoft's Jakarta should be well into their respective beta cycles. Interestingly, this time both Microsoft and Borland sit largely on the same side of this particular fence, as both are big supporters of the COM standard - unusual bedfellows to say the least! With Latte based on the Delphi IDE and Jakarta on the VC++ version, it will be interesting to see which offers the more complete programming environment.
Finally, planning for this year's Visual Basic Australia
conference continues apace. A draft speaking schedule and full
details (as we currently know them!) are now available online
We are still looking for one or two Case Studies, so if you have
something you feel may be appropriate, please
drop me a line in email. I hope to
see you there.