Product Review:
PythonWorks Pro 1.2


David Mertz, Ph.D.
Gnosis Software, Inc.
June 2001

At A Glance

Creator: PythonWare
Price/License: Commercial ($395)
Home Page: http://www.pythonware.com/products/works/index.htm
Requirements: Win32, Linux, Solaris


Background

This review is the second in a series of looks at Python IDEs for webreview.com. The look at Python IDEs, in turn, follows an earlier set of reviews of a number of text editors. I'm a traditionalist about writing code in text editors, and to convince me, an IDE has to offer some palpable benefit beyond the familiar comforts of a favorite text editor. Moreover, a commercial IDE like PythonWorks Pro has to do something to sell itself as better than free IDEs like Idle, PythonWin or MacPython IDE (depending on platform), even for those users inclined towards an IDE rather than "just" an editor. Beyond the review of Idle that appeared earlier in webreview.com, I also wrote a comparative article on a number of IDEs for IBM developerWorks (but did not look at PythonWorks Pro):

http://www-106.ibm.com/developerworks/linux/library/l-pide/

A New State Of Mind

PythonWorks Pro is quite a bit different than most any IDE or text editor you have used before. Its use of docked panes is somewhat reminiscent of the style of Microsoft Visual Studio, but the dominant metaphor is of a web browser. Mind you, PythonWorks Pro is a web browser in metaphor only--unlike the competing Komodo that is based around Mozilla, and whose roots therein are much closer to a browser. But the basic elements of the main (center) pane are the home, back, and forward buttons. And as with a browser, one thing exclusively occupies the main pane at a time; there are no multiple windows for different resources, just tabs for those resources that are open.

The other unusual thing about PythonWorks Pro is its use of a repository model rather than the use of standard files. There are no File/Open and File/Save commands, but simply "New Project" and "New Resource" and "Delete Resource." Everything is saved within a project as you work. It takes some getting used to, and the curve is steepened by the idiosyncratic menu options: "works", "project", "resource"; within the editor pane "edit" and "pads".

I think that with some practice, the PythonWorks Pro interface could well be better than a more traditional one. But the practice is needed. Either way, I highly applaud PythonWare for trying such new ideas, since current interfaces risk running into dead ends. Its nice to open things up.

Using The Tools

Let's talk about the tools PythonWorks Pro provides. There is an editor component, of course. There is also a form designer, a debugger, picture and sound viewers, and interactive shell, and an output console. Pretty much what you would want in an IDE, and they achieve a nice seamlessness.

The editor is adequate, but not exceptional. Even compared to Idle or PythonWin it has some limits. You get syntax highlighting, naturally. And the basic cut/paste, and comment block, and indent/dedent. But no code folding. There is some code completion, but it is much less sophisticated than many other IDEs, or even plain editors. And moreover, the completion requires a special keystroke rather than just popping up as you type.

The form designer is similarly adequate. In a gesture to the Delphi style, you can tab between the visual designer, the XML document that records the layout, and the actual Python/TKinter code that implements it. But unlike Delphi or the best such designers, you cannot dynamically edit code that comes from a the visual designer. And the widget set has only just enough to create some basic applications (probably about as much as plain TKinter, but several sets of enhanced widgets are available to go with TKinter).

Platform Issues

Unfortunately, as with the other commercial IDEs I have looked at, PythonWorks Pro has some important glitches. Under my Mandrake 7.1 out-of-the-box installation, PythonWorks Pro was unable to launch a Python interactive shell or run programs. What makes this especially odd is that fact that PythonWorks Pro relies on finding Python to run itself. Tech support was curteous and prompt. But unfortunately, after a few days of back-and-forth emails, they were not yet able to resolve the rather basic issue. As of right now, I am promised that the "Linux folks" will be back next week, and make solving this a top priority... and assured that it works fine under other Linux distributions (Mandrake is not exactly obscure though).

I can still run the IDE under Linux as far as editing files and creating projects. But the glitch makes it non-usable for real work. Fortunately, the IDE installs and runs without any obvious problems on my Win95R2 laptop. The functionality should be the same (so I am told). Moreover, if you can get it to work, PythonWorks Pro allows you to quickly toggle between different Python versions in which to run your applications. Nice for compatibility and deployment testing.

Conclusion

PythonWorks Pro is a program with a lot of promise; but one that I would have to describe as "not quite there yet." It has some nice ideas in it, but it is not either complete or bug free enough to shell out $400 for. In a free program, you live with little issues; for (fairly much) money it is reasonable to expect more. My advice: try out the demo version now, but wait for a little more functionality to buy the IDE.

About The Author

David Mertz hopes in earnest that the next buzzword for the web will be "gnostic," its cognates, and related neologisms. Try out, "let's go gnosticate on the project," for euphony; perhaps it works. He hopes further that his prior art will support his linguistic patent. You can reach him at mertz@gnosis.cx, and find copious biographical details by rooting around at http://gnosis.cx/publish/.