Review of Facade
Shawn M. Gordon
I seem destined these days to write reviews of text editors. I’m not sure if this is good or bad, but it certainly provides food for thought for a die hard QUAD fan such as myself. I recently became aware of one of the latest entries into this foray in the form of the Facade Co-editor from PSG. The Facade editor is as close to a true client/server editor as I have seen so far, for the HP 3000, as well as being a very robust editor.
PSG has taken advantage of the WRQ PPL library to develop the middleware layer to allow their client to work with the 3000 as a server. This means that you MUST have a copy of WRQ Reflection as your terminal emulator to make use of the product, which I do fortunately.
I ran the demo on my 25Mhz 486 with 12 MEG of RAM, and 1Gig of disk, using WRQ Reflection as the middleware layer (which it requires). The host server was an HP 3000 925 running MPE/iX 4.0.
As mentioned, Facade is a client/server editor for the HP 3000, what does this mean technically? Well what PSG opted to do rather than have a server totally manage the file on the host, they download a copy of the file to your PC into a proprietary format. All edit operations are performed on the local copy of the file and then echoed to the host in the background. If you open the file on the PC directly, it will automatically open the file on the host at the same time. If you open the file on the host, then the software will check for a local copy, and download if appropriate. You can also save the local file as a standard ASCII text file that can then be imported to virtually any other editor, I even wrote part of this review using their editor.
Figure 1 shows an example of three separate files opened and tiled using Facades MDI interface. This makes it very easy to cut and past between documents, or code. One of the most common editing features you will use, other than just typing, is the search and replace options, a look at figure 2 will show how that dialog looks. My complaint here is a slightly non-standard use of button labeling. The button labeled ‘Hide’, is meant to close the dialog window. The common label here would be ‘Cancel’. That nit-pick aside, the search and replace are as robust as any you would find in a standard word processor.
There is no balloon help on the icons, but a description is displayed in the status panel at the bottom of the screen. This keeps you from having to memorize what all those little icons mean.
One of the really neat features in Facade is it’s ability to deal with columns and rows as adjustable entities. If you look at figure 3, you will see a highlighted area in the middle of the screen. You can do this by holding the control key while you are dragging the mouse around an area. This let’s you quickly delete or otherwise adjust text in a block instead of having to deal with it by rows. This is a neat little feature for lining up your code or other documents.
You can build new files in Facade as well, you are prompted for some of the characteristics of the MPE file, and then it is built on both the PC and the host. Facade will support COBOL in either numbered or unnumbered format. To be honost, I never understood the distinction between numbered and unnumbered other than the indentation, but I have always used numbered since it is the default from EDITOR and QUAD. The nice thing about Facade is that it understands the difference between these file types, and can deal with them accordingly
Printing is another feature that Facade does well at. You can print local to the PC, on the host HP, you can print just selected text, or all the text, you can specify margin settings for local, and on the HP you can specify the device, priority, spool name, lines per page, and characters per line. All and all a very robust selection of printing options.
All the dialog windows have area sensitive instructions, so as the mouse passes over a region on the screen a description is displayed in the status bar. This is going one step beyond most windows programs that I have used, and is a very nice touch.
The Windows compliant context sensitive on-line help is both robust and extensive, you can get help pretty much anywhere and have your current situation explained to you. I just love on-line help, and this is well done, take a look at figure 5 for an example.
So how does Facade edit? quit well, thank you very much. It is easy to use, allows multiple windows into the same file for easy manipulation, has all sorts of controls for finding, changing, and moving around through your text. It let’s you works as both a PC editor, and as a client/server editor. There is even a nifty little icon that runs the Windows File Manager program, how’s that for all encompassing. I don’t want to reiterate the manual here, so I think I have covered most of what you would need to know to try out Facade.
Usability (also installation)
All the PC and HP software is supplied on two 3.5″ diskettes. You use a standard MS Windows setup program to install the client software, and then use your Reflection emulator to upload the HP files. This process is pretty straight forward and only takes a little time.
I wasn’t able to find a size limitation in Facade, so it should be up to all your editing needs.
For me the only question of reliability is in the Reflection PPL piece used for the client/server middle-ware layer. I had it just go out to lala land a couple of times, for no apparent reason, and it seemed like the emulator was the one waiting for something. I never lost any data or anything else major, but it was an inconvenience. Other than that, the Facade Co-Editor seems to be very reliable and safe to use.
Once you have pulled a file down and Facade is only concerned with keeping it current, performance is really astounding, even over a 9600 baud dial up. I have pretty much ignored trying to do client/server over a serial connection due to the speed problems, but in the case of an editor, you are mostly sitting on user think time, or typing ability, which is usually slower than a serial connection. So kudos on performance.
Supportability (including Doc)
The documentation for Facade is quit nice. It comes in a glossy 93 page book that is easy to read, and well laid out. It includes a table of contents and an index for quick reference, a chapter is devoted to the keyboard shortcut keys, but I don’t imagine you would make use of all five pages worth of keyboard shortcuts, but it’s nice that they are available. I gushed over the on-line help earlier, so I won’t reiterate that here.
The support from PSG is good, they are responsive, knowledgeable, friendly, I almost felt like I was on an airplane, I was just waiting for them to deliver a pillow for me to put my feet on. PSG is very interested in user input on the product, and from what I can see, the direction of the product is very exciting. My only real complaint with support was the lack of an 800 number.
My biggest complaint with Facade is the fact that it uses the WRQ PPL services for it’s client/server communication layer. This means that you have to have a copy of Reflection from WRQ, and a session running on the host. The upside to this is that it works on non-network connected PC’s, as well as on dial-in’s. The product also isn’t a true client/server architecture to my mind, since it does download a copy of the file to your PC the first time you use it. My other complaint is that the process of using the WRQ emulator causes a bit of a kludgy interface for the compile options, however this should be cleared up in the next release I am told.
That said, I have to say that this was one very cool editor. The MDI interface let’s you have multiple files open, and multiple views to the same file, providing an easy cut and paste environment. The columnar selection process makes it easy to format lines around, and then the integrated compile are very useful options, and will make you more productive. The list of features that they are planning to add in the near future (probably already there by the time you read this), really make this a nice, and hard to beat editor.
So if you already own Reflection from WRQ, or are willing to buy it, then the Facade CoEditor is a definite must for your programmers, so give it a look.
Facade CoEditor version 1.0
Performance Software Group
11260 Roger Bacon Dr.
Reston, VA 22090