Full Circle

DSC_0323One for the technical folk today, but maybe not without a general morale:

I can’t help wondering how software design for graphical user interfaces came about over the years. Back in the early days, you’d use a text editor to describe the graphical design in a cryptic language (hey, who remembers AES and GEM?).

Then Borland came with a barely audible Poof! and introduced true rapid application development, a click, drag and drop approach that supports the design of graphical user interfaces in a WYSIWYG way. Delphi and C++ Builder were great, I thought. In hindsight, Borland accomplished little: they coined the term RAD (or, at least, they were among the first to have one), and then lost Anders Hejlsberg to Microsoft. Borland has gone out of business (I think), and Embarcadero Software looks after the leftovers.

Then came .NET, Microsoft’s first true RAD tool. Anders Hejlsberg’s design in a different framework, and finally adopted by the mainstream, how nice.

I am now looking at declarative languages. Well, everybody is. It’s quite the hype. Adobe’s Flex with MXML, or Microsoft’s Windows Presentation Framework (WPF with XAML) and Metro. Brilliant. I love both (with an inclination towards WPF and C#).

It’s just so very nice to see that we’re now free to choose a method of describing the graphical design in a cryptic language (hey, but it’s XML! Must be cool!), just like in the good old days.

Something definitely came full circle here.

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A Standing Ovation

2011-01-03 009After a brief excursion into the world of the whacky and hopeless, I return to play with the big boys. I play a lot with Microsoft during paid time, so this is one good reason to look elsewhere in my spare time, and begin learning Adobe Flex 4.6.

Boy. Man. Cheeses. They must have some sense of an uphill struggle against Microsoft, and they must have thought that developers out there need any help they can possibly get to adopt this exciting platform. What an inspired idea! I am flabbergasted. The introductory PDF alone is a mere 2574 well-written pages (free download). There’s a week’s worth of reasonably well-made video training and exercises right here, and tons after tons of good documentation, dictionaries, tutorials, you-name-it, an inexpensive but well made development tool, … I am impressed. Seriously impressed. Just go to the Adobe Developer Connection and find out for yourself.

It’s very hard to beat Microsoft’s .NET platform on any account, but I am amazed to see how far (and close) Adobe has got. In many ways, they are way ahead of .NET (like, in terms of target platform support). Looking at the documentation alone, it comes at no surprise that the fringe, including, but by no means limited to, Runtime Revolution’s LiveCode, stand no chance in real life.

I can see room at the fringes for specialised exotics such as MIT’s Scratch (programming for kids), Processing (2D and 3D animation) and many others, but it’ll take some real innovative punch to break into the market with a new general purpose language such as LiveCode.

I have always thought it is those hopeless souls that need most attention, as they harbour most novel and exciting ideas. It is sad, in a way, that the world of software engineering appears to be governed by a few big players, but as it happens, this is the rightfully earned case.

 

 

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Encyclopedia Onlineica

frostedGlass You gotta love Wikipedia, don't you? Maybe not always. I had a series of bad hits recently; articles that were incomprehensible, plainly wrong, or already marked as being in need for improvement.

I realise the Wikipedia idea is to recognise these issues, log in and fix them. However, I see myself as a pure encyclopedia consumer, so I thought I'd give the two big competitors a try:  Microsoft Encarta and Encyclopedia Britannica. I made a few real and a few test queries, and here's my brief summary:

Wikipedia was most comprehensive and up-to-date with Michael Phelps, but couldn't offer too much with the more obscure queries (Haardt). Zoroastrianism was largely incomprehensible. The interface is superb though. Free of cost, free from advertising, fast, responsive, and easy to use.

Encarta has the most polished interface, but didn't really convince with the content. Not sure if I wanted to rely on a US-centric encyclopedia anyhow. Michael Phelps' article was out of date, the more obscure queries yield no result. The article on Zoroastrianism is pretty good, but nowhere near as comprehensive as Britannica's. Free access is possible but littered with advertisement.

Britannica also has outdated information on Michael Phelps, but convinced both with the obscure queries (Haardt) and their take on Zoroastrianism. Their material is by far the most comprehensive, so much in fact that a "in brief" summary section would be a great addition. Too bad they haven't got the budget for a decent web master; the site sucks in design and usability. Subscription service after trial period.

So, I am not much wiser. I am giving the Britannica a try for one year and see how it goes.

Computer Fun

manukanDetail Most software designed for drawing is made for boring work-style drawings: filled and unfilled circles and rectangles, lines, arrows. And some fanciful variations and combinations thereof. While some of those applications are incredibly useful and part of my daily toolkit (namely Microsoft Visio), none seems tailored to the artist in us.

Well. Some are, and some are so good fun that they deserve a mention here. My favorite artistic painting program must be Ambient Design’s ArtRage 2. Its dead cheap (starter edition for free, and only $25 for the full thing. Gimme break!), and is sooooo much fun playing with. I have honestly never thought it possible that creating visual art on the computer can be so much fun. If you ever wanted to have fun with the computer in a creative visual kind of a way, try ArtRage2.

Take a photo you like. Fire up ArtRage, set the photo as the tracing image, and create a painting. I made a sketch for a real oil paining in that way, and like it so much that all our computers now use the sketch as a desktop background wall paper.

You can download the wallpaper in several typical screen resolutions here. I am now back over at the easel…

 

It’s Just Too Easy!

Desk

I rarely comment on technical subjects in this blog, because I earn my living considering technical issues and inventing problems the world wouldn’t have without me. This blog is for leisure and pleasure.
However, one particular piece of software gives me so much pleasure these days that I shall make an exception: Microsoft OneNote. OneNote is an optional Office 2003 component, designed for taking of notes. Scribble something down, paste an image, add a sketch, move it around, re-arrange, export, import, find later, … it is almost laughably intuitive.

What I like most is the silly little, but noteworthy, detail about the file names. During normal note taking with, say, Microsoft Word, you’d have to chose a file name eventually, and a file location. And you have to save the file, or confirm some "do you want to save this" query when leaving the tool.

OneNote simply takes care of that. After all, it knows better than a human when and how and where to save those notes. You just provide the note content, and none the overhead. Its so remarkably simple yet successful that I shall remember this whenever I get to design user-interfaces again. Excellent!

A good example of user-friendly application design.

Escape from Yesterworld

FlashgordonSuch a shame I have no use of Microsoft’s SQL Server – these guys have done such a brilliant job advertising it.

Ahh. A good start into the day.