I’m Tired

I’ve not been blogging very much lately.  This summer was very busy with a lot of traveling including a trip to France to join my son who was studying in Lyon.  We camped at several music festivals in Michigan and Kansas.  In August I started coaching a rookie FIRST FTC robotics team and that’s been challenging. (They are smart kids!).  Work-wise we’ve been pretty busy with a big consulting project that’s starting to wind down.

All of that aside, I’m just not excited about Xojo at the present time.  2019 R2 was a very good release until they added API 2.0 into it.  I can’t talk about beta program specifics, so I’ll leave it at that since it has a ton of IDE bug fixes and enhancements.  I was doing active development with the R2 alphas it was that good.

Unfortunately API 2.0 was added and despite months worth of beta testing and dozens of builds, it feels half-baked, buggy, and not ready for prime time.  It feels like it could have used another couple of months to gestate and be fully thought out before it was released to the masses.

The new events don’t really solve much of anything and in most cases just make life incredibly difficult for existing Xojo developers.  If the goal was clarity I’m not sure that going from Open to Opening, to name one case, really solves anything.  If anything, I could argue that Preparing or PreparingToOpen is more appropriate for what it really means.  To be sure, I’m arguing semantics but the semantics of an API are important.

The new events make it practically impossible to use R2 and still use older versions of Xojo.  I’m already getting support questions on when are we going to support API 2.0 for ARGen and Shorts.  The answer is I don’t know because it’s non-trivial to update their code bases to API 2.0 and still support API 1.0.  I feel like I’m caught between a rock and a hard place and I know I’m not the only 3rd party Xojo developer caught in this bind.

I also think that’s part of my problem.  I feel like Xojo has willfully ignored professional developers in favor of citizen developers.  API 2.0 does nothing for me and with the way events were changed (it seems like change for the sake of change), it actually harms my business.  

The upcoming Android platform does nothing for my business.  Sure, it’s a shiny new target and I’d love to kick the tires on it, but iOS is still using the now deprecated Xojo framework.  I know the goal is to have a single mobile project and have different build targets (like desktop does right now) but at this point I have no idea when that will happen.  Based on what was reported at the MBS conference last week, there is still significant work to be done on Android yet.  Then we still have to wait on an iOS update to get it to API 2.0.  Could that even happen by the end of 2020?  I’m not so sure.  Maybe.  But what gets put on hold during that time that I could use now?

Speaking of iOS it seems to be languishing on its own.  It’s been out for years and to do some pretty common iOS tasks you have to go through declares.  That’s not exactly a RAD environment.  I’ve done a commercial project with iOS and it was great to use my favorite language, but I was literally 15 minutes away from giving up on Xojo iOS.  It was only with some Herculean help from several forum members that I was able to get THE key feature to work at all.

Raspberry Pi is another target that’s been fun to play with.  I did an electric kiln controller with it and again it took going back and forth on the forums for several weeks to finally nail down some of the problems.  To be fair I had a bad thermocouple converter, but the fact that there were only a few people using it made it that much tougher.  The Do It Yourself (DIY) and Maker movement is huge and yet Xojo is barely making a dent in it (I’m basing this on the lack of traffic in the Raspberry Pi sub forum).

What I could use today is Web 2.0.  What I could use today is a desktop grid control, and a simple built-in Date picker.  What I know others need today is built-in PDF export and viewing.  It’s almost criminal how old the RegEx and XML libraries are.  I’m sure we could list dozens of things we could use today rather than six to twelve months from now.

Xojo built its business on being a really good cross-platform environment.  I still think it’s a really good desktop development tool – I could even argue it’s still the best cross-platform development tool out there.  Adding half-baked targets with such a small development staff helps neither the targets nor the development staff because despite what the company line is (on being adequately staff), each target *does* take time away from other projects.

I feel abused at worst, or at least unappreciated by Xojo.  I’ve devoted countless hours talking about the product, trying to get people excited about it, only to feel like I’ve been ignored by the company.  If I write a good review of a release they quickly spread the news, but if I’m remotely critical of a release it’s only silence.  Look for this one to not get promoted either.

Besides this blog, I only have one other way to get their attention – I can refuse to upgrade until they listen to what I *need* to run my business.  If they don’t give me what I need I will look for alternatives and switch to that product.  There are only a handful of Xojo old-timers around – and that should speak volumes.  Xojo is a development tool that you want to love but it’s hard to be ignored and still love the product.

I’m tired of feeling ignored.  What about you?

Xojo 2019 R2: API 2.0 is Here

Xojo 2019 Release 2 arrived this week, and to say that this is a massive release would be an understatement.  Among a large number of bug fixes and IDE enhancements is the first release of API 2.0.  With every release I say that you should test your projects thoroughly, but in this case it needs to be mandatory.

API 2.0

API 2.0 is Xojo’s latest attempt to make the framework consistent across all the classes and should be easier to learn and use than the old framework.  The properties, methods, and event names of practically every single class have changed.  Some have changed in subtle ways, and others in a bash you over the head fashion.  What might be even more important is that classes that used to set an error bit or error code will now throw an exception.

Some of the most basic things in Xojo have changed.  Declaring a variable has changed from using the Dim keyword to the new Var keyword.  Declaring an array is the same but resizing it is now accomplished like this:

//Declare the array

var arNames() as string

//Set it to a new size

arNames.ResizeTo(SomeIntegerValue)

//Clear the Array

arNames.ResizeTo(-1)

In various conversations Xojo has claimed that many users new to Xojo are confused about declaring variables.  I don’t claim to know a lot of other languages, but the few that I’ve looked up don’t appear to be any more helpful.  Looking at JavaScript and Swift, neither requires the data type when declaring a variable.  With no functionality enhancement this seems like a change for the sake of change.

Every Window and Control that comes with Xojo 2019 R2 has new events.  Open, which admittedly can be confusing, is now replaced with the equally confusing Opening event.  Close is Closing and so on.  I have yet to find any direct mapping document of old events to new events and that’s a crime.  

A complex control like the Listbox has dozens of events, properties, and methods and nearly all of them are renamed.  Some make sense.  ListBox.ListCount is now ListBox.RowCount.  But ListBox.EditCell is now ListBox.EditCellAt.  To append a row to a Listbox you still use ListBox.AddRow, but to insert a Row you substitute ListBox.InsertRow with ListBox.AddRowAt.  I simply don’t see why AddRowAt is easier to remember than Insert (I could argue that InsertRow makes more sense).

Some changes I strongly disagree with.  For example, Arrays in the old framework were simple enough to add items to:

dim arMyArray() as integer

arMyArray.Append 1000

arMyArray.Insert 0, 2000

With API 2.0 the Append and Insert methods are replaced with AddRow and AddRowAt.  Again, one can argue that removing Insert and replacing with AddRowAt is simply a poor use of the English language.

Pre-API 2.0 Projects

The good news is that existing pre-API 2.0 projects will work with only a few modifications.  In our projects (Task Timer, Shorts, ARGen) there were little to no changes required to get them to compile in R2.  And the good news is that you can continue to use the old API in R2.  The Code Editor AutoComplete will show you the old API and the new API with the old API call in Red and show you the new API 2.0 method or property.

Starting a new project in R2 will only show you the new API and events.  Certainly one of the drawbacks is that Xojo projects created in R2 are not backwards compatible.  Xojo has never really guaranteed that newer versions would be compatible and this is one of those cases where it’s simply not possible (theoretically if you never implement any events it will work).

My advice: Treat R2 with kid gloves and make backups of your project files before you play with it.

Events

Let’s talk about events for a bit.  I’ve already hit on the Open event that is replaced with Opening and Close that is now Closing.  I find nothing wrong with the new event names, per se, but anyone with an older project, or someone taking an older class and putting it into R2 must be extremely careful. The old Open and Close (and other) events will fire as expected – until someone implements the new API 2.0 event like Opening.  Once you do that the old event no longer works.  This has the potential of really messing with legacy products that use the old Events and new users not knowing the difference and implementing new events and crushing functionality.

Frankly I find events to the most problematic part of API 2.0 since I, as a provider of 3rd party code, can’t enforce that a Xojo developer use the new or old events.  It’s going to be a nightmare for the next couple of years (maybe forever?) as new people find old classes and implement them in their new R2 projects.  Events cannot be coded out with #if statements.  There is simply no way to control which events to use in a mixed environment.

If you’ve created your own control subclasses with custom events let’s hope you don’t have naming conflicts with the new event names.  The only way to solve this is to change your Event definitions in a pre-API 2.0 version of Xojo.

String Classes

Despite being a great idea, the Text datatype from the Xojo framework never really caught on.  As part of API 2.0 many of the Text methods have been brought to the String datatype.  As with all the other classes nearly every method and property name has changed in some way, shape, or form.  

The biggest change, and perhaps the most problematic, is that the string functions are now zero-based.  The first character of a string is zero and no longer one.  The InStr method has been replaced with IndexOf (bad name in my opinion) and instead of returning a zero if the search string is not contained it will return a -1.  Don’t get me wrong, this is a good change in the long run, but when developers are converting their projects from pre-API 2.0 things like this are going to bite a lot of developers as it’s not a direct replacement.  You can’t just simply use IndexOf to replace InStr because it will break your code.  Expect some grumbling about this from the greater community.

Date and DateTime Classes

Xojo has deprecated (not removed) the existing Date class and has created a new DateTime class.  This is mostly a rehash of the Xojo.Core.Date class but it uses Strings.  The new DateTime class is not a direct replacement for Date since the DateTime class is immutable. In effect if you’re doing any sort of date math you’ll need to use the new DateInterval class.  The DateTime class also does not have TotalSeconds but instead has a SecondsFrom1970 property.  To get a New DateTime you use the Now shared method instead of creating a new instance of it.

FolderItem Changes

The FolderItem class was significantly updated on macOS and uses Apple’s more modern API’s.  This should make file operations significantly faster on newer versions of macOS. FolderItem.AbsolutePath has been removed (it’s been deprecated for a while now).

Because of these changes you really need to be careful with URL Paths with query parameters.  The behavior between R2 and earlier versions of Xojo has changed significantly.

Database Changes

The database classes have some welcome changes that have huge implications.  Besides new classes, methods, and properties for everything to do with the database, any interaction with the database has the potential of throwing an exception.  In the old API you had to explicitly check for the Error property.  Now it will throw an exception that you have to capture and handle.  This is both good and bad.

With ActiveRecord and ARGen we’ve been throwing exceptions for years when we found the database error property to be true.  So not a big change for us, but for anyone that’s ever checked to see if a RecordSet is nil will be surprised when the exception is thrown.  This is guaranteed to get your attention (many people never checked for the db error anyway!) but it will be a pain for many developers. Database code will need to be in a Try-Catch block, and doing this in a proper Transaction will cause some structural changes to your code.  

RecordSets are deprecated.  Long live the RowSet!  RowSets are returned from Database.SelectSQL and instructions are passed through Database.ExecuteSQL.  This is in contrast to the old SQLSelect and SQLExecute methods respectively.  I can guarantee that I will mix the old and new versions up for many years to come.

PreparedStatements are no longer needed as they are built-in to the SelectSQL and ExecuteSQL statements.  You no longer have to Bind the DataType and Value as the class does it for you.  This is similar to what iOSSQLiteDatabase has done for years and hopefully this gives everyone more incentive to use them.  PreparedStatements were a pain to use and this new method is considerably more streamlined.

One word of caution to anyone that uses the MBS SQL plugin:  You must update to the 19.4 version as the database class changes required the plugin to be updated. Older versions of the plugin will fail silently and may cause other plugins to not load properly.

Other Things

URLConnection received some updates.  In Windows 7 and 8 it picks up proxy settings.  It also no longer hangs a Windows application when downloading large files or content.  In Linux a ResponseHeader that no longer exists doesn’t crash the application.  They also made the ResponseHeaders an iterable function allowing the use of For-Each loops.

They (finally) added BeginTransaction to the Database class.  It’s silly that this hasn’t been part of the framework for the past decade.

The Code Editor received some interesting changes.  Pressing Shift-Return on an existing If-Then or If-Then-Else will now break the statement into multiple lines.  On a comment line holding the shift key and pressing Return automatically adds another line of comment.

The Layout Editor has some changes too.  It now has a control to switch between Light and Dark modes.

There is now a number of new Refactoring Tools available and they fixed a number of bugs in the refactoring tools.  They added a new code assistant for wrapping the selected code in an #if XojoVersion block (handy with all the new API 2.0 changes).  The Add Event dialog has been updated to allow adding deprecated events when a checkbox is selected (deprecated events are in red).  In the same light you can right-click on an event in the Navigator and choose to convert it to the newer API 2.0 event.

The FileTypes editor and Associated File Types editor have been combined into a single editor.  File Type Roles have been renamed to None, View, Edit, and Execute.  For MacOS you can set if the File Type is unique to the application.

Catalina may force many developers to upgrade sooner rather than later.  The SelectColor function was updated in R2 to no longer use an outdated API function.  Using SelectColor with an app built before R2 will reliably crash on Catalina.  The only solution is to build with R2 or use NSColorPanel yourself with declares or the MBS plugin.

Documentation

Maybe I’m just an old school person and a curmudgeon but I find the lack of Old to New documentation extremely disappointing.  Xojo has a Deprecated list at https://docs.xojo.com/Category:Deprecated but I find it worthless.  I’d like to look at a single class at a time and have all of the events, properties, and methods showing the old name and then the new name along with any comments.  I realize this is a lot of work but I’m surprised that Xojo didn’t create this documentation BEFORE doing any coding to use as their coding bible. 

Any old example, sample project, old forum post, Google search result is now obsolete.  BKeeney Software’s 65+ hours of Xojo training video that covers a good chunk of the Xojo framework is now practically worthless.  I will be shutting the doors of the training site because it’s not worth my time (at this point) to redo over 200 videos.  Xojo needs to convince me otherwise.

Deprecation Items That Have a Replacement

The Xojo IDE tries to be helpful in converting your projects to API 2.0. There will probably be a handful of things that will flag compiler errors in your pre-API 2.0 projects. If you Check your project you will get a rather large list of items that are deprecated that have a replacement. This list can be overwhelming and I recommend NOT doing global search and replace on these items because the code is sometimes quite a bit different. Good luck!

My Advice

If you have an existing project I would be very carefully with R2.  Sure, try it out on a *copy* of your project, but don’t expect to use R2 right away.  I’m almost sure that there will be changes to fix bugs and strong community objections to certain things.  We already know that Reporting and XML was NOT done for R2 and I’m sure we’ll find other things along the way too.

For developers using R2, please be patient.  Get used to the question:  What version of Xojo did you start with?  The community is going to struggle with the changes for a while and we have no idea that his means.

All in all I think there are some good changes to Xojo 2019 R2 but I also think that there was a lot of change merely for the sake of change.  I’m not convinced that all the changes were for the better.  But really, only time will tell.

The Good

  • IDE received quite a few tweaks
  • Lots of bug fixes and enhancements
  • API 2.0 is mostly consistent with naming (with some oddities for sure)
  • Lots of bug fixes and enhancements
  • Exceptions now thrown instead of having to check for error codes
  • FolderItem significantly upgraded for macOS
  • DateTime added as a replacement for Date class

The Bad

  • API 2.0 is not entirely done yet with more changes to come
  • Change for the sake of change in some cases
  • Exceptions for common and expected errors is not ideal
  • New String methods are not drop-in replacements because they are zero-based

The Ugly

  • API 2.0 event handling prevents API 1.0 events from being raised
  • Documentation woefully incomplete
  • All existing documentation, examples, videos are obsolete

What topics would you like for me to talk about with API 2.0?  What do you like and dislike about API 2.0?

Edit: Fixed some typo’s.

Notarizing Your Xojo Apps

The release of macOS 10.15 Catalina is fast approaching. One of the new things that Apple has done in this release is increase the security even more. No longer is simply code signing your app good enough. Apple is now notarizing applications meaning that applications and disk images are submitted to Apple for their seal-of-approval that ideally have some minimum level of scrutiny that the item is not malware. Presumably this means they can identify bad actors even faster by seeing patterns. Good for consumers but it’s a pain for developers.

For those developers using Xcode it’s no big deal as it’s part of the built-in process. For Xojo developers the process is not nearly so simple. You still have to code sign your application and your disk image. We use AppWrapper from Ohanaware to code sign and notarize our apps. We also use DMG Canvas from Araelium Group to create disk images. AppWrapper can notarize disk images as well.

The process of Notarization is not as automated as one would hope. After you’ve code signed your application you have to click the Notarize button to send the application to Apple. This isn’t exactly clear but once you realize this it’s no big deal.

Notarizing requires some information for Apple. The first is your AppleID and since you’ve already code signed your application that should be a no brainer. The second is the application specific password. You can get this by logging in at AppleID account page at https://appleid.apple.com/#!&page=signin and then creating an app-specific password by choosing that option from the Security section.

The third bit of information that may be required is your short name ASC Provider. This information is not immediately obvious and your app may fail if you don’t have it. Note that the ASC Provider information is considered optional – until the process fails. Fun stuff. I had to look in the log created by AppWrapper to see this information:

Error: Your Apple ID account is attached to other iTunes providers. You will need to specify which provider you intend to submit content to by using the -itc_provider command. Please contact us if you have questions or need help. (1627)

To get your short name open Terminal and do the command shown here (this assumed Xcode 11). is your login username and is the password you created specifically for this application.

xcrun iTMSTransporter -m provider -u <AppleID>  -p <ApplicationSpecificPassword> 

This will provide you a listing of the long and short names of all of your providers. If you’re part of multiple Apple developer groups you’ll get all of them.

Voila! Once you have the short name and input into the ASC Provider section of AppWrapper and DMG Canvas my upload completed and Apple Notarized my application and disk image that works perfect in Catalina.

Hopefully this is helpful. Any other gotcha’s that you’ve seen from Catalina?