X-Windows, InterViews, and molecular biology software

Don Gilbert gilbertd at cricket.bio.indiana.edu
Tue Feb 12 19:59:57 EST 1991

I've been learning How Unix Works over the past month, and thought 
that I'd share some of the highlights in relation to biology 
computing.  Many of you are already enscounced in Unix and this 
may be Old Stuff. If so, you may have comments on useful points 
that I've missed or have garbled.

One of the current interests in computational molecular biology is 
making the rapidly growing databases more accessible to 
scientists.  One option is friendly software running on central or 
departmental computers, which seems easier than keeping personal 
computers supplied with up-to-date multi-megabyte data. X-Windows 
is the Unix (and VMS) sibling of a Macintosh or MS-Windows graphic 
user interface.  The main attribute of X-Window software in my 
mind is that it is networkable -- software and data reside on a 
central computer where they can be better updated and shared among 
groups of researchers.

I'd like to hear your comments on whether X-Windows software for 
molecular biology will grow in importance over the coming decade 
over personal computer software.  Also, are you currently using X-
Window software?  Do you expect to in the next year or so?

Object oriented programming languages, such as C++, provide a more 
rapid way of developing and updating complex software that manages 
a graphic user interface.

InterViews is a good C++ based, X-Windows toolkit for Unix that 
provides an extensible program foundation, in much the same way as 
MacApp does for the Macintosh.  The importance of an object 
oriented programming language with a good application skeleton, 
such as C++/InterViews or C++/MacApp, is that the general program 
and user interface handlers are already there.  A programmer need 
only install functions specific to the task and customize it as 
needed, saving much labor.

Installing Unix system, gcc and g++ compilers, X-Windows and 
InterViews software on an A/UX Macintosh took me about a week.  
Learning enough C++ and InterViews to build a simple Drosophila 
database browser took me another week.  My strong impression is 
that the C++ / InterViews combination is a rapid and powerful way 
to build networkable programs, and is well suited to programmers 
developing biological applications.

While InterViews is currently only available for X-Windows on 
Unix, it is designed so that other window systems may be 
incorporated in the future.  This would let programmers develop 
one program to run on many window platforms, including Mac and MS-

Software Cited:

-- InterViews, a C++, X Windows toolkit.  Anonymous ftp to 
-- GNU C and C++ (gcc and g++) compilers.  See Usenet newsgroups 
gnu.g++.* and gnu.gcc.*
-- X Windows.  See Usenet newsgroup comp.windows.x
Don Gilbert                                     gilbert at bio.indiana.edu
biocomputing office, biology dept., indiana univ., bloomington, in 47405

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