DEVELOPER CAMP

Windows Watching

Simson L. Garfinkel

I have a confession to make.

Over the past two months, I've been using a 20MHz Intel-based '386 computer running Microsoft Windows 3.1. I've used Microsoft Word, Microsoft Access, Frame Technology's FrameMaker (both Version 3 and Version 4), and Quicken for Windows. I've used America Online's Windows interface. I've also played a boatload of games.

And I've come to one conclusion: NEXTSTEP developers have some catching up to do. Take Microsoft Access certainly not the best database available for Windows, but certainly destined to be an industry leader, thanks to the Microsoft moniker.

After spending an afternoon at the keyboard with Access, it became clear that it's a pretty good relational database. Access gives you graphical tools for building a database; and lets you design forms to enter, look up, and update data; build macros; make reports; and even control access to the data on a user-by-user or group-by-group basis. It provides single-user access on a single machine, or multiuser access over a network.

Automatically.

If all you want to do is build a flat-file database, Access and Stone Design's DataPhile are comparable products. DataPhile's big advantage is simplicity. With DataPhile, for example, if you want to put a number in a record, you tell DataPhile you want a number. With Access, you have to decide if you are going to be storing a byte, an integer, a long, or a float.

On the other hand, Access has zillions of features. Take forms design. Build a form with Access, and a Forms Wizard lets you build a form that is Single Column or Tabular, a Graph, or a Main Form with attached Subform. You then get to specify whether you want your fields to be With Access, and if the cells on a form should be standard, chiseled, shadowed, boxed, or embossed. With DataPhile, all you can do is chose one of three borders.

But Access doesn't do a very good job building those complex fields. If you aren't careful moving a shadowed field, for example, you'll find the shadow staying behind. That would never happen if shadowed fields were implemented under DataPhile, because the shadow would be drawn by the same Objective-C object that drew the rest of the cell. Indeed, it would be relatively easy for Stone Design to implement shadowed cells and a whole bunch of other Access features and to do them all right.

It would be easy, but it first has to be done. Until then, shadowed text fields is just another feature that Access has and DataPhile doesn't.

These are the feelings I get from most of the Windows programs that I've tried. They're not as neat or clean as their NEXTSTEP counterparts, but they've usually got many more features and get the job done. They are also way cheaper.

Compounding the problem, many NEXTSTEP developers are not even aware of these disparities. I called up Andrew Stone and asked him if he had played with Access. He said he didn't have a copy. In fact, he was somewhat surprised that I would sink so low as to actually purchase a '386 box for running Microsoft Windows.

This kind of snobbery is endemic in the NeXT developer community. It's also suicidal. There are a lot of bright, creative people out there writing software for Windows. Some of them have good ideas. It's worthwhile to check them out.

After all, Windows apps are the competition.

Simson L. Garfinkel is the senior contributing editor to NeXTWORLD.