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GUI Programming

The History of Visual Development Environments 181

Esther Schindler writes "There was a time when programs were written in text editors. And when competition between C++ vendors was actually fierce. Step into the time travel machine as Andy Patrizio revisits the evolution and impact of the visual development metaphor. 'Visual development in its earliest stages was limited by what the PC could do. But for the IBM PC in the early 1980s, with its single-tasking operating system and 8- or 16-bit hardware, the previous software development process was text edit, compile, write down the errors, and debug with your eyes.' Where do you start? 'While TurboPascal launched the idea of an integrated development environment, [Jeff] Duntemann credits Microsoft's Visual Basic (VB), launched in 1991, with being the first real IDE.'... And yes, there's plenty more." A comment attached to the story lists two IDEs that preceded VB; can you name others?
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The History of Visual Development Environments

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  • VB? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @11:09AM (#42796653) Homepage

    Making managers that are "handy" think they are programmers cince 1992...

    • Re:VB? (Score:5, Funny)

      by cultiv8 ( 1660093 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @12:08PM (#42797361) Homepage
      ...and building GUI interfaces to track killers IP addresses []...
  • Quick C by Microsoft (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @11:09AM (#42796655)

    Had a block-graphics GUI, mouse support and a visual debugger

    Can't remember the date, but certainly pre Windows 3.1

    • Yep. I grew up on its little brother, Qbasic. It had ... wait for it... Breakpoints! Blew my mind when I figured out what they were for. Dropped my use of print statements by 90%.
    • According to Wikipedia, QuickC was introduced in October 1987, probably as a response to Borland's Turbo C which came out earlier that year.

      I used Turbo C for a few years starting with version 1.5 in 1988. It was a sweet product, with one-button building and test runs plus an integrated debugger, and it was incredibly fast for the time. The editor was kind of primitive compared to vi, but usable (basic insert/delete/arrow key stuff).

      I eventually switched over to Zortech C++ to get extended memory supp

  • QuickBasic (Score:4, Informative)

    by adonoman ( 624929 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @11:09AM (#42796665)
    QuickBasic was already at v4.5 in 1988 - 3 years before Visual Basic.
    • It was also excellent. Fast, intuitive interface, outstanding builtin help.

      • by vlm ( 69642 )

        It was technically almost as advanced as microware's basic09 from 1979 by then. Well the IDE was flashier obviously, I'm just talking about language features. It really was pretty good.

        • Well, as far as language features go, it was comparable to BBC Basic.

          In many ways i was nicer, seeing as it was freed from line numbers, and the need to prefix functions with FN and procedures with PROC. Oh yeah, and it allowed blocked if-then-else. But it was missing thing that BBC basic did have like pointers and dynamic memory allocation.

          The IDE was great.

    • While QB was at version 4.5, BASCOM PDS was at version 7.x.

      QB was in fact a DOS-limited version of the PDS environment, which ran on both DOS and OS/2 1.0 and would produce protected mode executables in the later case.
  • by LizardKing ( 5245 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @11:14AM (#42796727)
    That's a very Microsoft-centric article, although it does have a passing mention of Smalltalk. Earliest IDE I ever used was the toolset on VMS, which included editor, compiler, debugger and profiler - they were integrated via the shell. If that doesn't qualify, then there was DevPac for assembler and a C development package (Lattice C I think) on my Atari ST, which inclued integrated tools that were far more sophisticated than what was later offered by Turbo Pascal.
    • Considering Turbo Pascal came out two years before the Atari ST, your timeline is quite a bit off.
      • I thought Turbo Pascal came out around 1988 - 89. That's certainly the timeframe in which I first started to notice people talking about it.
        • Blimey, just checked the Wikipedia article for Turbo Pascal and it did indeed pre-date the ST. In a weird piece of synchronicity, the article mentions the Nascom computer, since that's where the Turbo Pascal compiler originated. It's the second time in the last few days the Nascom has intruded on my consciousness, as it's the basis of a very rare drum computer [] that's just been added to the Vintage Synth Explorer.
    • The LISA 6502 assembler had an integrated IDE on the Apple II. It did syntax checking and some code generation in real time, doing something useful with all those CPU cycles as it sat there waiting for you to type.
    • I agree. When I see a line line " in its earliest stages was limited by what the PC could do" I can only conclude that the author is short sighted. The PC didn't even get to the stage of being a viable contender in the development and engineering world until it got to the 486 era. I just can't figure out why some people think the computer industry began with micros.

    • Yes, Turbo Pascal wasn't sophisticated, but on CP/M it was a game changer. I bought a copy in 1984, because the alternative was Pascal/MT. MT was excruciatingly slow (taking something like 9 passes over the file, which was of course being read from a floppy on each pass). Because Turbo was all in one, the whole thing could run out of memory, which took the edit/compile/test process down from minutes to seconds.

  • by Viol8 ( 599362 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @11:15AM (#42796731) Homepage

    "There was a time when programs were written in text editors."

    Yeah , 5 minutes ago when I finished updating some code.

    Plenty of unix C/C++/script/python coders still use vi and emacs. Just because IDEs rule the roost in Windows and Java development, don't assume every coder users or even requires them.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by oodaloop ( 1229816 )

      Plenty of unix C/C++/script/python coders still use vi and emacs.

      OK, I'll bite. Real programmers use emacs.

    • I've never really used an IDE. Occasionally Visual Studio in one job merely because the build system was based in it (using external compilers). I ended up editing and fixing it's project files with an editor because it was faster than using the GUI. I rewrote that to use Make and became a hero for a few months after that. Really, UCSD Pascal was the only IDE I used, since then it's been vi, emacs, and tpu.

      The real problem is most IDEs I've seen are stick in a strange single-window-with-subwindows model

      • > When I meet someone who's enamored by IDE's it is always someone who's grown up in the Windows era.

        Congratulations... you've just met someone who grew up in the Amiga era (which pre-dates the "Windows era" by a couple of years). It's called "Hisoft Devpac Amiga" -- syntax-aware editor, machine language monitor (it was an assembler), and all. Here's a video (not me) of it in use that I found on Youtube (from 1993, but I can assure you I was using it LONG before 1990). []

    • There aren't that many attempts at completely getting rid of the textual representation in programming. One of them is Intentional Programming ( See this demo from 2006 for example: []. I think it's fair to say it didn't really take the world by storm. Unfortunately?

  • I remember ObjectVision as an interesting example of visual programming by configuring blocks. Unfortunately it was very limited, and one reached the boundaries quite fast. IBM VisualAge is another story. I cannot remember a more complete, truer IDE than this. I used it mainly in Smalltalk and Java, but other versions for C/C++, Basic, and even COBOL existed. But it really shined in Smalltalk, it native environment. VisualAge allowed to put the pieces of a program together graphically, autogenerate code, sw

  • by jfbilodeau ( 931293 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @11:23AM (#42796837) Homepage

    VB was created by a company named Tripod and later purchased by MS.

    • So the Tripods are behind it? No wonder original VB was sucha mess. They thrieved for world domination! Or even destruction!

      • ...and VB was their ultimate weapon. Too bad it was usurped by Microsoft. Otherwise, VB would have died a long time ago. Instead of viruses killing the creator of VB, VB ended up being the proginator of many viruses.

  • Hypercard (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Spectre ( 1685 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @11:26AM (#42796859)

    When I think of "visual programming" the first thing I think of is Hypercard ... I was at uni when that came out, so late 80's?

    • by DdJ ( 10790 )

      Yeup, the first two I used were HyperCard on the Macintosh in 1987 or so, and "Interface Builder" on prerelease NeXT machines in 1989.

      "Interface Builder" is why NeXT systems were so popular with Wall Street for a long time. It was amazing. And the IDE for iPhone development is a direct descendant of that first version I used, and to this day has a lot in common with it.

      (Yes, I really was programming a NeXT in 1989. I was at Carnegie Mellon at the time, where the Mach kernel was developed, so we had lots

    • Actually, I think of Prograph. []

  • EMACS on the DEC 10s/20s was able to do context sensitive editing, build and debug (DDT invocation) all within the app. This was in the 70s and early 80s.
    I used it for C and Macro Assembler all the time and while most people think that EMACS was just an editor, its scripting capabilities made it very, very unique in its abilities to handle integration. The DECUS tapes were full of examples from folks all over the world who did some amazing things with development tools, all before the "open source" and "f

    • people think that EMACS was just an editor, its scripting capabilities made it very, very unique in its abilities to handle integration

      Wow, so not just a little unique?

      • LOL, well as the synopsis indicates there were lots of editors around, on the DEC side you had TECO, TV ( a friendlier version of TECO ) on the UNIX side you had TECO and let's not forget the mainframes with SPF (at least my workings with it under MVS/XA).

        To this day there are still people who won't let go of EMACS and they consider any platform or O/S that doesn't have a port of it to be primitive. I'm not in that camp, but trust me you never want to cross paths on editor basics with an EMACS biggot.

        • I can't remember their names, but there were two programming editors I used on VMS. Both had their quirks - the first wouldn't wrap text that was wider than the terminal screen (72 characters?), nor could it scroll. The second could wrap, but wouldn't allow you to do a "save as", which was a bit of a pain as you could accidentally navigate to a non-existent directory and open a new file by mistyping the name of the directory you'd intended to create the file in. You'd then happily enter a bunch of code, onl
          • Well not to mention that fact that most of the UNIX ports to VMS used the Raw File System I/O ala UNIX and not the RMS mechanisms, so a DEC text editor couldn't open a file written by the DECus vi for example. You had to convert it first to get into )(*@)(# RMS format.

            • Ya, I found that doing C on VMS was a pain. So many options for files that doing a simple open was complicated. Incredibly simple in assembler though since it had all these advanced macros to automatically fill in all the optional parameters. Then when you got the file created it was only readable by programs that knew exactly what file format it was in.

              This wasn't just a problem with C or ported Unix programs though. I had plenty of problems just getting one VMS program to use a file created in a diffe

              • Well DEC decided with VMS that RMS was the best way to do things. Don't get me wrong but a Raw file was certainly great vs. SEQ-ASC
                and having to do the convert. It brought new meaning to the text file scenarios vs. \n and MS-DOS formats with \r\n and then throw in SEQ-ASC. There was a great little utility on the DECUS tapes that would just figure it out and convert it from SEQ-ASC to UNIX or to MS-DOS and back from all the combinations. Now throw in integration with TOPS-10 or TOPS-20 and you could reall

    • Well beyond all those Emacs jokes this one is my favorite: EMACS is a nice OS, but it lacks a decent editor.

      • Funny a long time ago. But today an emacs with all the bells and whistles is still smaller than most IDEs with only a fraction of the capabilities.

        • So you can do refactorings in EMACS? I mean, automated multi file spaning language. sensitive refactorings, ofc.

          • Probably you can in the same way you do in any editor, by hand. Or you could write some code to do this, and probably someone already has done it. Or you could use a third party tool to do it, after all there's no reason it all has to be done in one single tool.

            In my experience, the language sensitive support in Emacs is superior to anything I've seen. Maybe some tools understand C better than Emacs, or some understand Java better, but I've never seen any that have good understanding of Make plus C plus

  • Define IDE (Score:4, Insightful)

    by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @11:30AM (#42796927) Homepage Journal

    ...because the ZX80 (and ZX81 and Sinclair Spectrum, which used more advanced versions of the same BASIC) had a visual editor with keywords auto-completed and dynamic syntax checking back in 1980. ZX BASIC was even windowed (on a 32x24 character screen!) with the upper window being for program I/O and/or viewing the program code, the lower for entering commands, seeing status information, and editing lines.

    The thing about an IDE is that it's an obvious concept and pretty much anyone who's tried to make programming more user friendly has implemented such a thing. True, NetBeans looks nothing like the ZX80 or EMACS, but then Java in 2013 looks nothing like ZX BASIC either - as languages have evolved and projects have become more complex, the tools to manage them have needed to become more complex and manage more concepts.

    What's funny is that we bothered giving the concept a name at an arbitrary cut-off point in the development of development environments.

  • Back in the late 80's early 90's my favourite IDE was actually AutoCad plus and external compiler being used to program a Bailey Network 90 Distributed Control System (mentioned deep in Distributed Control Systems []).

    You drew up the process control drawings in AutoCad and visually connected data signals from processing block to processing block and when finished you pushed the AutoCad drawings through the compiler (which on the Compaq 286 we had took all night for the job I was working on) . This produced th

  • Is this article about GIDE or IDE? VB was definitely not the first IDE. Hell it wasn't even the first GIDE. We were using National Instruments LabVIEW [] a couple of years before VB. Of course it was instrument control specific but ran on a MAC [] or a PC.
  • Back in the day I used MS C/C++ 5.1 (one of their finer products IMHO). This was classical command line suite with compiler, linker, make and a nice editor (called me I think).

    Based on an idea in .EXE magazine I wrote a special make file and a batch script that:

    1) Run the special make file to generate a new temp batch script to compile the code (only one file) as needed
    2) Ran the new temp batch file
    3) Saved the error report if present
    4) If the error report was present then parse the errors and source code t

  • Seriously? (Score:5, Informative)

    by 0xdeadbeef ( 28836 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @11:54AM (#42797181) Homepage Journal

    While TurboPascal launched the idea of an integrated development environment, [Jeff] Duntemann credits Microsoft's Visual Basic (VB), launched in 1991, with being the first real IDE

    Which makes him a retard. Form designers are not the primary component of IDEs, nor are they necessary to be called an IDE.

  • Do you still remember RHIDE? It was usually combined with DJGPP (C/C++ build tools for DOS). RHIDE was nifty and easy to use.

    What I'd like to try out, and this does sound a bit silly, but some minimalist IDE for the Modern UI. I tried browsing the Windows Store but there wasn't much coding stuff available at all.

  • Earlier IDEs (Score:4, Informative)

    by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Tuesday February 05, 2013 @12:46PM (#42797937) Homepage

    Without even trying to do any historic digging:

    Asymetrix Toolbook shipped "with" Windows well before VB. In fact the company I worked for foolishly assumed it was "part of" Windows. Toolbook, in turn, was not exactly a knockoff of HyperCard, but was certainly a member of the same genre.

    LabView for the Macintosh shipped in 1986, and not only still exists but has a very solid niche in some circles. LabView is such a pure visual IDE that there are not visible lines of code as such; it is all wiring diagrams.

    Bill Budge's 1983 Pinball Construction Set, for the Apple ][ and Atari, was certainly an IDE, although for a restricted class of applications.

    Incidentally, it seems to me that the later incarnations of Visual Studio are considerably less "integrated" than the original Visual Basic was. Visual Studio has the feeling to me of being no more "integrated" than, say, Borland C++ or the (1985) MacPascal. Unlike VB, it just had a fairly crude resource-editor-like "drawing" environment. It feels OK when you're creating things for the first time, but the visual objects do not really "contain" code--they have a very loose and fragile connection to the code associated with them.

  • Seriously, a couple weeks ago there was an article warning us all of the coming Unix Epoch doom, and today we are learning about a magical time when programs were written with editors! I understand that as a job board is used to serving the lowest common denominator when it comes to IT and software "professionals," but give me a break.
  • I used to use a FORTRAN77 IDE in PC-XT back in 1983. It had an integrated editor, compiler, step through debugger. It supported all the ASCII escape character codes to move the cursor on the screen of a EGA display (640 x 480). I wrote a cross-word puzzle grid generator in fortran using it. Move the cursor, click to toggle squares to black/white, with automatic symmetry squares kept in synch. Some minor snow flake simulation, and a Laplace equation solver using finite differences, and a 2D contour plot prog
  • I used Suntools to create windowed apps on their workstations in about 1988... the first bunch were done by handcoding the panels, then someone came out with 'Tooltool' - and that basically did what most of the current form-creator GUIs do.
  • I would say Turbo Pascal and co where by far not the first integrated development environments and also not the first graphical IDEs.
    Heck, I guess in the LISP world the development likely was also done with an IDE, may it have been graphical or not.
    I can not immagine a Symbolics machine having ny a text editor.

  • Not *one* mention of the best programmer's editor, Brief, that was used all over in the late eighties/well into the nineties?

    Hmmm, maybe now it'll run under wine....


  • MPW

    ParcPlace (?) Smalltalk

    Lightspeed/Think C


    I did a project or two on Mac Common LISP, but I don't even remember whether that was an IDE or not. It's been a looooong time.

    Even earlier than that, I used some Pascal dev environment on the TRS-80, but I don't think you could call it an IDE. Not much room for integration in 48K.

  • by dgharmon ( 2564621 ) on Wednesday February 06, 2013 @12:01AM (#42805093) Homepage
    'While TurboPascal launched the idea of an integrated development environment, [Jeff] Duntemann credits Microsoft's Visual Basic (VB), launched in 1991, with being the first real IDE'.

    "Turbo C is an Integrated Development Environment [] and compiler for the C programming language from Borland. First introduced in 1987, it was noted for its integrated development environment, small size, fast compile speed, comprehensive manuals and low price".
  • a link generator.

    Welcome to the world of the Twenty-First Century viral marketing campaign.

    When the article appeared on the FP of this site, I'll bet that the Mendix folks popped a Dom Perignon bottle.

    We've been punk'd.

  • I was never a programmer myself, but I once tried out and was impressed by Borland's C++ Builder and JBuilder. Anyone ever tried it?
  • I've always been quite puzzled about the use of "Visual" or "Graphical" for this kind of "mostly text with some rectangles thrown-in for good measure" IDEs. Besides being bit-mapped, there's nothing really graphical about them.

    Want something visual? Try this: []. Or this: []. Or this: []. Or the amazing stuff on this page: []. Now, that's visual ;-)

"Hey Ivan, check your six." -- Sidewinder missile jacket patch, showing a Sidewinder driving up the tail of a Russian Su-27