REALbasic Growing to Include Cocoa, Mobile, and Web Development
As most of our readers know, REALbasic is a great tool for producing native applications on the Mac. It couples a well designed GUI builder with an advanced version of BASIC. In addition, REALbasic supports Windows and Linux, enabling cross-platform development. This is similar to Sun's Java, although REALbasic is geared towards the client side while Java dominates on the server side.
A few weeks ago we published an interesting interview with Andrew Barry, the principal originator of REALbasic. I was lucky enough to get a follow up interview with Geoff Perlman, CEO and President of REAL Software. Geoff gives us some more insight into REALbasic's origins, supporting the Mac, and the challenges of producing a cross platform development tool.
Of course we are all partial to the Mac, so I am excited to see Cocoa support coming soon to REALbasic. However, I make my living as a web developer, so I was also intrigued to hear that REAL Software's vision is to add the Web as another target platform. In any case, read on, I'm sure you'll find Geoff's answers worth pondering.
Tell me a little about your background and how you came to partner with Andrew Barry to from REALbasic.
I had been looking for a development tool like REALbasic and had dreamed about running a development tools company. REALbasic, then called CrossBasic, was mentioned on a Mac news site called MacInTouch. I went to his site and found something that looked very rough but had possibilities. I contacted him, and we discussed his future plans. By the end of a call or two, we had agreed that I would raise some money, acquire the product, and he would come to work for me. We spent six months getting the product ready for market and launched REALbasic 1.0 on July 4th, 1998.
What potential did you see in REALbasic? What market need were you trying to fill?
I saw two markets when we started. The first was the need for something like Visual Basic, but for Macintosh. The second was a tool that would let people build applications for Mac and Windows. While the first release of REALbasic was not cross-platform, it was always the intention to make it a cross-platform product.
Give me some stats about REAL Software - sales, number of employees, etc. - so we can see how the company has grown.
We don't give out this kind of information, as we are a privately held company. But I will tell you that the company was started on $100,000 and has been self-funding ever since. We started with the Mac, then added support for Windows, and finally Linux. We have continued to upgrade over the years providing support for Mac OS X, Windows Vista, and various popular Linux distros.
What was the impact of OS X on REAL Software?
It was big, of course, in that it required a significant amount of effort for us to support it, but it also revitalized the Mac. We have gone through other transitions as well. For example, we wrote a completely new compiler (which took two years from start to shipping), we added support for mach-o (Apple's executable format for Mac OS X) and of course Intel-based Macs. And we added support for Linux as well.
It's important to understand that the needs of a development tools company (in terms of information from the OS vendor) are very different than those of the typical developer. The information we need is often not published publicly - and in some cases not published at all anywhere. For example, supporting mach-o and Intel-based Macs required sending engineers to Apple to work with their OS engineers directly.
I believe that one of our strengths is that we are always willing to put in the time to modernize REALbasic. Many companies allow their technology to decay, and by the time they really realize it, it's almost too late to do anything about it.
Andrew Barry stated that the web is the main threat to REALbasic. How do you respond?
The more platforms there are for deploying software, the more fragmented the developer community becomes. This fragmentation occurs because there are different development tools and languages for reach platform. On the desktop alone you have many: Xcode from Apple, Visual Studio from Microsoft, Eclipse from the open source community, to name just a few. Developers generally speaking don't want to learn lots of different tools and different languages, so they focus on one platform. Some new developers therefore are going to focus on the Web exclusively.
If REALbasic remained a development tool for the desktop only, then developers who chose to develop for the Web could not choose REALbasic. But my vision for REALbasic goes beyond the desktop. Developers should not have to make this choice. They should be able to use one language and development tool to deploy applications to all the important platforms.
REALbasic is cross platform. Give us a breakdown of how the Mac, Windows, and Linux contribute to your sales and where do you see the most future growth?
That's not as easy to answer as it may first seem. For example, we have the Personal Edition and the Professional Edition. These attract very different types of users, so grouping them together when discussing a particular platform doesn't make sense. Also, our Personal Edition for Linux is free, so it's difficult to compare it to the Mac and Windows versions. However, if you look at Professional edition only, our users breakdown as approximately 43% Mac, 48% Windows and 9% Linux.
What do you see as REALbasic's future? Do you have any new products or features coming out the really excite you?
We listen carefully to what our customers are asking for. They are asking us to continue to modernize. On the Mac, we are working right now to add support for Cocoa to meet that demand. They are also asking us to support mobile and the Web as new platforms. We are investigating those platforms now. And as we always have, we will deliver these in ways that abstract the developer from the messy details and let them focus on what makes their software unique.
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