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Jim Karabatsos - GUI Computing
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This is a rushed, first look at a new toy that just came in the door. It is called Applet Designer and is from a company called TVObjects Corporation in the USA. Essentially, it is a VB4 add-in that allows you to convert a VB form to a Java applet. No, truly, I'm not kidding.

Part of the package is a 32-bit OCX that you drop onto a form in design mode in VB4. You then use VB's standard controls to lay out your form just as if you were using Visual Basic.

The product is controlled from a floating toolbar and is really quite simple. Pressing one button adds a new form to your project with the special OCX already loaded. When you are done, pressing another button will compile the form into a Java applet. A few other buttons set up options (like directories for the generated source, the location of your Java compiler, etc) and display the rudimentary help. It really is just about as simple as that.

There are some limitations on what the product can and can't do. I won't list every feature or limitation here but the following is an indication of the sort of things it can deal with. Applet Designer supports the following VB controls: CheckBox, ComboBox, CommandButton, Image, Label, Line, ListBox, PictureBox, OptionButton and TextBox. It supports all VB variable types except Object, Variant and user-defined types. Interestingly, it does not support Select statements (so you will have to go back to nested if statements) nor the Do...Loop construct - it does support While...Wend and For...Next loops. Control arrays are supported only for option buttons. You must write all your code in the form module and each form is a separate applet.

I managed to create a Java calculator applet, that worked correctly in Internet Explorer 3, about five minutes after I installed the software and browsed through the (thin) manual. I didn't even see a line of Java code until I looked at what I had done. It's surprising just how much code it takes to do even simple things in Java - we are so used to RAD environments like VB and Delphi that we forget how much time they save us.

This product is not a threat to full-blown Java development environments like Visual J++, and especially not to the new RAD environments like Symantec's Visual Café or Borland's Open JBuilder. For a VB developer who wants to build basic Java applets with a minimum of fuss, and effectively no learning curve, it looks very cool indeed.

Written by: Jim Karabatsos
November '96

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