XDC 2019 Ruminations

The 2019 Xojo Developers Conference (XDC) wrapped up last Friday. It’s my favorite event of the year and while I’m sure many people think that I’m an extrovert I can only play one for shorts periods of time. I’m enjoying the peace, and more importantly, the quiet at home today hoping to recharge my social battery before having to attending a high school robotics meeting, mandolin orchestra rehearsal, and a mandolin concert this week. Oh, and I have to pick my sone up in Chicago. No pressure to get things done, no?

XDC is my favorite time of the year. While attendance was down this year (more on this in a bit) a lot of people from Europe made the trip over to Miami. It was good to see a lot of old friends and awesome to make some new ones. To me, it’s the connections you make and the stories you hear from other Xojo developers that is inspiring in so many ways.

The keynote address by Geoff was…underwhelming. It was the usual mix of how the community is doing, what they’ve done since last XDC and what they’re working on. As expected they’re working on Web 2.0, API 2.0, Interops, and Android. The best timeframe Geoff gave for anything was ‘soon’. At least we didn’t have the mental gyrations over ‘priority’ and ‘important’ like last years XDC.

It’s hard to show much for big ticket items like Web 2.0 and Android. These are big multi-year projects that you just can’t show off without having significant work done on them. For Web 2.0 the demo that Greg gave seemed pretty solid but then there weren’t a lot of details. It did seem solid and that was good news in my opinion. The Android demo, on the other hand, looked much more scripted and not nearly as smooth – it had the feel of ‘this is something we know works and we’re not going to do much outside the script’ feel to it. For API 2.0 there wasn’t much to show except some before and after code snippets.

So on one hand the keynote wasn’t all that exciting. On the other they didn’t have much to show because it’s work in progress. They threw some numbers out like 70% complete in which the pessimist in me said, “great, that means there’s still 70% of the work left to be done.” The people around me at the keynote had some similar thoughts as mine. To be fair, ‘completion percentage’ means something different to everyone.

I am very excited about Web 2.0. It’s a rewrite of the entire framework. You have to keep in mind the original framework was done ten years ago and the web has changed drastically since then. The work they’ve done on theming is going to make our Xojo web apps look fantastic and since more processing is done on the client side it should make apps a lot more responsive. We’ll have a LOT more controls to play with too.

To be honest, I’m pessimistic about Android. I’m sorry, but two years later we’re still waiting for a release. With work still to be done on the Xojo framework items (think FolderItem) and the debugger I just don’t see that happening by the end of the year. Prove me wrong, Xojo.

Jim Meyer’s presentation on using AWS and Google Machine Learning API’s with Xojo was fascinating. Using their API’s it’s easy to do text transcription from text and video, recognize images, do facial recognition and much more. It was by far my favorite session I attended. I can’t wait to get the example projects and try them out on a few things.

I didn’t attend this session but attendees were buzzing about Monkeybread Software’s DynaPDF plugin. The big news was that Unicode support will be added by the end of the year and that we’ll be able to create PDF’s by drawing directly into the Graphics object provided by the DynaPDF class. All good news.

Michael Dettmer showed an interesting way to quickly create database applications for Xojo using an Apache Velocity and his own open source software called CAPP, or Computer Aided Program Production. Essentially you create templates for the various things you want and it creates a project for you. The drawback is you have to use Apache Velocity and Java to do some of the coding. I’m not doing the demo justice but it did look a bit more complex than many Xojo developers might be capable of. However, consultants might find this tool essential since you do a little work up front to create a database application. You can read more at https://capp.systems

Yousaf Shah had a great session on how to get happy customers, successful projects, and live stress free. Yousaf said that developers aren’t always the most empathetic people and it’s hard to put yourself in the client position. When mistakes are made you don’t have to admit a mistake but saying, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” is important. He also spent some time showing how we can go from features to tasks (wrong word) so that you can get a better feeling for what the client really wants while also letting them be in control driving what’s important to them.

One session that I thought was fairly depressing was the Ask the Engineers session. Greg, Travis, William, and Paul did a good job of answering questions from the audience but it was shocking to see that few of developers working on the product. They’re one heart attack away from major portions of the project to be delayed. If you didn’t know, Paul has been moved from his Evangelist role to an engineering role. Since last XDC Norman was let go and Joe (compiler) has moved on to another job. Geoff can say all day long that they have enough resources but I just don’t buy it. More engineers means more stuff gets done.

Not giving us any timeframe for releases is one reason why I think attendance was down this year. If you don’t think there will be any big news and hands-on with cool, new, stuff then what’s the point of the attending? I disagree with the reasoning but I understand it when it’s a significant cost to attend.

No XDC in the United States next year. They are looking at something overseas. No word on where they’re looking but since MBS has conferences in Germany that are well attended I suspect some place other than Germany. But who knows? Like everything else they’ll tell us when they tell us and BKeeney Software will most likely be there. After all, it wouldn’t be a Xojo Developer Conference with us being there! See what whenever and wherever the next one is held.

Thoughts on XDC 2019?

20 thoughts on “XDC 2019 Ruminations

  1. I would have enjoyed keynote much more if they would have shown three new things coming for the next release.

    You know like giving engineers a week before the conference to pick a few feedback requests to implement.

    E.g. a change to the code produced by Compiler for nil object checks to include text of expression and line number for example. A small scope to have a big effect.

    If needed I volunteer to help.

      • About a month before the conference I thought about what I may show at the conference beside reviewing the past year.

        So I contacted Jens about his plans for DynaPDF to list the details.

        And I looked into my long wish list of what people asked me and tried to see if I can make one or two things to be ready at conference to show and ship in next release.

        Same I would have been happy if Xojo Inc. would have 2 or 3 little features ready for next release. And going to beta today.

      • Well, a months before the conference I thought about what to show on the conference beside the year in review. So I looked though my wish lists for things I could do and I tried a few things. The DynaPDF Graphics one made good progress in a few hours, so I continued there and presented it. Please try when you have time!

        I would have enjoyed if Xojo Inc. would have got 2 or 3 new things the engineers did that could make people happy beside those long term projects.

  2. Thanks for the write-up.

    For some time now Xojo Inc has reminded me of a research institute I once worked at. Over the course of a few years less and less researchers worked there, but more and more admin staff. With Xojo it seemed to be less and less engineers and more admin & evangelists. I hope Xojo is not going the same way as that research institute but …

    • Evangelists are hard to find nowadays, too.

      Ulrich and Antonio are no longer listed.
      Paul moved too engineering.

      So I fear staff is really getting smaller.

      • These were common conversations I had at the conference. Maybe they happened because people know I blog about this stuff or maybe just because. Regardless, the ‘nothing to see here – we are staff at appropriate levels’ response came across as flat.

  3. So between the keynote address and the evidence of what people have seen for themselves, it’s lots more young people and women website members but not many of them tempted to hand over any money?

  4. I thought that they were preparing the big reveal for the conference. That there still is nothing to show is not good. How long have they been working on the new IDE? 3 years? 4? The number of developers at Xojo is waaayyyyy too low.

    The more young people and women are funny. Where are they? Students only forced to learn Xojo???

    • Your comment about it being school kids accounting for how interest has “taken off” sounds horribly plausible both in terms of the age and the gender breakdown of the new users. Reputable print newspapers have been playing this sort of circulation game for many years now. Or kids used to regularly come home from school with free copies. This would be a really sad affair if true, especially to pitch at your most loyal customers.

  5. I thought I’d have a look at the CAPP. The license is designed to be as unpleasant as possible. For the Community Edition you can’t even post on the (so far empty) forum. The instructions show you how to install from a dmg. But you don’t see what the result of the code creation is which is the most interesting part. So very thin docs.

    I haven’t installed the unsigned pkg file, yet, because of the whole Java thing. But I had a look at the Xojo project that is in the installer. Almost every method or event contains a copyright. And then we have the representative line of code:

    App.DoEvents(20) ‘ I know … it is sh**. But at least it works.

    This is while directly using the Task example. I have seen enough.

  6. A month ago my friend and I, both working on the same Xojo project for a business, had a deep discussion if it is business wise still a good idea to continue depending on Xojo, although it’s the platform we both love. The reason for this doubt was/is the news that Xojo introduced a new license with more and immediate support from R&D. Logical, if this raises more money to expand the development power and gives companies using Xojo for their business apps more confidence. Also the PRO users should benefit on the long run. But for now, developments go (too) slow, the growth of new users and the brand awareness is endangered due to the fact that we lack evangelist- and documentation-resources, which took me and many others on board. With only four developers building Xojo, spread over four major subjects, it’s a dime on its side right now.

  7. The lack engineering staff is VERY troubling… they have always been smaller than they should been for the size product/# of platforms IMO, but it sounds like it is getting down to critical levels.

    I hope they can afford to remedy that (and without raising prices!)…

    Besides attracting new customers, they need to keep giving existing ones good reasons to renew … particularly since renewals essentially became the same price as a new purchase.

    I know I will look a lot closer than I used to at the value proposition of renewing based on what’s in a release and how buggy it is when my plan finally runs out next year (I renewed for a LOT of years right before RS became Xojo)

    – Karen

  8. They should have 1 engineering expert per target
    Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS, Android, Web
    And probably one for the compiler and one for the IDE itself
    At least IMHO thats the minimum. Something like 8.

    Not having that many means that many people wear one or more hats at the very least.

    • And not yet talked about the risk of someone falling out due to illness or whatever. Xojo is currently in the danger zone regarding the availability of developers

      • There are many risks being that small.
        Someone quitting unexpectedly can pose real challenges.
        Definitely a major illness or injury could as well as there is no overlap or flexibility for someone to cover that gap.

        If the compiler needed a major overhaul right now I’m not sure what they’d do. There are some minor things I’m sure they could deal with but there are others that are more significant that without Joe, or someone like him, that could pose a real challenge.

        I’m not sure plugins written in Xojo isn’t in that state.

  9. You guys got me worried. I’ve been evaluating Xojo for the last several weeks as time permits. I’ve watched hours of videos, read at least a 100 posts on the forum and scanned hundreds more, read and worked through the User Guide reproducing the sample apps, built a couple of sample apps from the videos, and started building some simple functionality from the bit I’ve learned to date. But now, after reading this, I’m not so sure. There are things about Xojo that strongly attract me to it – the drag and drop developer, the fact that I don’t need to worry about HTML & CSS, the ability to create apps for the web, desktop and iOS – great. A well documented coherent and easy to understand language. A very active and helpful user forum. Strong 3rd part library support. And so on. There’s a lot to like. But then there is the downside: a web development environment that seems shockingly underdeveloped – no field masks, no date/time pickers, a listbox that too me seems downright primitive,the lack of automated or semi-automated data-binding(!), and a product that apparently requires the UI to call back to the server for every action – whoa! Has anyone ever heard of JavaScript? Thanks to Bob Keeney’s posts I can see that Web 2.0 will go some distance to correcting some of these deficiencies. And i can but 3rd party libraries to fill in the gap. Great – I can’t wait. BUT, the glacial pace of Xojo development! Frankly, the items I just enumerated *should* have been addressed a long time ago. But if Xojo only has four programmer-developers that might explain it. Supporting 5 operating systems is challenging to say the least. But still. I can live with stuff like this if I know 2.0 is coming “soon”. But what really concerns me is that if the company is that weak, will it survive? There are lots of RAD tools out there, many or most of them, small outfits. Some (or many?) clinging to life-support. I own several of them – Alpha Anywhere, ScriptCase, Code on Time, PHPRunner. And there’s lots more out there – Instant Developer, DHTMLX, Win Developer, LiveCode, Elevate Web Builder, PHPMaker, RadZen, and Aware IM. not to mention the online SASS subscription-only development environments – there’s a bunch of ‘em, like Bubble & ZoHo, Google has one and others. And then there’s the dead bodies like Iron Speed, Morfik and Wakanda (basically kaput). All these programs have strengths and weaknesses and they all seem shaky from a survivability standpoint (well, not Google). I’ve spent a lot of time studying them. Which brings me back to Xojo. I’m looking for a new development environment that meets most of my needs. i won’t get into why my current software line leaves me wanting. That’s a whole other screed. But if Xojo can’t deliver in a reasonable time frame, or is faltering in terms of survivability, then it’s a non-starter. So I don’t know. From what I’ve read and from what I’ve sensed, I’m not sure anyone can help me out here. But I sure would like to believe that there’s a future here?

    • The flip side of all of our teeth gnashing is that we’ve been teeth gnashing for a long time. The company has never had a huge development team and developers come and go. The fact they average developers being with them for many years is kind of an aberration. In my own world I figure if I can keep a developer for 7 years I’ll call that could.

      At the end of the day I’m a Xojo consultant and have been so for 18 years. I put feelers out every now and then to see other alternatives are out there and I keep coming back to Xojo because of its excellent desktop cross platform development. It’s web model lacks a lot but Web 2.0 looks to fix most of it. So for me it’s a huge plus to say I have this very good desktop development tool that also happens to have a decent (and soon better) web app development tool, and a decent (but not great) iOS development tool (and some day) an Android development tool. And all that in one IDE that works on Mac and Windows and Linux is something no one else has!

      Could this change tomorrow? Absolutely, but today Xojo still stands as my, and many that read my blog, choice for development environments. I think most of our criticism is because we *LOVE* the tool but wish it was better. We wish things happened faster but Xojo isn’t MS, Google, or Apple so they can’t throw hundreds of developers at a problem.

      I think what Xojo does is magic – especially with their staffing levels.

  10. Thanks Bob. I guess some positive reinforcement was what I was looking for.

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