Tag Archives: mac

Cross-platform concerns as Adobe abandons AIR for Linux

Adobe is giving up on AIR for Linux – at least, in a fully supported manner:

To support the variety of Linux-based platforms across PCs and devices, we are prioritizing a Linux porting kit for AIR (including source code), which Open Screen Project (OSP) partners can use to complete implementations of AIR for Linux-based platforms on PCs, mobile devices, TVs and TV-connected devices. We will no longer be releasing our own versions of Adobe AIR and the AIR SDK for desktop Linux, but expect that one or more of our partners will do so. The last Adobe release of AIR for desktop Linux is AIR 2.6.

This is a curious message. OSP partners include ARM, Intel, the BBC, Google, Toshiba and other big names; but which of these might build an AIR SDK and on what sort of terms might it be supplied? Or it is more likely that, say, the BBC will deliver BBC iPlayer for LInux in a bundle that includes the AIR runtime? Or is it just wishful thinking?

Adobe’s open source evangelist Dave McAllister has a go at defending the decision, pointing out that the growing client operating systems are Android and iOS, not desktop Linux, and that AIR for Linux accounts for only a 0.5% download share. However, Linux developers observe that Adobe’s AIR for Linux effort has always been half-hearted and tricky to install, especially on 64-bit installations. AIR itself is still 32-bit, as is the Flash Player on all systems, though there is 64-bit version in preview codenamed “Square”.

Most people run Windows or Mac desktops, and will not miss AIR for Linux. That said, decisions like this do undermine confidence in the Flash platform as a cross-platform proposition. The problem is, Flash technology is not open source and ultimately whether a particular platform is supported is a matter for Adobe, with all the commercial and political factors that implies.

The risk for Adobe is that when it abandons smaller platforms, it make open standard alternatives and in particular the collection of web technologies we call HTML5 more attractive.

Hands On with RunRev LiveCode: rapid development for iOS, Android, Mac and Windows

RunRev LiveCode is a cross-platform development tool for Mac, Windows, Linux, Web, Apple iOS and, from this month, Google Android.

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It is an individualistic tool inspired by Apple’s original (but now obsolete) HyperCard and HyperTalk, in which the building blocks of your application are stacks and cards. A stack is like a window, and a card is like a panel overlaid on that window. Unlike HyperCard, LiveCode is not a virtual card stack where each card can represent a record in a database; it is simply a means of building a graphical user interface.

A key attraction of LiveCode is that it now supports the two dominant smartphone platforms. I have been looking at a number of different approaches to mobile development, most recently PhoneGap; how does LiveCode compare to the competition? In order to get some hands on experience I set out to create my simple calculator application in LiveCode.

Coming almost new to LiveCode, I found that building this application took longer than it had done in PhoneGap, which uses HTML and JavaScript. I created a new stack and dragged some buttons onto it easily enough, but found that the approach to coding took some getting used to. There are lots of tutorials, but I found the easiest way to learn was to read through chunks of the user guide [pdf], which does a better job of explaining how to code.

One annoyance is that each object, such as a button, has its own script window, which appears as a tab in the editor. Although my calculator is simple, it does have a fair number of buttons, so you end up constantly switching between tabs. If you amend some code, you have to remember to click Apply before the change takes effect. If you forget, you run the application and puzzle over why it seems to be running an old version. The environment is strongly GUI-centric; you will not like it if you are an enthusiast for Model-View-Controller architecture.

The environment is dynamic, so you can test the stack you are working on at any time simply by switching it to browse mode. This is why it is called Live Code. In this respect it is similar to the Live View in Adobe’s DreamWeaver.

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I had to get used to writing:

put firstNumber * secondNumber into theResult

instead of

theResult = firstNumber * secondNumber

I was impressed by LiveCode’s ability to change types on the fly and to work out correctly whether you wanted to do something with a string value or a numeric value.

The language is more English-like than most languages, though I am not sure if it really easier. The language minimises use of punctuation which helps readability. Cases in switch statements fall through, C style, unless you remember to include break statements, which is traditionally a common source of bugs.

I got my calculator working on Windows. I tried building for what RunRev calls Web, but was put off by the plug-in requirement:

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I then moved the project to a Mac to try it on iOS. Everything still worked, but I spent some time resizing the stack and repositioning the buttons to look half-way reasonable on an iPhone. I may be missing some tricks here, but scaling and positioning controls does not seem to be a strong point for LiveCode.

LiveCode does feel that bit more at home on a Mac, reflecting its origins.

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I was impressed with how easy it was to build the app for iOS. The way cross-platform works in LiveCode is that you open a dialog called Standalone Application Settings. There is a tab for each supported platform, in which you specify options specific to each platform. The options for iOS are extensive, including supported devices, hardware access requirements, orientation options, external libraries and so on. You can then test immediately on the simulator. For on-device testing, you use the Organizer in Xcode to copy the compiled app across.

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The good news is that the app ran well, much better than than the PhoneGap/jQuery Mobile version, though it did not look as nice and in fairness the other app’s performance issues are likely more to do with jQuery Mobile than PhoneGap itself.

Although I found it a bit of a hassle getting started, nevertheless I was able to build a working app for Windows, Mac and iOS in a few hours, so I should not complain.

Of course there is a lot more that LiveCode can do. It has database libraries, graphical effects, an embedded web browser on some platforms, XML and text processing support, and more. It is also extensible; there is probably not much that cannot be achieved with sufficient effort.

I have not tried the Android support as my version does not include it; though I did notice that the Android options dialog is basic compared to what is available for iOS.

My first impression of LiveCode is positive, but with reservations. It looks to me like a viable and productive route to cross-platform development, or you might use it just as a quick route to app development for iOS, but I did not enjoy working in the IDE which feels quirky and unsophisticated compared to other modern IDEs. My little app works well though, and that suggests it would be worth trying it for something more advanced.

Adobe AIR 2.6, MonoMac 1.0, cross-platform is not dead yet

It is a busy time for cross-platform toolkits. Adobe has released AIR 2.6, and reading the list of what’s new you would think it was mainly for mobile, since the notes focus on new features for Apple iOS, though AIR is also a runtime for Windows, Linux and desktop Mac. New features for iOS include GPU rendering – a form of hardware accelerated graphics – access to the camera, microphone, and camera roll, and embedded Webkit for apps that use web content. On Google Android, you can now debug on devices connected via USB.

There is also a new feature called “owned native windows” which lets you have a group of windows that remain together in the Z order – this lets you have things like floating toolbars without odd results where toolbars get hidden underneath other applications.

Asynchronous decoding of bitmaps is another new feature, allowing images to be processed in the background. This seems like a stopgap solution to overcome the lack of mullti-threading in AIR, but useful nonetheless.

Since the Flash runtime does not run on iOS, Adobe has a packager that compiles an AIR application into a native app. This is now called the AIR Developer Tool or ADT. You can use the ADT to target Windows, Linux or Android as well; however platforms other than iOS still need the AIR runtime installed.

Adobe is dropping support for the original iPhone and the iPhone 3G. iPhone 3GS or higher is needed.

If you want to build a cross-platform app but prefer .NET to Adobe’s Flash and ActionScript, the Mono folk have what you need. I’d guess that the Mono team has a small fraction of the resources of Adobe; but nevertheless it has delivered MonoTouch for iOS and is working on MonoDroid for Android. Just completed in its 1.0 version is MonoMac, for building Cocoa applications on Apple OSX. Mono is not fully cross-platform, since the GUI framework is different on the various platforms, but you do get to use C# throughout.

I am happy to agree that true native code is usually a better solution for any one platform; but at a time when the number of viable platforms is increasing the attraction of cross-platform has never been greater.

RunRev releases LiveCode for Android preview alongside iOS, Mac, Windows, Linux

RunRev has announced a preview version of its LiveCode for Google Android, which will join existing versions for Windows, Mac, Linux, Web and iOS.

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LiveCode is like a modern-day HyperCard, an early database and simple application builder for the Mac. It includes a graphical development environment with scripting using the LiveCode language, described by RunRev as “A very high level language”. Here is a sample:

put “The fox jumped over the lazy dog.” into theText

put “ quick brown” after word 2 of theText

The advantage is fast development, once you have become familiar with the platform.

On a quick look I noticed that LiveCode looks great for building a business-oriented client, but looks more challenging when it comes to interacting with a remote server application, though it does have support for basic http and https requests as well as socket support.

Now that Android is supported LiveCode looks interesting as a quick and easy route to cross-platform mobile apps.

Mobile app developers can register to receive the Android pre-release version today at www.runrev.com.

Computer book stats show resilience of Java as Android booms

Mike Hendrickson at O’Reilly has posted four articles analysing the state of the computer book market in more detail than most of us care about.  The overall picture is not too good – sales are down – and there are some interesting trends.

Here is a good one for anyone who thinks Java is dying. The programming languages post shows that unit sales of books on Java increased by 17.2% in 2010 vs 2009, whereas the next most popular language, C#, declined by 1.7%. Objective C, in third place, also declined slightly. JavaScript unit sales were up by 14.5%.

Why is Java booming? There is a clue in one of the two bestselling Java titles mentioned by Hendrickson: Professional Android 2 Application Development

Another trend that caught my eye is in the first post. Some of the Down categories surprised me:

Adobe Flash –84.43%

Mac OS –32.12%

Web Design Tools –53.2%

Adobe’s Creative Suite 5 has sold well as far as I’m aware so although books on Flash and Dreamweaver have not been selling well, it is dangerous to draw obvious conclusions.

The influence of Android is unmistakeable though. Something for Oracle to consider as it pursues Google for breach of intellectual property.

No Java or Adobe AIR apps in Apple’s Mac App Store

Apple’s App Store Review Guidelines appear to forbid Java or Adobe AIR applications from being published in the store:

Apps that use deprecated or optionally installed technologies (e.g., Java, [PowerPC code requiring] Rosetta) will be rejected.

Since Adobe AIR is not shipped by default with OS X, any applications requiring that runtime will not qualify. Java is forbidden because Apple has deprecated its own build of Java; and while it seems supportive of Oracle’s official OpenJDK project for Mac OS X, apparently that support does not extend to allowing Java apps into the store.

Of course it is not only Java and Adobe AIR that are affected, but any apps that need a runtime.

There are many other provisions, most of which seem sensible in order to protect the user’s experience with the App Store. Some of them have potential for causing controversy:

Apps that duplicate apps already in the App Store may be rejected, particularly if there are many of them. Apps that are not very useful or do not provide any lasting entertainment value may be rejected.

What defines duplication in this context? How will Apple test whether an app has “lasting entertainment value” – I presume this refers to games.

The situation on Mac OS X is different than on the iPhone or iPad, since users can easily install apps via other routes. That said, if the App Store catches on then not being included may become a significant disadvantage. Further, it will not surprise me if Apple starts hinting that non-approved apps carry more risk to the user, so that some users might decide to avoid anything without this official stamp of approval.

I wonder if Adobe will do a Flash packager for the Mac similar to that which it offers for iOS, to get round these restrictions?

Apple deprecates Java

Apple has deprecated the version of Java that it ports and maintains for OS X:

As of the release of Java for Mac OS X 10.6 Update 3, the version of Java that is ported by Apple, and that ships with Mac OS X, is deprecated.

This means that the Apple-produced runtime will not be maintained at the same level, and may be removed from future versions of Mac OS X. The Java runtime shipping in Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, and Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, will continue to be supported and maintained through the standard support cycles of those products.

This is not altogether a bad thing for Java. Waiting for Apple to update its official version has been a frustration for Java developers on the Mac. If Oracle now takes responsibility for delivering the JVM for OS X, it may keep in step.

Unfortunately there is not currently an Oracle JVM for OS X. Nor does the open source Apache Harmony support it. In the light of Apple’s announcement I imagine both may address this lack; though a further complication is that IBM has recently abandoned Harmony in favour of the Open JDK.

Further, in making this statement Apple is further discouraging use of Java application on OS X. This announcement should be put together with this one, in the new developer agreement for apps submitted to the forthcoming Mac App Store, a desktop version of the iOS App Store:

3.3.1    Applications may only use public APIs and frameworks included in the default installation of Mac OS X or as bundled with Xcode as provided by Apple, deprecated technologies (such as Java) may not be used.

I doubt Apple will ever attempt to lock down desktop OS X, iPad-style. But I think we will see strong encouragement from Apple steering users towards App Store installs. There will be hints that it is safer and better, the true Mac way to get apps onto your machine.

Remember the early days of Java? One of the reasons it won support was that it reduced the industry’s dependence on a single vendor and its operating system.

Plenty to think about as Apple increases its market share.

[Updated to clarify non-availability of alternative JVMs for OS X]

Visual Studio LightSwitch – model-driven architecture for the mainstream?

I had a chat with Jay Schmelzer and  Doug Seven from the Visual Studio LightSwitch team. I asked about the release date – no news yet.

What else? Well, Schmelzer and Seven had read my earlier blog post so we discussed some of the things I speculated about. Windows Phone 7? Won’t be in the first release, they said, but maybe later.

What about generating other application types from the same model? Doug Seven comments:

The way we’ve architected LightSwitch does not preclude us from making changes .. it’s not currently on the plan to have different output formats, but if demand were high it’s feasible in the future.

I find this interesting, particularly given that the future of the business client is not clear right now. The popularity of Apple’s iPad and iPhone is a real and increasing deployment problem, for example. No Flash, no Silverlight, no Java, only HTML or native apps. The idea of simply selecting a different output format is compelling, especially when you put it together with the fast JIT-compiled JavaScript in modern web browsers. Of course support for multiple targets has long been the goal of model-driven architecture (remember PIM,PSM and PDM?) ; but in practice the concept of a cross-platform runtime has proved more workable.

There’s no sign of this in the product yet though, so it is idle speculation. There is another possible approach though, which is to build a LightSwitch application, and then build an alternative client, say in ASP.NET, that uses the same WCF RIA Services. Since Visual Studio is extensible, it will be fun to see if add-ins appear that exploit these possibilities.

I also asked about Mac support. It was as I expected – the team is firmly Windows-centric, despite Silverlight’s cross-platform capability. Schmelzer was under the impression that Silverlight on a Mac only works within the browser, though he added “I could be wrong”.

In fact, Silverlight out of browser already works on a Mac; the piece that doesn’t work is COM interop, which is not essential to LightSwitch other than for export to Excel. It should not be difficult to run a LightSwitch app out-of-browser on a Mac, just right-click a browser-hosted app and choose Install onto this computer, but Microsoft is marketing it as a tool for Windows desktop apps, or Web apps for any other client where Silverlight runs.

Finally I asked whether the making of LightSwitch had influenced the features of Silverlight or WCF RIA Services themselves. Apparently it did:

There are quite a few aspects of both Silveright 4 and RIA services that are in those products because we were building on them. We uncovered things that we needed to make it easier to build a business application with those technologies. We put quite a few changes into the Silverlight data grid.

said Schmelzer, who also mentioned performance optimizations for WCF RIA Services, especially with larger data sets, some of which will come in a future service pack. I think this is encouraging for those intending to use Silverlight for business applications.

There are many facets to LightSwitch. As a new low-end edition of Visual Studio it is not that interesting. As an effort to establish Silverlight as a business application platform, it may be significant. As an attempt to bring model-driven architecture to the mainstream, it is fascinating.

The caveat (and it is a big one) is that Microsoft’s track-record on modelling in Visual Studio is to embrace in one release and extinguish in the next. The company’s track-record on cross-platform is even worse. On balance it is unlikely that LightSwitch will fulfil its potential; but you never know.

Two days with Apple iPhone 4

I’ve been trying out iPhone 4 since its launch on Thursday this week. My main interest is software development, and I have a couple of ideas for apps. Apple’s platform is annoying in several respects, especially the App Store lock-in and the Apple tax, but it is unavoidable. Unfortunately when a company gets the idea that it should support the fast-growing mobile device sector with an app, the iPhone is the one they think of first, and iPad follows. Google Android is coming up fast, thank goodness, but has nothing like the mindshare or market share of Apple’s device platform.

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Software developers have another reason to study the iPhone, which is as a case study in software design and usability. After using iPhone 4 for a couple of days, and watching friends try it even if they have not used one before, I am full of admiration for what Apple has achieved. There are a few basic concepts to grasp – home button, breadcrumbs, swipe and multi-touch – after which it is mostly delightful. There is hardly any documentation in the box – though there is a downloadable manual – just a brief leaflet describing a few essentials, but discoverability is good, especially with a little help from Google.

Need a screen grab, for example? Press and hold home and tap the top button. The grab turns up in the camera roll. It’s not something you would find out by chance, but only a search away.

Text input is a big deal for me. I am much faster on a real keyboard, but the iPhone is as good as many thumb keyboards. Again, there are things you have to discover. There are no cursor keys, but if you hold down an area of text a bubble appears, and sliding your finger left and right moves the cursor so you can easily correct an error.

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The Exchange support, by the way, is excellent. I put in the settings for Outlook over HTTP; the iPhone complained briefly about my self-generated digital certificate and then connected without any hassles. The device picks up all the folders in the inbox without any additional configuration. The one feature I would like to add is the ability to select a different sending email address; if anyone knows a way to do this, let me know.

I am also impressed by iPhone Safari. After struggling with an old Windows Mobile browser, it is a relief to have a proper web browser restricted only by its small screen; pinch and zoom copes with most problems though it is always going to be a limitation; sites optimised for mobile work better.

Google Maps is great too. The GPS works well, and finding your way around is a snap.

The high resolution screen is lovely of course, and the camera is superb. I will do some comparisons against my Canon Ixus, but if I keep the phone it might save me the need to carry a separate camera when out and about, at least until the lens gets scratched.

Anything not to like? A few things. The price, for one, especially when supplemented by whatever scheme your mobile operator devises to separate you from your money. Many schemes offer only 500MB per month data allowance; not enough, especially as data usage can only increase.

There’s also the iTunes problem. I know others like it, but I personally don’t get on well with iTunes, finding it bloated and annoying. I don’t allow it on a PC, but keep a Mac Mini handy for when I need to do the Apple thing. It is absurd though that you cannot use an iPhone without activating it first via iTunes. What happens when a user decides that iPad plus iPhone plus cloud is all they need? I can’t help wondering if Apple simply wants to ensure that as many people as possible install its online store.

Whenever I connect the iPhone, iPhoto pops up and wants to import photos, even the ones that I’ve already imported. I have to check the option not to bother with duplicates every time. There must be a way of avoiding this annoyance, but I’ve not spotted it yet.

Then there’s the reception issue. It’s well known that many, possibly all iPhone 4 models have a bug where if you hold it in the normal way, your hand bridges a gap in the external antennas and damages reception. Steve Jobs says that reception issues when holding a phone in a certain way is “a fact of life for every wireless phone”; this is arrogant spin and I hope Apple gets lots of returns or at least hands out for free the bumper cases that apparently resolve the issue.

That said, my iPhone is on O2 and at home the reception is terrible however I hold the phone, even though I am in a high coverage area according to O2. At my desk I get only one bar and calls are not always possible – which means I will have to cancel the contract.

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I did manage to fit the micro sim into my old Windows Mobile phone to see if it is just an iPhone problem. It was just about as bad, so no, it is O2. In general I’ve not been impressed with the O2 reception in my part of the world, though it is excellent in our local O2 shop; perhaps they have a booster under the desk.

There are little niggles elsewhere too. I tried Voice Control, for example, and found it useless; perhaps I have the wrong kind of voice.

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If I speak to play a song, there is 25% chance that it plays, 50% chance that I get a “no match” error message, and 25% chance that it dials a random person in my address book. A hidden social media function?

A number of negatives then; but the iPhone contrives to be good enough that users overlook any faults because they like it so much. It’s certainly a better experience than the last Android device I tried; though that is well out of date now, and I intend to look closely at Android 2.2 “Froyo” as soon as the phones become available.

Update: As far as I can tell, if you buy your iPhone at a store it will be activated for you, so you don’t need iTunes to get started. However iTunes is necessary if you receive your iPhone by post and activate it yourself.

What next for Embarcadero Delphi? Roadmap with Mac, Linux support published.

Embarcadero has published an updated roadmap for its Delphi development tools: Delphi, C++Builder and the RAD Studio shared IDE. These tools combine the Object Pascal (Delphi) or C++ language with a visual component library and native code compiler for Windows.

Chief Technical Architect Michael Rozlog outlines four products which are being worked on, including “Fulcrum”, “Wheelhouse”, “Commodore” and “Chromium”. He says work is being undertaken on all of these, so the exact release schedule is not specified. Embarcadero has an annual release cycle for these products so you might reasonably project that Fulcrum is set for release later this year, Wheelhouse for 2011, and Commodore for 2012. Delphi 2010 came out in August 2009.

Delphi “Fulcrum” introduces a cross-compiler for Mac OS X, with the emphasis on client applications. The IDE will run only on WIndows. Rozlog also talks about integration with Microsoft Azure so that Embarcadero can tick the Cloud Computing box.

Delphi “Wheelhouse” adds Linux support, on a similar basis where the IDE runs only on Windows. It also adds a focus on server applications for both Linux and Mac OS X, including support for Apache modules.

Delphi “Commodore” is the 64-bit release, with 64-bit and easier multi-core development on all three platforms. Rozlog also tosses in “Social Networking integration” and “Better documentation”.

2012 is a long time to wait for 64-bit, particularly as the Windows server world is now primarily 64-bit. Embarcadero is promising a 64-bit compiler preview for the first half of 2011, though this will be command-line only.

Delphi “Chromium” is a revamp of the Visual Component Library with a new look and feel and “natural input integration” – location, voice, video motion.

In addition, Rozlog talks about updates for Delphi Prism, which is loosely the Delphi language plus a .NET compiler, and integrates into Visual Studio. Prism 2011 will work with Visual Studio 2010, and includes support for Mono. This extends to working “with MonoTouch to create Apple iPhone ready applications.” Rozlog doesn’t state whether this has been cleared with Apple’s Steve Jobs, who is opposed to use of languages other than Objective C for iPhone or iPad development.

Is Embarcadero doing enough to keep Delphi current? I’m not sure. Delphi is a fantastic RAD and native code compiler for Windows; in the past it suffered when Borland tried to extend it beyond that, to Linux and .NET, distracting development effort from its core role. The risk here is that the Mac and Linux effort may be more of the same. Of course this will be nice to have, though running the IDE on Windows and compiling for Mac is a limitation that means it will not appeal to Mac developers, only to Delphi Windows developers hoping to extend their market. But there are other ways to do cross-platform now –  Silverlight, Flash, web applications – and I wonder if the time for this has passed.

A compiler for iPhone and iPad would now be bigger news, especially since Silverlight and Flash are not available on these platforms, but for this Embarcadero would need to overcome Apple’s cross-compiler restrictions as well as solve the technical problems.

Windows 7 has breathed some new life into Windows client development. I hope Embarcadero is not neglecting areas like great RAD support for features like Jump Lists and thumbnail previews, for the sake of the uncertain cross-compiler market.

There is a discussion of the new Roadmap in the Delphi forums here, and Marco Cantu also comments.