Electronic Design

Designers Can Wire Together Programs In Visual Basic

With SoftWIRE 2.0, a graphical programming system from ComputerBoards, novice and expert programmers alike can create sophisticated Visual Basic applications by wiring together SoftWIRE components. Compared to Visual Basic code, this system is very easy to learn.

This add-in works with Microsoft Visual Basic 6. Its application design is similar to Visual Basic's form design, except its controls can be wired together using drag-and-drop mouse operations. SoftWIRE's wires pass information from one control to another. A simple attribute change lets wires modify the information by enabling programmers to define an expression for the translation.

SoftWIRE's controls are implemented as ActiveX controls that work with the ActiveX Designer in Visual Basic. These controls are like the design and run-time versions of Visual Basic. A compiled application only includes the run-time portions. SoftWIRE isn't a code generator, even though its controls can be accessed by Visual Basic code, and Visual Basic code can be used to customize them.

It's possible to create an application by just using SoftWIRE controls. Usually, though, applications combine SoftWIRE and conventional Visual Basic programming. Also, SoftWIRE's ease of use helps reduce training requirements, especially compared to Visual Basic's learning curve. Developers choose from a large collection of controls. Each control has a set of attributes that can be changed at design time, just like other Visual Basic controls.

The controls are displayed with one or more connectors at design time. Any number of SoftWIRE wires can be attached to a connector. This system also handles the type conversion between wired connectors on different controls. Additionally, SoftWIRE's software development kit (SDK) lets users create new SoftWIRE controls. The SDK is free to SoftWIRE owners. It's also possible to use some third-party ActiveX controls with SoftWIRE without modifying the controls.

SoftWIRE controls developed with the SDK can be used within an organization without restriction. Controls that are distributed or sold must pass certification testing. ComputerBoard certifies control in its lab. This certification verifies that a control does not break any of the design rules and introduce a race or recursion overflow condition.

Designers can use SoftWIRE to create simple or very complex applications. These applications have some overhead, so their time- or performance-critical portions may best be implemented in Visual Basic or C++. SoftWIRE's test and measurement roots show up in some of its examples and controls, as well. Gages, strip charts, integrators, FFTs, and analog display meters are just a few of the standard controls.

This system supports the company's line of test, measurement, control, and GPIB interfaces. Serial communication support is featured as well. SoftWIRE comes with network communication controls. Its TCP/IP support provides applications with access to Internet services. New X10 controls let users build home security and office-automation applications. SoftWIRE also interfaces with Excel spreadsheets and databases, and it's even able to create Excel charts. Applications can run a query builder and display a database grid in addition to reading and writing Access, Oracle, or SQL databases.

Its complete set of arithmetic functions includes controls for statistical analysis and accounting. It's also possible to run another program using a SoftWIRE control. However, SoftWIRE doesn't currently support Visual Basic for Applications (VBA). VBA is part of Microsoft products like Word, Excel, and Access.

SoftWIRE 2.0 costs $495 per copy. There are no run-time royalties.

ComputerBoards Inc., 2 Commerce Park Blvd., Middleboro, MA 02346; (508) 946-5100; fax (508) 946-9500; www.computerboards.com.

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TAGS: Components
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