09 January 2011

Deep-Sky Planner 3: The Move to 32-bit Windows

In the mid to late-90s, a lot of 16-bit applications were available to run on the new 32-bit OSes, Windows 95 and NT 4, but not so many 32-bit ones. Deep-Sky Planner 3 moved to 32 bits, taking advantage of new facilities in Windows and making full use of the wider address space. Moving to 32-bit OS was not very difficult, but following the new Windows Logo requirements proved to be a lot of work. The Logo requirements provided the formula for developing a compliant application, thereby assuring users of a consistent 'user experience'. What that really meant was that a user should know what to expect in terms of an application's user interface and its interaction with Windows. To an application developer, that was supposed to mean fewer support questions and happier customers. This tenet still guides user interface and system design in Deep-Sky Planner today.

With a larger address space available the database expanded to include variable stars, double stars and quasars. The number of objects in the database grew to 5 times its previous number to 155,582 objects. Several report sorting and filtering options were added to accommodate the new stellar catalogs, and a 'best time to observe' sort option was added that put objects in the best observing order based on one's time and place. This became a nice feature for planning a Messier Marathon or a short observing session for any particular night. Font and color selections in the application made reports customizable in appearance while retaining their memory-efficient nature. The context sensitive help system moved to WinHelp 4 - a significant improvement that required a lot of work.

This release was developed primarily with Borland C++ 5.0 and the Object Windows Library (OWL). A few utilities were developed in the new C++ Builder 1.0. This brief experience with C++ Builder demonstrated a great increase in productivity for this developer. It was obvious that the way forward for Deep-Sky Planner would include a move to C++ Builder.

The production cycle for Deep-Sky Planner 3 was really quick. The contract was signed in June 1998 and it was released on CD-ROM the following month. Advertisements began in Sky & Telescope in October 1998. Despite a large investment in development tools, the price held steady at $49.95.

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