March 24, 2004

Interview with REALbasic 5.5's German distributor

Author: Michael 'STIBS' Stibane

Real Software, Inc. recently announced the availability of REALbasic 5.5, a RAD development environment for Windows and Mac OS X that can compile GTK-based native Linux applications. I wanted to ask Real Software a few questions about the new software. Since I'm German, the company pointed me to its German partner, Application Systems GmbH from Heidelberg. I spoke with CEO Volker Ritzhaupt.STIBS: What are the outstanding technical features of REALbasic?

Ritzhaupt: Probably the most important feature of REALbasic is that it makes it easy for anyone to create their own software for Linux, Macintosh, and Windows all from one code base.

STIBS: Development is currently done under Windows since no development environment exists for Linux yet. Are there plans for a native Linux development environment?

Ritzhaupt: We plan to offer a native Linux version of the REALbasic IDE toward the end of the year.

STIBS: REALbasic offers a wizard to convert Microsoft Visual Basic code to REALbasic. Since Visual Basic heavily relies on DLLs and OCX components, up to what level is porting the VB functionality to Linux with this wizard possible?

Ritzhaupt: Some VB apps use lots of DLLs but we have found that most do not. Even those that do often are simply using a feature that is already native to REALbasic. We've found that about 70% of most projects will be portable.

STIBS: Do the applications compiled for Linux need runtime libraries or does REALbasic produce a standalone executable?

Ritzhaupt: REALbasic builds standalone executables. Our licensing has always been royalty-free.

STIBS: The Professional Edition license, which is the license that gives developer the ability to port applications, costs Linux developers US$400 or, in Germany, €369. That's a price no developer working on an Open Source project in his free time pays from his own pocket. Why did you set the price tag for developing Linux applications that high? Are there plans to offer a lower-priced Standard edition that only compiles Linux applications?

Ritzhaupt: Our Standard edition is priced at $100US (prices vary slightly from country to country). Once we bring the REALbasic IDE to Linux, open source developers will be able to purchase the Standard edition for building Linux applications.

STIBS: Why did you choose GTK as the toolkit for Linux rather than Qt?

Ritzhaupt: Qt is expensive. They have a free version if you're writing software that you plan to give away. The developer license for commercial software is over $1,000US per developer and that's for just one platform. Borland owns part of Trolltech (the makers of Qt) and their CEO sits on the board of Trolltech. That explains how they can use it. Also, GTK is open source, so should we find a bug in GTK that we need to fix, we can fix it and contribute the fix to the community.

STIBS: One of the first people who built a BASIC compiler for Linux with a development environment under Windows was William Yu with his RapidQ, which still has a lot of fans. You hired William. What is his part in the development of the Linux functionality and REALbasic in general?

Ritzhaupt: William contributes to REALbasic in general but he was by far the most significant contribute to our Linux support.

I have not had a chance to test REALbasic myself yet, but my cousin Marc Stibane, who owns a Mac software company in Berlin, gave me his opinion. He said, "REALbasic is useful for projects that are intended to get the work done on all three platforms it supports, but when you try to port the specific advantages of one platform to another you are lost. REALbasic in its current state concentrates only on the basic common features."

I expect we will see commercial software for the Linux desktop written in REALbasic in the next months. The Visual Basic assistant allows easy porting of well-known Windows applications. What programs would be valuable additions to all the existing free software projects for Linux? Is there outstanding software you would pay for if it was available for Linux?

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