March 18, 1996

Powersoft's C++ tool will challenge Delphi

By Peter Coffee


Optima++, a Windows development tool that Powersoft Corp. plans to ship in May, looks and works like Visual Basic but runs at the speed of C++.

PC Week Labs found a late beta version to be an original and exceptionally well-thought-out approach to component-oriented Win32 development.

Initially, Optima++ will go head-to-head against Borland International Inc.'s newly released Delphi 2.0 (also reviewed this week) for ease of Windows development with a fully compiled language; later this summer Optima ++ will also become a strong contender for client/server development with the incorporation of Powersoft's database tools.

We recommend that developers plan to evaluate Optima++ in two roles. It can be a first tool for learning C++ and/or Windows; it can be a fast track to employing reusable code. Optima++ not only provides the visual construction of GUI applications that has made Visual Basic influential, but also brings drag-and-drop construction to underlying code.

First steps

Under Optima++, the initial steps of building a simple application have a familiar feel. We created a form, chose user-interface objects from a palette and drew them on the form, and chose user-interface events from a pop-up menu to open a text-editing window on our event-handling code.

But at this point, Optima++ broke new ground with its innovative Reference Card tool, which let us browse through available methods for user-interface objects using the same hierarchical tree display that is used in Windows 95 online help. When we found the desired method, we simply dragged its name from the Reference Card window to our source-code editor: Optima++ then opened its Parameter Wizard to prompt us for any needed parameter values, composed the corresponding code fragment, and inserted it at the desired point in our application. We easily imported third-party components into the Optima++ environment, which automatically built a Reference Card and added a tool-bar icon for each new item.

Debugging tools in Optima++ also set new standards for convenient integration into the code construction environment. Rather than displaying error messages in a separate window, with an additional step such as a double-click required to jump to the corresponding source-code line, Optima++ displayed our messages as color-coded lines, marked by distinctive icons, embedded right in the source code. Debugging displays, such as status of events in progress, used the same hierarchical tree presentation as the Reference Card to make detailed information easily accessible in a convenient form.

Optima++ will give developers a much more rapid path than other development systems toward understanding more than the superficial syntax of C++. The product's manual anticipates this role, with well-focused chapters designed for novice programmers, experienced C programmers new to C++, and Windows C++ developers making the move to Windows 95.

Watcom underneath

Behind the graphical tools of Optima++ lies the well-regarded Watcom C++ compiler. Watcom is now part of Powersoft, which is itself part of Sybase Inc. In the past, PC Week Labs' only criticism of Watcom C/C++ has been the incomplete integration of its visual tools. Optima++ has no such flaw: It puts the fastest compiler that we've found to date into an environment that is both approachable and productive.

Developers who want to go under the hood will find project-management facilities similar to those of Watcom C/C++, with one notable difference: The multiplatform targeting options that distinguish the Watcom compiler are absent. Optima++ is strictly a Win32 tool. Optima++ also limits code optimization choices to none, speed, or size, without detailed control over specific optimization choices.

The planned summer update of Optima++ will add Java development facilities, creating at least a three-way race among Optima++, Borland's C++ 5.0 suite, and Symantec Corp.'s Cafe.

Powersoft, in Concord, Mass., can be reached at (800) 395-3525 or at http://www.powersoft.com.


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JF