By Martin Heller
The days when I could carry my entire development environment on a floppy disk are gone. Borland's C++ Development Suite 5.0 sets a new mark in the file-size category, requiring upwards of 200MB for a complete installation. But there's a lot crammed into that space.
The Borland C++ compiler and its associated tools support all the latest ANSI keywords and extensions, including the standard C++ library. They can generate either 32- or 16-bit targets from a single environment, a real time-saver.
Almost all development environments come on CD-ROM these days, and chew up at least 100MB of hard disk space when installed, so I don't mean to pick on Borland. And, as with most bulky applications, you can also save disk space by doing a partial install of the software, or even by setting up the product to run directly from the CD.
BC++ also supports Java development. While you can use it to develop Java applets, it's not as convenient or satisfying as developing Java from a specialized Java development environment such as Symantec's Café. Borland's AppAccelerator JIT compiler is speedier than the standard Java interpreter, but it's not redistributable. And Borland's Java debugger seems slow and fragile compared to Café's debugger. I suspect that Borland's Java support will improve with its release of Latté, its own specialized Java programming environment.
Borland updated its venerable ObjectWindows Library (OWL), so it now supports the new Windows 95 common controls, and the revised compiler has been extended to also compile Microsoft Foundation Class (MFC) code. Unfortunately, although it supports MFC, Borland didn't include the MFC sources, so you'll be applying some source code patches whenever you want to compile MFC with BC++, a tedious extra step that shouldn't have been necessary.
The compiler gave me satisfactory performance during operation, and the speed of the compiled code was generally competitive with other C++ environments. Programmer productivity is the real criterion for picking a development package, in any case.
The BC++ Integrated Development Environment (IDE) is now fully programmable, for those of you who might like using ObjectScript to customize and automate your programming environment. Borland certainly hopes you will. In fact, the company even sponsored an ObjectScripting contest to promote the idea.
Borland's graphical resource editing tools are still top-notch. They are now integrated visually into the IDE. Still, they don't have the same functional integration as Microsoft's. In Visual C++, you can generate a class to handle a dialog from the graphical dialog editor, an efficiency that can save much time for the
developer. If Borland's tools can do that, I certainly have yet to figure out how.
On the plus side, Borland's class browser is fully graphical, and Borland's C++ debugging tools have been augmented in this edition of the environment. The company added CodeGuard, an automatic runtime code checking tool, to the mix. While it's not a substitute for a more thorough bug detection program like NuMega's BoundsChecker, CodeGuard usually manages to catch simple pointer and handle usage errors that might otherwise go undetected.
The final pieces of the BC++ Development Suite are PVCS Version Manager and InstallShield Express. The former helps teams manage BC++ projects and deal with the always tricky version-control problem. InstallShield can help developers build professional-looking installation programs without writing scripts or spending years on setup routines. These features are integrated well enough to give the word "suite" some meaning.
My biggest problem with this suite is pretty fundamental, however: MFC implementation. BC++'s half-hearted MFC support probably will keep me from choosing it as my primary work environment. Borland has, however, already uploaded one patch to its BC++ Web page, http://www.borland.com/. Hopefully, I'll see others on the Borland Web site that address this problem.
Overall, BC++ Development Suite 5.0 is a creditable next step for Borland, and also a good value. It makes a nice upgrade for established Borland C++ developers, especially if they are committed to OWL, insist on working with a third-party framework and/or need to work without an application framework.
Borland C++ Development Suite 5.0
Price: $499.95; competitive upgrade, $349.95
Pros: C++ and Java compilers; debugger, version control and database tools; generates 16- and 32-bit C++apps
Cons: Doesn't include MFC
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.1x, NT
Disk Space: 250MB
WinMag Box Score: 3.5