Wine is 1.0

Congratulations to the Wine community which has released Wine 1.0:

The Wine team is proud to announce that Wine 1.0 is now available. This is the first stable release of Wine after 15 years of development and beta testing.

Wine is a compatibility layer that enables Windows applications to run on Linux, Mac OS X, and other Unix-like systems.

Although in beta, Wine has been used in numerous commercial applications over the years. Two I can think of: WordPerfect 9 from Corel, and the Kylix IDE from Borland. More accurately, Kylix used Winelib, which uses the Wine API at compile-time rather than at runtime.

Another notable example is Google’s Picasa for Linux.

Despite this landmark, Wine seems less significant now than it did a few years back. For one thing, it is easier to write a cross-platform application. For another, web applications have grown in importance, reducing the number of native applications we need to run. Finally, virtualization is now a better, more compatible route to running Windows apps on Unix in many scenarios.

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Installing SproutCore on Ubuntu on VirtualBox

If you check out the installation instructions for SproutCore you will notice that Windows developers are not really catered for (though I am sure it can be done). I also noticed some Windows issues in the Sproutcore forum. More evidence of the Windows/Unix disconnect.

Having been impressed by VirtualBox recently, I figured it might be easier to use VirtualBox and Ubuntu.

Here’s how it went. I ran up a new VirtualBox image and installed Ubuntu. Very easy; just point VirtualBox to the Ubuntu install iso. This worked, except that Ubuntu did not recognize the video driver and defaulted to 800 x 600 resolution. Solution: install dkms in Synaptic (or using apt-get); then install the VirtualBox Linux Additions. That gave me 1024 x 768, which is good enough.

Next, you need to install Ruby (developer version) (use sudo or root)

apt-get install ruby

apt-get install rubygems

apt-get install ruby1.8-dev

and some build tools as one of the SproutCore dependencies (hpricot) calls make when installed:

apt-get install build-essential

I thought that would be enough, but my first go at installing SproutCore failed, apparently because gem is not on the path. Although it seemed to work, I got “command not found” when running sproutcore. So:

export PATH=$PATH:/var/lib/gems/1.8/bin

Now you can install SproutCore:

gem install sproutcore

Several components, such as hpricot, ask which version to install. I chose the variant designated (ruby).

After that, the Hello World tutorial ran exactly as expected.

By the way, although this example makes it look as if SproutCore is a dynamic server framework, it is not. The usual way to deploy a SproutCore application is as static files; the server arrangement is for debugging.

Note: the command above only amends the path for the current session. To make it permanent, I added the following to lines to the end of /etc/profile (needs root permissions to edit)*:

export PATH

*See comment below for an even better suggestion.

The RIA dilemma: open vs predictable

There’s recently been a bit of hype ( for Charles Jolley’s Sproutcore, yet another JavaScript framework, mainly because Apple is using it as its “Cocoa for the Web”, according to AppleInsider.

I tried the sample controls demo in IE7 but it didn’t work quite right. For example, the Picker pane opened but would not close. Tried again in Firefox 3.0 and everything was fine.

I’ve got no idea what the problem is with IE7; it is probably because of weak standards support in IE. However, it illustrates the advantages of a plug-in like Flash, Silverlight or Java. With these platforms, the application is largely insulated from differences between browsers.

The snag with the proprietary plug-in approach is that the vendor may not support every platform equally. Microsoft is entrusting the bulk of Silverlight Linux support to a third party. There are also issues of control. Apple most likely does not want any runtimes on iPhone because they open up a route to application deployment that bypasses its App Store and 30% revenue share. Google seems wary of Flash; RoughlyDrafted says that is because of the risk of content being turned into “opaque binaries” that are beyond the reach of its contextual advertising analysis, but it may just be  reluctance to cede such an important part of its platform to a third party.

Still, as a developer in search of a predictable app platform I’d rather target a plug-in than trust the browser vendors to be sufficiently consistent, and the Javascript libraries sufficiently smart, to enable my code to run reliably everywhere. It is easier to get away with a requirement for, say, Flash 9, than to insist that users choose a particular browser or operating system.

There are other factors of course. On the Javascript + HTML side, there are advantages in that it extends rather than replaces the HTML model. Things like clipboard support just work. Plus, it runs on iPhone.

On the plug-in side, you get the fast execution of a JIT compiler, and easy use of graphical and multimedia effects that take effort to do in JavaScript, or can’t be done at all.

I would be interested in comments from developers about what RIA platform you are choosing, and why.

Why developers don’t write apps for Vista

From Evans Data we get this statistic (email address required):

Only eight percent of North American software developers are currently writing applications to run on Microsoft’s Vista operating system, while half are still writing programs for XP, according to Evans Data’s Spring 2008, North American Development Survey. These same developers forecast a fragmented Windows market in 2009 with only 24 percent expecting to target Vista and 29% expecting to continue with XP.

Matt Asay picks this up, saying that 92 percent of developers are ignoring Vista.

Sorry, this is silly. Sane Windows developers are writing apps that work on both XP and Vista. Writing an app that only works on Vista is equally as short-sighted as writing an app that only works on XP. Even WPF apps work on XP. So what are these 8% of Vista-only developers doing? Targeting DirectX 10?

Or did they get a somewhat ambiguous questionnaire and were collectively inconsistent over which boxes they ticked?

I agree that Vista has some problems, but this is not a useful analysis.

Two more interesting questions would be:

1. What proportion of developers are starting new projects that are cross-platform rather than Windows-only?

2. What proportion of developers are starting new projects that run from the Internet with zero desktop install, or maybe just a plug-in dependency?

There is a reason why Microsoft is fighting to establish Silverlight, and why Flex and Flash are suddenly so interesting to developers.

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Quick code performance test for Flash vs Silverlight

Quick performance test for Flash vs Silverlight. This just counts prime numbers and doesn’t touch graphics or multimedia. See Bubblemark and GUIMark for some more comprehensive tests; I just put this one together to satisfy my own curiosity. More details, and the code to scrutinize, here.

Please don’t take this too seriously. I may have messed up the test; it is only one small aspect of performance; and there are lots of other factors to think about. I just find this sort of thing interesting.

Update: Note that both Flash and Silverlight have just-in-time compilers that dramatically speed this type of code.

Comments are welcome here.

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Now it’s YahGoog

Yahoo has signed up for Adsense:

By offering Google’s industry-leading technology to Yahoo!, the whole system becomes more efficient, and everyone benefits.

This is efficient in the same way that having everyone run Windows is efficient. Hmmm.

Google observes that the deal is non-exclusive; Yahoo can still sell its own ads, etc etc. I tend to agree with Om Malik, who says:

In my opinion, with this deal, Yahoo has publicly acknowledged that Google is superior to them when it comes to search & contextual advertising.

Yes. But how much does that matter? Outsourcing what you are less good at, in order to concentrate on core competencies, can be a smart business move.

The snag here: advertising is Yahoo’s primary business activity. Here are its revenue figures for the first quarter 2008:

  • Marketing services: $1,818 million
  • Fees: $245,milion

Outsourcing the core of your business is bad PR.

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UK official tax CD caught by Vista’s virtual store

In the UK, HM Revenue and Customs issues an Employer CD-ROM which calculates tax and national insurance. Small businesses can use it to enter pay details through the year; then at the end of the tax year the application allows uploading of the data as the company’s formal annual submission.

Very handy; but clearly it’s important to backup the data. There is an entry on this in the CD’s online Help:

We recommend that you backup the data after each pay period and keep it separate from the computer.

Good advice; but the instructions puzzled me. It says all the data is in the program files folder (in breach of Microsoft’s guidelines, even though this is a 2008 CD), and that to backup:

Copy the folder named ‘Data’ to your chosen means of backup. (To copy, right click the folder and select ‘Send to’).

I found this surprising because on Vista the Program Files directory is read-only. I checked; and there is no user data in this folder on Vista. Instead, the data is in Vista’s Virtual Store, and you can find it at:

C:\Users\[Username]\AppData\Local\VirtualStore\Program Files\HMRC\Employer CD-ROM 2008\data

There’s a couple of issues here. First, why is the UK government sending out CDs that are not properly compatible with Windows Vista, more than a year after its release? The Virtual Store is a compatibility feature; it is not intended for long-term use.

More important, the backup instructions are plain wrong for Vista users. How many businesses out there have got carefully made backups of a folder that does not in fact contain their data?

In an official application used by many thousands of businesses, it’s a significant blunder.

Digg-style bug reports = great feedback

Long Zheng’s Windows UX Taskforce is notable for several reasons. Zheng devised the site in order to give Microsoft feedback on quirks and annoyances in the Windows Vista user interface. He hid it by designing an application that lets users promote or demote user reports, Digg-style. To give you an idea, top of the list right now is that bewildering dialog that appears when trying to safely remove a USB thumb drive card reader – with 262 votes.

So the site is notable, first, for what it says about the Windows Vista UI; second, for what it says about the number of people who care about it and are willing to submit detailed feedback; and third, because it shows what a great way this is for managing bug reports and feature requests.

Actually, Microsoft already has something along these lines, called Connect. It’s fascinating to contrast Zheng’s quickly-assembled but easy to use site, which is attracting lots of users, with Microsoft’s site that is slower, more complex, and less compelling. It’s incomplete too. How do I submit feedback for Microsoft Word, for example?

It strikes me that software vendors have just been shown a simple and effective way to improve their products. I wonder how many will take it up?