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September 92 - WAMADA Notes


John MacVeigh

July – Component Software

The July meeting began with a brief (by definition) discussion of what the attendees knew about Bedrock. It is said to be based, currently, on TCL, but with substantial additions (150 classes vs. 64 for TCL). Apple is now involved in making many changes and contributions to add MacApp's functionality. This makes it difficult for even Symantec to describe the form of the final framework. Based on some assumptions about the number of MacApp engineers actually assigned to MacApp, it is rumored that Apple has been helping with Bedrock since February. One can only hope. At least one attendee's company has decided to postpone use of MacApp until the fog lifts. The first public betas are said to be scheduled for release by the end of the year. I think the general feeling is that developers will feel better about building on Bedrock once they determine that there are no fault lines nearby. The ground has shifted under us enough already. By the way, Bedrock will compile with either Zortech or Borland compilers on the PC, and MPW CFront (sigh) on the Mac. And speaking of compilers…

Component Workshop

Component Software's Bill McHale (CEO), and Stonewall Ballard (Chief Technical Guy) were WAMADA's featured guests this month. Component Software (CS) is a spin-off of ON Technology, and is backed by some of the heavy hitters in the venture capital world. (The latter is assumed to be a good thing.) Their product, Component Workshop™ (CW), is, in brief, an attempt to combine the programmer productivity of SmallTalk with the application efficiency of C and C++. By all appearances, they have succeeded admirably.

Environmentally Sound

The development environment provided by CW is based on an incremental C++ compiler. You can change a function and have it compiled and running (not interpreted) almost immediately. A debugger allows you to see the currently executing source code, and to change it. A second key to the CW environment is a local object database which holds the source to all of your classes. A number of browsers assist you in creating and reviewing your work. You can navigate your classes as a graph, cross-reference calls, and examine "modules". Modules provide a location for globals, and allow CS to remove C's file level scoping rules. The result is that there are no more source files (or Make file!) to deal with.

Another key feature of the Workshop is that it provides a "genuine, high performance" garbage collector. It is available within the Workshop environment, and also to your final application. Stoney Ballard estimates that the presence of a garbage collector results in a 30% to 60% reduction in programmer time. Lastly, it should be mentioned that CW is built with itself. Compilers which are used to build themselves have, in my experience far, far fewer bugs then those written in another language.

To produce a shipping version of your application, you "extrude" your main program from the workshop environment. Extrusion extracts only those classes which are actually used by your app. It optimizes out unused functions, removes unused polymorphism, and then generates C source files for the MPW compiler, along with a Make file. This removes from CS the burden of producing world-class globally optimizing compilers for multiple platforms. Since the result is C, you could presumably have your pick of compilers for the final compilation. In the future CS intends to be compatible with Apple's upcoming "L" compiler.

The Vision Thing

I once worked with a programmer who described his job as "writing novels for computers to read". Unfortunately, we can't all be as prolific as Isaac Asimov. Part of the gestalt (where do I get these words?) of Component Workshop, according to Ballard, is to move programming away from a literary exercise and toward a model building exercise. Progressive refinement of an application benefits from short turn-around time, but also from careful creation of the classes, to limit their duties (recall the monolithic nature of the original MacApp TDocument ). Stoney described his staff's "fanatic attention to abstraction", and mentioned that CW currently contains 782 classes (many used by the compiler). Portable (cross-platform) applications are made possible by layered abstractions which decouple the programmer's model from the actual OS.

Thus CW is envisioned as a tool kit of parts (components) which you assemble with a plug-and-jack method of construction (but through full C++ syntax, not a "visual" interface). This creates a base for add-on components. Existing components include a text editor and a list manager. "Target kits", which encapsulate toolbox calls, will be provided for portability. Third party tool-shops can also produce components to allow the Workshop to keep up with continued Apple OS developments. Finally, CW does provide an event-driven application framework. [Since it's an application, and written with itself, and all source code (except the compiler) is provided, it would be hard not to come with one!] Time prevented an in-depth review of the framework, but it is based in mixin classes, rather then MacApp's behavior mechanism.

Pro Business

Component intends to ship version 1 for the Macintosh on September 30th, and version 1 for Windows in the first quarter of '93. Add-on tools and components would ship in the second quarter. Version 1 of Component Workshop is intended primarily for new applications, not those ported from elsewhere (it can both import and export C++, but the import facility is not considered robust enough in version 1). The primary goal of Version 2 is to be compatible with everything, even Bedrock.

Some of Component's early users are in-house programmers at companies like Liberty Mutual, but their target market is the commercial shrink-wrap product developer. Pricing has not yet been determined. While most venture capital backers are known to want a quick return on their investment, the technologists want to get their product into the hands of as many people as possible. For a first approximation, it would be fair to calculate the cost of assembling the separate tools you would need to get "equivalent" functionality on the Mac. CS is also looking at ways to get small tool shops a reduced price in exchange for the development of add-on components.

Final Tally

The scope of the job Component Software has set for itself is quite broad. While the key technologies (compiler, database, extruder) are in place and working, a number of ancillary features will need improvements to keep up with other environments. In particular, some attendees are Object Master™ fans and were hoping to see similar functionality in CW. (Perhaps ACIUS needs an ally in the tool business?) Graphical view creation, and true multi-user access to the class database were also asked about. Currently, views are handled by translating from MacApp or TCL views. Workgroup support can be done now with multiple steps. A full solution requires a cross platform OODB, something Component might need to get from a third party. Instant turn-around time, the class database, and interactive browsing and debugging are the key value-added features which Component Workshop brings to the Mac developer (oh, ok, and Windows, too). These, and the shipment schedule, should make Component Workshop a strong competitor in the development environment arena.

Upcoming in August-TBA

Popular myths about D.C. weather in August tend to keep people away from our little sauna on the Potomac. Still, we'll convince someone to pay us a visit: stay tuned.

WAMADA meets every third Wednesday at McDonnell Douglas in Tyson's Corner, Virginia, beginning around 7:15 p.m. For a map, send a message to JEFFRIES.L on AppleLink, or call Leslie at (301) 340-5126 during business hours (EDT). The map and directions are also available in the MADA library in the Macintosh Developer's Forum on Compuserve.


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