Product Review: IBM VisualAge for C++ Boosts Tools

C++ developers are always seeking ways to enjoy the power and performance of the language; yet they also strive to complete their projects in a more timely manner. IBM Corp.'s VisualAge for C++ Professional 4.0 provides the tools necessary to shorten the project cycle while also beefing up compilation performance.

For the most part, VisualAge for C++ compares favorably to its competitors, such as Microsoft's Visual C++ and Inprise's (formerly Borland) C++ Builder 4. However, the VisualAge for C++ integrated development environment (IDE) is not nearly as responsive as those in competing offerings.

I found the VisualAge for C++ IDE to be neatly thought out, with its tabbed-access metaphor. However, my interactions with various functions in the IDE proved quite sluggish. By contrast, Inprise C++ Builder was much faster. Having the tools to get the job done is important, but adequate interaction response time is also critical.

Slow interaction aside, VisualAge for C++ does provide tools that are on par with its rivals. And in some areas, IBM goes beyond the offerings of its competitors.

For example, VisualAge for C++ supports traditional ordered source code as well as orderless coding. You can use either method; the orderless approach allows you to use a function or class without having to previously declare it.

IBM also leads its rivals with the detailed help system in VisualAge for C++. The HTML-based system includes searching capabilities that enable developers to quickly locate information.

Similar to Inprise, VisualAge for C++ supports both an IDE and a command-line approach to development. And this VisualAge version, like Inprise's C++ Builder, supports the latest C++ language standards.

I created some test projects from scratch, added some existing code, and I also tried VisualAge for C++'s graphical tools to create projects. Though the going was slow, I was able to complete my projects using any of these methods.

IBM has provided two useful visual tools in VisualAge for C++ -- Visual Builder and Data Access Builder. The former lets you assemble applications from predefined parts and generates the code for you. The latter supports the graphical mapping of relational data into reusable components. The graphical tools generate operating system-neutral code, so moving your applications among platforms should not present any difficulty.

Though my interactions with the development environment were sluggish, the compilation speed was exactly the opposite. The incremental compiler provided in VisualAge for C++ proved to be a peppy performer.

The compilation speed was noticeably improved vs. the previous VisualAge for C++ version. Though my measurements were informal, the VisualAge for C++ compiler speed seemed on par with that of Inprise's C++ Builder's.

Also similar to Inprise, IBM's VisualAge for C++ sports the necessary development tools for project debugging and multitiered development efforts. However, IBM's tools are not as extensive as those found in the Inprise product.

As a C++ development tool, VisualAge contains many useful features that developers need. If IBM can address the sluggishness in the IDE, VisualAge for C++ is worth investigating as a development tool choice.

(Senior Analyst Maggie Biggs evaluates application development and database technologies at the InfoWorld Test Center. She can be reached via e-mail at BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOODIBM VisualAge for C++ Professional 4.0Like its rivals, this version of IBM's C++ development tool boasts developer productivity enhancements and faster compilation. The updated development interface is very easy to navigate and sports useful tools. However, the development environment itself is much less responsive than its competitors.

Pros: Tabbed access to projects simplifies navigation; speedy incremental compilation; supports orderless coding; includes predefined parts and code-generation capabilities; useful detailed help system; complies with the latest C++ language standards.

Cons: Slow response in the development environment.

IBM Corp., Armonk, New York; (800) 426-3333;

Price: US$899 per developer for Professional version; $249 to upgrade from the previous version.

Platforms: Windows NT, OS/2, and AIX.

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