Delphi and C++ Builder XE Starter Editions announced

Embarcadero has announced Starter Editions for both Delphi XE and C++ Builder XE, rapid development environments for native Windows applications.

These are not toy versions. The main technical difference between the Starter editions and the Professional versions are the absence of UML modelling, Class Explorer and Resource Manager tools. You also miss out on code completion for HTML, Live Code Templates, Subversion support, translation manager, refactoring and unit testing.

Not a big deal: most of these lacks are either not critical or can be addressed in other ways. Most features are the same, and you can build excellent high-performance applications with these Starter Editions.

The real restriction is the licensing:

Delphi XE Starter can be used by individuals who will earn less than US $1,000 for the applications they create with Delphi, or organizations or companies with five or fewer developers and less than US$1,000 in total annual revenue. Purchase the Professional edition or higher for larger scale commercial use.

with a similar wording for C++ Builder XE Starter.

The other question: how much? At the time of writing the Starter Editions are not in the online store, but according to this article in SD Times they will be $199 each or £149 for upgrades. Ownership of a Starter Edition gives you $100 discount if you later upgrade to a higher edition.

Delphi is as good as ever, especially bearing in mind that Microsoft has no real equivalent. Visual Studio is mostly .NET-based, whereas Delphi compiles to native code; and Visual C++ is more challenging to learn and arguably less productive. It is true that developers are waiting impatiently for 64-bit Delphi and for a promised compiler for OS X (and perhaps iOS?); but in the meantime if you need to build Windows applications do not ignore it.

Update: the European price is €199 each, or upgrades for €149.

Gadget Writing – iPhone docks, 5.1 headphones, mobile, gaming and more

I have started a new blog over at which is for reporting on mobile, audio, gaming and other such enthusiasms. The main reason is to have somewhere to cover these subjects without diluting the focus of itself.

Currently on Gadget Writing:

AVI preparing a successor to the ADM 9.1 – the floorstanding ADM 40

Surround sound 5.1 headphones–why and why not. Roccat Kave reviewed

How to get better sound: higher resolution, or something else?

Review: Audyssey iPhone Audio Dock South of Market Edition

and a few more bits and pieces.

Mobl: a new language for mobile applications, with Eclipse integration

It has gradually dawned on me that, contrary to first appearances, the Apple iPhone and iPad do come with a capable application runtime for those who would rather not tangle with Objective C; and one on which you can run applications without the hassle of negotiating the App Store. This runtime is the WebKit-based browser and JavaScript engine. This is for web apps of course; but as noted in my look at NS App Studio last week, you can blur the boundaries between web and local by creating a local shortcut and designing your app to work offline. Here is the Apple documentation, which notes:

Offline application support is available in iOS 2.1 and later and in Safari 4.0 and later

So you can do offline. There is also a local database, based on SQLite, documented by Apple here – putting iOS ahead of Windows Phone 7, which has no built-in relational database for Silverlight applications. Another plus is that other WebKit-based mobile browsers should work as well, including the one in Android devices.

It is possible to create application frameworks that wrap these features into a single development platform that compiles to JavaScript, HTML and CSS. PhoneGap is one example, and NS App Studio another; but today Reddit alerted me to another, Mobl, which has a modern feel and benefits from Eclipse integration. It is also free and open source, and with the right community momentum looks like it could be interesting.

Mobl is a statically-typed language with a syntax similar to Javascript – there is a guide and language reference here. The goal is to create a complete DSL (Domain Specific Language) for mobile development, which according to the web site:

Integrates all aspects of a mobile web application into a single language: data modeling, user interfaces, application logic, styling and web services.

The main author is Zef Hemel, from the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. Mobl makes use of Stratego/XT, which is a language and toolset for program transformation, and SDF  (Modular Syntax Definition Formalism), a language for defining syntax.

Mobl includes data modelling which handles object persistence and a concise language for defining user interfaces. AJAX support is built-in and there is integrated support for RESTful web services and for JSON (JavaScript Object Notation). The Eclipse add-in includes syntax highlighting, inline error reporting, code completion, and reference resolving.

All rather impressive for a project that has just burst onto the scene. I installed the Eclipse add-on and enjoyed its simple license:


“This software is distributed in the hope that it will be useful.” – though I have not found time yet to try creating an application.

There is more information on the nicely-designed website and blog and in the Google Group.

Update: thanks to @FransBouma for the link to the Mobl guide.

AVI preparing a successor to the ADM 9.1 – the floorstanding ADM 40

AVI is a small British hi-fi manufacturer who advocate active loudspeakers; its AVI 9.1 (recently lightly revised as the AVI 9T) is widely liked for its clean uncoloured sound and lack of clutter – all you need is a digital source. However the 9T lacks grunt and until now the recommended solution has been the companion subwoofer, which adds a substantial £800 to the cost. The 9T is £1125 so that is not far short of £2000 for the pair, making the value for money less impressive.

Now the company is preparing an all-in-one successor to the 9.1 – the floorstanding, 3-way active ADM 40. From what we know so far:

750 watt per-channel RMS amplification
3-way active crossover
8 inputs
Remote control

It will be possible to fine-tune the bass via the remote control; there will also be a companion iPhone app.

How much? According to AVI man Ashley James “under £3000 definitely, hopefully £2500”.

Hitherto AVI has been opposed to full-range loudspeakers, claiming that smaller two-way loudspeakers supplemented by a subwoofer is a better solution. Why the change of heart?

We don’t like typical three way lower crossovers because they are in the middle of the most music. Even  phase perfect ones are still reversing it and back again!!

However we’ve found that you get 95% of the intermod reduction by crossing over at 100 Hhz, a noticeable increase in clarity and dynamic range and the bass can be adjusted to suit rooms and program material, in this instance by remote, which isn’t possible with an old fashioned three way. And there’s an LFE input, so it’s a win win situation in a comparatively small speaker because we can use a Sub driver and not one for a three way.

says James.

On the face of it the ADM 40 will be better value than the ADM 9T plus subwoofer, as well as more convenient; one fewer box has to be a good thing. Then again, can AVI really deliver something as good as the 9T but with full range? The proof will be in the hearing.

There is a review of the ADM 9.1, similar to the 9T, here.

Update – oh dear:

We can’t get the performance from a floor stander and they cost disproportionately more for limited demand, so we’ve dropped the idea.

seems to be the latest news.

Server and Tools shine in Microsoft results – so why is Bob Muglia leaving?

Microsoft released quarterly results yesterday:

Quarter ending December 31 2010 vs quarter ending December 31 2009, $millions

Segment Revenue Change Profit Change
Client (Windows + Live) 5054 -2139 3251 -2166
Server and Tools 4390 412 1776 312
Online 691 112 -543 -80
Business (Office) 5126 612 3965 1018
Entertainment and devices 3698 1317 679 314

Microsoft highlighted strong sales for Xbox (including Kinect) as well as for Office 2010, which it said in the press release is the “fastest-selling consumer version of Office in history.”

Why is Office 2010 selling better than Office 2007? My hunch is that this is a Windows 7 side-effect. New Windows, new Office. I do think Office 2010 is a slightly better product than Office 2007, but not dramatically so. SharePoint Workspace 2010, about which I mean to post when I have a moment, is a big disappointment, with a perplexing user interface and limited functionality.

Windows 7 revenue is smaller than that of a year ago, but then again the product was released in October 2009 so this is more a reflection of its successful launch than anything else.

What impressed me most is the strong performance of Server and Tools, at a time when consolidation through virtualisation and growing interest in cloud computing might be reducing demand. Even virtual machines require an OS licence though, so maybe HP should worry more than Microsoft about that aspect.

I still think they are good figures, and make Server and Tools VP Bob Muglia’s announced departure even more puzzling. Just what was his disagreement with CEO Steve Ballmer?

Server and Tools revenue includes Windows Azure, but it sounds like Microsoft’s cloud is not generating much revenue yet. Here is what CFO Peter Klein said:

Moving on to Server and Tools. For Q3 and the full year, we expect non-annuity revenue, approximately 30% of the total, to generally track with the hardware market. Multi-year licensing revenue which is about 50% of the total, and enterprise services, the remaining 20%, should grow high-single digits for the third quarter and low double-digits for the full fiscal year.

This suggests that 80% of the revenue is from licensing and that 20% is “enterprise services” – which as I understand it is the consulting and enterprise support division at Microsoft. So where is Azure?

Online services, which is Bing and advertising, announced another set of dismal results. Another part of Microsoft’s cloud, Exchange and SharePoint online, is lost somewhere in the Business segment. Overall it is hard to judge how well the company’s cloud computing products are performing, but I think it is safe to assume that revenue is tiny relative to the old Windows and Office stalwarts.

Windows Phone 7 gets a mention:

While we are encouraged by the early progress, we realize we still have a lot of work ahead of us, and we remain focused and committed to the long-term success of Windows Phone 7.

It looks like revenue here is tiny as well; and like most corporate assertions of commitment, this is a reflection of the doubts around Microsoft’s mobile strategy overall: how much of it is Windows Phone 7, and how much a future version of full Windows running on ARM system-on-a-chip packages?

Still, these are good figures overall and show how commentators such as myself tend to neglect the continuing demand for Windows and Office when obsessing about a future which we think will be dominated by cloud plus mobile.

Richard Thompson Nottingham 27 January 2011

I heard Richard Thompson and his band last night at the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham. A pleasant venue, not too large, good acoustics, but lacking in atmosphere. The concert was pretty much sold out and there was no doubting the warm regard of the audience towards the performers, but it was not a lively crowd; it was an enjoyable evening but one that never quite sparkled.

Money Shuffle was an energetic opener; it is one of those songs that you think you have heard before even when you have not, with a timeless Richard Thompson feel to it. Then it was on through Dream Attic – he is performing his recent CD nearly in its entirety on this tour – with a slow tempo for Among the Gorse Among the Grey, and then full speed into Haul Me Up, a rollicking number which was a lot of fun.

As we progressed though the album Thompson gave succinct intros to the songs, gently mocking his own predilection for songs of death and mayhem – I loved these little bits of chatter, and I wish they had been put into the album, which is recorded live.

When we got to Big Sun falling in the River I had a moment of reflection. The song is set in London, Thompson told us, where the river is wide and at the right moment you can get some spectacular sunsets. The lyrics tell of a relationship going bad and shattered dreams:

Big Sun Falling In The River
Big sky shining in the water
Big love dying like the dying day

He doesn’t sing it like someone particularly upset though – not like, say, Missie how you let me down, or Long Dead Love, from Daring Adventures. Still, it is one of the recurring themes in Thompson’s music, with another being death. Sidney Wells, also on Dream Attic, is a gory tale of a serial murderer. Why so gloomy?

After my second beer last night I had what seemed a brilliant insight into the matter. It starts with English folk music, which sings of death in order to help us come to terms with mortality. And it continues with Richard Thompson writing Meet on the Ledge as a teenager:

Meet on the ledge, we’re gonna meet on the ledge
When my time is up I’m gonna see all my friends
Meet on the ledge, we’re gonna meet on the ledge
If you really mean it, it all comes round again

Richard Thompson’s words gained added poignancy after the tragic motor accident in 1969, when Fairport Convention’s drummer Martin Lamble and Thompson’s girlfriend Jeannie Franklyn died.

There is no answer to the reality of pain and loss; but music and humour is one route to healing and perhaps this is part of what is going on in Richard Thompson’s music and in the folk tradition.

As for the concert, we moved on through an evocative Stumble On and a lively Bad Again towards the interval, after which, Thompson had told us, he would sing his hits “it will be very short” he joked.

After settling for an ice cream thanks to the Royal Concert Hall’s lack of anything that can be described as beer, I returned after the interval expecting a succession of blasts from the past and more engagement from the audience. It turned out not quite like that. There was less chatter – though after performing The Angels Took my Racehorse Away, Thompson did remark on his pride that Henry the Human Fly, from which the song is taken, was the worst selling record ever in Warner Brothers catalogue (an exaggeration, I am sure). We got Wall of Death, though I felt it was a bit of a throwaway, perhaps he is getting tired of the song. We got an atmospheric Al Bowlly’s in Heaven with solos from band members, who were:

Pete Zorn – all sorts
Michael Jerome – drums
Taras Prodaniuk – bass
Joel Zifkin – electric violin

Al Bowlly is hardly a song for drummers, but let me mention that Jerome’s performance was excellent throughout the show, adding lots of energy to the sound, even if he did knock over several mic stands and cause a panic emergence of roadies onto the stage to fix things up during one of the songs.

Still, while Al Bowlly and Wall of Death count as hits in Richard Thompson terms, I would not say that numbers like One Door Opens and Take Care the Road you Choose are in that category, and it remained a low-key evening. We had one short encore and that was that.

I enjoyed the first half more; I think Thompson is more engaged with the new songs, and liked that he took the trouble to tell us a bit about them.

I have never been been to a poor Richard Thompson concert; I loved being there last night and he delivered in every respect. If I sound a little disappointed it is only because I have been to some that I enjoyed even more. I think Dream Attic is a good album but not a great album, and feel the same way about the concert. That said, if you ever get the opportunity to see this man perform, go without hesitation; he is one of the best.


The Money Shuffle
Among the Gorse among the Grey
Haul me Up
Demons in her Dancing Shoes
Big Sun Falling in the River
Stumble On
Sidney Wells
A Brother slips away
Bad again
If Love whispers your Name
The angels took my racehorse away
Can’t Win
One door opens
Al Bowlly’s in Heaven (band solos)
I’ll never give it up
Wall of death
Tear-stained letter
Take Care the Road you Choose
A Man in Need

No more Ruby support in NetBeans – the feature was little used, says Oracle

Oracle has announced the discontinuation of Ruby support in the NetBeans IDE. The reason? First, to free resources for JDK 7 support; but second (and more significant) – hardly anyone was using it.

There is hardly a shortage of Ruby IDEs. Ones that come to mind are the Eclipse-based Aptana, JetBrains RubyMine, the Visual Studio based Ruby in Steel, and Embarcardero’s 3rd Rail. Further, some Ruby developers prefer to work without an IDE.

I also suspect that Ruby has not quite hit the mainstream in the way it seemed that it might a few years back. Its influence has been huge, but in practice many developers still fall back to PHP, Java and C#.

How is Windows Azure doing? Few mission critical apps says Microsoft

I attended an online briefing given by Azure marketing man Prashant Ketkar. He said that Microsoft is planning to migrate its own internal systems to Azure, “causing re-architecture of apps,” and spoke of the high efficiency of the platform. There are thousands of servers being managed by very few people he said – if you visit a Microsoft datacenter, “you will be struck by the absence of people.” Some of the efficiency is thanks to what he called a “containerised model”, where a large number of servers is delivered in a unit with all the power, networking and cooling systems already in place. “Just add water, electricity and bandwidth,”, he said, making it sound a bit like an instant meal from the supermarket.

But how is Azure doing? I asked for an indication of how many apps were deployed on Azure, and statistics for data traffic and storage. “For privacy and security reasons we don’t disclose the number of apps that are running on the platform,” he said, though I find that rationale hard to understand. He did add that there are more than 10,000 subscribers and said it is “growing pretty rapidly,” which is marketing speak for “we’re not saying.”

I was intrigued though by what Ketkar said about the kinds of apps that are being deployed on Azure. “No enterprise is talking about taking a tier one mission critical application and moving it to the cloud,” he said. “What we see is a lot of marketing campaigns, we see a lot of spiky workloads moving to the cloud. As the market start to get more and more comfortable, we will see the adoption patterns change.”

I also asked whether Microsoft has any auto-scaling features along the lines of Amazon’s Elastic Beanstalk planned. Apparently it does. After acknowledging that there is no such feature currently in the platform, though third-party solutions are available, he said that “we are working on truly addressing the dynamic scaling issues – that is engineering work that is in progress currently.”

Back to BASIC with NS App Studio for mobile

I was intrigued to discover NS Basic/App Studio, which offers a simple Windows IDE targeting iPhone and Android mobile devices.


It is all a bit retro, especially when you discover that the company (NS Basic Corporation) has the leading Basic on the … Apple Newton.

Still, something like Visual Basic for iPhone and Android sounds interesting. Does this thing deliver?

I tried the demo. What NS App Studio actually does is to translate Basic code to JavaScript, so the end result is a web application targeting mobile browsers, rather than a mobile app. There is a bit more to it though. Apps have access to local storage including SQLite databases, since this is available to the WebKit-based browsers on iPhone and Android. You can create a shortcut to a web app and even run it offline, making it behave somewhat like a locally installed app. Further, the FAQ notes that you can wrap your web app with PhoneGap to create an app that you can distribute through the App Store or Android Market; and this or similar capability may eventually be included in the IDE.

The question though: why would you choose to use Basic rather than just learning JavaScript? I can make sense of the Google Web Toolkit, which compiles Java to JavaScript, but Google’s effort is more sophisticated. You are not expected to puzzle out the generated JavaScript, but just work in Java. By contrast, with NS App Studio you code in Basic but debug in JavaScript, with all sorts of potential for confusion.

I got the impression that the product is not yet mature. I changed the name of the form in my Hello World project, for example, but found generated code that still referred to the old name, causing a JavaScript error. I found it confusing that the property listed as “text” in the visual grid was “textContent” in code. The IDE is very simple, but also very lacking in features. Most developers would find a modern JavaScript IDE more productive.

Nevertheless it is interesting as a proof of concept, and shows the capability of these mobile browsers as a pre-installed application runtime.

Surround sound 5.1 headphones–why and why not. Roccat Kave reviewed

There is something counter-intuitive about 5.1 headphones. Headphones just look so stereo. Can you really create the surround sound illusion with the speakers so close to the ears?

It turns out you can, or at least sufficiently so to make these Kave 5.1 headphones from Roccat a satisfying product. They are intended primarily as gaming headphones, which explains the attached microphone, though it could be handy for Skype calls and other such uses as well. Another common use is for movies, where surround sound adds to the drama and sense of immersion. They are not really intended for music; but I found them pretty good for that as well.


What you get is a set of closed-back headphones with a relatively fat cable and an inline control box. The cable has four two-channel mini-jacks, one each for front pair, center and subwoofer, read pair, and microphone input, as well as a USB connector which supplies power and enables communication between the control box and the PC. You can flip open a panel on the control box to reveal channel sliders and to switch between “game” and “movies”.


Installation is a matter of plugging the cables into your sound card and a USB port. You need a 5.1 sound card, since there is no decoder in the Kave. Another point of interest: the volume control and mute on the control box directly control the volume and mute on the PC, but the 5.1 balance controls operate on the signal after it is received from the sound care; at least, that is what I observed on my test system.

The plugs are colour-coded; I also found the Windows 7 5.1 configuration utility handy for checking that I had the connections right.


There is a CD in the box but it does not contain any drivers as none is necessary. It does have a 5.1 demo video and a manual.

I tried the Kave with a variety of game, movie and music DVDs. In general I was impressed; but it is important to set expectations. I am a fan of Sennheiser headphones and use the high-end HD600 as well as a variety of cheaper sets. In comparison with the Sennheiser models the Kave is enjoyable but unrefined, and for listening in stereo a traditional set of headphones is probably what you want.

Equally, if you have a full home cinema setup and sit in the sweet spot with carefully-positioned loudspeakers and a proper sub, the Kave cannot compete favourably.

The point though is that such a setup is both expensive and often impractical; sometimes you need to listen privately or in another room.

In this context, and given a 5.1 mix, the Kave has real advantages, even for music. It is curious. I played with the sliders to compare the sound of the front and rear channels, and found that the positional difference is subtle and hard to detect. If you play a 5.1 mix with the Kave though, and then play the same downmixed to stereo, the sound is flat in comparison, in ways that even the purer hi-fi sound of something like the HD600 cannot altogether compensate for.

The benefit of true 5.1 sound is sometimes apparent in details that you can more easily hear, and sometimes a matter of a more three-dimensional sound.

The sub in the Kave is puny compared to a real one, but does add some grunt to games and movies. Confusingly, Rokkat also calls this a “Vibration unit” which lets them say that the Kave has “adjustable vibration” – all this means is that you can vary the level of the sub channel as you would expect. There is no additional vibration unit.

It is a compromise, and if possible you should try to hear the Kave in comparison with a high quality stereo set before making a decision; or ideally have both so that you can choose the best option for a particular title.

The Kave is on the heavy side but comfortable to wear. It has a blue neon light at the headphone end of the microphone stalk, and another which lights up when the microphone is muted; this is meant to look stylish and futuristic though will not appeal if your tastes are more towards the understated.

The Kave folds for convenience though it is hardly worth it as they are still somewhat bulky. The multiple connections and awkward control box make the Kave best suited for semi-permanent installation in a desktop PC, rather than something you would use on your travels.

Given its suitability for gaming, it is a shame that the Kave cannot be used easily with an Xbox 360 or PS3, though with adaptors you should be able to get it working, remote volume aside. It should work fine with a Mac though, if you have a suitable soundcard.

I do not mean to be negative. I was pleased with the Kave, which offers an excellent listening experience, recommended for games for movies and enjoyable for music as well.


Good points: Comfortable headphones that offer a taste of real 5.1 sound; well made and high quality.

Bad points: Multiple connections and floating control box can be inconvenient.

Summary: Real 5.1 sound headphones and most enjoyable, though less refined than stereo sets at a similar price level.