Embarcadero pre-announces AppMethod cross-platform development tool: Delphi repackaged?

Embarcadero is spilling the beans on a new development tool called AppMethod, which has its own site here and a little more information on TechCrunch. A fuller reveal is promised at SXSW, which kicks off on March 7 in Austin, Texas.


But what is AppMethod? The IDE looks very like Delphi, the languages are Object Pascal (like Dephi) or C++ (like C++ Builder), and target platforms include Windows, Mac, iOS and Android. It would be extraordinary if the GUI framework were not some variant of FireMonkey, the cross-platform and mobile framework in Delphi.

Just Delphi (and C++ Builder, which is Delphi for C++) repackaged then? In a comment Embarcadero developer evangelist David Intersimone says that is “way off base” though the only firm fact he offers is that AppMethod is less capable than Delphi for Windows, which presumably means that Delphi’s VCL (Visual Component Library) framework for Windows applications is not included.

Lack of a feature is not a compelling reason to buy AppMethod rather than Delphi so Object Pascal enthusiasts must hope there is more good stuff to be revealed.

I looked out for the Embarcadero stand at Mobile World Congress (MWC), which was a small affair tucked away in the corner of one of the vast halls.


The stand was hardly bustling and was overshadowed by a larger stand next to it for another app building tool, AppMachine. While I would not read much into the size of a stand at MWC, that accords with my general sense that while the recently added cross-platform and mobile capabilities in Delphi have won some take-up, it is a small player overall. Embarcadero may feel that a new name and a bit of distance between FireMonkey/Delphi and the original Windows-only tool will help to attract new developers.

Why you cannot prove software correctness: report from QCon London

I’m at QCon London, an annual developer conference which is among my favourites thanks to its vendor-neutral content.

One of the highlights of the first day was Tom Stuart’s talk on impossible programs. Using a series of entertaining and mostly self-referential examples, Stuart described why certain computing problems are uncomputable. He also discussed the “Halting problem”: unless you emasculate a computing language by removing features like While loops, you cannot in general answer the question “will this program ever finish”.

All good fun; but the dark side of the talk comes at the end, when Stuart proves with a flourish that a consequence is that you cannot prove software correctness.

In a world that is increasingly software-driven, that is a disturbing thought.

Privacy and online data sharing is a journey into the unknown: report from QCon London

I’m at QCon London, an annual developer conference which is among my favourites thanks to its vendor-neutral content.

One session which stood out for me was from Robin Wilton, Director for Identity and Privacy at the Internet Society, who spoke on “Understanding and managing your Digital Footprint”. I should report dissatisfaction, in that we only skated the surface of “understanding” and got nowhere close to “managing”. I will give him a pass though, for his eloquent refutation of the common assumption that privacy is unimportant if you are doing nothing wrong. If you have nothing to hide you are not a social being, countered Wilton, explaining that humans interact by choosing what to reveal about themselves. Loss of privacy leads to loss of other rights.


In what struck me as a bleak talk, Wilton described the bargain we make in using online services (our data in exchange for utility) and explained our difficulty in assessing the risks of what we share online and even offline (such as via cameras, loyalty cards and so on). Since the risks are remote in time and place, we cannot evaluate them. We have no control over what we share beyond “first disclosure”. The recipients of our data do not necessarily serve our interests, but rather their own. Paying for a service is no guarantee of data protection. We lack the means to separate work and personal data; you set up a LinkedIn account for business, but then your personal friends find it and ask to be contacts.

Lest we underestimate the amount of data held on us by entities such as Facebook and Google, Wilton reminded us of Max Schrems, who made a Subject Access Request to Facebook and received 1200 pages of data.

When it came to managing our digital footprint though, Wilton had little to offer beyond vague encouragement to increase awareness and take care out there.

Speaking to Wilton after the talk, I suggested an analogy with climate change or pollution, on the basis that we know we are not doing it right, but are incapable of correcting it and can only work towards mitigation of whatever known and unknown problems we are creating for ourselves.

Another issue is that our data is held by large commercial entities with strong lobbying teams and there is little chance of effective legislation to control them; instead we get futility like the EU cookie legislation.

There is another side to this, which Wilton did not bring out, concerning the benefit to us of sharing our data both on a micro level (we get Google Now) or aggregated (we may cure diseases). This is arguably the next revolution in personal computing; or put another way, maybe the bargain is to our advantage after all.

That said, I do not believe we have enough evidence to make this judgment and much depends on how trustworthy those big commercial entities prove to be in the long term.

Good to see this discussed at Qcon, despite a relatively small attendance at Wilton’s talk.

The problem with backpedalling on Windows 8: it is the wrong direction

Lukas Mathis has a detailed post on Windows 8, including its advantages over the Apple iPad as a productivity tablet. Mathis switched from the iPad to a Surface Pro:

In general, I really love the Surface, and I use it much more, and for many more things, than I ever used any iPad I ever owned. But it’s not perfect.

Mathis likes the Metro (Windows Runtime) UI:

Almost everything that happens inside the Metro environment is fantastic. It’s clean, fast, and powerful. The apps are easy to use, but still offer a lot. The gesture-based user interface requires you to learn a few new things, but takes very little time to get used to.

This makes interesting reading for Windows users (and there seem to be many) who have convinced themselves that Metro is difficult, pointless or obstructive, though of course it may be those things to them. It is also true that you cannot easily get your work done in Metro alone. Office, Visual Studio, Windows Live Writer are three quick examples of applications which do not have any good substitute, not to mention countless custom line of business applications, so you still need the desktop whether you like it or not.

Mathis is also scathing about various aspects of Windows:

The problems with Windows 8 don’t end with the integration between desktop and Metro. There’s also the problem that good old Windows seems to be a pretty terrible operating system.

He relates encounters with DLL errors, inconsistent visual design, old stuff left in for legacy reasons, and a culture of adware, spyware and malware.

Personally I have learned how to navigate the Windows software world and have fewer problems than Mathis but that said, his complaints are justified.

These problems are hard to fix which is why Microsoft made such radical changes in Windows 8, making a new, secure and touch-friendly personality the centre and (conceptually at least) isolating the old desktop into a legacy area for running your existing apps. Although there are many flaws in the way this change has been executed, it seems to me a reasonable approach if Windows is to have a future beyond business desktops.

What was and is wrong with Windows 8? My own list of flaws includes:

  • Poor selection and quality of apps, even the built-in ones that had no reason not to be great
  • A design that lacks visual appeal
  • An immature development platform, too difficult, buggy and incomplete
  • Lack of a status bar in Metro so you cannot see at a glance essentials like time, date and battery life
  • Widescreen design that does not work well in portrait
  • Confusions like two versions of Internet Explorer, Metro PC settings vs Control panel and so on

I could go on; but there are also plenty of things to like, and I disagree with commonly expressed views like “it is no good without touch” (I use it constantly with only keyboard and mouse and it is fine) or “bring back the Start menu” (I like the new Start menu which improves in several ways over its predecessor).

It does not matter what I think though; the truth is that the business world in particular has largely rejected Windows 8, and the consumer world is hardly in love with it either. I look at lists of PCs and laptops for sale to businesses and the majority state something like “Windows 8 downgraded to Windows 7” or “Windows 7 with option to upgrade to Windows 8”. This tells the whole story.

It seems to me that the Windows 8 team has been largely disbanded, following Stephen Sinofsky’s resignation and Julie Larson-Green’s sideways moves; she is now “Chief Experience Officer in the Applications and Services Group”; and whatever that means, she is no longer driving the Windows team. Microsoft has to come to terms with the failure of Windows 8 to meet its initial objectives and to make peace with the user base that has rejected it. There are signs of this happening, with coming updates that improve integration between Metro and Desktop and ease the learning path for keyboard and mouse users:

Most of the changes in the update are designed to appease keyboard and mouse users, with options to show Windows 8 apps on the desktop taskbar, the ability to see show the desktop taskbar above Windows 8-style apps, and a new title bar at the top of Windows 8 apps with options to minimize, close, or snap apps.

The big question though is what happens to Metro in the next major release of Windows, bearing in mind that its chief advocates are no longer running the show. Should and will Microsoft stop trying to push the unwanted Metro environment on users and go back to improving the desktop, as it did when moving from Windows Vista to Windows 7?

My guess is that we will see some renewed focus on the desktop; but Microsoft will also be aware that the problems that gave rise to Metro still exist. The Windows desktop is useless on tablets, the Windows culture foists numerous applications with evil intent on users, and the whole design of traditional Windows is out of step with modern moves towards simpler, safer and easier to manage computing devices.

Therefore the correct direction for Microsoft is to improve Metro, rather than to abandon it. If we see a renewed focus on the desktop to the extent that energetic Metro development ceases, Microsoft will be marching backwards (and perhaps it will).

The only plausible “Plan B” is to do what some thought Microsoft should have done in the first place, which is to evolve Windows Phone to work on tablets and to replace Metro with a future generation of the Windows Phone OS, perhaps running alongside the desktop in a similar manner. Since Microsoft has stated its aim of a unified development platform for Windows Phone and Windows Runtime, Plan B might turn out the same as Plan A.

All this is late in the day, maybe too late, but the point is this: a revitalised desktop in Windows 9 will do little to arrest its decline.