Since its humble beginnings on the Mac in 1987, 4D has combined the ability to create a graphical user interface, rich data-structuring tools, and its own programming language. The latest version, 4th Dimension (4D) 2003, is OS X-native, adds a number of Web capabilities, and improves on the program’s impressive range of developer features.
However, it also retains the idiosyncratic take on rapid application development that we described in our review of the last version, 4D 6.8.1.
The most-interesting new capabilities in 4D 2003 come in the form of its integrated support for Web services, including XML, SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), and WSDL (Web Service Description Language). These features allow you to publish to or use information from the Web within your solution. By connecting your database to a Web service, you turn it into a client that interacts with a server on the Internet.
The Web Services wizard unlocks the door to some powerful tools via a series of dialog boxes that guide you through accessing a Web service or setting up your own. One downside is 4D’s focus on developers and programming tools, which means that the layers of options will easily lose some novices. That said, real power lies under 4D’s hood.
The company has taken pains to ship the program with a wealth of editors and wizards that step users through creating reports. The program also comes with a ton of electronic documentation.
The Quick Report editor takes some of the mystery out of generating complex reports. Listing invoice totals by date, for example, is pretty easy – but summarizing them by customer or region can be a bit tricky. The editor handles formatting, gives you a wide range of print options, and even generates HTML. Ultimately, using Quick Report seemed counter-intuitive when we were trying to work with cross-tab data (in our case, information from related child tables), but it was faster than building reports by hand.
4D 2003 now includes a built-in compiler, rather than the external application of previous versions. You can run your solution in compiled mode, which produces a smaller, faster application, when you’re finished coding, or have it interpreted by the 4D application so you can go back and make changes.
4D 2003 isn’t easy to learn or use, but the company is trying, as evidenced by its well-integrated XML and Web-services support. It’s worth purchasing if you’re established, but it will be over your head if you aren’t.