These days, code generators seem two-a-penny.
They're often poorly designed and about as productive as a very large hole in a very small head. In short, you need 'em like Van Gogh needed stereo.
The process by which they work is simple. You choose a database, click a button and cross yer fingers.
If you're lucky, you'll get a line of code you can reuse. Somewhere. If not, you'll get a mound of code that will impress no one but the newest of programmers.
And stepping on to that code generation bandwagon this week, we find VBeXpress 2000. But what can this tool offer above its rather dodgy competitors?
With a sceptical and slightly dubious mindset, I decided to find out.
The creators, DataCast Systems Ltd, claim their product whose name I fear typing again for Word keeps automatically and 'intelligently' correcting the case can dramatically shave a whopping 40-50% off your development time by creating code modules straight from your database tables.
Even full applications can be knocked off at the click of a button. Apparently. So I decided to give it a try.
Installation was a breeze, eating around 13MB of hard disk space. And after a quick browse through the well-written Adobe-format help file, I decided to generate my first program.
This generation process consists of three separate stages; selecting your database, reviewing the proposed schema, then merging it all with your code templates. So I ran through the sample to give it a go.
And wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am it worked, no problemo. Within ten minutes, I had a fully-working Visual Basic application that allowed you to view table data, enter information, execute stored procedures and much, much more.
But it isn't exactly the sort of application you'd want to release. However in less than ten clicks, I really feel one ought not expect more.
Still onwards, and I pushed the application to generating a working ASP site. Impressive. One that uses MTS. And stored procedures. And ADO.
The documentation also provides full details on the various architectures supported by VBeXpress 2000. It will develop an N-tier design your interface, ActiveX DLL and stored procedures all without being stretched.
The possibilities seem pretty darn endless.
Sure, I experienced a couple of errors. For a start, I couldn't connect to my local SQL Server database. But on the whole, all went well.
Moving on and upon opening the newly-created Visual Basic projects, it was a pleasant surprise to see a new toolbar on the screen. This was apparently VBeXpress Lite, a bundled set of widgets designed to make your coding even easier.
In this 'Lite' package, you'll find a procedure header tool. An error handler generator. A tab assistant. A task list. Even a small library of ready-to-run code snippets.
And the documentation only gives a page of credit to these excellent standardisation features. Modesty, indeed - tish, tish.
My first impression of VBeXpress 2000 was a feeling of déjà vu. It looked similar. I'd been here before. I'd already travelled this route.
And indeed, I had with Code Assist from Sheridan.
However it's fair to say this beast pushes the whole process a lot further. It's not just a code parser. It's a fully-fledged N-tier code generator sure to get you off on a jump-start to creating your application.
I usually find myself either raving about a product or completely slandering it. Here, I'm almost indifferent it's good, it's helpful, it's a nice addition to your toolbox. But it's by no means essential.
So can this $375/#259 purchase increase your productivity by 40-50%? Hmm, I doubt it.
But it will help you leave work a little early this Friday.
You can download an evaluation of VBeXpress 2000 from www.vbexpress.com