I’m Not Xojo’s Target Audience. Is Anyone?

I took the time out of my schedule to reach out to Xojo this week to discuss the issues I have with API 2.0 and other topics.  It was a fruitful, if somewhat disappointing, conversation with Geoff.  Like Anthony from Graffiti Suite I am cautiously optimistic that some of the worst issues third party developers have with API 2.0 might be alleviated.  Really we won’t know until we see their solution

One of the topics that I brought up was that these issues (the new Event names and marking anything from API 1.0 Deprecated – even though they’ll be around for a many years to come) were brought up early and often in the beta program.  I said that honestly, it made us feel that our input is not valued.  Geoff’s response is that the beta testers that brought these issues up is a small subset of the overall beta program and what they (Xojo) didn’t realize was those beta testers have other Xojo developers behind them (other Xojo developers) that aren’t in the beta program.  They assumed that most of our users were using the most recent version of Xojo.

So, in other words, the biggest, most active users of their development tool, that are in the beta program because they want to be and need Xojo to work because of THEIR clients, their concerns could be ignored.  It means the professional Xojo users aren’t considered a part of their target audience.

Wow.  That is stunning to tell someone that has been in the beta program for (probably) over fifteen years that their input doesn’t matter.  The three pro licenses that I’ve been purchasing year after year for over a dozen years doesn’t matter.  The many years of blog posts promoting the product don’t matter.  The thousands of hours of streaming video training about the product don’t matter.  

I’ve been going to Xojo Developers Conference (XDC) for years.  I’ve spoken at all of them since 2004.  The conferences are expensive enough to attend that really it’s only the professional users that attend.  There are some citizen developers that attend but mostly it is people that make a living off of using Xojo in some way.  Maybe this is why XDC is now being marketed as Xojo.Connect? Targeted for citizen developers?  I don’t know but it’s not any less expensive.

I asked Geoff if they’ve ever asked why long-term users stopped renewing.  The answer was no.  They did it years ago with people that signed up to download Xojo but never purchased.  They couldn’t find a pattern which I totally get.  Heck, I’ve downloaded and discarded dozens of development tools over the years just to kick their tires.  But not knowing why someone stopped paying you $700 year after year?  Seems like it would be an important thing to know.

I’ve been around a long time and have remained friends with some of those former Xojo developers.  Some leave because of long-term bugs.  It is disheartening to report a bug that affects your app that gets ignored for years on end.  Granted not all bugs are equal but a show-stopper bug is just that.  When your bug is ignored it’s pretty easy to check out.

Some leave because Xojo isn’t as RAD (Rapid Application Development) as it is billed as.  Database driven applications (which I would say is what most businesses need) is pretty bad (hence why we’ve had our own library forever).  Why use Xojo if it’s not RAD?  

Some leave because there is a lack of capabilities in the product.  iOS (but also true for all targets) is painfully lacking in capabilities that force you into learning complex declares.  There are no built-in controls for Date, Time, Timestamp, or numbers only Text Fields, exporting to PDF, no ability for applications to have a report editor, a good grid, etc.  Some of this is because Xojo is the lowest common denominator between Mac, Windows, and Linux (for desktop) and doing these things cross-platform is really hard.  

Some leave because of the lack of options.  Xojo has a tiny 3rd party add-on market.  You only have a few options (if any) for some things or you make them yourself.  Users hate reinventing the wheel.  Xojo itself doesn’t do much to promote or help the 3rd party market.  Other development tools have significantly more options to choose from.

Regardless, there are probably a ton of reasons why people leave.  I suspect that most come down to some variation of the above.  These are also the same reasons why new users will walk away too.

Citizen developers can walk away from Xojo with hardly a second thought.  They’ve invested practically nothing in the tool.  When you’ve been in the Xojo ecosystem for many years apparently we’re taken for granted because the cost of moving is so high.  But who are the cheerleaders for the product?  Who helps new users in the forums?  The less active the community the harder it’s going to be to get those new citizen developer sales.  I see this as a negative feedback loop.

I’ve been a Xojo consultant for over over sixteen years.  I guess I’m not their target audience.  Is anyone?

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?

MarkdownKit Review

Markdown is a popular text formatting syntax in use all over the web. Markdown was designed to be human readable in plain text, and formatting parsers are available for many different formats.

There are a few different parsers for Xojo, available in both add-on and plugin format. Garry Pettet provided MarkdownKit for us to look at and review. MarkdownKit is written entirely in Xojo code, is fully CommonMark compliant, and generates HTML.

MarkdownKit is implemented with both String and Text versions, and is designed for both Desktop and iOS projects. MarkdownKit is provided as full source code, and includes documentation as well as examples.

With everything provided, MarkdownKit is very easy to use. It really is as simple as one line. dim sHTML as String = MarkdownKit.ToHTML(SomeMarkdownString) The output can then be passed into an HTMLViewer and displayed. This can all be done so fast you get near live rendering.

The way MarkdownKit renders the input is impressive. A MarkdownKit document is parsed into a syntax tree so that an implementation of the rendering interface can walk the document. What we get from all that is a fast and accurate Markdown renderer. And wow is it fast. The demo application really illustrates the speed of MarkdownKit.

Overall MarkdownKit has proven to be speedy, well documented, easy to use, expandable, and CommonMark compliant. MarkdownKit is a great Markdown renderer written entirely in Xojo code. If you don’t yet have a Markdown renderer in your toolkit, MarkdownKit is a solid option.

More information about MarkdownKit, pricing, and the demo downloads are available at the MarkdownKit Webpage: https://garrypettet.com/xojo-addons/markdownkit

BKS Tab Control – Drag Rearrange Tabs!

Lenexa, KS (February 8th 2019) — BKS Tab Control update can now drag rearrange

BKeeney Software releases a minor update for BKS Tab Control enabling users to drag and drop to rearrange tabs. Developers can enable or disable this feature using a switch in the Xojo IDE. A new event, TabOrderChanged, is raised when the user performs a drag-rearrange.

The BKS Tab Control is a set of classes that offer developers a classic “tabs control” for Xojo Desktop applications. The Tab Control can attach to any RectControl or Window, and will maintain a relationship to this parent control if and when it changes size. Tabs can be displayed in one of four directions (North, South, East, West) and individually offer options like a close button, an icon, a background color, and can be disabled.

Other features:
  • Optional CloseBox can be positioned on the left of right
  • If the CloseBox is selected a CancelClose event is fired
  • Optional Icon can be positioned on the left or right
  • Each tab can be independently styled (colors, fonts, text decorations)
  • Each tab can be disabled
  • Tabs that overflow may be accessed with an overflow popup menu
  • Works in HiDPI, non-HiDPI, and dark modes

BKS Tab Control has been tested in macOS, Windows, and several varieties of Linux with Xojo 2018 R4 and back to Xojo 2017 R1. The control may work unchanged in older versions of Xojo.

BKS Tab Control is sold as unencrypted source code and costs $75 USD. Existing customers can download the update with the original link on their sales receipt. More information and a demo project are available at: https://www.bkeeney.com/allproducts/bks-tab-control/

Xojo 2018 Release 4

Xojo 2018 Release 4 hit the internet this week.  This relatively small (84 bug fixes, 21 changes, 5 new items, and 11 doc and example changes) update is a nice end of year release that may or may not satisfy your Xojo dreams.  Let’s get into the highlights.

Of the new items list the big one is the new URLConnection class.  The URLConnection class works with the HTTP 1.1+ protocol and works with http and https connections.  This is a replacement for the Xojo.Net.HTTPSocket and brings back one of the things many developers missed about the old HTTPSocket class – Synchronous communications – using the SendSync method.  

SendSync is a concession by Xojo with the caveat that the application may appear to freeze while running this method.  The regular, and probably the better, Send method is asynchronous and does not freeze the app.  Admittedly the async way is the better way but for many developers the synchronous method is easier to implement and ‘good enough’ for their use.  Still, consider using the async method.

The Screen class now has the ScaleFactor property.  There are two new global constants: AppSupportsDarkMode and AppSupportsHiDPI  that are pretty self explanatory.

iOS builds now use the iOS 12.1 SDK.  macOS builds now use the 10.14 SDK for 64-bit builds.

There are couple of changes that are noteworthy.  The first being that the Windows IDE can now successfully build large projects for Linux 64-bit and ARM targets (frankly I didn’t know this was a problem but I bet that ‘large’ is the key word).  Any remaining threads are now killed after the app.close event (possibly a reason why some apps in macOS crash after they quit?).  EnableMenuItems no longer fires needlessly on every keypress in Windows.  Lingua and Remote Debugger Stub have been updated to work with Dark Mode on macOS.

There are 84 bug fixes in this release.  The more important ones (at least in my opinion):  The Build folder is properly emptied between build runs.  Remote Debugging to a Raspberry Pi no longer randomly crashes when stopping at a breakpoint.  Browsers that have disconnected from the web app will now reload the web app so they don’t appear frozen.  There are also a couple dozen IDE bug fixes to the Inspector, Navigator, Find & Replace and a number of the editors.

As with any new release you need to thoroughly test your projects before doing a public release.  It was noted during the beta period that the Einhugur Search Control didn’t work properly in Mojave but has since been fixed.  We had one large project not work when remote debugging from Mac to Windows but I haven’t had time to track it down.  If you have found any new issues with R4 please submit a Feedback report right away!

Happy coding!

BKS Tab Control

Lenexa, KS (June 20th 2018) — BKeeney Software releases BKS Tab Control
The BKS Tab Control is a set of classes that offer developers a classic “tabs control” for Xojo Desktop applications. The Tab Control can attach to any RectControl or Window, and will maintain a relationship to this parent control if and when it changes size. Tabs can be displayed in one of four directions (North, South, East, West) and individually offer options like a close button, an icon, a background color, and can be disabled.
Other features:
— Optional CloseBox can be positioned on the left of right
— If the CloseBox is selected a CancelClose event is fired
— Optional Icon can be positioned on the left or right
— Each tab can have a different background color
— Each tab can be disabled
— Each tab text can be stylized with font, font color, text size, bold, italic, underline
— Tabs that overflow the available width may be accessed with an overflow popup menu
— Works in HiDPI and non-HiDPI modes
BKS Tab Control has been tested in macOS, Windows, and several varieties of Linux with Xojo 2018 R1.1 and back to Xojo 2017 R1.  The control may work, unchanged, in older versions of Xojo.
BKS Tab Control is sold as unencrypted source code and costs $75 USD.
More information and demo project download available at:
macOS
Windows
Linux
All Directions

Is Xojo the Right Development Tool

Quite often prospective clients, and developers thinking of learning Xojo, ask my opinion of Xojo.  They are about to embark on a journey spending tens of thousands of dollars on a cross-platform tool and they want to know if Xojo is a right for them.  It’s a good question and I’ll share some of what I share with them in no particular order.

Xojo is pronounced “Zo Jo”.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard it pronounced “Ex Oh Jay Oh” or something else.  They just don’t know and I think it spooks a lot of people as it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.  Xojo has been around under various names (REALbasic and Real Studio) for twenty years – all with the same company.  At that point it’s easy to name a dozen languages/development environments that were popular twenty years ago that either don’t exist today or been sold so many times that they’re now obscure tools.

This isn’t your fathers BASIC.  Xojo uses the BASIC syntax but this isn’t like the venerable Visual Basic or even older GWBasic or QBasic.  Xojo apps are NOT interpreted at runtime – they compile down into native code for each of the platforms.  The language itself is a modern object-oriented language that happens to use the BASIC syntax.  Xojo is updated three to four times a year and has undergone a lot of upgrades in the past two decades.  It first supported 68000 code, then PowerPC and Fat applications, Carbon, and now finally Cocoa on the Mac side.  They’ve added Windows, Linux, Raspberry Pi (Linux ARM), desktop and console application targets.  In the mobile space they’ve added iOS, and by the end of the year Android.  They’re also in the middle of the transition from 32-bit only applications to 64-bit applications.  For the most part things ‘just work’ and developers don’t experience too many issues (bugs happen but think about how many targets they’re supporting!).

Xojo applications are self-contained.  Take a compiled Xojo application and (with very few exceptions) literally copy the files to another computer and the application will just work.  Even Windows applications don’t need an official installer, however, it is recommended since most Windows users are comfortable and familiar with using them.  Most Mac applications are installed via drag-and-drop from a disk image but an installer can be used on the Mac as well.  This ease-of-installation is huge and it’s rare to have “DLL Hell” issue since all required libraries and resources are bundled together.  This does make the resulting output larger than some other development tools that depend on system libraries but I’ve rarely seen this an issue.

Xojo provides nearly everything you need in one tool (with some caveats).  The Xojo IDE has Code, Form, Menubar, Database, and Report editors (to name some of the big ones) in one tool so you never have to use another tool.  We’ve found the database editor to not be powerful enough so we prefer external database editors.  The built-in reporting tool also isn’t very powerful so we created our own reporting tool (Shorts) which has served us well in our consulting projects.  The nice thing is that all of the built-in tools work seamlessly with each other so the tools that are powerful enough for you ‘just work’ with few hassles.  The editors try really hard to protect your from hurting yourself while other tools are just a big text file that must be in an exact format.

The Xojo community is incredibly helpful.  The Xojo Forums are filled with some of the most helpful people I’ve ever met.  Some of the Xojo engineers respond to questions, but usually the community answers before they get to it.  Many other support forums are rude and condescending to newcomers to their language/tool.  The Xojo forum has even been known to answer questions about other tools.

Xojo is a cross-platform tool and because of this it has some compromises.  Controls are often the lowest- common denominator.  Grids especially aren’t as powerful as some are used to in the Windows world.  This is mainly because complex grids are not common in Linux and Mac environments.  Other controls have similar issues.  Things like automatic spell checking in TextArea’s are platform specific as on the Mac.  At times it is disappointing that there aren’t more control options for Xojo right out of the box (think date and calendar controls) but thankfully there is a third-party market for controls and libraries for Xojo that can often help.  Even though much is provided for you, it’s possible for a developer to use OS API’s using Declares that can significantly modify the appearance and functionality for some applications.

Xojo is a Rapid Application Development (RAD) environment.  Between the all-in-one IDE and the language creating applications in Xojo is fast.  This means that an initial investment can get your app developed faster and cheaper than many other languages.  Obviously some of this depends on the developers doing the work but it can make a huge difference.  We’ve always told clients that if they’re not happy with Xojo performance after the initial release they can use our code as the proof of concept to the developer in whatever language they choose.  There have only been a handful of clients that have ever switched languages after release and that’s usually been switching from desktop apps to web app.

The cost of Xojo isn’t very high compared to some tools.  For $699 per year per developer you can create web, console, and desktop apps for Mac, Windows, Linux, and Linux ARM plus iOS apps.  That’s all in the same environment and same language and with the exception of iOS applications (which requires a Mac) you can use Mac, Windows, or Linux to create everything.  Many developers use third party controls and libraries and even those are relatively inexpensive.  Plus, there are no royalty fees for your Xojo made applications.  All-in-All it can be a relatively inexpensive tool.

What considerations have I missed?

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?

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/.

Microsoft Buys Xamarin and SQL Server Goes Cross-Platform

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks in the cross-platform development world.  First, Microsoft announced that they were purchasing Xamarin.  Xamarin and Microsoft have always been friendly and this move isn’t very surprising.  As a Mac user much of the marketing verbiage doesn’t talk about the Macintosh, just iOS along with Android and Windows Phone and Windows apps.  Xamarin has always seemed to be mobile first and desktop last, so again, this doesn’t seem surprising.

Many people really like Xamarin and there are a number of Xojo developers that have tried it out.  Their opinion of Xamarin isn’t very good:  limited support, expensive, buggy IDE, and slow building of apps are just a few of the major complaints.  In comparison Xojo, they say, is ‘fast and lean’.

This week Microsoft announced that SQL Server, their Windows-only database server will be ported to Linux and be available in 2017.  This seems to be a tacit agreement that their biggest weakness in the server world is Linux.  Linux is extremely popular and since it’s cheaper to deploy than Windows they have to do something to stop the hemorrhaging.  Perhaps they’ll sell a boatload of licenses but it’s tough competing against the free or inexpensive database servers like PostgreSQL.  Again, no where are they talking Macintosh OS X.

This news makes me happy that cross-platform app development is getting some attention.  When the big boys of the world are pumping money into it then there must be something to it.

It also makes me sad since I don’t see Xojo changing their focus.  For many years they have had this hobbyist/part-time developer first mentality.  This has hurt them with professionals looking for a new development tool.  There are many things, I believe, that hurt them in this market.  I’ll list a few here:

  • It’s a BASIC language:  No getting around it.  It’s a modern object oriented language that compiles down to native code, and (mostly) uses native controls doesn’t seem to matter much.  VB6 screwed up many peoples opinions of language for better or worse.  In reality, there are lots of really good VB6 apps out there but many more poor VB6 programmers.
  • The IDE: especially the Code Editor.  It doesn’t let you do bad things and that’s great for beginners.  Usually it’s the first thing people complain about, though.  It’s limiting, and forces you into the Xojo way of doing things.  No other major IDE, that I’m aware of, forces this restriction upon their users.
  • Lack of basic controls:  I’ve been using Xojo for 15 years and have a tool chest of controls and libraries that I use on a daily basis.  But still, the lack of even basic Date/Calendar controls is a turn off for many first-time users.  Add in very poor RTF support, no PDF support, and especially no true grid control and you have a lot of strikes against the tool.  Yes, you can turn to the 3rd party community for some of these (and they are not very expensive) but to not have any of these things hampers adoption.
  • Reporting:  I don’t know of any serious Xojo developer using the built-in reporting tool.  It’s just not robust enough for most peoples needs.  We’ve used several 3rd party tools over the years and in the long run wrote our own (BKS Shorts).
  • Android:  iOS was a big addition to Xojo but without Android it’s not convenient to do a lot of mobile development with Xojo.  To add Android is a huge project and unlike anything they’ve done to date.  I would expect a minimum of eighteen months but probably more like two years of major development work to get it into Xojo even as a beta.  And that’s assuming they announce it.

I use Xojo all day every day and use it for dozens of commercial desktop applications and dozens of Xojo driven web apps.  Xojo is mostly stable and under constant development.  Just in the past year they’ve added iOS and Raspberry Pi development as well as added 64 bit compiling for Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux.  Much of the limitations you can overcome by dipping your toes into the 3rd party market – but that market is tiny in comparison to many other development tools.

So my wish is that Xojo would focus more on business needs.  Identify the features that business owners need and implement them.  Include more basic controls and charge more for advanced controls that not every developer will need.  Get reporting cleaned up.  Make database programming smarter and less error prone.

It is my firm belief that if you get the business users you’ll capture the part-time and hobbyist programmers along the way.  Many of the hobbyist and part-timers only care about one platform and that’s only a $99/year investment.  If you want to do cross-platform desktop that’s only that’s $299/year.  For every desktop license you need three single licenses.

A Pro user like myself needs desktop, web, and console apps for sure.  iOS is a nice add-on but not necessary for us at this point.  The Pro license costs $699/year.  You need seven single licenses to make up for it.  My company has four licenses and we renew every year.  So my business is the equivalent of twenty-eight single license users and while I might grumble at writing a check every year for license updates it’s nothing at what we used to pay for VB6 and 3rd party licenses every year.  At one point it was $2,000 per developer per year.  That’s just the price of doing business.

So tell me, which type of customer should Xojo focus on?  What do you think their biggest weakness is in capturing some of this nascent cross-platform market?