Beta Program Incentives

I’ve been part of the beta program for over a decade.  Many cycles I bemoan the fact that I’ve found very little time to real testing before its released.  That’s bad and I suspect many of my fellow members of the beta program feel much the same way.

The incentive to be in the beta program is simple.  See the new features first and help find bugs and along the and way offer some advice and guidance on how new features work.  And in general, make the product better.  That is an incentive and it’s a laudable one but many cycles that’s not enough.  Perhaps there’s a way to give us more incentives.

I fight with finding time to beta test.  I’m often working under deadlines with real projects that I can’t afford to release a version with the beta.  There’s no way around that.  Perhaps there is something that Xojo can do to make it worth my while to do more testing.

What if Xojo gave a percentage off, say 5%, off a license purchase (either new or upgrade) if I hit some threshold of credible bug reporting?  I spend a lot of money on licenses so that might be a good incentive for me (or at least one of my developers) to work with the beta on a regular basis.

Obviously there would need to be ground rules to prevent abuse.  Bug reports must be well defined with demonstrable repeatability, example project, video, etc. to make sure there’s not a flood of crap.  After it’s reviewed by a Xojo engineer that bug report gets applied to our account.  Then when it comes time for renewal we can apply the discount we’ve earned.  Perhaps that means a percentage point for every five credible bug reports (not feature requests) during a release cycle with a maximum percentage.

Make a game of it.  Reward outstanding bug reporters with recognition.  Make the participant list public so everyone is aware that so-and-so is participating and finding a lot of bugs.  Maybe reward the yearly ‘winner’ with free or discounted admission to XDC.  As a person always on the lookout for new Xojo talent this might be a good way find someone as well as having a little fun with it.

I see this as a way to get new users involved.  For me a license is no big deal but for some it’s huge and if that user has extra time (or at least more than me) that will give them extra incentive to submit bug reports.

I get it it.  The beta program should be a win-win for Xojo and us users.  The reality is that I feel like we’re free labor to a certain extent.  I don’t feel much love from Xojo even though I *know* they do appreciate whatever beta testing we do.  Offer some discounts, make it a game.  Do something to entice us!

What are your thoughts?

The Xojo Community is Awesome

Have I told you how much I love the Xojo community?  I’ve been part of it for fifteen years and I’ve met hundreds of Xojo developers at developers conferences and probably exchanged emails with thousands more.  I am amazed at how much this community helps each other and I wish there was a way to promote that as a key feature of the product.  It’s a big deal.  Really!

If you’re just starting out using Xojo know that there are a bunch of people, myself included, that are willing to help out, if we can, on your journey.  Programming is hard.  Well, I don’t think it’s hard because I’ve been doing it for so long, but it is complex at times and that makes it hard.  Just ask your question in the Xojo forums and you’ll almost always get an answer within hours.

Even Xojo pros, such as myself, have need of help.  Xojo covers Mac, Windows, Linux desktop, console, and web apps.  It does iOS apps for iPhone and iPad.  It now does Raspberry Pi for heavens sake!  It works with dozens of different databases.  There is simply no way any one person is going to know everything there is to know about Xojo.  It just can’t happen.  So yes, I go to the forums, all the time, and ask for help.

Just the other day I asked for some help with WooCommerce.  Not Xojo related, really, but certainly related to a project we’re working on for a client.  Within a few hours I had half a dozen developers private message me saying they might be able to help.  Subsequent contact narrowed that list down a bit but the point is that I have probably shaved off several days worth of work simply by asking for advice.

I am biased towards Xojo, naturally, as it’s been my primary development language for fifteen years.  I think I’d be hard pressed to find such a friendly community.  I call many on the forums my friends even though I’ve never physically met them.  The few that I’ve met in person have lived up to their forum reputations and are really friends for life.

So maybe this is my belated Thanksgiving post.  I am thankful that so many years ago I jumped both feet first into the tool.  I asked questions – many of the silly and redundant.  I became more proficient and then made another jump to start blogging about it, making products for other developers, and training the next generation of developers.

So if you are in need of a cross-platform development tool I highly recommend Xojo.  It ain’t perfect but no development tool is.  If you jump in I think you’ll love the community.  I know I do.

What say you fellow Xojo developers?

FTC 3.1.7

black-fountain-penToday we released version 3.1.7 of Formatted Text Control (FTC), our word processor control for Xojo.  This is a maintenance release and is recommend for all users.  It is a free update for all version 3 license holders.

License holders should get an email from the BKS FileShare system.  If you don’t get an email, please contact us.

Changes in this release:

  • Fixed issues with Unicode Hyperlinks
  • Fixed Windows Compiler Issue
  • Fixed HIDPT coordinates issue issue with ConstructContextualMenu event handler
  • Added ability to detect Windows HiDPI (requires Xojo 2016 R2 or better.
  • TextInputCanvas plugin rebuilt to be 64 bit compatible.
  • Spell Checker demo plugin rebuilt to be 64 bit compatible

The Formatted Text Control is a canvas based control for Xojo that implements word processor capabilities similar to Apple Pages or Microsoft Word. The FTC is a canvas (technically Text Input Canvas) subclassed control  for Xojo that allows you to instantly add word processing capabilities to your applications.  More information, pricing, and demo at http://www.bkeeney.com/formatted-text-control/

 

Iconographer Review

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If you’ve spent any amount of time making cross-platform applications in Xojo you probably hate icons as much as I do.  I’m no graphic artist and because of this I’ve paid good money for several icon sets.  These icon set are fine but they’re pretty basic/generic and don’t tend to look right in macOS, Windows 8 and above, or even iOS.  And that’s just for application icons.  Making icons for documents, disks, folders, and the like, are just as big a pain to make.  Each platform has several different styles and getting it right is awful.

Ohanaware introduced Iconographer last week.  This is the tool I’ve been waiting for!  Iconographer lets you easily make icons that are consistent for their target platforms all while keeping the overall identity intact.  Not having to use a high-end graphic tool, like PhotoShop is worth it to a developer geek like me.

Using it is easy.  Simply drag your starting image into the editor window and start manipulating it.  At the top left of the window there is an expanding toolbar, for lack of a better word, that lets you pick the Icon Type:  Application, Folder, Disk, Document, and Web Icon.  Below that you have options for the target.  Depending upon the Icon Type you have the option to pick the Target.  For Application you have macOS, Windows, and iOS but for the Folder Target you only have macOS and Windows.

screen-shot-2016-11-10-at-7-09-32-pmTo the right of the drawing canvas you can pick the style of the icon.  For macOS you have Blank, Circular, Rounded Rectangle, Tilted, Rounded Square, and Plugin.  For Windows you have Blank, Windows Tile, and Use Different Application Icon.  Similar styles are there for iOS.

Below the Styles is the Layers list that lists the layers in the selected Style.  I will be honest, I had issues figuring out how to manipulate the layers.  You can add layers using the ‘+ Layer’ button where you can add Shapes, Images, and Text.

Adding Text also was problematic for me.  Once I added a Text object I couldn’t always select it until I had rotated it and then reset it to zero.  Then, if I had two text objects I never was able to edit and change the text of the first one.  I chalk this up to possibly not understanding what the shared label is.  At times I also had a weird purple selection rectangle that I was never able to get rid of.
At the bottom of the drawing canvas is, perhaps, one of the more useful features of Iconographer.  The Eye lets you select from a number of environments to preview your icon in an About Window, the macOS dock, and even the Mac App Store, to name a few.  This is a great way to preview your app in an actual environment and lets you make decisions while in the application instead of having to leave and use a graphics application.

screen-shot-2016-11-10-at-7-09-49-pmOnce you’re done you can build your icons.  It takes the currently selected Icon Type and all of the selected Targets and outputs them into the directory of your choice.  For macOS it will create an icns file and for Windows an ico file.  It really is that easy.  It would be nice to have the ability to export SVG format too.  If you’re creating a suite of icons, say for application, document, and disk, you have to do it in several steps but that I suspect that most developers won’t have an issue with that.

Iconographer is a must have for any cross-platform developer.  It’s ability to make consistent application and document icons for macOS, Windows, web, and iOS easily and quickly make this an invaluable tool.

Iconographer works on macOS X 10.10 and better.  It normally costs $19.99 but Ohanaware has an introductory price of $9.99.  More information can be found at http://ohanaware.com/iconographer/.

A Short Video is Worth a Hundred Emails

One of the ‘joys’ of consulting is the language difference between developers and the customer.  Developers have a ‘language’ and clients have a completely different ‘language’.  A perfect example is when a customer says ‘the application crashed’ and trying to interpret that.  I usually end of asking, did this crash mean a dialog appeared saying something happened (an exception was caught), or that the app just went ‘poof’ and disappeared (something way more serious).  For Xojo developers those two definitions of ‘crash’ mean totally different things.  Those nuances mean nothing to the customer.

Email is a notoriously bad way to communicate.  It’s easy miss details, or worse yet, misconstrue intention.  It’s easy to read anger, annoyance, or <insert feeling here>, that the sender did not imply.

We’ve had instances where we go round and round with a client via email on some detail when a simple phone call would have solved the issue within five minutes.  I know it’s not ‘modern’ but sometimes a simple phone call solves a lot of issues.

More recently I’ve had a client say that a sequence was wrong and described it with some detail.  I took a stab at the fix and then gave them another build for testing.  Still had issues.  The problem was that they’re not describing what’s really happening – they’re using customer language when I needed developer language.  The solution was a simple video.

Most people have a smart phone that can take video.  In my case, once I knew what the customer was really doing it was a simple fix because I could see what they were really doing.

Voice calls are important, videos are important, and doing screen sharing is becoming another important factor.  Think about using any of these tools before sending yet another email.

Xojo:  The Best Secret in the Programming Industry Part 2

In Part 1 of Xojo:  The Best Secret in the Programming Industry we talked about some of the capabilities of Xojo and why it’s such a great software development tool.  We finished it with the question on why isn’t Xojo more well known?  If it’s such a good development tool why doesn’t everyone know about it?  There are no easy answers to this but I’ll identify some of areas of concern.

Entrenched IT Departments

The first issue is the BASIC language.  Xojo uses a form of the basic language.  However, it’s nothing like the gwbasic many programmers learned in high school.  It is a highly evolved, object-oriented language that happens to use a form of basic as the syntax.  Unlike other forms of basic, Xojo compiles down into a self contained executable needing no outside libraries.  It is not an interpreted language.  It’s not a ‘toy’ language.

Yet, the stigma of Basic still persists.  I think in many cases it’s because Basic is very approachable for new developers.  Many of these developers are not programmers by education and are coming at the language to get something done.  If you’re trying to introduce Xojo to your corporate IT department filled with programmers, that have spent thousands of dollars on their eduction, Xojo doesn’t fit any of the checkboxes of any of the current, hot, and yet soon-to-be-obsolete development tools they’ve learned.

From my own personal experience we had a Xojo app working as a prototype, proof-of-concept application, for a big Fortune 100 company.  Their IT department laughed at it and then turned around and told the project owner that it would take them TWO YEARS to start working it (they were busy after all) and they estimated another two years of development time.  Um…with Xojo our small five person team spent under a year on it starting from scratch and got it mostly working!  But that didn’t matter.  Never underestimate the power of entrenched IT departments.

And, much like in the Visual Basic 6 era, just because you can create a very useful application with the tool doesn’t mean that it is a great application that adheres to all of the modern principles.  Simply put, just because it’s easy doesn’t mean anybody can magically create a great application.  Software development takes some skill and some discipline to make a good application and sometimes beginning programmers don’t know any better (regardless of platform).

 

Who Is Their Market?

Honestly, I have no idea who Xojo markets to.  I’ve used the term hobbyist in the past but Xojo prefers the term ‘Citizen Developer’.  Whatever.  I think we’re talking about the same crowd.  They’re people that aren’t necessarily getting paid to develop software or it’s not their primary function in their job.  While, I don’t have a problem with getting more of these types of people into the community but what I really want are the enterprise users.

The trick in either the citizen or enterprise developer is how do you reach them?  In years past you could do some advertising in magazines but that market has gone to the web so it’s much harder to identify and advertise.  What is Xamarin and the other cross platform tools doing to advertise?

Here are a few ideas:  What about sponsoring a podcast or webcast that business owners or developers listen to?  It seems like there’s a podcast for everything these days but the trick is to identify a podcast that might have a lot of listeners that fit the ‘citizen developer’ model.

The Raspberry Pi has some interesting possibilities and, I think, fits with Xojo very well.  When Remote Debugging is completed this makes Xojo an excellent choice for the platform.  I would think there is a number of marketing opportunities that open up from magazines to podcasts to websites that do nothing but talk about the mini computer.  I imagine a ‘show us your Xojo Raspberry Pi application’ contest.

One of my new developers discovered Xojo as part of a software bundle from a number of years ago.  It’s a long gestation period but giving out a free single platform license every couple of years does seem to grow the user base.  This is anecdotal evidence, of course, but it makes sense to me.  When the programming industry got started what you used at work became what you used at home.  The flip side could also be true:  if you start with a really good tool as a youngster you might end up using it later to get stuff done.

Many of our clients ask about Xojo and ask if I think they’ll be around in five years.  For a company that’s been around for twenty years already that seems like a silly question but perhaps Xojo needs to use that as a marketing point.  They’ve been around longer than most of the current, hot, software development languages and tools.  I doubt they’re going away any time soon.

Third Party Tools

This one is near and dear to my heart because this issue has been around since I started with Xojo fifteen years ago.  The Xojo community is small and there is not a big community of developers writing add-ons for it.  There are tools for almost anything you want that range from free to commercially supported.  The difference is that not all third party tools are supported equally and some developers aren’t exactly quick to support their products.  Some developers look at Xojo and are scared away by the lack of third party components.

On the flip side, developers don’t write add-ons for Xojo because the market is small.  We, BKeeney Software, have developed several components and can tell you that we couldn’t survive on component sales – a vast majority of our income is from consulting.  We cheat and spend a lot of time on those components that we use ourselves.  Either way we win.  It’s either a competitive edge when bidding on projects or we make a little extra cash with sales to other developers.

I don’t feel that Xojo does a very good job of promoting third party products.  They do sell some of those products through their web store but there are no previews, no demo’s, screenshots, or anything, to tell you how good those products are.  There’s no way to link to the developers website, how long the product has been around, or when it was last updated.

I would love to get my products in front of more eyeballs.  The store in its current form isn’t doing it.  I would also gladly pay to promote some of my products (like our reporting tool) that I think many Xojo developers might find useful.  Even better, I’d love to create a lite, free version, that could be bundled with Xojo.  Sure, it’s a bit more work right now, but in six months or year, some of the people using the lite version might buy the full version.

Currently Xojo has the ability to use plugins written in C++ and there are some incredibly useful plugins out there.  We own most of them because they save time and money on many projects.  Xojo has announced that sometime in 2017 users will have the ability to create plugins within the IDE using Xojo itself.  This has the potential of really growing the market but until it’s in our hands we won’t know for sure.  This is a critical component in 2017 for Xojo to help foster the third party market.  Hopefully Xojo helps promote them too in such a way that’s a win-win for both Xojo and the developer.

No Books/Lack of Training Material

One issue that some people have with adopting Xojo is that you can’t go to Amazon and find a Xojo book.  There are some older REALbasic and Real Studio books but mostly they’re out of date (though still valid for much of the language).  We, BKeeney Software, offer video training and we have about 65 hours of video that has some Real Studio material in it as well.  The name change to Xojo from Real Studio and REALbasic hasn’t help them in that regard and it will get better over time.

Another issue is that Xojo is on a ninety day release cycle.  It means that if I write a book that is completely valid today in three months there is a good chance part of it becomes obsolete.  Every ninety days Xojo adds something, changes something, and fixes bugs.  There is no way a printed book ever stays up to date.

If you’re looking for written material I’d look at www.xojolibrary.com as the topics tend to be narrowly focused on a specific topic.

I’ve thought about writing a book on database programming using Xojo.  I even have an outline and some chapters fleshed out complete with code examples.  But, since I know the new Xojo framework changes many aspects of Xojo it’s not worth it to complete the book.  Why write it now and have to rewrite most of it when the new framework comes out?  The community is small and the number of people that would be willing to write a book is even smaller.  I think to get a book into Amazon and other books sellers Xojo is going to have to commission a book to give an author an incentive to complete it.

Competitive Advantage/Keep it Secret!

There are some people that are using Xojo and making a great living selling their Xojo-made applications.  They’re just not vocal about it.  I’ve heard clients tell me they don’t want their competitors to know they use Xojo because they feel it’s a ‘competitive advantage’.  It takes them about a quarter of the time to put out a new version that their competitor (who is using more ‘traditional’ programming tools) can do.  That means more sales to them.

I get it.  Remember my story about the working prototype that the IT department laughed at?  It’s five years later and to the best of my knowledge the project was never started.  Imagine how they’d be feeling now if that Xojo prototype project had gone into product?  The project owner would be a flipping hero for solving the problem quickly for far less money than they could do it internally.

They’re not Apple or Microsoft

Xcode is the standard bearer for macOS and iOS development.  Apple is tight lipped on many of their new technologies so a third party developer like Xojo finds out at the same time the public does on new API’s and technologies.  Likewise, Visual Studio is Microsoft’s preferred development tool and while they’re not as forward thinking and don’t obsolete older technologies nearly as much as Apple they do introduce new technologies at a fast pace.  There is simply no way for Xojo to keep up with either of them.

This might be one of the biggest drawbacks to Xojo.  Because they have to be reactive to the whims of Apple and Microsoft they are always late to the party.  It took Xojo a few months to quickly deprecate QuickTime from Xojo because Apple deprecated it and shortly afterwards started rejecting applications from the Mac App Store that used QuickTime.  I think they did admirably in that situation but what’s the next bombshell?  That the Mac lineup is moving to the ARM processor?

At their developers conference last month they told us about a new feature called Interops that, at least for macOS and iOS, and Linux, make future platform changes easier to transition to.  However, there’s no guarantee that something else won’t change in the future that causes Xojo to play major catch up.

Conclusions

It’s truly a shame that Xojo isn’t more well known.  It’s a great tool that accomplishes a lot of things that other development tools don’t even try to do.  I think the community is getting larger and one would hope that there is some tipping point where Xojo becomes synonymous with cross-platform programming.  It has some extremely important deadlines to meet in 2017 to keep the platform moving forward.

Did I miss any reasons why Xojo isn’t more well known?

XDC News:  IDE Redesign Coming

I’ve made no secret that I despise really dislike the Navigator in the Xojo IDE.  It is often in the way and it paradoxically either shows not enough detail or way too much.  Working in a large project is an exercise in frustration due to the Navigator.  Thankfully, the most serious bugs have been worked out but there are still issues where the Navigator may or may not have the control focus when invoking a keyboard shortcut.  This can sometimes produce ‘interesting’ results

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During the XDC 2016 keynote last week Geoff Perlmann, CEO of Xojo announced that an IDE redesign happening.  This scheduled change should appear towards the end of 2017.  They acknowledged at XDC 2015 that the Xojo IDE needed some redesign but it is obvious that they’ve given it some serious thought with actual design documents that spell out exactly how it should work.

During the keynote Geoff showed us several screenshots of ‘Photoshopped’ versions of the new IDE with the caveat that everything could change between now and release.  The biggest change is that this new IDE is a mixture of the best of Real Studio and Xojo.

Gone is the Navigator (as we know it) with all of its faults.  In its place, Geoff said that we’ll start with a something akin to the Project Tab from Real Studio.  In the screenshot it looks like it’s a list of the project with a Type (e.g. Window, Class1, Class2, etc), and another column to describe what it is.  In Real Studio this was a combination of base class and whatever interfaces it might be using.  To figure out the base class and interfaces of an object in the Xojo IDE you have to hover your mouse over the item.  Every new tab will start with this project list.img_4510

Double clicking on an object zooms in on that object in the same tab. It loads whatever editor it needs.  This should eliminate much of the focus stealing that happens with the Navigator and make individual editors more stable without constantly having to worry about the Navigator.

A side benefit (I think) of the Navigator being eliminated is that the Library of controls is now on the left side of the screen and will be visible, by default, in the Form Layout editor.  This fixes a complaint many people have in the current implementation where the Library and Inspector can’t both be open at the same time without making them windows.

With two screen shots it’s hard to glean much information but with a toolbar item for Build Settings it’s a sure bet that their is a new (old again?) dialog for the build settings that is currently in the Navigator.  This makes sense because after you’ve set up those things how often do you really change them?  Again, one more thing eliminated from the Navigator that annoyed me.

It appears that Location is again in the toolbar.  This should make it faster to change locations in the project instead of having to invoke a dialog.  Since this IDE should work a little like Real Studio let’s hope that the Back/Forward buttons work properly.

We did not get a look at the Code Editor so it’s hard to say if that’s morphing back to what Real Studio was as well.  I for one would like to see the method definition pane move back to the top of the screen rather than in the Inspector.  In the “Meet the Engineers” panel the compiler engineer, Joe Ranieri, said that there would be changes likely in the debugger panel but didn’t mention anything specific since the 64 bit debugger is a work in progress.

From two screenshots it’s obvious that Xojo is listening to our complaints.  It’s a shame, though, that it will take four years to address them.  I can only wonder how many developers do a bulk of their work, still, in Real Studio because they are more efficient with it, and only compile in Xojo.  The plus side, though, is they are doing it the right way with a design document and essentially writing the documentation, first, before implementing it.  It’s a big and important job so it’s nice to see changes coming.

What about you?  Are you excited about it or is this just one more thing to relearn?

Xojo Musings

iOS 64 bit builds was introduced in Xojo 2015 R1.  Raspberry Pi support and 64 bit builds for Xojo desktop, web, and console apps was released in Xojo R3 in October 2015.  iOS, Raspberry Pi, and the 64 bit builds are all using the LLVM compiler.  The lack of a 64 bit debugger really holds back adoption of these new platforms in Xojo, in my opinion.

I’ve spent the last month working on a couple of different Raspberry Pi projects.  One was for a client and one was for fun.  In both cases the projects weren’t exceptionally tricky or complex but they took way longer than necessary since you can’t ’see’ anything while it’s running so I was is forced to use ‘old-school’ debugging methods with log files, message boxes, console messages, and whatnot.  Regardless, it’s not fun using the Raspberry Pi with Xojo.

It’s obvious that the move to 64 bit is much harder than they anticipated.  If it was easy the Xojo IDE would already be 64 bit by now – a year after 64 bit was released.

As a company we’ve officially held off on supporting 64 bit builds of our products.  Both Shorts and Formatted Text Control use XojoScript which isn’t 64 bit compatible yet.  XojoScript can be stripped from both products but it’s not an ideal situation and one that seems pointless since 64 bit is coming – eventually.

Xojo 2016 R3 was released a few weeks ago so the chances of R4 coming out in October is pretty slim.  The Xojo Developers Conference (XDC) is coming up in two weeks so I’m sure everyone at Xojo is gearing up for it.  And since they are all at the conference there is not much chance of real work getting done that week.  Good for those attending but bad for those anxiously awaiting new features and bug fixes.

In the past two and half years Xojo has added two new platforms (iOS and Raspberry Pi not to mention 64 bit builds) and not added any permanent staff (that I’m aware of).  Xojo does amazing stuff with the limited staff it has.  While they swear it doesn’t take away from their work I have to call them on it.  Two new platforms with initial development cost, debugging time, and the subsequent bug reports from users HAS to slow them down on other things.  It simply does.

I’m not doing their level of work but we manage five employees each with their own set of projects.  To put one person on ‘project x’ when they’re already working on ‘project y’ means that ‘project y’ gets delayed.  Since 2016 R2 was a big iOS release one has to wonder what was delayed to get those features added (and some would argue they were a year late anyway but that’s a different post).

I’m hoping to see a 64 bit debugger at XDC but I’d bet on a 64 bit IDE first.  This makes sense because they need time to work with it internally before we see it.  This will mean that XojoScript and whatever else was holding 64 bit back has been figure out.

Other things I predict for XDC:

Android.  Don’t get me wrong, I want Android because I feel it’s the only way for Xojo to grow into the mobile space, but if it means that the same staff are now adding yet one more platform it’s not worth it.  I’d rather have the big ticket items they’ve already said are coming than yet another platform that takes precious time away from what they already have. Likelihood:  sadly, pretty good given a recent Xojo blog post

Windows framework changes.  It’s been a while since Windows has received significant love.  We know they’ve been talking about using part of the .NET framework in Windows and now that Windows XP support was dropped this might become a reality.  The only question is what does it give us and when do we get it?  Likelihood:  Good

New framework additions.  The Xojo framework has been slow to gain momentum in the community.  Part of it is bugs those brave enough to use it have discovered and part of it is that it’s incomplete.  I’m not sure how much of the new framework is used in new parts of the IDE but it seems like this would become a bigger part of their mission as time goes on.    Likelihood:  Good

New database frameworks.  In iOS we’re already seeing the potential changes coming where a database error throws an exception.  This is a good change but will require a lot of patience on our part to get used to.  Many XDC’s ago Xojo showed off ORM classes (a lot like ActiveRecord but built into the IDE) for SQLite that looked interesting so it will be nice to see if that’s gone anywhere.  Prepared Statements are now built into the SQLExecute and SQLSelect commands but they’ve also screwed up (read removed) dynamic queries with the lack of BindType and BindValues so I’m looking for a new solution in this front.  Likelihood:  Maybe

Libraries with Xojo.  This was brought up last year at XDC so I don’t expect to see a lot of news about it but I do expect an update.  It would be really nice to create libraries using Xojo instead of using plugins or encrypting source code.  Likelihood:  Mention only

Plugin Management.  The simple fact of the matter is that many Xojo developers (myself included) use plugins.  For many it’s the simplest way of doing things and between Monkeybread Software and Einhugur they offer a ton of functionality that is not built into Xojo.  It would be nice to have the IDE manage them so you can have multiple versions of a plugin installed and only some of them activated on a per project basis.    Likelihood:  Wishful thinking

I’m sure there will be a surprise or two but honestly I expect methodical, evolutionary changes.  What news do you expect to see from the Xojo Developer Conference?  What would surprise you?

Xojo 2016 Release 3

Xojo 2016 R3 was released today.  This release is a much smaller release than either R1 and R2 and despite not having any major new features has some nifty new small features and changes that will probably make your life easier.

You can now create a new event definition by right-clicking on an existing event and choosing “Create New Definition From Event”.  If you have ever subclassed a control you know what a pain this can be.  You need the Open event for your subclass, but you need to create a mirror Open event so the user could do something.  Before this release you had to create the definition manually and then hope the parameters (if there were any) matched.

Making ImageSets from existing pictures is easier.  Right-click on the picture and choose “Convert to Image” where it will create an ImageSet and put this image at the base image.  The only caveat to this feature is that you must have the Supports Hi-DPI setting in Shared Build Settings checked.  This seems like a needless restriction in my opinion.

You can now right-click an item in the Library and be able to create a new subclass from that menu item.  You no longer have to add a class and then change its super to the class you want.

Extract Super is a new right-click option on a class that lets you extract code items.  If you have a subclass , like the Listbox, you can now extract the super and tell the IDE which methods, properties, constants, delegates, enumerations, etc it should have.  To do this before would have been an extremely tedious and time consuming task.

Right-clicking on the Contents headers in the Navigator lets you insert things into your project.  In a similar fashion, right-clicking on a header of an object lets you add another of the same type.  If you right-click on Methods the only thing active in the contextual menu is the Add method.

The contextual menu in the Code Editor has two new additions.  You can now “Wrap in #if false #endif” and “Wrap In For Next”.  Both of these will options will wrap currently selected code in that code.  Another interesting adoption, “Convert to Constant” will take the currently selected code and bring up a Constant dialog allowing you to change the Name, Scope, Type, and Value of the constant before saving it and replacing the code with the new constant.

The icon for the Xojo Project file now has a solid color that helps distinguish it from the other Xojo text files.

The Library now has two “All” entries.  One is “All Controls” which shows every control including custom subclasses in the project.  The second is the “All Built-In Controls” which is just the native controls for the project type.  There is a new attribute you can add to a control, “HideFromLibrary” that you can add to a control subclass that keeps it from listing in the library.

If you like to have non-standard code editor colors you can now import and export color themes in preferences.  Also in preferences you can set how many “Recent Items” there are in the menu of the same name in the File menu.

As with every Xojo release, R3 has a not insignificant number of pure bug fixes.  I encourage you to look at the entire list and decide for yourself if anything important to you has been fixed.

An important bug concerning MySQL was fixed.  In the R2.x series using a MySQL connection in a thread would just ‘hang’ and never come back.

In my own testing R3 has been solid.  I did run into an issue with a web project that I opened in R3, saved it, and then tried to reopened it in R2.  I got the infamous “You might lose data” message that’s always scary.  In R2 I did an analyze project and saved it with on further issue.  So remember kids, backwards compatibility is a blessing – not a guarantee.

I enjoyed this beta cycle.  It was much smaller and easier to test.  Without major new features it seemed a less rushed cycle.  Hopefully R4 will be as good.  Will we finally see 64 bit debugging?  Man, I hope so as a current Raspberry Pi project really could use it.

Anything in R3 that you’re particularly happy to see?

Edit:  As Tiago points out in the comments section I forgot to mention the compiler optimization settings!  This dropdown in Shared Build Settings area will choose an optimization level (Default, Moderate, and Aggressive) for Raspberry Pi and any other project built for 64-bit.  Early reports suggest that it does a good job on math intensive projects as well as projects that are using a lot of loops.

It missed my initial list because we’re not building for 64-bit yet – waiting on that debugger.  I apologize for the omission.

Estimating is an Art, Not a Science

A question that comes up quite a bit is how to do proper estimating.  It’s not an easy thing to quantify as much of involves gut feeling at times.  It’s why I feel that estimating is an art, not a science.  The hard thing about estimating is that it takes experience to know if you’re doing it right or not.

My first bit of advice is start using a tool to track your time.  If you can’t do it by specific task, as least do it by overall project.  Once the project is done you can then see if your estimate matches reality.  It won’t at first but that’s why you track your time so you can make adjustments on the next project.  After looking at several projects I came up with the idea of the times three for estimates.

When you look at part of a project, say a form, your estimate tends to be something like this:  if I know everything up front and there are no major surprises this is what is how many hours it will take to complete the programming and testing of this form.  However, we rarely know what those major surprises are up front so at best this is my guess and multiply it times three to come up with a more realistic estimate.

After a while I started to realize that some forms just aren’t going to take that long.  An About Window just won’t take more than fifteen, twenty minutes – ever – so why do the multiplier on that?  It makes no sense.

What makes one form harder to develop and test than an other?  Complexity.  A simple List form and an Add/Edit form might take an hour each (if that) to complete but busier versions of both might take three to four hours each.

What brings in the complexity?  Well, that depends on a number of factors.  Number of controls on the forms is a good start.  The business logic is another.  If how things work depend on what the user is doing in the controls you can rest assured that programming and testing of it is going to take longer than you expect.

Another part of complexity is the number of unknowns.  If you have to do a complex calculation that involves a bunch of math (especially if you’ve never done said math before) it should up the complexity.  Doing some programming concept in Xojo that you’ve never done before should up the complexity as well.  In both cases you should expect some research time, maybe even time to do a small example project, and a restart or two since you’re learning as you go.

In my initial guess I still do the ‘if I know everything up front and there are no surprises’ estimate.  And then my multiplier is my feeling of the complexity of that part of the project.  The complexity factor is now my multiplier.  So an About Window has a complexity of one.  A simple list form has a complexity of one and half, but a form with several page panels or containers that do different things based on user input might be a complexity factor of three or four (or more).

I tend to break projects down to several parts.  The first is overall project design.  There are certain number of hours just to set up the project and create the classes I need.  There’s usually some database design and implementation.  Do I need to make any special classes or subclasses for functionality that I already know about?

When it comes to the UI I often take the database design as the guide.  Each database table is (probably) going to need a List form and a way to edit it.  Figure that a list table is only going to need a few of the fields for listing but the Add/Edit form is going to use all of them.  Are they all text fields or is it a mix of lookup fields with foreign keys?  Each of these adds to the complexity of the forms in question.

Coming up with an estimate is sometimes an art.  It takes experience (and failing a few times) to get the hang of it which is why you need to track your time.  Using the complexity as a multiplier might be a good way for you to start getting more accurate estimates.

Let me know if you do something different for estimating.  How do you track your time?

Happy coding!