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Borland creates a RAD tool for the rest of us

Free version of Borland's Kylix may spur development of many new GPL applications

Borland's release of Kylix, the Delphi-esque rapid application development tool for Linux, was one of the most anticipated new products to hit the Linux world. The promise and allure of Kylix was that it would provide an easy transition for the millions of Borland Delphi programmers writing Windows applications to Linux. The only negative about Kylix was the pricing, which dropped recently.

Until the beginning of August, Kylix came in two versions. Kylix Server Developer, which includes the ability to write Web applications, costs a whopping $1,999. Kylix Desktop Developer, which now costs $199, is basically the same product without the Web development tools. Kylix Developer originally retailed for $999.

But now there is a third version, Kylix Open Edition. You can purchase it for $99, and get it on a CD with printed documentation. Or, you can download it for free. Well, you do have to register, but it's free as in beer. Borland's only caveat is all applications developed using Kylix Open Edition must be licensed under the GPL. The Open Edition does not have the pre-build database or Web application components of its higher-priced brethren, but otherwise it's their functional equivalent.

If you are writing in-house applications the GPL licensing requirement might be irrelevant. If you are writing applications that will be distributed, the GPL might be an issue. If you're uncertain, learn more about the GPL and its terms at the Free Software Foundation's Web site (see link below).

Borland sent me a review copy of Kylix Server Developer, and I downloaded a copy of the Open Edition. In a day or two, I had learned just enough to get in over my head and even become a little frustrated. The problems I had with Kylix were more about me than the product.

My experience doesn't match the intended audience. I'm accustomed to non-visual, procedural environments writing C on DOS, 4GL on SCO, COBOL and ALC on mainframes, or BASIC and MASM on PCs. Kylix is not like that. Kylix is based on Object Pascal, and it is a visual development environment. Further, except for some shell scripts, I hadn't written code for Linux. I probably represent the worst case among developers trying Kylix.

I secured a book on Kylix programming ("Kylix Power Solutions" by Don Taylor, Jim Mischel, and Tim Gentry) and dove in. I found the opening sections about the transition from writing for Windows to writing for Linux informative. The meat of the book, however, is aimed at the same group as Kylix itself: Delphi programmers, so it didn't meet my needs.

Simple application time

In spite of my handicaps, in a few days I managed to create a simple application using the Server Developer edition. I attempted to create a similar program using Open Edition. At the moment, however, I am stumped by a pesky compile error as I try to open an input text file. I call the application CRANAL 1.0, which is short for Code Red Analysis. It reads (or it will eventually, when I can open the log file) a standard Apache log file looking for page requests for "default.ida," the tell-tale signature of being probed by a Code Red infected box looking for new victims.

The user interface is simple. You choose the log file to be examined, select a starting date, and click on "Go." All Code Red activity for the week beginning on the date specified is displayed on a bar graph for each day.

Using Kylix's GUI RAD, I designed the form for a window to handle all the functionality described. Selecting the log file was a piece of cake. I used one of Kylix's pre-built dialogs for the task. To allow the user to pick a starting date, I created a second form for a modal window that appears when needed and disappears when completed. On the second form, I used three list boxes: one each for the month, day of the month, and year. I hate to have to shift back and forth from mouse to keyboard, so I made it pure click-and-go. Clicking an OK button closes the second window and takes you back to the first. For the bar graphs I used Kylix's progress bar component. Truly a piece of cake.

Once the forms had been designed, I turned to the tutorial in the Quick Start manual and followed along with it pretty much the way I had when I first played with Kylix. Of course I only used it as a guide for the pieces my little app required and ignored the rest. I didn't bother, for example, to put in a command menu or status bar.

To begin generating a little more code, I added an "Action List" object. It's basically a list of the procedures/routines/functions (in Pascal, they are called procedures) that will exist in the program associated with the form. After the list of actions is entered, double clicking on one of them will create a procedure skeleton for it. An editor opens in the source code file positioned between the "begin" and "end" for the procedure and you can start coding the procedure immediately.

Connecting the code in the procedures to events is as easy as selecting the event and the procedure name from the Object Inspector. Each element of the form is in fact an object of some kind, and all the properties for that object can be set via the Object Inspector: Color, font, size, or events. You name it, you can set it.

How Pascal is like COBOL

For the elementary level of code I was writing, I found the transition to Pascal to be an easy one. It's very much like other structured languages in flow of control and syntax. The assignment operator still looks funny to me, but I bet I don't confuse it with the equality operator as often as I did while learning C.

I felt a twinge of vindication when I found GOTO was a part of the language. Object Pascal uses GOTO exactly the way I argued it should be used in COBOL 20 years ago: The destination of the GOTO cannot cross a structured boundary. Deeply nested IF statements were an inescapable conclusion of structured purists demanding a complete ban on GOTOs. It's nice to see some good sense returning.

Is CRANAL 1.0 a trivial application? You bet. Stylishly coded? Not a bit. But the exercise allowed me to become familiar enough with the Kylix development environment to open and read text files, do some string manipulation, and present a graphic representation of results.

Software development on Kylix is both quick and fun. I predict Kylix Open Edition will result in thousands of new applications for Linux. I know there will be at least one, because when I get the bugs worked out of CRANAL 1.0, I'll make the source code available for the asking.

If you've had the urge to write some GPL'd code for Linux, but lacked the know-how to cope with X, Qt, or GTK, you lost your excuse. Kylix builds widgets quickly and easily, without getting widget grease under your fingernails.

More Stories By Joe Barr

Joe Barr is a freelance journalist covering Linux, open source and network security. His 'Version Control' column has been a regular feature of Linux.SYS-CON.com since its inception. As far as we know, he is the only living journalist whose works have appeared both in phrack, the legendary underground zine, and IBM Personal Systems Magazine.

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