Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Charting Companion gets new tabbed dialogs ("Property Sheets")

Software developers often use third-party software "packages" or libraries, to perform common tasks and avoid the time and expense of re-inventing the wheel. For example, reading and displaying images (JPG, PNG), or creating a PDF file, etc. are complex tasks that require much time to implement. Much better to call upon a firm whose specialty it is. These software packages don't come cheap: license fees typically run into the thousands. But it's still less expensive than developing it from scratch.

Third-party software can become a liability, however, if the developer loses interest or goes out of business.

Property sheet, aka Tabbed Dialog
We bought a license to a "tabbed dialog" library called SftTabs, back in 1996. Tabbed Dialogs, also known as Property Sheets, were introduced with Windows 95, but in those days a lot of customers were still using Windows 3.1, and we wanted to remain backwards compatible. So we used this third-party library to implement all our Options dialogs.
A few weeks ago, we decided we wanted to verify that our backups were complete. We installed all our tools on a "virgin" computer,  and restored all our source code from the backups. This is known as a disaster recovery simulation.

Everything went fine, except for the SftTabs library. Their automatic license manager prevented SftTabs from being installed. Since the recovery computer was only going to be used this one time, I sent an email asking for an exception to enable us to compile and test our code.

The days went by, I got no response. I sent another email. I left a phone message. Nothing.

Not the support I expect for a $400 piece of software.

After a couple of weeks, I resigned myself to the fact that the SftTabs company either did not have the resources or interest in supporting their product. There was no mention of Windows 10 compatibility on their Website, another sign that the product is not being maintained. I had to find an alternative before we were in a real jam.

I proceeded to learn about Property Sheets, which are native to Windows, and come at no additional cost. Fortunately I was able to convert all our dialogs in two weeks of concentrated effort. I am now pleased to say that Charting Companion 6.0.24 is completely converted to Property Sheet-style dialogs. The dialogs and fonts look much better, the code is simpler, and as a bonus we have the foundation for Wizard-style dialogs, which will make the program easier to use.

Talk about turning a lemon into lemonade!