Review: Rapid Mobile Enterprise Development for Symbian OS
Don't be too put off by the long winded title of this book release by one of AllAboutSymbian's principals, the subtitle says it better: "An Introduction to OPL Application Design and Programming". Ewan himself refers to the book as simply, "The OPL Book", which says it best of all.
OPL, of course, has been around for ages, with Psion shipping an excellent book in roughly the same format with their Series 3 in 1991. Like Ewan's offering, it was split more or less half and half between tutorial material and a command reference, a format which obviously worked well as it was copied again for EMCC's Programming Psion Computers. This was intended to be mainly about using C++, but the author (Leigh Edwards) asked me whether he ought to put more stuff on OPL in and I bit his arm off, eventually persuading him to include a full OPL command guide, updated with all the extensions needed to cope with touch screens and toolbars and so on.
Although most of the OPL content in EMCC's book is still very relevant, an outright beginner will have real trouble with the rest. There are whole chapters which are aimed at people ramping their way up the C++ learning curve and which will simple confuse the casual reader.
Ewan's book is an attempt to both appeal to the beginner and to put OPL into a more modern context in terms of the devices it's aimed at. As the subtitle implies, it's very much an introduction, with the emphasis firmly on teaching people the basics and getting some simple example applications up and running in order to give them confidence in the language and open their eyes to the possibilities.
The book's nine main chapters span 130 pages and range from 'The language of computers' (bits, interface, programming languages, etc.) through to a tutorial for creating SIS installation files. In the course of working through the material, you'll end up with two new applications (Othello and Notepad) that you'll have created from scratch (with Ewan's step-by-step help). The time honoured technique of using a real example to illustrate something rather than simply spouting theory is put to good effect here. There's awareness of the different interfaces of Series 60, UIQ and Series 80, the three main systems in use in the Symbian OS world today, along with tips on coding to allow for the differences, in order to distribute your programs in a way which will work on the largest number of devices.
There's plenty of good, hard-earned advice on building, distributing and promoting your own applications, although there's a limit to the extent of what you can build using just the information in this book. Ewan apparently plans a sequel, taking the would-be programmer into 'Professional' territory, covering advanced techniques and details which were left out of this book both for space reasons and also to avoid confusing the beginner. A sequel would also cover using the different functions available in plug-in OPX modules, which give OPL programs much of the power of native C++ applications (access to PIM databases, print routines, OS functions, and so on).
Part 2 of the book is larger, at around 180 pages, and consists of four appendices. The information here isn't all original, but it's still extremely handy to have it all in one place and printed out. As a part-time programmer myself, I'm always frustrated when I have to read documentation in Windows, and (as with the Psion and EMCC books before it) it's great to have the full OPL command reference printed here. As mentioned above, some commands (e.g. the tricky IOOPEN) really need more detailed coverage, which is where a sequel would come in handy.
Appendices 2 to 4 cover a printed list of all official OPL constants (memo to self - must get round to using more of these), a directory of online resources to help you out and a page-by-page reference to all suitable Symbian OS smartphones and their basic specifications.
There's no CD with the book, but relevant example files and tools can be downloaded directly from the Symbian Press web site.
Rapid Mobile Enterprise Development for Symbian OS (phew!) is the best introduction to OPL yet put into print and will be valuable to any companies or individuals wanting to produce small, efficient applications quickly for Symbian smartphones.
-- Steve Litchfield
A Note From Ewan Spence, the Author
It can't have failed to escape anyone's notice that the author of this book (me) is also one of the people who works on and for All About Symbian. So I'd like to stress that I've kept myself at arms length for the review of what is my first book. Steve was supplied a review copy of the book by the publishers, and only let me knew he was reviewing the book when he finished the review (apart from one question re the contents). The review was proof read and error corrected by Jim Hughes, who also posted the news item linking to the review. As well as knowing that the review of this book is transparent, it's important to me that you all know that as well.
See you in the OPL Discussion Forum on AAS!
Reviewed by Steve Litchfield at