By Nathan Boeger

Visual SlickEdit 6.0
cost: $295 Linux; $395 Solaris
Pros: Easy to use and install; intuitive UI; good help menu. Cons: No native CVS or RCS $295 Linux; $395 Solaris support.

Unix development teems with passionate, personal preferences for using tried and true tools. Most developers I know use vi or Emacs for most, if not all of their coding. Visual SlickEdit is one of the older and better-known Unix development suites around, so it's available for most Unices. This is a great advantage because you can use it on any supported Unix/Linux or even Windows system, and for the most part, your code looks the same. This lets multiple programmers work on a single project regardless of their chosen platforms.

For this review, I looked at the Linux and Solaris versions of Visual SlickEdit 6.0. This product's system requirements are minimal, which is rare in a modern software package. The installation was very easy and mostly text-based. After the installation, you only need to add /usr/lib/vslick/bin/ to your path, and you're off and running. (Side note: Even though FreeBSD isn't commercially supported, I was able to install Visual SlickEdit 6.0 and get it to run under FreeBSD's Linux compat. Just make sure that you properly run brandelf on the binaries when you do this.)

I spent a few minutes playing around with the editor and its tool bars. The tool bars are dockable, which makes it easy to add more tool bars and buttons without cluttering the editing environment. Most of these are highly configurable also. I easily created my own buttons, complete with shell commands, and my own icons. The ability to customize such minor details is a sign of a good editor. Visual SlickEdit supports vi or Emacs key bindings. This is great because I'm used to both, and it's tough to find a visual editor that supports vi key bindings.

RAD Features

Visual editors wouldn't be worth their cost if they didn't speed up my development. Several of Visual SlickEdit's outstanding features are:

Class browser. The Class browser docks on the side and its default icons are very intuitive. From this browser, you can list classes by expanding the class you want. Then, simply click on the method or any of the class variables. With this browser, you can easily obtain a good overview of your entire project.

Dynamic tagging. Dynamic tagging, which keeps track of functions and other symbols in your source code, is a feature that I really liked. If you have a function or a macro that you know is in your source, but you can't recall where, just type it into the Symbol box at the bottom of the main editor; dynamic tagging will find it or anything similar for you. Dynamic tagging also automatically records the location of new symbols as you type, so you don't have to re-tag all of your files.

Source Beautifier. This is another great timesaving tool for automatically changing stylistic elements, like braces, globally. For example, I have some code that my friend wrote, and she comments in a different style than I do. I would normally have to go through her code and change it manually, but Visual SlickEdit can make these alterations automatically. Other editors do this as well, but most won't find all instances, or will mix up a few so that I have to manually sift through and clean up the code anyway. Visual SlickEdit didn't miss a single brace in my code.

Multiple clipboards. Each of these clipboards stores the last 15 clipboards you used. I used one of them quite often when I updated some older code. I could put my new variables into the clipboards and when I needed them, I simply picked them up from my clipboard list. You can see the clipboards by choosing List Clipboards from the Edit menu.

Search and replace. If you program in Java, you may have encountered a situation in which you've misspelled a method or public variable name. You can fix several spelling errors by searching through multiple files and replacing all occurrences of the misspelled method name. This alone saved me a lot of time debugging compile-time errors.

FTP support. This is a good feature for a serious editor to have. FTP support should be included in all modern editors, but for some reason it's not. The basic setup is very simple and Visual SlickEdit even supports passive FTP and proxies.

Sign That Purchase Order

If you're a serious programmer or you work in a mixed environment where people still develop with commercial OSs, then Visual SlickEdit is your best choice for a visual editor. Visual SlickEdit is a suite that's inexpensive, much better than the overpriced Microsoft Visual Studio, and runs on virtually any Unix flavor.

Nathan currently works as a Unix consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can reach him at nathan (at someplace like)