SuperBeam 2

By now we're at the start of 1993 and things are not going well. We have three programs on the market, SuperBeam 1, written in Turbo Basic, SuperHeat 1 (Part L energy checking) written in Turbo Pascal, and ProSteel 1, written in QuickBasic. All were good programs, but they were underpriced and I stupidly (in retrospect) spent lots on money on non-productive advertising whilst slowly going broke. A new SuperBeam was badly needed.

The initial plan was to produce a new Turbo Pascal-based program that had a similar user interface to SuperHeat 1, Turbo Pascal having become my programming language of choice. Unfortunately SH1 doesn't run on current hardware and we have no screenshots, but as usual (at the time) it displayed a DOS 80x25 full screen window with a menu bar along the top and status bar along the bottom, with the currently selected data or edit screen displayed between them. Rewriting SuperBeam to look like this would have been new, but would it have been any better?

Meanwhile I had played with Borland's (producer of Turbo Pascal) Turbo Vision (TV) application framework. Borland used it for their own current products and it looked clean and modern with resizeable windows, full mouse support, online help and modal dialogs incorporating the now-familiar radio buttons, check boxes, drop-down lists and list boxes. It could be described as Windows with a small 'w', producing programs with a Windows-like interface that would run on the most basic PC (lots of people had no more than a 1MB 8088/8086 DOS box at the time). I repeatedly tried to master TV but could not get beyond the demos. Then, finally, around Easter 2003 I had a Eureka moment and all became clear.

In next no time a plan came together, the core of which carries over to this day: instead of only being able to design or check one beam at a time as in SuperBeam 1, SuperBeam 2 adopted the concept of a project containing multiple beams and columns, with the user being able to switch between them. This was a natural fit with TV's windowed interface.

At this point banks were taking a tough line with small businesses and mine threatened to call in my overdraft and liquidate the business. My plea, that a new product in the works would turn things round, was met with more than a little scepticism but they agreed that halving the overdraft by the end of July 1993 and clearing it by year end would be acceptable. So that set the ship date. Orders were solicited for a far from finished product and on July 31 I banked a pile of cheques and credit card slips and sent out a complete (but admittedly still buggy) SuperBeam 2. The introduction of SuperBeam 2 also marked the beginning of our subscription update scheme. And the design of SuperBeam has worked so well that we carried it over to Windows with minimal change and it continues to this day.

SuperBeam 2 desktop

A typical SuperBeam 2 screen is shown here. The options on the status bar at the bottom of the screen change according to the selected window and provide similar functionality to today's toolbar

SuperBeam 2 beam edit dialog

No grid, so the load edit table is made of multiple edit boxes, but otherwise it's much as today.

Appearance apart, not very different to today

SuperBeam 2 steel design dialog

Again, not that different to today's SuperBeam 4

Timber beam calculation

DOS programs could be run in 25 or 50-line mode. The latter had the potential to show much more but on the limited resolution displays of the time was barely readable in most cases - not a problem on today's screens.

Over the next five years SuperBeam 2 was steadily developed. Support for beams extended as cantilevers was added in release 2.10 (Feb 1994), variable and B/F loads in 2.50 (Aug 1996) with column design and checking being added to the final 2.60 release (Nov 1998)

1994 - Steady progress

The next project was rewriting our SuperHeat program as SuperHeat 2, again using the Turbo Vision user interface. Timing of major SuperHeat releases was determined by the dates when changes to Part L took effect, generally every 3-4 years - in each case a new SuperHeat release had to be complete and BRE-approved before the magic date. SuperHeat 2 shipped at the end of 1994 and then it took a few months to produce the manual. The effort was worth it: SuperHeat sales in 1995 were £25,885, more than it had generated during the previous five years put together. The following year they were back to normal. Finally attention could turn to producing ProSteel 2.

1995 - ProSteel 2

ProSteel 2 manualProducing ProSteel 2 was a technically undemanding task - it was just a case of rewriting all the QuickBasic steel calculation code in Pascal and merging it with the SuperBeam 2 general user interface code - by this time I had a very good understanding of Turbo Vision and SuperBeam 2's design had been well received so there were few design decisions to be made. Even so, ProSteel 2 wasn't released until March 1996 - a new DOS program when most others had been replaced by Windows versions.

The ProSteel 2 manual was a different story - it took ages to write: initially, to make life easy, SuperBeam 2 had shipped with a short user guide accompanied by a SuperBeam 2/ProSteel reference guide. The ProSteel 2 manual was our most ambitious production to date by far, perfect bound, 37,000+ words, 133 pages + prelims and index, as compared to 75 pages ++ for the dedicated SuperBeam 2 manual.

1996 - Getting ready for Windows

Through 1996, unseen by users, lots of work was done consolidating similar code used by the different programs prior to starting work on the Windows code. Once again the structural programs had to take second place to SuperHeat, which as SuperHeat 3 & 4 became our first Windows program, released at the end of 1997. But because this involved porting lots of common code, at this point the Windows versions of SuperBeam and ProSteel were probably one third done.

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