Scarcely a day goes by at the moment without a software house announcing that it is developing object-oriented techniques; however, few vendors are prepared to take the announcement further, largely because nobody within the industry is completely sure what such techniques are. Nevertheless, one product manager brave enough to dip his toe in the water […]
Scarcely a day goes by at the moment without a software house announcing that it is developing object-oriented techniques; however, few vendors are prepared to take the announcement further, largely because nobody within the industry is completely sure what such techniques are. Nevertheless, one product manager brave enough to dip his toe in the water is Chris Hibbert, product manager for DataFlex (Information Management) Services Ltd. He works from the definition that object-oriented techniques include message passing, inheritance and reusability, giving the user the ability to define an object, give it characteristics, bring it into play and modify it without rewriting. According to Hibbert, object-oriented techniques are coming to the fore front of software discussions at the moment because of the difficulty of writing original packages for something like Presentation Manager. For, as the industry-wide recognition for user-friendliness is leading to a standardised expectation of what a screen should look like, programmers are looking around for quick and simple ways to create such standard screens. Object-oriented programming, with its collection of commonly used objects, is one such way. Screen conformity is now considered to be the foundation for business applications, but, as Hibbert emphasised, this does not necessarily mean graphical user interfaces, which are not portable to the older style of the data processing world. Graphical user interfaces are meaningless, for example, to Wyse 60 users who would nevertheless like to benefit from pop-ups, overlays and so on.
For these people the acronym COW has been coined meaning chracter-oriented windows, and Hibbert added that companies that ignore COW-users stand to lose out on a large chunk of business in the short term. Nevertheless, Data Acess Corp is planning to develop a DataFlex version for OS/2 Presentation Manager which is scheduled for release at the end of 1990. Other environments being considered for development are OSF/Motif, Microsoft Windows-386, Open Look, X Window System and the Apple Mac. Presentation Manager is not the obvious first development choice for a micro-based company hoping to move into the workstation transaction processing environment (CI No 1,295), but Hibbert said that it is the only one with a current finished definition and that once a product has been developed for that environment it is far less of a research and development investment to bring on other versions. Beyond Data Access’s own development decisions Hibbert knows that object-orientation will have a significant impact on data processing departments in cutting down their bottleneck of application development. Using object-oriented techniques programmers will, for example, be able to get data by pointing and shooting at it.
By Katy Ring
So that, whereas at the moment when a list box is required it is currently left to the programmer to work in a program loop and set one up, with object-oriented techniques characteristics can be inherited thereby engendering far fewer lines of code. Furthermore, such techniques should make it easier for less skilled programmers to assemble business applications by getting many complex pieces of logic to do common things. Indeed this is the whole attraction behind object oriented techniques – it’s not that they create anything new, but rather that they make programming simpler and will make it easy to replace applications by enabling the developer to recompile through run-time linking. As the technology progresses, objects will be combined into bigger objects by keeping data in separate objects and then linking them together into another object, which, in turn, can be linked to something else. In this way an entire accounting package with all its different modules can be reduced to a single building brick with integrated data throughput. One offshoot of the new type of programming is that it will become far easier to build hypertext applications, and it will be increasingly common to find hypertext help systems on products a trend that
is rapidly establishing itself already. A far more important development, however, is the impact that object oriented techniques will have on the control of distributed databases where it will soon be possible to carry out sort or selection on powerful databases running on a Unix, VAX or mainframe computer. Once the sort procedure has been put into an object, then it requires only the addition of one extra parameter to ask to execute that function on the database server, consequently providing control of the database. Within DataFlex 3.0, objects are compiled with applications so, as far as Data Access is concerned, the next step will be to have compiled objects linked at run-time and providing location information as to where objects will execute. Hibbert believes this will happen in the next two years. Moving beyond this to the future and object-oriented databases, records will become objects and there will be rules to govern the execution of records. In other words rule bases will dictate where to execute commands and will balance the loading of processing power around the computer. Another area where object oriented concepts are likely to have a profound effect, according to Hibbert, is in computer aided software engineering, especially with the emergence of SSADM version 4 and the definitive guide on how to produce a processing list. This will make it easier to produce objects from processing lists so that objects, rather than the user, control what happens in finished applications. This should mean programmers no longer have to second guess users via line upon line of code, since in theory objects linked loosely together will gently guide the user around an application. In which case objects and CASE tools will marry to provide true application generators.
Knock out Cobol
At this point Hibbert went on to say (with, it must be added, a slight degree of irony) that object-oriented programming would knock Cobol out of the market. As might be expected this is not a view shared by Micro Focus, which is formulating a final working paper to implement object orientation within its compiler as soon as Codasyl agrees a standard way for Cobol vendors to proceed. Such digressions aside, Hibbert went on to outline Data Access’s statement of direction for DataFlex, painting a picture of the future in which jumped up Unix minis with micros at the front end for data entry will upstage mainframes for transaction processing. The Data Access strategy for reaching this state of play is beginning fairly mundanely with a SQL report writer to be released in the first quarter of 1990 called VantagePoint. This will coincide with the release of version 3.0 of DataFlex which, as already discussed (CI No 1,295), is designed to provide for the integration of non-proprietary data, tasks and processes in the applications environment. Data Access has subsequently stated that it is developing a way for the DataFlex 3 architecture to access other vendors’ database products from applications written with the DataFlex fourth generation language. With this strategy in place the Miami, Florida company is looking beyond its traditional competitors such as Ashton-Tate, and says that it will give Oracle a run for its money.