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Visual Pascal? If Only It Was To Be…

vpBorland International Inc. has begun alpha testing an object-oriented, Pascal-based visual development tool that it plans to launch by year’s end as an alternative to Visual Basic.

The tool, code-named VBK (Visual Basic Killer), is aimed at giving corporate developers a new tool to rapidly build applications and database front ends — a market in which Microsoft Corp.’s Visual Basic has thrived, said sources familiar with the software.

The tool supports Visual Basic VBX controls and features a notebook-style interface similar to Quattro Pro. A future version will include Borland’s database engine, sources said.

VBK works in much the same way as Visual Basic: Users create event-driven programs by dragging and dropping controls onto forms, setting the properties of these controls, and writing code to run behind the controls.

Sources said, however, that the most impressive difference is the end product.

“Visual Basic can be messy, with a lot of different files,” said one tester who asked to remain anonymous. For example, Visual Basic needs an executable file, a run-time library, VBX files, and sometimes a number of other files for functions such as access to Microsoft’s Jet database engine. VBK, on the other hand, creates a single file in “very tight, very efficient” native code, one source declared.

Developers will have two ways to take advantage of the tool’s component-driven approach to building applications. They can plug in VBX custom controls, although the VBX files must be included in the final product as separate files. The better option, testers said, is to use the object components that Borland will provide with the package. These are building blocks similar to VBXs, but are object-oriented. For example, the components can easily be subclassed — a process that is very difficult to do with VB X controls. When VBK generates an application, it links these objects into the executable file.

To gain ground against Visual Basic, however, the Scotts Valley, Calif., company’s product faces a few hurdles, such as the language. Pascal is not as popular as C or C++, and while the language has a solid core of proponents, some developers may resist switching to it.

One corporate developer said, however, that this should be a minor problem.

“Pascal isn’t that much more difficult to teach than BASIC, so it shouldn’t be much of a difficulty,” said Ray Koukari, MIS director with Arctco Inc., manufacturer of Arctic Cat snowmobiles, in Thief River Falls, Minn. Koukari, a Visual Basic user, had not seen VBK.

A second, more difficult hurdle is Visual Basic‘s popularity.

“Momentum is a tough thing to fight against,” said Visual Basic user David Greenberg, director of new systems development at Orlando Health Care Group, in Florida. Greenberg, who had not seen VBK, said the tool would have to provide “some fairly large incremental benefits, and those could fall into any number of categories: greater functionality, speed of development, built-in version control.”

Koukari pointed out that, to be used in his shop, VBK would have to fit smoothly into the current work environment.

“They’d have to support VBX completely, and they’d have to support OLE,” he said.

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