Remember programming in the 90s?
No? Pff… kids.
Most of it (paradigm du jour notwithstanding) was pretty much the same thing we have today. Yeah, intellisense has gotten “better” and there are all kinds of funky “help the programmer to be lazy as a dog and not have to remember anything about the language or tools he’s supposed to actually know” tools now. (I actually heard in a class “right click, select ‘refactor’ and see what’s not greyed out. It might give you an idea.” Kernighan wept.)
But there was a class of programming environment/tool that, while destined to the bloat junkyard where all things that are trying to be all things to all people eventually end up, they did a couple things really well.
At the time they were called “3rd Generation Languages” and they included such things as PowerBuilder and SqlWindows. These were less programming languages than they were database client creation tools (using state of the art client-server technology) that had some very rich background scripting languages.
Now that I think about it, they were probably the result of a brainstorming session where someone said “What if we base the next generation of development tools, not on current compiler or scripting toolchains, but on dBase III and Clipper.”
SqlWindows had a developer IDE that allowed rich UI development (including control creation and customization) and it ran against their (I think the company’s name was Gupta) backend RDBMS, SqlBase.
If you knew what you wanted to do with it, it was really slick. I could pop out a full, installable database application in under a couple hours. And I mean a useful one; not some piece of ‘hello world’ garbage.
But, they never QUITE got the market share needed and they were never QUITE general purpose enough for “all of your client-side development needs.” and it’s a shame.
Now it’s 20+ years later, and I’m a C++/Perl/Sql/Python guy (in approximately that order) and I’m in a situation where I need to bang out a few database applications, both at work and for personal use.
And I’m finding myself at a loss. What do people even use for that nowadays? Almost everything I’ve developed in the last 20 years has been run off the command line. (There’s not a lot of GUI elements in protocol engines, risk analytics tools, or ETL scripts.)
Do people boot up Visual Studio and drag controls around, then use a cli interface to get to the database? No way. Is there some other massive alphabet soup people have to commit to forgetting in a year when it goes out of style? Harrumph.
I miss being able to say “I have a schema, give me a default ‘form entry’ for this table that I can mess with for that table and add filters. Now give me a grid that’s bound to this other table via the FK relationship with this first form.”
I mean yeah, I want to gussy it up a bit (enough that Access and it’s ilk are out.) But I’m still talking about a plain old database application.
Now that I think about it Borland used to do a neat thing in the old Delphi chain. They had a series of native gui controls that were hopped up on database libraries so that you could do almost exactly this kind of thing. But it’s been so long since I’ve used them that I don’t remember if it was actually that good, or if my memory is just fuzzy.
So what’s out there? I don’t much give a crap what the back end language is, as long as it’s something sensible. As long as the toolkit can get to MySql and SqlServer, I’m pretty happy.