George Henne’s NS Basic is an extremely popular RAD tool for mobile platforms – developers who would like to use a VB like tool, flock to it in droves.
Unfortunately, the company’s representatives have not proved too talkative so far. This has now changed, though – look forward to a highly interesting interview looking at the development landscape, mobile computing platforms and – last but not least – the iPhone and its distant predecessor, the Newton!
Please tell me more about yourself!
NS BASIC was founded on the idea that if development tools were easier to use, more people could develop apps for mobile devices.
The most widely used dev tool in the world (53%, according to Microsoft) is Visual Basic. It seemed natural to design a VB like tool for mobile devices.
Our customers are in all sorts of industries, government and education.
We have been translated into half a dozen languages: our users are in over 80 countries. Close to 20,000 developers use our products.
Diving straight into your core business (NsBasic). Tell us in a short form why the world needs yet another Basic clone!
Everyone knows Basic, for good reason. It has a gentle learning curve.
Beginning programmers can understand the concepts easily and create their first apps right away. Modern Basic implementations are well enough designed so that it is reasonable to do sophisticated applications.
Where do you see the main benefits for developers?
Ease of use and quick development are the main ones. We have had many reports of experienced C++ developers using NS Basic to put together a quick proof of concept: In a day or two, they have a workable prototype to show the customer. It often works out that there is no need to spend
2 more months recoding in C++.
On the other extreme, there are professionals in other fields that would like to develop apps for handheld devices. For example, many doctors have specific apps that would help them in their work. They’re smart people, and have learned a bit of programming on the way. They find NS Basic is just the tool for them to create apps.
How does NSBasic work? Do the programs compile to native code, or is a runtime needed?
There is a runtime, but we do our best to keep it in the background, so it isn’t a big deal. Nearly all apps have some sort of runtime these days, whether it is in form of libraries, DLL files or overlays.
Runtimes do not mean the app has to run more slowly: in fact, key code in our runtime is written in ARM assembler for peak performance. What they do is add a great deal of power: a single statement in NS Basic will replace pages of C++ coding.
You have a very strong market in the Palm OS sector. Where do you see the Palm OS going? Which platform(s) will dominate the market in a year’s worth of time?
Palm was a strong marketplace for us for many years. For Palm’s sake, I hope their new devices come out in a timely fashion and can wow the marketplace. We will certainly support them if they do.
NS Basic/Symbian OS already outsells NS Basic/Palm. We’re working hard to make it a great product: we think it will be an important part of our future.
Do you feel the US sub-prime crisis?
Not directly. It’s likely that the economic uncertainly is leading companies to put off new development projects, which will certainly affect us. It’s a worldwide affair this time, which is different from past downturns.
To what extent is NSBasic compatible with VB and/or AppForge?
NS Basic is a subset of VB, with extensions to take advantage of the mobile platform it runs on. The important things a VB programmer needs are all there – but there are a lot of specific and weird things in VB that didn’t really have a place on mobile devices. An obvious example is Windows specific features, that just do not exist on other operating systems such as Symbian OS.
AppForge was a strange case. Technically, it wasn’t great, but it had a big marketing budget. When that ran out, the company was gone: the licensing model was not friendly to its customers.
Many AppForge customers have converted to NS Basic: it is entertaining to read their comments:
You have recently expanded your reach across platforms – is porting an app significant effort for the developer?
Moving to a new platform is not new to us: Symbian OS is our fourth major platform.
For developers who use our tools, it’s not too bad. NS Basic/Palm apps move to Symbian OS usually with no changes at all. Of course, once you are there, it is tempting to make use of features that are specific to the new devices: better graphics, extra features, etc.
You still support Apple’s Newton – does it still pay? Furthermore: do you plan to go iPhone one day?
We still have a lot of affection for the Newton. We still sell the occasional copy of NS Basic/Newton. It’s an important platform in the history of mobile computing. You’d be surprised how many current developers of handheld devices started on the Newton. I think the devices we are seeing these days are finally beginning to realize the potential that the Newton introduced us to 15 years ago.
We actually have NS Basic/iPhone working:
Under the terms of Apple’s iPhone SDK, tools such as NS Basic may not be released. If they should ever change this policy, we would love to release the product!
Anything you would like to add?
I think the next two years will be very interesting for developers. The iPhone changed the rules and everyone is still trying to catch up. It’s good to see touch screen S60 devices: now the software has to catch up.
Our tools have always been touch screen oriented, so we are ready for the fun!
NS Basic has a large and active user community. If you have questions about our product, let us know. We’ll be around to help, along with many of our other users.