Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Servoy 4.0 Goes Eclipse!

Today Servoy released a public pre-release version of their upcoming namesake development and deployment environment. I've kicked the tires of this thing for the past few days and BOY OH BOY is it ever cool!

The Servoy engineers have managed to keep the ease-of-use of the 3.x product - while at the same time moving to standards-based Eclipse for the IDE. This move will bring them out of their proprietary IDE and into the most-used IDE on the planet.

It's always difficult to move to a new IDE - regardless of the reason - regardless of the tool. There is a certain comfort level that is inherent in working with a tool for a period of time. You know where all the menu commands are, where to click in the toolbars - you barely have to even look to know the context you're in.

As with most moves to a new environment - the devil is always in the details. There's always that initial hesitancy, and that initial fear of the unknown: Will the form designer still work the same? What about scripting? How about debugging?

I, too, had these types of concerns - because I had never used Eclipse before. I mean, hell, I'm not even a "real" programmer - just an old 4GL hack - and even I found it easy to figure out what's going on and get going right away.

The first thing I noticed is that it's both very familiar and totally different at the same time. It felt like when I was 17 and got to drive my dad's car - very grown up and luxurious. All the basic controls were right where I expected them - but there were a few that were in new places and it took about 1/2 hour of playing around (and referring to their great Flash tutorials and PDF files) to become familiar with all of it.

They have a great "Welcome" screen now - one that links to their site for more information and tutorials, and they even have a link to start the process of "checking out" a solution from the repository.

I'll admit that at first I found this to be a bit strange - but once I realized that Eclipse is a 100% file based environment, and that Servoy 3.x is a completely file-less environment - it began to make sense. Once I checked out a solution from the local repository (all the sample solutions now come automatically installed) - it basically looked and behaved just like the 3.x version - with some noticeable improvements:

You can edit multiple items at once. That means you can have multiple forms open, multiple methods (more on that in a minute), valuelists, table definitions, etc.

Gone are the modal dialog boxes for creating and editing objects. Everything is in its own tab, and you just hit Ctrl + S (or "Save" from the "File" menu) and that's it. You can even close a tab and it will ask you if you want to save your changes! Nice.

The other thing I wasn't quite used to is opening a form in the designer. In the 3.x product, you could just navigate to a form (via the windows menu - that would grow to a huge list in complicated solutions) - and go into designer mode. Then you would exit designer mode and "run" the current form.

In the 4.0 version - you can simply stay in the Form Designer and open up a Smart Client (that loads almost instantly!) and see the form that you're working on. They even hooked up the keyboard equivalent, so that your finger "memory" won't change and you get the same result.

The other thing that has been greatly improved is the way the over designer works. It's not really a huge change - but, for example, you can now click and move without first having to select the object. They've also added drag rectangles for the objects - making it easier to see where you're going to move them to.

And another small improvement - but one that I'm personally thankful for - is the ability to set the horizontal size of a form by dragging an arrow widget in the top ruler.

Again, in and of themselves, it's not that big of a deal - but it's these little improvements that really have the effect of giving the tool a more refined "feel."

The improvements just keep coming - especially when it comes to coding - but I'll get into that and the new Team Sharing capabilities tomorrow.

If you want to download the public preview (or the currently shipping 3.5 version for that matter) - just go to http://www.servoy.com/developer. They've also scheduled some live webinar events this week (and next) - but you gotta' register for them at their events page.

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