RimStar Professional 4.0

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A Programmer's Editor Shootout

Written by Carsten Whimster

Introduction

RimStar Professional 4.0 is the last of the full-fledged commercial, professional-style editors out there. This professional edition has more features than the previous version. For more details, see the list below.

Packaging and Installation

Since I was e-mailed this package, I cannot comment on the packaging, so I will skip straight to the installation. As is common, a large window pops up to dominate the screen as the installation proceeds, but it must be something like 640x480 on my 1024x768 desktop, so I was easily able to start typing in this review while it proceeded. The installation modifies the config.sys, unfortunately. It is not all that hard to avoid this, so I encourage all software authors reading this review to stay away from the config.sys. This isn't unique to RimStar, however, as Preditor also did this.

It was nice to be asked during installation which editor emulation I desired, and once I had answered EPM, I found that the keys were pretty much as I expected. In the other editors, I had to fiddle around a little before things were right.

Anyway, that was a sideline. After rebooting, I was ready to continue testing...

Features

Here is a screen shot of the main window:

RimStar-editors1.gif

Here is a list of the major RimStar features:

  • No limits on line length, number of lines, file size, or number of windows
  • Unlimited undo/redo
  • Fully Brief compatible key mapping
  • EMACS, Borland IDE, CUA, PWB and other key mappings
  • Project Support
  • SyntaColor™ Syntax coloring for C/C++/Java/Pascal/PL1/REXX and others
  • C/C++/Java Smart indenting & brace matching
  • Source code browser for C
  • Access tool kit help for function under the cursor
  • Hex editing
  • Incremental search
  • Search & replace files on disk
  • Complete ANSI 'C' macro language
  • Extend the editor using DLLs
  • Template editing
  • Bookmarks
  • Customizable menus
  • Save and restore state between sessions
  • Timed auto save
  • Compile and jump to errors
  • Block indent/outdent
  • Keystroke macros
  • Support for version control
  • On-line manual
  • Watcom IDE enabled
  • OS/2 Workframe/2 enabled
  • Long filename and file names with spaces for all OS's that support them

and here are the Professional edition's additional features:

  • Graphical tree display of class hierarchies - derived or base (multiple hierarchy windows supported)
  • Jump to definition for functions, variables, members, macro defines
  • Jump to references for functions, variables, members, macro defines
  • Browser database is maintained using the editor's project facility
  • All identifiers are fully cross-referenced in the database.
  • Supports Microsoft Visual C++, Borland C++, Watcom C++, IBM VisualAge C++, Symantec C++ and other compliant C/C++ compilers

By the way, here's a tip for reading these and other similar reviews: when you read about something being unintuitive, don't worry too much. With time, even the quirkiest programs can become second nature, witness the popularity of Emacs with double-sequence keystrokes for almost everything! I am merely giving a first impression.

My first impression of RimStar Pro is that this is one fast editor. Everything happens with blazing speed! File saves, loads, scrolling, and other actions too. The interface is very clean, and the toolbar is useful. I don't personally happen to use toolbars, so I turned it off. The settings are very lean compared to both Preditor and especially Visual SlickEdit, however.

One thing I struggled with a bit was syntax highlighting for HTML. Syntax highlighting is provided for all the major programming languages, but not for HTML. For C, C++, Java, and so on, there are multiple bracket/parenthesis styles available, in addition to configurable syntax expansion, and much more, but setting up your own requires programming in RimStar's macro language, which is 100% C compatible. RimStar claims that this macro language is better and more intuitive that other C-like macro languages, and I would have to agree, at least for anyone who has programmed in C before. It sure would have been nice to have an easy-to-use dialog box for setting up syntax highlighting for new languages though, preferably as powerful as that in Preditor. In the end, I gave up, not because it was impossible, but because I have been spoiled by the other editors. I am sure that this will show up in a future release, but for now, I give Preditor and Visual SlickEdit the upper hand in this area. You may be able to find HTML files at the RimStar web site, but I am only reviewing what is here. The bottom line is that if you just want to do programming, you are probably fine, but some general text editing features are not there.

I also struggled a bit with the window layout in RimStar until I found the correct settings. When you have one file open, it takes up the whole editor by default, but if you open another, it tiles. This is defeatable, but seems awkward as a default. I prefer just having an EPM-like ring of files, with F11/F12 moving between them, each window taking up the whole area of the editor by default, unless otherwise specified. Eventually I found some settings in the settings dialog which allowed me to do this, although some of the names of the settings were a bit counter-intuitive, such as "Open files in same window" meaning not to tile or cascade, but to display each file full size. It sounds a little like previous files will be closed if you tick this, but in fact it works great now.

Searching and replacing are blazingly fast, but again, the options are a little lean compared to Visual SlickEdit. Just to put things in perspective, Visual SlickEdit costs $80 less than the Pro version, but $20 more than the non-Pro version. Searching and replacing across files and directories is not quite as speedy for one reason: every file is momentarily displayed in the editor. This causes a particularly large replace to take 5 minutes, versus 6 1/2 minutes in Visual SlickEdit and 1 1/2 minutes in Preditor. Both Visual SlickEdit and RimStar could learn something from the way Preditor handles this. The slowdown is not due to bad coding, but due to trying to display file-by-file information for every file searched. This is unnecessary.

For some reason, I could not copy-and-paste from Netscape, just like Visual SlickEdit. In fact, I opened Preditor, pasted the text, re-selected it there, tried copying-and-pasting from there, and that *still* did not work. So I opened the file in Preditor, pasted in the text, saved it, and re-opened it in RimStar. Why Visual SlickEdit and RimStar have problems with this I have no idea.

Macro recording works well and seamlessly in RimStar Pro. One minor annoyance in Visual SlickEdit is that you are always asked what name you want to save a recorded macro under (there is actually a way around this, i found out later.) This is not really needed for single-session macros, and RimStar handles that well, asking only if you choose to explicitly save a recorded macro. Macro operations are also very fast.

Like Visual SlickEdit and Preditor, RimStar has the great ability to indent and outdent text, unfortunately not with the Tab key, but that is obviously fixable.

One small feature that I could not find in RimStar is word-wrap. I have been told that it is here somewhere, but searching through the menus and the online help, I was unable to find it. I use this extensively when I author HTML, so this is annoying.

Moving on to project support, I was expecting quite a good show here, given the decently-sized Project menu. I opened a Java file, and tried to set up a project. It was a little trickier than with the other editors, but once I figured it out it worked just as well, with in-editor compilation, error display and so on.

One thing that RimStar did not handle so well was opening a large file. I had a problem with my EDM/2 web site log file, so I opened it in RimStar. The file is 20 MB, so I was expecting it to take a little while, but it took quite long to open. Then when I started scolling around, it was still slow, and finally when I pressed Ctrl-End, it crashed. Neither Preditor nor Visual SlickEdit have this problem.

Summary

RimStar Pro is a great editor with excellent speed for most things. It is well threaded and runs very well with other programs. It has most of the top-end features that you have come to expect, some of which I have sampled here. It is available on both OS/2, and the various Windows platforms. RimStar Pro's main problem is the competition: Visual SlickEdit is cheaper and has a huge array of features, many more than RimStar, excepting the class browsing features and so on that the Pro edition has. Preditor is much cheaper but very similar, again without the class browsing features. Neither of these detract from the worth of the RimStar editor, but it is my guess that it won't sell quite as well as the others. I thought long and hard before giving this editor yet another 4 1/2 rating, since it sounds an awful lot like a cop-out, but in the end, for every little feature that was missing or broken, it had something else to make up for that.

Keep in mind that although RimStar Pro is more expensive than Visual SlickEdit, the regular RimStar is cheaper. The Pro edition has some high-end features that I didn't test in this review, such as class hierarchy display, jump to definition for functions, variables, members, macro defines, and more. These features are largely unmatched in the other two editors, Brian Smith of RimStar claims.

RimStar is more solid than Preditor, and better threaded than Visual SlickEdit, and in some ways it is much leaner and more directly geared at exactly and exclusively programming than either of the other editors, both of which have more general text-editing features.

So now we have three editors with the same rating. All three editors are excellent, but none is perfect. How do you choose? Here is my advice: If you want the maximum number of features at all costs (possibly excepting the class browsing and so on that the Pro edition offers), buy Visual SlickEdit. If you want the best price, buy Preditor. This leaves RimStar. Who should buy RimStar? The programmer who is concerned with a clean interface and great speed, but does not need general text-editing features. Even in this area, there is not much to choose between Preditor and RimStar, so perhaps the ultimate test is the long lists of features. Do they have what you want? RimStar does have a number of esoteric class browsing features and so on, so maybe this is exactly where it wins? If this is what you need, get RimStar Pro.

Overall Rating: 4 1/2 of 5.

Information

RimStar can be ordered from the RimStar web site.

RimStar Professional 4.0

Price: $199 US for the standard edition and $299 for the Professional edition
RimStar Technology, Inc.
91 Halls Mill Road
Newfields, NH 03856
USA
Support: 1.603.778.2500
BBS: 1.603.778.4644
Email: brians@rimstar.com
Web Page: http://www.rimstar.com/