Real Basic for Macintosh Visual Quickstart Guide
Book Review

Real Basic for Macintosh Visual Quickstart Guide
Author: Michael Swaine

PeachPit Press
ISBN 0-201-78122-0
US 21.99, CAN 34.99

I had heard how easy programming with REALbasic was, I decided I wanted to program something using REALbasic. To that end I downloaded REALbasic and signed up for the e-mail list. I fired up REALbasic every week or so (I suppose I was hoping that programming would suddenly seem easy) and couldn’t figure out how to do a damn thing. The net result of my REALbasic interlude was a whole bunch of press release e-mails from Lorin Rivers (REALbasic PR guy). Reflecting on my failure at becoming a programmer (other failed ambitions include: cartoonist, scientist, writer, engineer, director, pro surfer, magician, comedian, and pimp daddy) I wondered “is it me or is REALbasic just a little too unintuitive?” The answer has been revealed to me thanks to REALbasic for Macintosh.

So was REALbasic beyond my feeble ken or is REALbasic incredibly powerful and surprisingly easy to use? Right now I lean heavily towards the latter, I blame my earlier failings on lack of proper research. Reading REALbasic for Macintosh and working a few examples made me realize that REALbasic is refreshingly easy to use and plenty powerful if you can just get a small foothold. How powerful? Well, every Mac aficionado is aware that periodically Microsoft hems and haws and then slyly hints that they may kill Office for the platform. When the folks at the Mac programming arm of Microsoft hear those rumblings they worry for their jobs. When they’re not wondering how long the checks are going to be coming they’re using REALbasic to mock up the next version of Office for Mac (Microsoft apparently does all the early work for Office in REALbasic and then programs the final release in something completely different). All this should illustrate that REALbasic is a fairly powerful programming language that you can use to make even the most complicated pieces of bloatware.

So we’ve established that REALbasic is plenty powerful, but is it easy to use? A week ago I would have said no, but now I think differently. So how did REALbasic for Macintosh instill such confidence in a complete neophyte like myself? Well Michael Swaine apparently subscribes to the idea that first you teach something very simple but complete and build from there (this was a popular way teaching violin at one time). In this spirit REALbasic for Macintosh starts out showing you how to build an HTML editor. Sure it’s simple and useless but if you work through the exercise you begin to see other possibilities. I am a walking example of how successful Michael Swaine’s methodology is. I read the Pong example and before I was through I could see how to write Breakout, Super Breakout, Centipede. Q-Bert remains a mystery, but you get the idea of how much you can learn from REALbasic for Macintosh. The examples offer positive feedback and keep the pages of REALbasic for Macintosh turning. While those pages are turning you’ll also realize that REALbasic for Macintosh is easily accessible and well thought out, Michael Swaine hasn’t written and edge of your seat instruction manual but if you’re looking to learn a good deal but don’t want to read completely mind numbing textbook type stuff you’ll be more than satisfied. In short, between the green and purple covers you’ll find everything you need to know to make a super bitchin’ REALbasic program, and you’ll be surprised how easily the text flows.

I hear the amassed readers crying: But Chris, What about the visual Quickstart part, that uses pictures instead of lengthy explanations? This is the biggest waste of visual quickstarting since “Braille: The Visual Quickstart Guide” Yep, REALbasic for Macintosh would be just as useful if you took an exacto knife and cut out every single picture (many are simply gratuitous and the rest don’t add anything meaningful). I suppose the Visual Quickstart part is tacked on to sell a few more copies but, truthfully, how many books about programming actually need the visual Quickstart part?

Okay, I’ve vented and I feel better. Let’s review the innate value of the product. REALbasic for Macintosh will set you back twenty-two US dollars. For the twenty two greenbacks you part with you get a top notch instructional manual that will take you as far as you want to go (the back says beginning to intermediate but by the time you’re finished with REALbasic for Macintosh you won’t need another book you’ll need the scary documentation). Compare this to REALbasic prices: The documentation (available via ftp) is a whopping 1,200 hundred pages or you can buy a printed version for fifty bucks. So for twenty-two bucks you can can save a few trees and get all the info you are ever likely to need. I call that a pretty decent value, accountants call it a nice ROI (return on investment) and Enron would subtract the twenty two dollars you spent from the fifty bucks you could have parted with and call it twenty eight dollars of hard earned profit.

Bottom Line: This is a great way to get familiar with REALbasic.

MacMice Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Chris Seibold

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