Builder Xcessory

Builder Xcessory (BX) is a mature, high-end, object-oriented-based UNIX GUI development tool for Motif and Java, released just over a year ago for use on Linux.
ViewKit and MotifApp

Until recently, Douglas A. Young was a principal scientist at Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI). He has written a number of books on Motif development and is the most-quoted and read author on GUIs, having specialized on Motif in particular. His Object-Oriented Programming with C++ and OSF/Motif remains a much-cherished classic. In it, he develops the MotifApp GUI application frameworks, which have matured into the ViewKit product, originally available from SGI but now free on Linux, and commercially available for other UNIX platforms.

To understand what is meant by the “Doug Young method”, we need to look at the choices available to an application framework developer wanting to create an OOP framework using a GUI API based on a non-OOP language, such as Motif.

In some ways, Motif is an OO package. It uses inheritance to create new widget classes based on old ones, passing data and methods down from a super class to a newly derived subclass. Since it is written in C, some marshaling code is needed to overcome language features present in true OOP languages like C++. Gtk+ uses many of the same concepts, since it too is written in C, so the strategies here hold true for Gtk+ as well.

Doug Young's observations about using C++ and a C GUI can be paraphrased with his three strategies as follows:

  • Our first option is not to use the OOP features of C++, simply using the compiler's stronger type checking. This, of course, will disallow us the greater advantages of using C++ and OOP.

  • Our second choice is to encapsulate each and every widget into C++ wrapper classes. Although this may provide some aesthetic appeal, it obfuscates the fact that adding extra marshaling code to obtain derived Motif objects is not true OOP, and can induce a performance hit compared to straight C. We cannot simply create a subclass of a C++-wrapped widget and expect it to work properly, since this would extend only the wrapper class and not the widget itself. In order to have an entire OOP widget class hierarchy, we need to have our widgets written in an OOP language from the ground up, the way the Qt widget set does.

  • The third and most natural approach to using C++ with a C GUI API is to create high-level components composed of (instead of derived from) collections of GUI widgets. All programmers make use of this functional, instead of object, approach at one level or another, as we have yet to see an entirely OO CPU make it to widespread use. Even things such as the Java machines on a chip are, at some microcode level, non-object-oriented machines.

The ViewKit application frameworks, the commercial descendent of MotifApp, have been developed using this third approach.

To make things more intuitive, ViewKit has a feature called VkEZ, which is comprised of a header file and a library. Instead of forcing a programmer to use a number of Motif functions directly, VkEZ overloads many of the assignment operators, at the same time adding some extra helper functions. Examples of this include the ability to assign strings to text and label widgets directly and easily using the “=” operator. Although this may help get an initial version of a program up and running, it is usually the case that the VkEZ functions are replaced with their counterparts in the way of direct Motif function calls.


BX's maturity into a highly evolved, flexible tool has made it the tool of choice for serious OOP-based GUI development work for any Linux/UNIX-based platform. It is sure to remain in my software toolbox for years to come.

Robert Hartley can be reached via e-mail at


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