A year ago in "Yes, Virginia, There Is a REALbasic," in TidBITS-443, I praised REAL Software’s REALbasic as being a powerful object-oriented development environment that encouraged rapid, improvisational creation of useful, well-behaved Macintosh applications with pleasing interfaces. I put my time where my mouth was and have now written a book about REALbasic (called "REALbasic: The Definitive Guide" and due from O’Reilly in October).
While I was working on the book, REALbasic continued to evolve. This was a source of frustration for me, but no book can be up to the minute on the software it describes, and besides, it was also a source of great excitement, because the program improved as the book was being written. Having written the entire book initially to describe REALbasic version 1.0, I then rewrote it to describe version 2; and I’m glad I did. The timing turned out splendidly. Although REALbasic 2.0 was released prematurely, the 2.0.2 release (and even more so the 2.1 alphas which have followed it) eliminate so many problems and provide so many valuable improvements that users, in my view, should now no longer hesitate to upgrade or purchase the Standard version. And when they do, the book will be there to help them. (I cannot, however, yet recommend the $300 Professional version, which adds database functionality and the capability to build Windows programs from the same source code. These two features are still in rather poor shape, especially given their steep price tag.)
In REALbasic 2.0, there are many new Appearance Manager controls (such as bevel buttons), printing support is improved, QuickTime movies can be constructed in real time, Apple event support is better (though still incomplete), and the Mac toolbox can be called directly on both PowerPC and 68K machines. Many miscellaneous holes in functionality have been filled; some remain, but the folks at REAL Software know of the problems and appear to be taking them seriously, so there’s hope that these, too, may soon be fixed. Also, the programming language has been deepened through the addition of constants, pass-by-reference parameters, array parameters, and variants. Plus, the environment’s object orientation has become much more sophisticated thanks to constructors, virtual methods, and class interfaces which act as a stand-in for multiple inheritance. All that may sound daunting, but what it really comes down to is that programming with REALbasic is even easier and more natural than before.
I continue to recommend REALbasic strongly – and not just because of the book. It’s truly a fun and cool way to develop applications. I also think it would make a great environment for learning to program for the first time. I’ve been testing this notion on some children on loan from a friend, running a sort of private "computer camp" – the results have been wonderful. REALbasic gives instant gratification and turns programming constructs into vivid actions; the kids had a great time getting the computer to translate from English to Pig Latin, to draw stick figures and animate them, and to play tic-tac-toe.
REALbasic 2.0.2 Standard costs $100 ($60 academic), or $50 to upgrade from version 1.0 ($30 academic). You can buy it directly from REAL Software’s Web site.