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Where have all the RAD IDEs gone?

Thoughts Jun 8, 2020

Growing up as a kid I loved all those RAD (Rapid Application Development) IDEs.

I loved that I could make what I created in my mind a reality with just visual tools. I had ideas about what programs to make all the time. Some "unmet" need would come up during the week that required a new program to be created (we didn't call them apps).

I would just fire up the IDE and start designing the UI. Then I would double click on the UI elements (e.g. the buttons) and start writing the logic.

The hottest tools those days were RAD IDEs. Visual Basic, Delphi, RealBASIC, just to name a few. I remember the excitement every time I discovered a new one.

Today, creating an app has become too serious. Although the tools have become way more powerful and safe (from a software engineering point of view), they have become complex as well. Designing the UI for an app requires careful thinking and, most of the time, learning a new paradigm or language.

I understand the limitations of the RAD and visual design. It doesn't scale. Yeah, it's easy and quick to make a prototype, but what happens when you have thousands of users and hundreds of developers? If you design properly your UI and app from the beginning using declarative ways (e.g. Flutter) or in XML (e.g. Android) it will scale for all screen sizes and will be easier to extend when new needs come.

The argument against any kind of visual design is that the code they produce is not readable. With the RAD tools of the past, there was no need to read or edit the UI code. It was the RAD tool's responsibility to "read" the UI code.

I just miss the days I could quickly get the UI out the way by visually designing it. There are a few of those tools left today but they are either outdated or using a language that is obscure or obsolete. Of course, there are standalone visual UI designers but the experience is far from seamless (design the UI, export it, import it, bind it, etc).

Who knows? Maybe the next great all-in-one cross-platform RAD IDE for a modern language is just around the corner.


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