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We are just about to complete a new web shop for the construction company Wheeler Stokes at wheelerstokes.co.uk . The new site will feature a Joomla CMS front-end using a very modern corporate template which matches the character of the parent company. The new site will be easily 'moddable' so that on-going development costs are minimised.
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The Sanderson Orrery PDF Print
(2 votes)

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The Sanderson Orrery - This gorgeous brass and steel orrery is the real thing. It is a beautiful object and better than this, it actually works. I build widgets, virtual clocks, thermometers and widgets in software but this chap does it properly, turning metal, casting wheels, grinding and tempering. The end result is this wonderful working steampunk orrery. It is of course in miniature and a gem but I keep thinking to myself - "if only it was real, 1:1 size it would be perfect!". Lets hope the constructor builds one in full scale, might take him 20 or so years.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 18 December 2013 )
 
The Yahoo Widget Gallery is closing, forever PDF Print
(2 votes)

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The Yahoo Widget Gallery is closing, forever. http://widgets.yahoo.com/

yahoo-widgets-logo.pngIf you have any widgets that you think could do with a reskin in the steampunk style then now is your chance to select them, or forever hold your peace... Once the gallery goes offline I will have no access to the widgets.

So, if you feel inclined, have a look at the Yahoo gallery and find any widgets you use or could use that you really think might be better dressed in steampunk style, choose those that others might like to use too, download them and send them to me one way or another and I'll think about skinning them if they might prove popular to others. I have already received one request for an earthquake monitoring widget.

This is your last chance to view the gallery before it goes off line forever.

This does NOT mean that the Yahoo widgets will stop working now or in some time in the near future, it just means that Yahoo cannot afford the new servers to support the gallery and they are diverting development staff to their TV widget engine (they seem to think that we want widgets on TVs rather than TV on our computers... silly chappies).

The Yahoo widgets will work for the foreseeable future, Vista, win 7/8/9+, ReactOS, Mac OS/X.

So, last chance... get downloading, it turns off on the 10th April 2012.

PS. This BBC article shows the reasoning behind the Yahoo gallery closure, it is nothing to do with technology but everything to do with money.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-17614854

Keep an eye on this space, there will be some developments that will be reported here giving you an idea of life after Yahoo widgets.

Last Updated ( Monday, 30 April 2012 )
 
Coconet - The Atari ST comes alive! - Colonial Conquest is back! PDF Print
(4 votes)

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Retro-computing can be fun and it is in the spirit of retro-computing that I bring news to you all of a superb bit of programming from Kroah (Pascal). This French chappie has reverse engineered a number of Atari 8 bit games form the late 80s and has converted them to a high level language (C++) which can then be compiled and run on the PC. So far Kroah has reverse-engineered some twenty-or-so old 8-bit games which run in Windows as if they are native applications. Some of the menu style idiosynchasies inherited from the old style GEM operating system have to be accepted but the games are generally very usable and work well on Windows.

coloniel_conquest.png Kroah has not broken any copyright rules when converting the games because he has converted them from machine code, subroutine by subroutine to the c++ language resulting in entirely new code that performs in exactly the same manner as the original. This method requires a high level of skill and understanding beyond that of most of us mere mortals. I wouldn't even start a job like this, Pascal may be slightly mad but his madness is to our benefit.

Quoting Pascal - "In 2005, i started disassembling the Atari version of Colonial Conquest to understand a strange behaviour during the battle round. To fully shed light on this, i had to write the battle system back to a high level language. Months after months i added new features, making it almost playable and getting closer to the original game. But an important feature was missing: being able to play Colonial Conquest with friends on LAN or over the Internet. So i began refactoring my code to include the network play: CoCoNet was born."

Why would you want to run a game from the late 80s? Well some of them are actually quite good. Colonial Conquest for example, this game was a staple of all strategy gamers. It is a turn-based world domination game set in the time of the great colonial expansions of the 1880s. The main players are all the great world powers of the time. The game is turn-based and up to 6 players can play in a LAN or over the internet. The AI is tough to beat and a game can often be interesting and challenging. Kroah has implemented Colonial Conquest with internet support and enhancements over the original game such as bugfixes to the original logic, the implementation of simultaneous turns, preliminary support for custom ArtificiaI Intelligence and the addition of game and player statistics.

coconet2.jpg Gameplay is as good now as it was in the 80s, when your graphics are limited then you need to come up with good gameplay. This is what makes some retro games playable to this day. When I want to relieve myself of some stress I find that running colonial conquest is a really efficient  relaxation method. The game is an advance on the old game-staple 'Risk' and in the complexity stakes sits somewhere between Risk and Diplomacy. If you play a quiet game subverting neutral countries and avoiding conflicts with your neighbours, you can prevent war breaking out and play a quiet game of building up your defences until you are stabbed in the back by a jealous super-power. You can set out from the start building up a beligerent and bellicose war policy and attack your neighbours as you see fit, though this may mean you leave the game early. The game is fun and if you have never played it before, like turn-based strategy games then you will enjoy colonial conquest. If you haven't tried retro games then this is a good place to start. If like me, you remember staying up late to play CC on your Atari 512ST with your teenage mates then try Kroah's downloads page and grab yourself some nostalgia. The colonial Conquest download is here , the forum is here , the other Atari ST downloads are here .

 

Last Updated ( Monday, 23 April 2012 )
 
New version of the WOTW companion is out PDF Print
(8 votes)

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I've just resurrected an old project of mine and given it  a facelift and new functionality. It is an old VB6 project called the WOTW Companion. Started in VB6 a long time ago when VB6 was still 'OK' to use. It has quite an original front end, quite steampunk and was created that way before the term steampunk was even coined.

WOTW Companion front endThe front end is a simple rectangular form using nothing but standard VB6 functionality, it isn't a.NET program as it is simply a Windows program and has no use for all that unnecessary .NET stuff. As a result it runs quickly and only requires the VB6 runtime engine to run. The program front end is highly original comprising a series of old adverts for Victorian products and then controls which when pressed give out the noises, bells, clanks, clunks and whistles that you'd expect from a steampunk application.

The WOTW Companion provided an upgrade to fix problems with Jeff Wayne's war of the worlds PC RTS game. If the game did not work on XP then the companion fixed it and provided a lot more. It got the game to work on XP in a variety of ways, in full 1024 x 768 screen resolution, windowed or full screen. It also provided new scenarios, autosave functionality, the newer patches for the game, a new and much more comprehensive manual, a better launcher than the original, access to a PS1 emulator so you can play the PS1 shoot-em up version as well as hints, tips and cheats for the game. It provided tools to modify the registry so you could alter key characteristics of the game. Anyone who has played the original Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds PC Game will know it's limitations. This utility was created to resolve those problems. When it first came out the look and feel was very much the standard windows look and feel that windows provides, very dull. VB6 can be skinned at design time and you can create a very nice GUI with compartively little effort as long as you have some skills in Photoshop. There is no excuse for the dull old grey programs of yore, even with VB6 you can turn out something pretty.

So I have fixed all the problems that have been introduced by windows upgrades over the last few years, given the application a whole new steampunk reskin, added new functionality regarding desktop widgets, sounds and made it a fun place to be. I had to decide whether to rewriet it or just give it a once-over with the spray gun. In the end I chose the once-over but of course it turned out to be much more than that.

Here it is running on my desktop, showing you it running the registry tweaker with all the widgets and other stuff that the companion provides.

registry-on-desktop.jpg

 

 

Last Updated ( Friday, 09 March 2012 )
 
Yahoo Widgets Engine Closing down? PDF Print
(1 vote)

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Is it The End of Yahoo! Desktop Widgets? On the Yahoo widget site and on the forum is states that the Yahoo widget gallery and support for the widget engine will be closing down on the day before the 1st april. I don't think it is an April Fool's trick but what does it mean?  It means the gallery where you have been able to upload and download your widgets will be gone, so you will lose the ability to popularise your widgets (mine have been downloading at 1,000 per day) so for me this is a complete pain...

The good news is that the widget engine won't stop working, it will work on Windows XP/Vista/7/8 and probably Windows 9 + and for the forseeable future, we shall see... So, there is no immediate danger of your widgets stopping working. As for support from Yahoo? it has been crypt200.pngnon-existent for years, no changes, no improvements, no sign of the linux version, support was all but non-existent. All it means for now is a loss of the gallery but more importantly the loss in the future of the widget platform as a Rapid Application Development tool. This is a real pity as Yahoo widget engine was probably the best and the easiest of the widget platforms to develop for.

What a pity Yahoo took over the Konfabulator engine as they seem to have killed it stone dead. Yahoo's note on the subject stated that Konfabulator is not dead and it lives on in the Yahoo! Connected TV widget engine for Yahoo TVs. They invite developers to take part in the development of widgets for this new tool.

"The Desktop Widgets website will be shutting down on April 10, 2012. Developer uploads of new Widgets will end on April 3, 2012. Due to this, consumer downloads of new and updated desktop widgets will end on April 3, 2012. Desktop widgets will continue to work for the foreseeable future with a new Consumer Terms of Use: http://info.yahoo.com/legal/us/yahoo/konfa...terms-1821.html

Now the good news. Konfabulator is certainly not dead. Konfabulator is what powers more than 8 million TVs running Yahoo! Connected TV Apps. Yahoo! TV Apps are extremely easy to develop. The TVs run Linux and use a specially modified version of the Yahoo! Widget Engine, a fifth generation application platform derived from the legendary Konfabulator desktop widget platform. We have further extended and simplified widget development by building a JavaScript framework which abstracts most of the complexity from Konfabulator.

How to get started:
1. Get the Yahoo! Connected TV Widget Developer Kit (WDK)
2. Build something awesome!
3. Submit to Yahoo!
4. Your will go live and become available to millions of TVs around the world"

I personally wouldn't touch the Yahoo! Connected TV widget development kit as it makes no logical sense to do so. Yahoo have just shut the multi-platform yahoo widget engine down and that is quite obviously the most massive hint that the yahoo TV engine is also on the way out. No-one in their right mind would shut down such a wealth of development experience if they believed their new platform would succeed. I should think any TV widget developer will be packing their bags and looking for a new platform to work in.

In my opinion Yahoo have totally failed to capitalise on the Konfabulator engine. If they had created a linux version right from the start instead of the closed Yahoo widget version for TVs, if they had then had implemented the same engine on Yahoo widget TVs, kept the marketplace open to all and sundry instead of locking it down, if they had prodiuced the developer kit for windows instead of linux then there would by now have been a wealth of widgets and a thriving community of TV widgeteers to support it. As it is it will be dead within a year or two.

The writing is on the wall and Yahoo just wrote it!

The only good thing for Yahoo to do would be to release the Konfabulator engine code as open source and let the world finish the job properly, the way it should have been done from the outset.

-oOo-

News:

Word is that the Yahoo widget gallery has been closed due to server upgrades and changes. The servers that supported the gallery are due for replacement and there needed to be a business case for the new servers. There wasn't a good one. I suppose that if Yahoo sees there is no cash return from the widget service then there is no reason for Yahoo to continue it.

More News: 

Yahoo has confirmed that they are in fact focussing on the TV Yahoo widget engine and they believe the release of resources from supporting the desktop yahoo widget engine will have a positive effect on their development.

-o0o-

The widget engine itself will continue to be available here:

http://desktopwidgets.zenfs.com/4.5.2x10a50/widgetsus.exe
and the Mac version here: 
http://desktopwidgets.zenfs.com/4.5.2x10a50/yahoo_widgets_4.5.2.dmg
For the moment the Windows SDK is still available here:
http://desktopwidgets.zenfs.com/4.5.2x10a50/ywidgets_sdk_setup.exe 

The reason for downloading and installing the SDK rather than the normal Windows download is that this version of the engine comes with none of the bundled widgets, just the runtime engine by itself.

Should you as a user worry about it? - No not really, Yahoo widgets will continue to work, the engine will be downloadable for the forseeable future, the widgets will work on current and future versions of the Windows operating system and Mac Os/X.

Keep an eye on this space, there will be some developments that will be reported here giving you an idea of life after Yahoo widgets.

 

 

Last Updated ( Monday, 30 April 2012 )
 
Mr. B - Professor Elemental's Arch Enemy? PDF Print
(2 votes)

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Who is this Mr. B? Sounds like a bit of a bally nincompoop to me. Seriously though I think Mr. B has a point, some of those songs he is singing sound significantly better than the originals. 

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 18 December 2013 )
 
Steampunk Orrery, Calendar Yahoo Widget PDF Print
(3 votes)

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My latest widget under construction. It doesn't do much at the moment. It will be my first widget that I intend to make into a web widget too, following Harry Whitfield's recent demonstration to me of converting yahoo widgets to web widgets. Eventually I may use the web widget for controlling time on a web blog and let everyone have it. I have stuck it on the top of the site as I trial the process of converting web widgets into javascript widgets. Harry whitfield has done the work to create the pure html/javascript version of the widget.

It was based upon a superb blog navigation device on Ian Tregillis' site created by Richard Mueller of 3232 design. His superb bit of Adobe Flash was really inspirational and it made me want to complete it (the original only shows 50% of the device and was limited to running only on web-pages within the browser). My version will add functionality and will run on your Mac or Windows desktop. See the original here: [link]

Not quite sure what I will do with it as a Yahoo widget but it could control a calendar, the calendar wheel rotates, the day under the display is the date selected. Then it could show something. The calendar ring rotates by mouse control, the date displays according to ring position. The inner earth and moon will rotate, the moon around the earth. The earth rotating around the central glow, roughly following the track of the window circular frame, they do not actually have to follow the real phases. That is a bit too much for my brain. The inner wheel with lots of bolts performs a counter-rotation as the main calendar ring rotates. The whole widget is resizable. Please let me know what you think of my version of the orrery/calendar. If you like it, then feel free to click on the Facebook like button, top right or leave a comment below.

My fellow widgeteercalendar-large.png, Harry Whitfield has been reviewing the design and has taken the bull by the horns and has already created a partially functioning yahoo widget. Wherease the Yahoo widget runs on the desktop and needs the Yahoo widget engine, the web widget runs in a browse.

The yahoo desktop widget is downloadable now - click here to download it.

As you will see from the front page of this website, we have created the web widget version that actually does something too. Scroll to the top of the page, click on the wood frame just once and you will see that from that point the widget responds to mouse movement when you hover over the calendar ring.

 

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 06 March 2012 )
 
Reactos 0.3.14 an alternative to Windows? PDF Print
(3 votes)

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Reactos is an open source Windows-compatible operating system that allows you to run your windows programs on an o/s that hasn't been built by Microsoft. It has just reached 0.3.14, an alpha release but a workable one, if not quite a usable version just yet.

so, the question is, will Reactos ever be a alternative to Windows? My main requirement is for a stable operating system that runs the programs that I use and that will continue to do run them regardless of o/s upgrades. You can't guarantee that will happen with Microsoft. With each version of Windows, Microsoft introduces changes that will break my software, software that I paid for in good faith. These may be bad examples but I still maintain some programs in QB (using QB64) and VB6, I use Frontpage as my HTML editor, Lotus Organiser for my day-to-day task tracking and Turbo Project for controlling my projects. These work on XP, XP is stable enough for me but If I upgrade to Vista, Windows 7 +, one or more of these programs will break for sure.

Someguy told me - "A large part of the blame can be placed with application developers that fail to use APIs or the environment in the standard documented manner in which they were intended to be used." - OK , so I can't blame MS for everything but still, if the result is my programs won't run then I won't upgrade...

Also, I skin my desktop specifically to my own specific requirements and the last thing I need is a completely new UI on each version of the o/s. As far as I am concerned the o/s should be skinnable to suit your own needs and you should never have a new interface imposed upon you. The following video shows my desktop, it has nothing to do with the Windows UI.

Because I can't expect Microsoft to maintain my working environment I can't depend upon their products any more. I try not to use any MS product because of this, their built-in obsolescence is something I cannot accept. Those MS products that I do use, listed above, I am very familiar with and can produce results in a very short time. It annoys me deeply when MS tells me I can't use them anymore and I have to learn to use something more 'modern'. The word 'modern' here should mean 'better' but few of MS changes are actually improvements, they are normally there to generate more revenue. The Vista UAC, XP's Windows genuine advantage, the dumping of VB6 are other reasons why I am turning away from MS products whenever I can. I have now paired my use of MS products down to the base o/s, VB6 and Frontpage, all the other software is open-source.

I do really like those MS products I still use, I just don't like an organisation that arbitrarily makes decisions on my behalf and causes me to change my way of doing things, selfish I may be but a lot of people think like that, we don't like being in the grasp of Microsoft and would love an alternative, just in case... that is why Reactos is so interesting.

When a stable version of Reactos comes and I can free myself of the Microsoft shackles, I will be far more confident that my working environment is maintainable for the future.

-oOo-

For my purposes I want to know that all my applications work on Reactos, so far I have been unable to test them all as I can't get the o/s working on my HP Pavilion laptop.  As well as the above I need to test that the Yahoo widget engine works on Reactos. 

I have tried to use ftp to get the Yahoo Widget Engine setup program into my virtual installation of Reactos using QEMU but ftp just won't transfer, it connects to my filezilla server but drops the connection when I try to 'get' the file. As I cannot install Reactos on my spare HP Pavilion laptop the QEMU installation is the option available to me. I need to push a file onto QEMU or if there was a version of Reactos with the yahoo widget SDK already loaded that would be really fine... I have asked the chaps at Reactos whether they can please add the yahoo widget engine to the list of applications in the Reactos Application Manager, we shall have to wait and see if they'll be so kind...

Specifically I want to see if the Yahoo widget engine runs on Reactos and then test all of my widgets, one of which is this widget here:

http://widgets.yahoo.com/widgets/steampunk-weather-gauge


I'd like to report back to the widget crowd that the yahoo widget engine works on another operating system. They'd be impressed if it worked but at the moment it doesn't, not quite. What did do to test? I used the VMware disk mount utility to open the VMDK disc image file and pushed the yahoo sdk install exe into the TEMP folder. I booted Reactos and ran the install and it went through the install process but right at the end failed, unfortunately with no useful message, just a generic error. A great pity as I was very keen to state it worked to the widget community, better luck in Reactos 0.4!

Donations:

The ReactOS Project has engaged in several fundraising efforts in the past, and thanks to their success and non-monetary donations, an industry-grade infrastructure was developed and deployed, and is being continuously improved.

Donations have also helped developers travel to several conferences and events to promote and present ReactOS. These presentations were crucial in drawing attention to the project and often helped spur further donations.

This year we want to do something different, something even grander. ReactOS is quite close to transitioning to beta testing and we are constantly improving the development process itself. However for many core developers ReactOS remains a hobby in which they participate in their spare time as all have other real life obligations to meet. All of the developers are extremely skilled and every contribution they make helps significantly improve ReactOS' quality.

For the first time ever, the ReactOS Foundation seeks to go beyond the usual small fundraising campaigns aimed at paying infrastructure expenses. We wish to raise money to formally hire as many core developers as possible, to work on the project they believe in, the project they've been working on, to transform a hobby into a job so they can dedicate all of their time to the ReactOS project.

In light of the significant advances the project enjoyed thanks to work done as part of Google's Summer of Code 2011, it became even more obvious that the fastest way to accelerate the development of ReactOS is by directly funding developers to contribute to ReactOS. As such, the project is reaching out to our many fans and believers to help make this happen. Together, we can make ReactOS into a true competitor and alternative for computer users worldwide.

reactos_logo.png

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 18 December 2013 )
 
Still looking for a replacement for VB6? PDF Print
(14 votes)

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I have been using VB6 for donkeys years now. It has a relatively stable IDE and VB6 BASIC always produces a good result in a very quick time. For generating applications quickly there is little to compare with it. As a learning platform it is also very good indeed, having an effective and fully featured IDE whilst not being too complicated in any respect. It is one of the few mainstream BASIC packages for Windows that you can rely on - as there is nothing comparable that will definitely still be in existence in five years time... So many competing BASIC flavours have disappeared in the last few years. VB6 still works and importantly, it has a great wealth of resource behind it, lots of solutions on the net and vast amounts of sample code to do more or less anything you would like.

tabulator-200.pngVB6 is also BASIC in a way that Visualbasic .NET just isn't. The VB.NET language is impenetrable and off-putting to the beginner in a way that VB6 never was. Before we start discussing VB6 alternatives in depth let me tell you who I am with regard to the BASIC language - I am not a beginner in VB, I started on GWBASIC and worked my way through Qbasic 4.5 (I still love it and now there is a new QB64 version too that runs on Linux, Macs and Windows!), I then progressed onto VB for DOS and then Visualbasic 6. Previously I had scripted using the Digital Command Language on VMS, I now script in Javascript and PHP. You can see from this potted history that I am not a 'pure' programmer but rather a D-I-Y'er that has used VB6 as it really was the best route for getting a job done.

Being a VB6-er I am very at home in the VB6 IDE and the language is pretty much what I had come to expect from a BASIC language variant right from the start. In comparison, the VB.NET variant of BASIC feels a very unfriendly place for a VB6-er to be. The VB.NET changes are just too extreme, the IDE is familiar but different and the language has undergone bloating and complication that has made it BASIC-like but definitely not BASIC, more like C. My immediate conclusion of the experience of using VB.NET for the first time was that if I had wanted to learn a language that was C-like then I should have specifically gone for the .NET version of C and not VB.NET. This leads me to think that Microsoft missed the point of Visualbasic, I think that some snobby lead developer at Microsoft decided that VB6's days were numbered and that it was time VB grew up and away from BASIC altogether. There has always been programmer snobbery over the use of BASIC and I guess that this had some sort of role to play in the dismembering of VB6. Of course, I know that VB6 is COM-based and as a result its days were numbered. We have to accept it was due for a major revamp of its technological underpinnings to allow it to compete with more advanced languages. Some remedial work to fix shortcomings in the language had to be expected.

Trying to be charitable, with regard to the .NET syntax changes, it probably saved the design and development team a lot of time using the existing .NET framework and I suppose the syntactic standardisation seemed a sensible thing to do in itself, keeping all Microsoft's language offerings within some sort of standard.

I am guessing that this is the route that took us to where we are today with VB.NET:

o   different IDE,
o   different COM integration,
o   different syntax,
o   different semantics,
o   different compiler,
o   different debugger,
o   different runtime,
o   different forms engine,
o   different binaries. 

So, the end result though is not really VB6 anymore and so VB.NET is a tool that isn't worth using by the majority of people who would - and could have easily picked up VB6 and developed with it. A better approach would have been a more gentle introduction of .NET syntax and the whole .NET approach with the same old look and feel of the old VB6 IDE- giving VB6 enhanced functionality without alienating users too much...

The VB6 language has been derided by some professional programmers and while we canm accept their criticisms there is no denying the VB6 IDE really was first class. The VB.NET IDE is similar to the VB6 IDE but due to certain major differences you do not feel "at home", one of which is the overall speed of the IDE. The VB.NET IDE seems very slow to load, react and run. A lot of work has gone into updating the look and feel, adding tabs &c but it leaves the .NET IDE feeling more cluttered than the VB6 IDE. The .NET IDE leaves you feeling annoyed by the corporate blue slime that the new IDE sports. I'd like as little of Microsoft's current branding as I can get, no popup feely, touchy wizards please, just a clear and concise grey and white IDE. The .NET IDE also changes the familiar locations for tool, options and configuration all of which slow the transition of the VB6-er from VB6 to .NET. The following image shows the fairly familiar VB6 IDE layout retained by VB the Express IDE (a subset of the VB.NET IDE)  with my project undergoing the initial translation.

vb-express-ide.jpg

What would have kept all those VB6 programmers loyally on-side? - a friendly IDE and backwards syntactic compatibility in a more compatible VB7, with users understanding the need to upgrade. As it is, lots of us were left by the roadside, many of the aspiring 'real' programmers jumped ship and made the leap successfully to VB.NET, some saw the future and moved entirely onto 'proper' languages such as C and its derivatives, some moved to Java whilst others carried on using VB6 whilst in parallel trying to get to grips with VB.NET. Some, like me, recognising my own deficiencies in VB.NET and not wanting to learn another language from scratch just stopped coding in BASIC altogether. Was that Microsoft's intention?

Reading everywhere that VB6 was dead, I stopped developing in VB6 and transferred my limited scripting skills to javascript and PHP, changing direction away from BASIC altogether. Now I do very little coding in compile-able 3GLs. I discovered that javascript is very similar to basic and I simply transferred such skills that I have to Javascript. My programming style is still very much VB6 orientated but it seems to work in javascript. The main problem is the lack of a similarly productive IDE and runtime environment so that you can code and test your work "on the fly". I managed to become productive again using Photoshop as the forms generator in association with a photoshop script that generated yahoo widgets automatically. With the Yahoo widget runtime engine (Y!WE)  javascript and the context editor for windows I was able to create applications for both Macs and Windows using the same javascript code. This was until Yahoo pulled the support plug for the widget engine (due to cashflow problems caused by Yahoo's failure in the search-engine marketplace). The Yahoo widget engine still works of course and will do so for the forseeable future but for the purposes of this analysis it is another development dead-end and we are looking to the future for a usable alternative.

Having previously given up VB6, I had call to pick up an old basic project that I had promised to upgrade/complete a long while ago. It was written in VB6 and hasn't been touched for years. I decided to bring it into the nineteenth century (it is a steampunk app.) which meant reskinning. However, I needed to determine the new coding environment, VB.NET, Realbasic, KBasic, Freebasic, Y!WE, which to choose?

I checked these products out a while back when VB.NET came out, looking for an alternative but times have changed and some of the competing Basic offerings are now dead or dying. Some of them have moved on and are considered usable alternatives. It was time to re-try the offerings that are still available and see if they are any more usable than they were first time around.

First of all, I downloaded the free but limited version of VB Express that Microsoft provide (good for them!), I retried the VB6 to .NET converter and it just tells me that loads of my VB6 code that did this (and that) is now completely incompatible with .NET. Bearing in mind that in order to to perform this upgrade I have to learn .NET, largely from scratch and then convert hundreds of lines of incompatible code I soon realise I just can't be bothered, not for a few bug-fixes and a reskin. It could take ten times longer to learn the new language and the new IDE than it would to complete in VB6. I've started the .NET conversion job just to see how steep the uphill climb would be and I can see from the work I have done that it is pointless to continue. I've learnt enough to know that VB.NET is not for me, being cumbersome and not suitable for RAD (Rapid Application Development). In addition, you have to have the following items installed before you can even think about installing or running your own VB.NET application:

o   The latest Windows Service Pack (34 - 150 MB)
o   Microsoft Installer (1.7MB)
o   Internet Explorer (9 - 30 MB)
o   Microsoft Data Access Components 2.7 (5 MB)
o   .NET Framework (50 MB+).

Imagine having to install all that lot along with your little program on every single PC that is going to run it. Frankly it is non-starter. On the positive side though VB.NET does have the Express version which is free. However, it needs to be free to get anyone interested, there is no way I would spend the £1,000 or so required for the professional version nor the £100 for the personal version for this one project.

On top of this I have to add that I am now always a little suspicious of MS offerings in that Microsoft always builds-in obsolescence to all their products. We've seen this with VB6, Windows gadgets and now .NET which is mooted as having a finite shelf-life due to the adoption of METRO in favour of .NET. That must be very frustrating for all those .NET programmers and another reason for us VB6-ers to avoid .NET. The replacment is dead!.

Alternative to VB6 - RealBasic - RealBasic was renamed to RealStudio and over the intervening years it has had a significant change allowing it to create web app.s as well as native o/s executables. The ability to compile for Mac/Linux/Windows and the web is very attractive indeed. The only trouble is that the professional version is required to do all the bells and whistles and it costs close enough to £250.

realstudio-editor.jpg

The Realstudio IDE is not based on that from VB6 and so might take a bit of getting used to. However, Realstudio may be one of the best bets as it has an active development team, active forums, many users and a good product, though the high cost of entry is quite off-putting. They do have a personal version that creates native binaries but only for the o/s you have purchased and installed upon. This slightly defeats the point of a multi-platform language and it is still £70 which is quite a lot of cash for a product you may not actually like. Bear in mind that once you have upgraded to the professional version and have shelled out a further £250 there is still the web version to upgrade to at well over £450!. There is a trial version though which is well worth giving a go, it seems to provide all the functionality of the professional/web versions but in a time limited release. The conversion from VB6 to RealBasic will still require time and effort as the two languages and IDEs are not the same. Test it well before you go too deep as you may be in for a lot of future expense. During my testing I found that it was not easy to reskin a RealBasic app. The controls do not readily take an image nor does the form background. As my main skill is skinnning then this means that RealBasic is not for me.

Update on REALStudio - XOJO

RealStudio/Xojo has had its fair share of name changes since its first incarnation as Crossbasic, RealBasic and then RealStudio. It has now undergone another name change along with a new IDE and support model. It has also had a few changes to the licensing model. It is now named XOJO, a good catchy name. What else has changed? Well, if you bought RealBasic or RealStudio thinking it was the future for VB/VB6 development then you will probably be kicking yourself. The previously stated high costs for RealStudio have just jumped by 20-30% and the full licence cost is now a whopping 800 Euros - you can do the conversion calculations to £/$ yourselves, the result in either currency may have you reeling.

The basic desktop version is still approx. 250 euros but to deploy to anything other than than the desktop requires another 250 euro upgrade for each additional component. The worst thing about the new licence and why it is now so expensive, is that the licence lasts for just two years at which point you'll need to renew the licence - and pay again every year of course. The 80 euro personal version has also disappeared from the shopping cart.

The main changes to Xojo are the IDE, improved web and gesture recognition support for IOS devices such as the iphone/ipad as well as full documentation. The new IDE means change and hopefully improvement (I haven't tested it) but some like Xojo because of the language familiarity to VB6 and as a result they may tend to be people that don't like change in general. They may not want the newer look nor the IDE's reported decrease in responsiveness. Oh well, all change!

What's behind these renaming, relicensing changes? It seems that RealStudio is going upstream as a corporate replacement for VB, now that Microsoft seems intent on alienating all its developer base. It is firmly repositioning itself as a professional development environment for cross platform delivery (still no news yet re: Android as a target platform)

Xojo is still just as powerful and desirable in all its cross platform capabilities and cannot be discounted as a major force in the future for VB-style development, it just isn't for the likes of me -  purely due to the initial and ongoing licence cost. If I had previously chosen RealStudio as my future development route I'd be pretty annoyed by the licensing changes and increased costs entailed. I'm glad I didn't.

Alternative to VB6 - Jabaco

There is another very interesting project which I had hoped would get off the ground. It was a project called Jabaco . It is an IDE which is based upon the VB6 IDE and is very familar ground for a VB6-er, the language syntax is 95% VB6 and the code looks like VB6 to me. The rather amazing thing about the code Jabaco produces is that it is java bytecode which means it runs on any operating system with the java run-time engine installed. With Jabaco your VB6 knowledge is retained, the code is multi-platform, the IDE is familar and there is a nice VB6-compatible tool that beginners can pick up and run with. Sounds great, if only the project transits from beta to live.

If it was not a beta version I would have had my future path laid out in front of me. However, after a long gestation period it is still in beta and seems to have gone rather quiet over the last two years or more. There was a rumour that it was due to be released in the first quarter of 2012 but that date has come and gone and after watching the forums closely for a year or two now now I personally think the project is absolutely dead in the water.

Jabaco IDE pictured below, its VB6-like IDE is apparent here. It is slick and useful.

jabaco-ide.jpg

If it is ever released then I suggest it would be the development path of choice for VB6-ers like myself, that friendly Jabaco IDE is a draw in itself. If the project was live and not beta I would have to buy it even if it cost a few pounds. You can find Jabaco here, try it for fun and see, it is really rather good but I personally wouldn't start coding with it in real life as I suspect you'll be up another dead end.

Alternative to VB6 - FreeBasic

There is another multi-platform tool called Freebasic, up until recently it lacked its own IDE (it now has two open source IDEs still under development) and is very similar to QB45/QB64 in that it derives its syntax from Quickbasic but adds more modern functions to QB. It is a completely free offering but does not yet quite fit my needs. At the very minimum I need a good stable VB6-flavoured IDE and VB6 syntax. Although the IDE I tested (FBedit) is very good (as can be seen from the image below) the integration with the basic code is not quite as complete as that of the fully-integrated VB6 IDE. For example, double-clicking on a control in the IDE form generator requires you to supply and type in the name of the procedure to link the button dblclick event to, a little bit cumbersome for me.One issue is that updates for FreeBasic are few and far between which often leads you to suspect that the project has stalled or is slowly dying. Developmet i staking place on the IDEs though which is a positive.

Due to the fact that some crucial features of VB6 are missing, such as the ability to skin a form or button control, for my needs it it cannot yet be considered as the route for a VB6 conversion, although for other projects it appears to be a very useful tool. The image that follows shows the impressive IDE for Freebasic, FBedit in dialog generator mode. Not quite as slick as that for VB6 but familiar, friendly and useful nonetheless.

freebasicide.jpg

Where does this leave me? Up the same gum tree as I was when I dropped VB6. Jabaco is not ready, Gambas is a nice BASIC environment but for Linux only so I'm not even going to review it here.

Alternative to VB6 - Kbasic

Checking around again I see that Kbasic is still with us, though the IDE was considered painful by those that previously commented on it, it is also a commercial project and costs money for the windows version. There is a free Linux version but you need to get your Linux environment sorted first...then install, trial it, &c &c. For windows users like myself this is really a non starter. I could try Kbasic but reading around t'net something told me that KBasic is sufficiently not VB6 and I really couldn't be sure how long it was going to be around given that their site was very quiet. I don't see people deserting VB6 in droves for KBasic. Also, on my install of Linux Mint, KBasic's IDE crashes my process and logs me out whenever I try to create a new project. That doesn't bode well but I can also report that it runs fine on Windows. Here is a screenshot of the IDE in Windows.

kbasic-ide.jpg

 

Alternative to VB6 - Q7BASIC - is a new BASIC variant product that has only just reached version 1.0 after a log period of gestation. It is heavily based upon a previous product, KBASIC, where the designer was one of the lead developers. It has features of both VB.NET and VB6. It uses the very professional open source QT framework and the QT Designer/IDE which when combined with Q7BASIC allows you to create C++ native applications for Symbian phones and Nokia N9 smartphones in addition to the main desktop platforms, Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. It compiles Visual BASIC to very fast C++ executables, and requires none of the massive framework that .NET requires. You can use all the QT API calls that have no equivalent in Basic and you can also use native C++ classes.

qt-designer-v4.2.1.jpg

Drawbacks? Well, there is one. Q7BASIC does not yet have its own native IDE. At the moment Q7BASIC uses the QT IDE and QT designer (pictured above) as the front-end IDE and forms generator whilst its own native IDE is developed. The QT tools are very good indeed having been designed for developers using the QT framework. However professional and slick the IDE appears to be, it is not tightly integrated into Q7BASIC the way that the VB6 IDE is to the VB6 code. We had been informed bythe developer that he was creating a new IDE based upon the KBASIC IDE. The image of the older KBASIC IDE is an indication of what it might have been like. Word has recently reached me that the developer has abandoned the new IDE for the moment as he has run into some serious technical problems.  Q7BASIC  can be found here. The Qt Designer is a good IDE though that willdo the job at a pinch.

The most important thing about Q7basic is that it targets multiple platforms with one code base. I am keeping a close eye on this one. If the IDE turns out to be VB6-like and I can be productive in it then it seems like the natural choice for a VB6-er like myself. The other good point to Q7BASIC is that it seems to be 'progressing' unlike some other offerings that have stalled in their development (Jabaco/FreeBasic). It is good to part of a community that is growing, is actively developing the product and is making actual headway.

Alternative to VB6 - XWIDGET - There is another left-field solution that could possibly fill the gap, it is Xwidget(s). Xwidget(s) is a fully live (as in non-beta) offering for creating widgets on Windows XP/Vista/7 & 8. Why is it a solution for Vb6-ers looking for a xwidget-title.pngreplacement? Well, Xwidgets is not just a widget engine, it is also a fully fledged and advanced IDE supporting javascript and vbscript. So if you are a Vbscripter then your skills are enhanced by a fully graphical IDE which is designed for the job. Xwidget(s) was written in Pascal and is a non-.NET application. This means that Xwidgets is a compact and fast running application. I am a widget developer writing mini-apps in javascript as well as a VB6-er, so it makes good sense to port my skills to this new IDE/engine.

Previously, I had promised that I would give it a go and let you know the results of my labour, well here is the result of my investigation:

-oOo-

If the application is a heavyweight app then continue your search for a VB6 replacement language and look elsewhere as Xwidgets may not be for you. If your application is lightweight-ish I can only recommend using your VB6 skills to code for a javascript runtime engine. A dood thing about javascript is that it is extremely portable and upgradeable. I seem to have gravitated towards using javascript runtime engines such as the Yahoo Widget Engine, the Xwidget engine and QML/javascript on Linux. The main reasons being portability and suitability for Rapid Application Development. If the particular engine you have chosen should ever become obsolete, you simply port your javascript code to another engine. Similar javascript engines are appearing on different platforms and should continue to do so as one or other platform gains popularity.

I let the engine do the graphics handling and the system level API calls and the rest of the coding is done in straight-forward javascript. My code is SO similar to my old VB code style that it seems a very familiar place to be. Javascript is a full OO language and is also an up-to-date place to be.

The Xwidget engine is such an engine, it uses javascript or vb6 syntax so VB6-ers will be familiar with the code syntax. There is a built-in IDE but bear in mind that it is not in any way the equal of the old VB6 IDE. Lower your expectations and you will not be disappointed.
xwidget-ide-fr01.png
  Fig 9.0 The widget IDE in full screen mode


The Xwidget engine is relatively mature and appears to be working well. The development environment is however quite immature but it works and will no doubt improve. The following image shows the IDE complete with graphical widget in the GUI designer, that has a code window, some syntactic checking and xwidget 'cores' that provide interfaces to system calls and other functionality for weather, time &c.

My apps tend to be based upon high resolution images that provide a specific UI/UX. That is why the widget approach works for me. I design an UI/UX in a day to a week and when done - at the touch of a button I can build a working app. No working code behind it of course but it is satisfying when a design converts in an instant to a program that actually runs. I use Photoshop as the basis for this which is a superb Graphics IDE. The way I do it as follows:

Due to the immaturity of the Xwidget IDE I choose to design the application using Photoshop giving each object on the design its own photoshop layer, then I use readily available scripts to convert the design to XML with each layer becoming a separate image described within the XML. The result is a working widget that actually runs on the desktop giving the look/feel of the final app. It will have a  preferences screen and be moveable.

This is all done in the old Yahoo widget engine (hold on before you pass judgement). The above process is almost RAD resulting in minimal XML code, no javascript yet - but a working program.

Then I add the javascript 'flesh'. First, I add all my standard code with 'include' statements using the code editor of my choice. Then I start adding any new javascript functionality I am intent on developing. I use the Yahoo javascript engine to test and debug the program as I go. Re-running the program can be done at the drop of a hat and is quick to load/start/debug. Important not to be waiting all the time while the IDE debugs your code - like the slow .NET IDE.

yahoo-widgets-logo.pngWhy use the yahoo widget engine even when Yahoo have abandoned it? Well, it works, is more elegant and the scripts exist to help develop image-rich apps. It also creates widgets that work on Macs... Next question is why use another engine when I am developing for Xwidgets? The Xwidget engine IDE is simply not yet fit for purpose when you compare it with an IDE such as that for VB6. For example the code text size is 12 point and cannot be changed, it means you cannot view your code without maximising the Xwidget IDE window. The syntactic checking is sometimes less than useful. Like the proverbial curate's egg, the IDE is good in parts - but immature. The development team numbering only 2-3 developers in total have other priorities such as porting the Xwidget runtime engine to Android. They are simply working on the stuff that interests them.

xwidgets-designer.jpg
  Fig 10.0 The widget IDE in windowed mode

So instead of using the Xwidget IDE I choose to use photoshop for design, a script to convert the design, the old 'Context' editor for code editing the XML and javascript, the yahoo widget engine for testing and debugging, only then do I port to other engines.

When the first RAD widget is complete, I port the code to the Xwidget engine (which uses pretty much the same javascript syntax). The Xwidget has javascript which is very compatible to the Yahoo widget engine with only a few minor changes. Any calls to system  calls will need to be modified but the first YWE/Xwidget conversion soon teaches you the differences. Note: the documentation for xwidgets is patchy and insufficient but there is an active forum where questions can be answered.

When the Xwidget is complete you have a program that runs on Windows XP, Vista (hic), Windows 7 and 8 (hic). It will also display on Android though most of the functionality will be missing as only a minimal amount of system calls have been replicated, also your widget will have been designed for mouse operation and not gesture-style actions such as those that are commonly found on Android applications. Expect more functionality here in the near future. At the end you will also have a widget that works on Windows and Mac OS/X using the Yahoo widget engine, so you are almost a multi-platform developer with one set of core code!

volume.png

The above is an Xwidget that I have created from one of my Yahoo widgets. I used the process as set out above. If you go to my steampunk widgets page you can view the widgets that have been created for various other engines. There is quite a bit of code behind most of them. The UI/UX is always unique but ignore my designs, think of your own UI design being the thing that sets your app. apart from everyone else's. This is why I now design widget apps rather than more serious apps using a 'proper' IDE and a grown-up language such as c# or VB.NET.  These days the look and feel must be unique and widget apps lend themselves to graphical interfaces in a way that more traditional programming languages do not. Javascript is a full object based programming language and you can use any IDE/editor you wish. It is a grown-up language. Widget development is the way to go, though many have not yet realised it.
 

ADDENDUM: 


Alternative to VB6 - REACTOS - Why ReactOS? Reactos is an operating system and not a replacement for VB6 - So how does a new operating system help us in any way whatsoever in a search for a VB6 replacement? Actually, it doesn't help much now but it might well do in the future. ReactOS intends to be an open source, binary compatible version of windows NT. If ReactOS ever reaches a live state (it is still in alpha but is being actively developed) then it could be a stable platform for VB6 for the next 5-10 years without worrying about the vagaries of Microsoft's future corporate policies. At the moment getting VB6 working on ReactOS is right at the bottom of the developer team's priorities. The Reactos developers are an interesting bunch, not always as communicative and as open to suggestions as you'd like but their priorities are different to yours - to get the o/s out of alpha and into beta. Don't expect VB6 to work on ReactOS any time soon but when it does it may well the o/s platform of choice.

Alternative to VB6 - PowerBASIC - This product seems to the basic of choice for many serious developers. I have no experience of it yet as it is a commercial product and the owner of the product was not prepared to let me have a copy of the product for evaluation...
Hearsay is that it runs very fast indeed and is a very stable product. PowerBASIC has a simple IDE which is basically just a source code text editor with syntax highlighting. VB6 users will expect more than this and although there is a graphically based forms designer available as a separate product the two don't quite match the quality of the VB6 native IDE. I think this might put off a lot of VB6-ers who are looking to move onto a product that will allow them to maintain the same level of productivity. The website is very old fashioned and out-of-date in style and expected content, giving it the impression of an older possibly obsolete product. The owner needs to move his site into the 21st century and make thhis version of Basic available for evaluation purposes. Otherwise why would anyone want to buy it without knowing how good it is.

Alternative to VB6 - PureBasic - More on this soon.

Alternative to VB6 - Liberty BASIC - More on this soon. 3rd party IDE pictured below:

liberty-ide2.png

Conclusion:

So, what did I do instead of the above? I picked up the VB6 IDE and even though I haven't used it in years I was productive in just 30 minutes. The IDE is familiar, well-laid out and VB6 just provides. I have been very critical of Microsoft's products over the years (Internet Explorer, Word, Frontpage) but here is a Microsoft product that I really like. How daft were they to abandon it? Microsoft would say that they didn't abandon it but merely improved it. That's not strictly true, VB.NET is acknowledged by all as a new language and even Microsoft states there is no upgrade path from VB6.

vb6-ide2.jpg

So, having picked up the VB6 IDE, pictured above, what did I do? It may sound daft but I have decided to upgrade my old project in VB6, the IDE feels warm and friendly, it is quick to debug, compile in, the results are good and I am coding again. VB6 is great, I can't see what all the fuss is about. Here it is, in all its glory, skinnable, fully functional, quick and easy to use.

vb6-ide.jpg

 Here is a resized screenshot of the finished program showing just what VB6 can produce with a little help from photoshop.

companion1.jpg

One of the reasons I wrote this article is to document my search for the right platform, I've updated the article as my search has proceeded. Whilst writing it a lot has changed, one thing that has is Microsoft's commitment to VB6, it seems to have been confirmed that VB6 will continue to work under windows 7 and now Windows 8. The IDE may have a few issues but VB6 programs will continue to work and the runtime will continue to be shipped with Windows 8. Here is the link to Microsoft's statement on the matter:

Addendum:

Do you know I am quite astonished by the "head of steam" that seems to have been generated recently behind vb6 and by its loyal users. It seems that people (even windows users) are realising that the "Microsoft way" is not the only way and that there are actually other ways of doing things. I've been keeping my eyes open for a long while now and the "driving wind" behind alternatives is greater than it has ever been. Microsoft doesn't seem to be aware of it or perhaps it is blind to the outside world. Reversion to VB6 as a potential development platform for the future is one thing that I see emerging from Microsoft's Windows 8 car crash.

I reckon that if there is a chance for a VB6 alternative and a compatible and familiar IDE, then the time for it is has arrived or is arriving. There seems to be a lot of disillusionment from users with Microsoft's new NT6 GUI and also from Developers across the board regardless of which Microsoft technology they are familiar with. People are still loathe to drop the Windows environment they are familiar and productive with - but no longer expect Microsoft to provide it. 

 

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 02 April 2014 )
 
Unity has caused me to abandon Ubuntu for Linux Mint PDF Print
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Following on from my previous post saying Linux is a decent operating system .

Well I have been using Ubuntu 10.10  for a while now and it has proven to be stable and usable. However, since my last post the Ubuntu developers at Canonical have decided to dump the Gnome interface and adopt their own proprietary interface, Unity. Unity is an attempt to bring ipad style functionality to the desktop with big tile icons to help you navigate your desktop.  The trouble is that during the auto-update to Ubuntu 11 it didn't ask me if I wanted to reetain Gnome as my default interface and it just replaced it with Unity. Now, Unity may be a good handheld-style interface but it is a terrible interface for a desktop. I just can't find any of the system configuration options that were previously available. Almost everything is so hard to find and stuff is hidden beneath seven or eight large blocky tiles, badly designed and somewhat similar to an 80s console interace... It just had to go.

altoids.pngSo I tried to change it back to Gnome but Unity would not let me set the desktop back again. I tried and tried again. I am not a Linux techie but an experienced Windows developer with considerable understanding of operating systems, (Windows/VMS). I still could not get it to do anything I wanted. It wouldn't work for me except at 'tele-tubbie' level. None of the usual sysadmin functions were available to me and no useful advice gleaned from the various forums had any effect.

I considered downgrading to Ubuntu 10 which had been eminently usable with a 'proper' desktop interface. I could see no point in doing this though if Ubuntu was just going to be auto-upgraded to 11 in a day or two. I am not a linux sysadmin and I did not fancy holding my system back against the upgrade tide... Part of the reason for choosing Ubuntu was the fact that it is supported. A bit of searching on t'net and it shows that Linux Mint has just overtaken Ubuntu as the Linux distribution of choice. That is probably because Linux Mint does not have Unity. So, Ubuntu is abandonware as far as I am concerned. Ubuntu will end up being abandonware unless Unity is dumped as the default interface. So I am installing Linux Mint on my other laptop as I write this and I currently do not know whether this is going to be the end of my Linux experience or just the beginning.

Update: Linux mint is installed and running on my HP Pavilion zt3000, slightly less stable than Ubuntu (two hangs during installation/configuration of apps, some apps don't install at all, Amarok being one of them) but since then no problems. So far it seems quick and usable.

 

Last Updated ( Sunday, 12 February 2012 )
 
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