BlackBerry developer betas a mixed bag

The BlackBerry platform offers a plethora of IDEs, but no support for Windows 7 or 64-bit OSes

Despite high praise for the iPhone as a consumer device, when it comes to the mobile enterprise, the BlackBerry remains the only game in town. That goes double for organizations where IT security is paramount. Take a look around any hospital, for example. BlackBerry devices are ubiquitous. In fact, one of my partners carries two BlackBerry phones: one for his consulting company, and one connected to the hospital where he is Chief Medical Officer.

This truth, as well as my recent experiences with a BlackBerry Tour 9630 review unit supplied by Research in Motion, led me to look more deeply at developing for the BlackBerry. So I joined the BlackBerry Developer Zone, downloaded and installed the current Sun Java JDK (a prerequisite for the BlackBerry SDKs), downloaded all the current beta development tools as well as a couple of simulators, and tried to install them on my current development system, which runs Windows 7 for x64.

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Almost all my initial installs encountered problems. The simulators were the exception: They seem fine, at least by themselves. The BlackBerry Web plug-in for Visual Studio 2008 caused the IDE to hang up when opening or creating any project unless it was started with administrative privilege. The BlackBerry Java Application Development Environment started once from the installer, but couldn't start from the Windows start menu. The BlackBerry Web plug-in for Eclipse appeared to work, but when I tried to combine it with the BlackBerry Java plug-in for Eclipse I wound up with a nonfunctioning Eclipse installation, so I never determined if either one actually was able to build and debug BlackBerry applications from the Windows 7 desktop.

When I asked about these issues on the RIM developer board and bug reporting site, I quickly found out that Windows 7 and 64-bit operating systems are not yet supported. I appreciate the quick response, but I really wish I had found that out before I went through all the trouble of downloading and installing the tools.

I uninstalled almost everything, and then tried reinstalling the Sun Java JDK, the BlackBerry Java Application Development Environment, and the BlackBerry Web plug-in for Eclipse in Windows XP Mode. Windows XP Mode is basically a Windows XP Virtual PC with some Windows 7 desktop integration. Because of the way XP Mode installations are detected for the Windows start menu, only the JDE and the simulators showed up under the Windows XP Mode Applications menu, which makes them available as virtualized applications that appear to run on the Windows 7 desktop. The Eclipse installation has to be run from within the XP Mode Virtual PC.

It took one more step to get the JDE to build applications: I had to manually add the JDK bin directory to the XP Mode path. But once that was done, I was able to build all the supplied BlackBerry Java applications and, eventually, debug them in a simulator. I say "eventually" because the performance of the simulator is noticeably slower in a Virtual PC than running on the Windows 7 desktop. I'm looking forward to "real" Windows 7 support.

I didn't get to run the applications on my physical BlackBerry Tour device; it appears that to load applets onto the device, they need to be signed. As I'm just testing the waters, I don't yet have a BlackBerry code signing certificate. If and when I get serious about BlackBerry development, I'll have to order one. Meanwhile, the simulators appear to be quite faithful to the real devices. In fact they're quite impressive, as you can see in the screen shot below. (Click on the image to see it full size.)

BlackBerry dev sm.png
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