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30% discount on all RemObjects products!

July 8, 2019 Leave a comment

This is brilliant. RemObjects is giving a whopping 30% discount on all products!

This means you can now pick up RemObjects Remoting Framework, Data Abstract, Hydra or the Elements compiler toolchain – with a massive 30% saving!

These are battle-hardened, enterprise level solutions that have been polished over years and they are in constant development. Each solution integrates seamlessly into Embarcadero Delphi and provides a smooth path to delivering quality products in days rather than weeks.

But you better hurry because it’s only valid for one week (!)

Use the coupon code: “DelphiDeveloper”

66825092_10156336639680906_8015817715019153408_o

Use the Delphi Developer coupon to get 30% discount – click here

 

Calling node.js from Delphi

July 6, 2019 Leave a comment

We got a good question about how to start a node.js program from Delphi on our Facebook group today (third one in a week?). When you have been coding for years you often forget that things like this might not be immediately obvious. Hopefully I can shed some light on the options in this post.

Node or chrome?

nodeJust to be clear: node.js has nothing to do with chrome or chromium embedded. Chrome is a web-browser, a completely visual environment and ecosystem.

Node.js is the complete opposite. It is purely a shell based environment, meaning that it’s designed to run services and servers, with emphasis on the latter.

The only thing node.js and chrome have in common, is that they both use the V8 JavaScript runtime engine to load, JIT compile and execute scripts at high speed. Beyond that, they are utterly alien to each other.

Can node.js be embedded into a Delphi program?

Technically there is nothing stopping a C/C++ developer from compiling the node.js core system as C++ builder compatible .obj files; files that can then be linked into a Delphi application through references. But this also requires a bit of scaffolding, like adding support for malloc_, free_ and a few other procedures – so that your .obj files uses the same memory manager as your Delphi code. But until someone does just that and publish it, im afraid you are stuck with two options:

  • Use a library called Toby, that keeps node.js in a single DLL file. This is the most practical way if you insist on hosting your own version of node.js
  • Add node.js as a prerequisite and give users the option to locate the node.exe in your application’s preferences. This is the way I would go, because you really don’t want to force users to stick with your potentially outdated or buggy build.

So yes, you can use toby and just add the toby dll file to your program folder, but I have to strongly advice against that. There is no point setting yourself up for maintaining a whole separate programming language, just because you want JavaScript support.

“How many in your company can write high quality WebAssembly modules?”

If all you want to do is support JavaScript in your application, then I would much rather install Besen into Delphi. Besen is a JavaScript runtime engine written in Freepascal. It is fully compatible with Delphi, and follows the ECMA standard to the letter. So it is extremely compatible, fast and easy to use.

Like all Delphi components Besen is compiled into your application, so you have no dependencies to worry about.

Starting a node.js script

The easiest way to start a node.js script, is to simply shell-execute out of your Delphi application. This can be done as easily as:

ShellExecute(Handle, 'open', PChar('node.exe'), pchar('script.js'), nil, SW_SHOW);

This is more than enough if you just want to start a service, server or do some work that doesn’t require that you capture the result.

If you need to capture the result, the data that your node.js program emits on stdout, there is a nice component in the Jedi Component Library. Also plenty of examples online on how to do that.

If you need even further communication, you need to look for a shell-execute that support pipes. All node.js programs have something called a message-channel in the Javascript world. In reality though, this is just a named pipe that is automatically created when your script starts (with the same moniker as the PID [process identifier]).

If you opt for the latter you have a direct, full duplex message channel directly into your node.js application. You just have to agree with yourself on a protocol so that your Delphi code understands what node.js is saying, and visa versa.

UDP or TCP

If you don’t want to get your hands dirty with named pipes and rolling your own protocol, you can just use UDP to let your Delphi application communicate with your node.js process. UDP is practically without cost since its fundamental to all networking stacks, and in your case you will be shipping messages purely between processes on localhost. Meaning: packets are never sent on the network, but rather delegated between processes on the same machine.

In that case, I suggest you ship in the port you want your UDP server to listen on, so that your node.js service acts as the server. A simple command-line statement like:

node.exe myservice.js 8090

Inside node.js you can setup an UDP server with very little fuzz:


function setupServer(port) {
  var os = require("os");
  var dgram = require("dgram");
  var socket = dgram.createSocket("udp4");

  var MULTICAST_HOST = "224.0.0.236";
  var BROADCAST_HOST = "255.255.255.255";
  var ALL_PORT = 60540;
  var MULTICAST_TTL = 1; // Local network

  socket.bind(port);
  socket.on('listening', function() {
    socket.setMulticastLoopback(true);
    socket.setMulticastTTL(MULTICAST_TTL);
    socket.addMembership(multicastHost);
    if(broadcast) { socket.setBroadcast(true); }
  });
  socket.on('message', parseMessage);
}

function parseMessage(message, rinfo) {
try {
  var messageObject = JSON.parse(message);
  var eventType = messageObject.eventType;
  } catch(e) {
  }
}

Note: the code above assumes a JSON text message.

You can then use any Delphi UDP client to communicate with your node.js server, Indy is good, Synapse is a good library with less overhead – there are many options here.

Do I have to learn Javascript to use node.js?

If you download DWScript you can hook-up the JS-codegen library (see library folder in the DWScript repository), and use that to compile DWScript (object pascal) to kick-ass Javascript. This is the same compiler that was used in Smart Mobile Studio.

“Adding WebAssembly to your resume is going to be a hell of a lot more valuable in the years to come than C# or Java”

Another alternative is to use Freepascal, they have a pas2js project where you can compile ordinary object-pascal to javascript. Naturally there are a few things to keep in mind, both for DWScript and Freepascal – like avoiding pointers. But clean object pascal compiles just fine.

If JavaScript is not your cup of tea, or you simply don’t have time to learn the delicate nuances between the DOM (document object model, used by browsers) and the 100% package oriented approach deployed by node.js — then you can just straight up to webassembly.

RemObjects Software has a kick-ass webassembly compiler, perfect if you dont have the energy or time to learn JavaScript. As of writing this is the fastest and most powerful toolchain available. And I have tested them all.

WebAssembly, no Javascript needed

RO-Single-Gear-512You might remember Oxygene? It used to be shipped with Delphi as a way to target Microsoft CLR (common language runtime) and the .net framework.

Since then Oxygene and the RemObjects toolchain has evolved dramatically and is now capable of a lot more than CLR support.

  • You can compile to raw, llvm optimized machine code for 8 platforms
  • You can compile to CLR/.Net
  • You can compile to Java bytecodes
  • You can compile to WebAssembly!

WebAssembly is not Javascript, it’s important to underline that. WebAssembly was created especially for developers using traditional languages, so that traditional compilers can emit web friendly, binary code. Unlike Javascript, WebAssembly is a purely binary format. Just like Delphi generates machine-code that is linked into a final executable, WebAssembly is likewise compiled, linked and emitted in binary form.

If that sounds like a sales pitch, it’s not. It’s a matter of practicality.

  • WebAssembly is completely barren out of the box. The runtime environment, be it V8 for the browser or V8 for node.js, gives you nothing out of the box. You don’t even have WriteLn() to emit text.
  • Google expects compiler makers to provide their own RTL functions, from the fundamental to the advanced. The only thing V8 gives you, is a barebone way of referencing objects and functions on the other side, meaning the JS and DOM world. And that’s it.

So the reason i’m talking a lot about Oxygene and RemObjects Elements (Elements is the name of the compiler toolchain RemObjects offers), is because it ships with an RTL. So you are not forced to start on actual, literal assembly level.

studio

If you don’t want to study JavaScript, Oxygene and Elements from RemObjects is the solution

RemObjects also delivers a DelphiVCL compatibility framework. This is a clone of the Delphi VCL / Freepascal LCL. Since WebAssembly is still brand new, work is being done on this framework on a daily basis, with updates being issued all the time.

Note: The Delphi VCL framework is not just for WebAssembly. It represents a unified framework that can work anywhere. So if you switch from WebAssembly to say Android, you get the same result.

The most important part of the above, is actually not the visual stuff. I mean, having HTML5 visual controls is cool – but chances are you want to use a library like Sencha, SwiftUI or jQueryUI to compose your forms right? Which means you just want to interface with the widgets in the DOM to set and get values.

jQuery UI Bootstrap

You probably want to use a fancy UI library, like jQuery UI. This works perfectly with Elements because you can reference the controls from your WebAssembly module. You dont have to create TButton, TListbox etc manually

The more interesting stuff is actually the non-visual code you get access to. Hundreds of familiar classes from the VCL, painstakingly re-created, and usable from any of the 5 languages Elements supports.

You can check it out here: https://github.com/remobjects/DelphiRTL

Skipping JavaScript all together

I dont believe in single languages. Not any more. There was a time when all you needed was Delphi and a diploma and you were set to conquer the world. But those days are long gone, and a programmer needs to be flexible and have a well stocked toolbox.

At least try the alternatives before you settle on a phone

Knowing where you want to be is half the journey

The world really don’t need yet-another-c# developer. There are millions of C# developers in India alone. C# is just “so what?”. Which is also why C# jobs pays less than Delphi or node.js system service jobs.

What you want, is to learn the things others avoid. If JavaScript looks alien and you feel uneasy about the whole thing – that means you are growing as a developer. All new things are learned by venturing outside your comfort zone.

How many in your company can write high quality WebAssembly modules?

How many within one hour driving distance from your office or home are experts at WebAssembly? How many are capable of writing industrial scale, production ready system services for node.js that can scale from a single instance to 1000 instances in a large, clustered cloud environment?

Any idiot can pick up node.js and knock out a service, but with your background from Delphi or C++ builder you have a massive advantage. All those places that can throw an exception that JS devs usually ignore? As a Delphi or Oxygene developer you know better. And when you re-apply that experience under a different language, suddenly you can do stuff others cant. Which makes your skills valuable.

qtx

The Quartex Media Desktop have made even experienced node / web developers gasp. They are not used to writing custom-controls and large-scale systems, which is my advantage

So would you learn JavaScript or just skip to WebAssembly? Honestly? Learn a bit of both. You don’t have to be an expert in JavaScript to compliment WebAssembly. Just get a cheap book, like “Node.js for beginners” and “JavaScript the good parts” ($20 a piece) and that should be more than enough to cover the JS side of things.

Adding WebAssembly to your resume and having the material to prove you know your stuff, is going to be a hell of a lot more valuable in the years to come than C#, Java or Python. THAT I can guarantee you.

And, we have a wicked cool group on Facebook you can join too: Click here to visit RemObjects Developer.

 

Getting into Node.js from Delphi

July 1, 2019 Leave a comment

Delphi is one of the best development toolchains for Windows. I have been an avid fan of Delphi since it was first released, and before that – Turbo Pascal too. Delphi has a healthy following – and despite popular belief, Delphi scores quite well on the Tiobe Index.

As cool and efficient as Delphi might be, there are situations where native code wont work. Or at the very least, be less efficient than the alternatives. Delphi has a broad wingspan, from low-level assembler all the way to classes and generics. But JavaScript and emerging web technology is based on a completely different philosophy, one where native code is regarded as negative since it binds you to hardware.

Getting to grips with the whole JavaScript phenomenon, be it for mobile, embedded or back-end services, can be daunting if all you know is native code. But thankfully there are alternatives that can help you become productive quickly, something I will brush over in this post.

JavaScript without JavaScript

Before we dig into the tools of the trade, I want to cover alternative ways of enjoying the power of node.js and Javascript. Namely by using compilers that can convert code from a traditional language – and emit fully working JavaScript. There are a lot more options than you think:

qtx

Quartex Media Desktop is a complete environment written purely in JavaScript. Both Server, Cluster and front-end is pure JavaScript. A good example of what can be done.

  • Swift compiles for JavaScript, and Apple is doing some amazing things with the new and sexy SwiftUI tookit. If you know your way around Swift, you can compile for Javascript
  • Go can likewise be compiled to JS:
    • RemObjects Elements supports the Go language. Elements can target both native (llvm), .Net, Java and WebAssembly.
    • Go2Js
    • GopherJs
    • TARDISgo
  • C/C++ can be compiled to asm.js courtesy of EmScripten. It uses clang to first compile your code to llvm bitcode, and then it converts that into asm.js. You have probably seen games like Quake run in the browser? That was asm.js, a kind of precursor to WebAssembly.
  • NS Basic compiles for JavaScript, this is a Visual Basic 6 style environment with its own IDE even

For those coming straight from Delphi, there are a couple of options to pick from:

  • Freepascal (pas2js project)
  • DWScript compiles code to JavaScript, this is the same compiler that we used in Smart Pascal earlier
  • Oxygene, the next generation object-pascal from RemObjects compiles to WebAssembly. This is by far the best option of them all.
studio

I strongly urge you to have a look at Elements, here running in Visual Studio

JavaScript, Asm.js or WebAssembly?

Asm.js is by far the most misunderstood technology in the JavaScript ecosystem, so let me just cover that before we move on:

A few years back JavaScript gained support for memory buffers and typed arrays. This might not sound very exciting, but in terms of speed – the difference is tremendous. The default variable type in JavaScript is what Delphi developers know as Variant. It assumes the datatype of the values you assign to it. Needless to say, there is a lot of overhead when working with variants – so JavaScript suddenly getting proper typed arrays was a huge deal.

It was then discovered that JavaScript could manipulate these arrays and buffers at high speed, providing it only used a subset of the language. A subset that the JavaScript runtime could JIT compile more easily (turn into machine-code).

So what the EmScripten team did was to implement a bytecode based virtual-machine in Javascript, and then they compile C/C++ to bytecodes. I know, it’s a huge project, but the results speak for themselves — before WebAssembly, this was as fast as it got with JavaScript.

WebAssembly

WebAssembly is different from both vanilla JavaScript and Asm.js. First of all, it’s executed at high speed by the browser itself. Not like asm.js where these bytecodes were executed by JavaScript code.

water

Water is a fast, slick and platform independent IDE for Elements. The same IDE for OS X is called Fire. You can use RemObjects Elements from either Visual Studio or Water

Secondly, WebAssembly is completely JIT compiled by the browser or node.js when loading. It’s not like Asm.js where some parts are compiled, others are interpreted. WebAssembly runs at full speed and have nothing to do with traditional JavaScript. It’s actually a completely separate engine.

Out of all the options on the table, WebAssembly is the technology with the best performance.

Kits and strategies

The first thing you need to be clear about, is what you want to work with. The needs and requirements of a game developer will be very different from a system service developer.

Here are a couple of kits to think about:

  • Mobile developer
    • Implement your mobile applications using Oxygene, compiling for WebAssembly (Elements)
    • RemObjects Remoting SDK for client / server communication
    • Use Freepascal for vanilla JavaScript scaffolding when needed
  • Service developer
    • Implement libraries in Oxygene to benefit from the speed of WebAssembly
    • Use RemObjects Data Abstract to make data-access uniform and fast
    • Use Freepascal for boilerplate node.js logic
  • Desktop developer
    • For platform independent desktop applications, WebAssembly is the way to go. You will need some scaffolding (plain Javascript) to communicate with the application host  – but the 99.9% of your code will be better under WebAssembly.
    • Use Cordova / Phonegap to “bundle” your WebAssembly, HTML5 files and CSS styling into a single, final executable.

The most important part to think about when getting into JavaScript, is to look closely at the benefits and limitation of each technology.

WebAssembly is fast, wicked fast, and let’s you write code like you are used to from Delphi. Things like pointers etc are supported in Elements, which means ordinary code that use pointers will port over with ease. You are also not bound on hand-and-feet to a particular framework.

For example, EmScripten for C/C++ have almost nothing in terms of UI functionality. The visual part is a custom build of SDL (simple directmedia layer), which fakes the graphics onto an ordinary HTML5 canvas. This makes EmScripten a good candidate for porting games written in C/C++ to the web — but it’s less than optimal for writing serious applications.

Setting up the common tools

So far we have looked at a couple of alternatives for getting into the wonderful world of JavaScript in lieu of other languages. But what if you just want to get started with the typical tools JS developers use?

vscode

Visual Studio Code is a pretty amazing code-editor

The first “must have” is Visual Studio Code. This is actually a great example of what you can achieve with JavaScript, because the entire editor and program is written in JavaScript. But I want to stress that this editor is THE editor to get. The way you work with files in JS is very different from Delphi, C# and Java. JavaScript projects are often more fragmented, with less code in each file – organized by name.

typescript

TypeScript was invented by Anders Hejlsberg, who also made Delphi and C#

The next “must have” is without a doubt TypeScript. Personally im not too fond of TypeScript, but if ordinary JavaScript makes your head hurt and you want classes and ordinary inheritance, then TypeScript is a step up.

assemblyscriptNext on the list is AssemblyScript. This is a post-processor for TypeScript that converts your code into WebAssembly. It lacks much of the charm and elegance of Oxygene, but I suspect that has to do with old habits. When you have been reading object-pascal for 20 years, you feel more at home there.

nodeYou will also need to install node.js, which is the runtime engine for running JavaScript as services. Node.js is heavily optimized for writing server software, but it’s actually a brilliant way to write services that are multi-platform. Because Node.js delivers the same behavior regardless of underlying operating system.

phonegapAnd finally, since you definitely want to convert your JavaScript and/or WebAssembly into a stand-alone executable: you will need Adobe Phonegap.

Visual Studio

No matter if you want to enter JavaScript via Elements or something else, Visual Studio will save you a lot of time, especially if you plan on targeting Azure or Amazon services. Downloading and installing the community edition is a good idea, and you can use that while exploring your options.

dotnet-visual-studio

When it comes to writing system services, you also want to check out NPM, the node.js package manager. The JavaScript ecosystem is heavily package oriented – and npm gives you some 800.000 packages to play with free of charge.

Just to be clear, npm is a shell command you use to install or remove packages. NPM is also a online repository of said packages, where you can search and find what you need. Most packages are hosted on github, but when you install a package locally into your application folder – npm figures out dependencies etc. automatically for you.

Books, glorious books

41QSvp9fTcL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Last but not least, get some good books. Seriously, it will save you so much time and frustration. Amazon have tons of great books, be it vanilla JavaScript, TypeScript, Node.js — pick some good ones and take the time to consume the material.

And again, I strongly urge you to have a look at Elements when it comes to WebAssembly. WebAssembly is a harsh and barren canvas, and being able to use the Elements RTL is a huge boost.

But regardless of path you pick, you will always benefit from learning vanilla JavaScript.

 

Two new groups in the Developer family

July 1, 2019 2 comments

Delphi Developer is a group on Facebook that have been going strong for 12+ years. It was one of the first groups on Facebook, created the same week that Facebook allowed groups. With that group well established, it’s time to expand and clean up the feed.

RO-Single-Gear-512Last month I introduced a new group, RemObjects Developer, which is a group for developers that use RemObjects components, like the Remoting SDK, Data Abstract and/or Hydra – but more in particular, developers using Oxygene, C#, Swift, Java or Go via Elements (RemObjects compiler toolchain).

Two new groups

To further simplify syndication, and clean up the feeds (which so far has been a pot-purrey of many topics, dialects and products) an additional two groups is now in place:

Obviously there will be some overlapping. Since FPC and Delphi has much in common and are for the most part compatible, some news will be shared between those groups. But all in all this is to clean up the newsfeed which has so far been a mix and match of everything.

org

Simple overview of the groups

Node.js Developer is not meant to be purely about vanilla JavaScript. Node.js is ultimately a JavaScript runtime-engine. Which means you can use it to run or host WebAssembly libraries (as produced by Oxygene), or generate code via DWScript or Freepascal. You can think of it as a service-host if you like.

So if you are writing WebAssembly applications using Elements, then the node.js group will no doubt be interesting too. Same goes for DWScript users, Smart Pascal users and Freepascal users – providing web tech is what they like.

What is this Quartex Components?

It’s easier to manage multiple groups if you attach them to a parent-page. So if you wonder why all the groups says “by Quartex Components”, that is just a top-level page that helps me deal with with syndication. For some reason Facebook’s API only works for pages, not groups. So it’s impossible to auto-import news (for example) without a page.

The name, “Quartex Components” is ultimately the name of my personal company. I used to produce security components for Delphi, but decided to open-source those for the community.

So Quartex Components is just an organizational element.

RemObjects VCL, mind blown!

June 12, 2019 12 comments

For a guy that spends most of his time online, and can talk for hours about the most nerdy topics known to mankind – being gobsmacked and silenced is a rare event. But this morning that was exactly what happened.

Now, Marc Hoffman has blogged regularly over the years regarding the evolution of the RemObjects toolchain; explaining how they decoupled the parts that make up a programming language, such as syntax, rtl and target, but I must admit haven’t really digested the full implications of that work.

Like most developers I have kept my eyes on the parts relevant for me, like the Remoting SDK, Data Abstract and Javascript support. Before I worked at Embarcadero I pretty much spent 10 years contracting -and building Smart Mobile Studio on the side together with the team at The Smart Company Inc.

xo

Smart Pascal gained support for RemObjects SDK servers quite early

Since both the Remoting SDK and Data Abstract were part of our toolbox as Delphi developers, those were naturally more immediate than anything else. We also added support for RemObjects Remoting SDK inside Smart Mobile Studio, so that people could call existing services from their Javascript applications.

Oxygene then

Like most Delphi developers I remember testing Oxygene Pascal when I bought Delphi 2005. Back then Oxygene was licensed by Borland under the “Prism” name and represented their take on dot net support. I was very excited when it came out, but since my knowledge of the dot net framework was nil, I was 100% relient on the documentation.

In many ways Oxygene was a victim of Rad Studio’s abhorrent help-file system. Documentation for Rad Studio (especially Delphi) up to that point had been exemplary since Delphi 4; but by the time Rad Studio 2005 came out, the bloat had reached epic levels. Even for me as a die-hard Delphi fanatic, Delphi 2005 and 2006 was a tragic experience.

image

Removing Oxygene was a monumental mistake

I mean, when it takes 15 minutes (literally) just to open the docs, then learning a whole new programming paradigm under those conditions was quite frankly impossible. Like most Delphi developers I was used to Delphi 7 style documentation, where the docs were not just reference material – but actually teaches you the language itself.

In the end Oxygene remained very interesting, but with a full time job, deadlines and kids to take care of, I stuck to what I knew – namely the VCL.

Oxygene today

Just like Delphi has evolved and improved radically since 2005, Oxygene has likewise evolved above and beyond its initial form. Truth be told, we copied a lot of material from Oxygene when we made Smart Pascal, so I feel strangely at home with Oxygene even after a couple of days. The documentation for Oxygene Pascal (and Elements as a whole) is very good: https://docs.elementscompiler.com/Oxygene/

But Oxygene Pascal, while the obvious “first stop” for Delphi developers looking to expand their market impact, is more than “just a language”. It’s a language that is a part of a growing family of languages that RemObjects support and evolve.

As of writing RemObjects offers the following languages. So even if you don’t have a background in Delphi, or perhaps migrated from Delphi to C# years ago – RemObjects will have solutions and benefits to offer:

  • Oxygene (object pascal)
  • C#
  • Swift
  • Java
water

Water is a sexy, slim new IDE for RemObjects languages on Windows. For the OS X version you want to download Fire.

And here is the cool thing: when you hear “Java” you automatically expect that you are bound hands and feet to the Java runtime-libraries right? Same also with C#, you expect C# to be purely limited to the dot-net framework. And if you like me dabbed in Oxygene back in 2005-2006, you probably think Oxygene is purely a dot-net adapted version of Object Pascal right? But RemObjects have turned that on it’s head!

Remember the decoupling I mentioned at the beginning of this post? What that means in practical terms is that they have separated each language into three distinct parts:

  1. The syntax
  2. The RTL
  3. The target

What this means, is that you can pick your own combinations!

Let’s say you are coming from Delphi. You have 20 years of Object Pascal experience under your belt, and while you dont mind learning new things – Object Pascal is where you will be most productive.

Well in that case picking Oxygene Pascal covers the syntax part. But you don’t have to use the dot-net framework if you don’t want to. You can mix and match these 3 parts as you see fit! Let’s look at some combinations you could pick:

  • Oxygene Pascal -> dot net framework -> CIL
  • Oxygene Pascal -> “VCL” -> CIL
  • Oxygene Pascal -> “VCL” -> WinAPI
  • Oxygene Pascal -> “VCL” -> WebAssembly

(*) The “VCL” here is a compatibility RTL closely modeled on the Freepascal LCL and Delphi VCL. This is written from scratch and contains no proprietary code. It is purely to get people productive faster.

The whole point of this tripartite decoupling is to allow developers to maximize the value of their existing skill-set. If you know Object Pascal then that is a natural starting point for you. If you know the VCL then obviously the VCL compatibility RTL is going to help you become productive much faster than calling WinAPI on C level. But you can, if you like, go all native. And you can likewise ignore native and opt for WebAssembly.

Sound cool? Indeed it is! But it gets better, let’s look at some of the targets:

  • Microsoft Windows
  • Apple OS X
  • Apple iOS
  • Apple WatchOS
  • Android
  • Android wearables
  • Linux x86 / 64
  • Linux ARM
  • tvOS
  • WebAssembly
  • * dot-net
  • * Java

In short: Pick the language you want, pick the RTL or framework you want, pick the target you want — and start coding!

(*) dot-net and Java are not just frameworks, they are also targets since they are Virtual Machines. WebAssembly also fall under the VM category, although the virtual machine there is bolted into Chrome and Firefox (also node.js).

Some example code

Webassembly is something that interest me more than native these days. Sure I love the speed that native has to offer, but since Javascript has become “the defacto universal platform”, and since most of my work privately is done in Javascript – it seems like the obvious place to start.

Webassembly is a bit like Javascript was 10 years ago. I remember it was a bit of a shock coming from Delphi. We had just created Smart Mobile Studio, and suddenly we realized that the classes and object the browser had to offer were close to barren. We were used to the VCL after all. So my work there was basically to implement something with enough similarity to the VCL to be familiar to to Delphi developer, without wandering too far away from established JS standards.

Webassembly is roughly in the same ballpark. Webassembly is just a runtime engine. It doesn’t give you all those nice and helpful classes out of the box. You are expected to either write that yourself – or (as luck would have it) rely on what language vendors provide.

RemObjects have a lot to offer here, because their “Delphi VCL” compatibility RTL compiles just fine for Webassembly. There is no form designer though, but I haven’t used a form designer in years. I prefer to do everything in code because that’s ultimately what works when your codebase grows large enough anyways. Even my Delphi projects are done mainly as raw code, because I like to have the option to compile with Freepascal and Lazarus.

My first test code for Oxygene Pascal with Webassembly as the target is thus very bare-bone. If there is something that has bugged me to no end, it’s that bloody HTML5 canvas. It’s a powerful thing, but it’s also overkill for per-pixel operations. So I figured that a nice, ad-hoc DIB (device independent bitmap) class will do wonders.

Note: Oxygene supports pointers, even under WebAssembly (!), but out of old habit I have avoided it. I want my code to compile for all the targets, without marking a class as “unsafe” in the dot-net paradigm. So I have avoided pointers and just use offsets instead.

namespace qtxlib;

interface

type

  // in-memory pixel format
  TPixelFormat = public (
      pf8bit  = 0,  //___8 -- palette indexed
      pf15bit = 1,  //_555 -- 15 bit encoded
      pf16bit = 2,  //_565 -- 16 bit encoded
      pf24bit = 3,  //_888 -- 24 bit native
      pf32bit = 4   //888A -- 32 bit native
      );

  TPixelBuffer = public class
  private
    FPixels:  array of Byte;
    FDepthLUT: array of Integer;
    FScanLUT: array of Integer;
    FStride:  Integer;
    FWidth:   Integer;
    FHeight:  Integer;
    FBytes:   Integer;
    FFormat:  TPixelFormat;
  protected
    function  CalcStride(const Value, PixelByteSize, AlignSize: Integer): Integer;
    function  GetEmpty: Boolean;
  public
    property  Width: Integer read FWidth;
    property  Height: Integer read FHeight;
    property  Stride: Integer read FStride;
    property  &Empty: Boolean read GetEmpty;
    property  BufferSize: Integer read FBytes;
    property  PixelFormat: TPixelFormat read FFormat;
    property  Buffer[const index: Integer]: Byte read (FPixels[&index]) write (FPixels[&index]);

    function  OffsetForPixel(const dx, dy: Integer): Integer;
    procedure Alloc(NewWidth, NewHeight: Integer; const PxFormat: TPixelFormat);
    procedure Release();

    function Read(Offset: Integer; ByteLength: Integer): array of Byte;
    procedure Write(Offset: Integer; const Data: array of Byte);

    constructor Create; virtual;

    finalizer;
    begin
      if not GetEmpty() then
        Release();
    end;
end;

TColorMixer = public class
end;

TPainter = public class
private
  FBuffer:    TPixelBuffer;
public
  property    PixelBuffer: TPixelBuffer read FBuffer;

  constructor Create(const PxBuffer: TPixelBuffer); virtual;
end;

implementation

//##################################################################################
// TPainter
//##################################################################################

constructor TPainter.Create(const PxBuffer: TPixelBuffer);
begin
  inherited Create();
  if PxBuffer  nil then
    FBuffer := PxBuffer
  else
    raise new Exception("Pixelbuffer cannot be NIL error");
end;

//##################################################################################
// TPixelBuffer
//##################################################################################

constructor TPixelBuffer.Create;
begin
  inherited Create();
  FDepthLUT := [1, 2, 2, 3, 4];
end;

function TPixelBuffer.GetEmpty: Boolean;
begin
  result := length(FPixels) = 0;
end;

function TPixelBuffer.OffsetForPixel(const dx, dy: integer): Integer;
begin
  if length(FPixels) > 0 then
  begin
    result := dy * FStride;
    inc(result, dx * FDepthLUT[FFormat]);
  end;
end;

procedure TPixelBuffer.Write(Offset: Integer; const Data: array of Byte);
begin
  for each el in Data do
  begin
    FPixels[Offset] := el;
    inc(Offset);
  end;
end;

function TPixelBuffer.Read(Offset: Integer; ByteLength: Integer): array of Byte;
begin
  result := new Byte[ByteLength];
  var xOff := 0;
  while ByteLength > 0 do
  begin
    result[xOff] := FPixels[Offset];
    dec(ByteLength);
    inc(Offset);
    inc(xOff);
  end;
end;

procedure TPixelBuffer.Alloc(NewWidth, NewHeight: Integer; const PxFormat: TPixelFormat);
begin
  if not GetEmpty() then
    Release();

  if NewWidth < 1 then
    raise new Exception("Invalid width error");

  if NewHeight  0 then
    result := ( (Result + AlignSize) - xFetch );
end;

end.

This code is just meant to give you a feel for the dialect. I have used a lot of “Delphi style” coding here, so chances are you will hardly see any difference bar namespaces and a funny looking property declaration.

Stay tuned for more posts as I explore the different aspects of Oxygene and webassembly in the days to come 🙂

RemObjects Remoting SDK?

June 3, 2019 Leave a comment

Reading this you could be forgiven for thinking that I must promote RemObjects products, It’s my job now right? Well yes, but also no.

dataabstract-illustration-rework-ro-1100The thing is, I’m really not “traveling salesman” material by any stretch of the imagination. My tolerance for bullshit is ridiculously low, and being practical of nature I loath fancy products that cost a fortune yet deliver nothing but superficial fluff.

The reasons I went to work at RemObjects are many, but most of all it’s because I have been an avid supporter of their products since they launched. I have used and seen their products in action under intense pressure, and I have come to put some faith in their solutions.

Trying to describe what it’s like to write servers that should handle thousands of active user “with or without” RemObjects Remoting SDK is exhausting, because you end up sounding like a fanatic. Having said that, I feel comfortable talking about the products because I speak from experience.

I will try to outline some of the benefits here, but you really should check it out yourself. You can download a trial directly here: https://www.remotingsdk.com/ro/

Remoting framework, what’s that?

RemObjects Remoting framework (or “RemObjects SDK” as it was called earlier) is a framework for writing large-scale RPC (remote procedure call) servers and services. Unlike the typical solutions available for Delphi and C++ builder, including those from Embarcadero I might add, RemObjects framework stands out because it distinguishes between transport, host and message-format – and above all, it’s sheer quality and ease of use.

compo

RemObjects Remoting SDK ships with a rich selection of channels and message formats

This separation between transport, host and message-format makes a lot of sense, because the parameters and data involved in calling a server-method, shouldn’t really be affected by how it got there.

And this is where the fun begins because the framework offers you a great deal of different server types (channels) and you can put together some interesting combinations by just dragging and dropping components.

How about JSON over email? Or XML over pipes?

The whole idea here is that you don’t have to just work with one standard (and pay through the nose for the privilege). You can mix and match from a rich palette of transport mediums and message-formats and instead focus on your job; to deliver a kick-ass product.

And should you need something special that isn’t covered by the existing components, inheriting out your own channel or message classes is likewise a breeze. For example, Andre Mussche have some additional components on GitHub that adds a WebSocket server and client. So there is a lot of room for expanding and building on the foundation provided by RemObjects.

And this is where RemObjects has the biggest edge (imho), namely that their solutions shaves weeks if not months off your development time. And the central aspect of that is their integrated service designer.

Integration into the Delphi IDE

Dropping components on a form is all good and well, but the moment you start coding services that deploy complex data-types (records or structures) the amount of boilerplate code can become overwhelming.

The whole point of a remoting framework is that it should expose your services to the world. Someone working in .net or Java on the other side of the planet should be able to connect, consume and invoke your services. And for that to happen every minute detail of your service has to follow standards.

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The RemObjects Service Builder integrates directly into the Delphi IDE

When you install RemObjects SDK, it also integrates into the Delphi IDE. And one of the features it integrates is a complete, separate service designer. The designer can also be used outside of the Delphi IDE, but I cannot underline enough how handy it is to be able to design your services visually, right there and then, in the Delphi IDE.

This designer doesn’t just help you design your service description (RemObjects has their own RODL file-format, which is a bit like a Microsoft WSDL file), the core purpose is to auto-generate all the boilerplate code for you — directly into your Delphi project (!)

So instead of you having to spend a week typing boilerplate code for your killer solution, you get to focus on implementing the actual methods (which is what you are supposed to be doing in the first place).

DLL services, code re-use and multi-tenancy

The idea of multi-tenancy is an interesting one. One that I talked about with regards to Rad-Server both in Oslo and London before christmas. But Rad-Server is not the only system that allows for multi-tenancy. I was doing multi-tenancy with RemObjects SDK some 14 years ago (if not earlier).

Remember how I said the framework distinguishes between transport, message and host? That last bit, namely host, is going to change how you write applications.

When you install the framework, it registers a series of custom project types inside the Delphi IDE. So if you want to create a brand new RemObjects SDK server project, you can just do that via the ordinary File->New->Other menu option.

One of the project types is called a DLL Server. Which literally means you get to isolate a whole service library inside a single DLL file! You can then load in this DLL file and call the functions from other projects. And that is, ultimately, the fundamental principle for multi-tenancy.

And no, you don’t have to compile your project with external packages for this to work. The term “dll-server” can also be a bit confusing, because we are not compiling a network server into a DLL file, we are placing the code for a service into a DLL file. I used this project type to isolate common code, so I wouldn’t have to copy unit-files all over the place when delivering the same functionality.

It’s also a great way to save money. Don’t want to pay for that new upgrade? Happy with the database components you have? Isolate them in a DLL-Server and continue to use the code from your new Delphi edition. I have Delphi XE3 Database components running inside a RemObjects DLL-Server that I use from Delphi XE 10.3.

project_types

DLL server is awesome and elegantly solves real-life problems out of the box

In my example I was doing business-logic for our biggest customers. Each of them used the same database, but they way they registered data was different. The company I worked for had bought up these projects (and thus their customers with them), and in order to keep the customers happy we couldn’t force them to re-code their systems to match ours. So we had to come up with a way to upgrade our technology without forcing a change on them.

The first thing I did was to create a “DLL server” that dealt with the database. It exposed methods like openTable(), createInvoice(), getInvoiceById() and so on. All the functions I would need to work with the data without getting my fingers dirty with SQL outside the DLL. So all the nitty gritty of SQL components, queries and whatnot was neatly isolated in that DLL file.

I then created separate DLL-Server projects for each customer, implemented their service interfaces identical to their older API. These DLL’s directly referenced the database library for authentication and doing the actual work.

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When integrated with the IDE, you are greeted with a nice welcome window when you start Delphi. Here you can open examples or check out the documentation

Finally, I wrapped it all up in a traditional Windows system service, which contained two different server-channels and the message formats they needed. When the service was started it would simply load in the DLL’s and manually register their services and types with the central channel — and voila, it worked like a charm!

Rock solid

Some 10 years after I delivered the RemObjects based solution outlined above, I got a call from my old employer. They had been victim of a devastating cyber attack. I got a bit anxious as he went on and on about damages and costs, fearing that I had somehow contributed to the situation.

targets

But it turned out he called to congratulate me! Out of all the services in their server-park, mine were the only ones left standing when the dust settled.

The RemObjects payload balancer had correctly dealt with both DDOS and brute force attacks, and the hackers were left wanting at the gates.

New job, new office, new adventures

May 12, 2019 5 comments

It’s been roughly 4 weeks since I posted a status report on Amibian.js. I normally keep people up-to-date on facebook (the “Amiga Disrupt” and also “Delphi Developer” groups). It’s been a very hectic month so I fully understand that people are asking. So let’s look at where the project is at and where we are on the time-line.

For those that might not know, I decided to leave Embarcadero a couple of months ago. I will be working out may before I move on. I wanted to write about that myself in a clean fashion, but sadly the news broke on Facebook prematurely.

Long story short, I have been very fortunate to work at Embarcadero. I am not leaving because there is anything wrong or something like that. I was hired as SC for the EMEA regions, which basically made me the support and presenter for most of europe, parts of asia and the middle east. It’s been a great adventure, but ultimately I had to admit that my passion is coding and community work. Sales is a very important part of any company, but it’s not really my cup of tea; my passion has always been research and development.

So, come first of June and I start in a new position at RemObjects. A company that has deep roots with Delphi and C++ builder users – and a company that continues to produce a wealth of high-quality, high-performance frameworks for Delphi and C++ builder. RemObjects also has a strong focus on modern languages, and have a strong portfolio of new and exciting compilers and languages to offer. The Oxygene compiler should be no stranger to Delphi developers, a powerful object-pascal dialect that can target a variety of platforms and chipsets.

Since compiler technology and run-time systems has been my main focus for well over a decade now, I feel RemObjects is a better match.

Quartex Components

Quartex Components has been an officially registered Norwegian company for a while now, so perhaps not news. What is news is that it’s now directly connected with the development of the Quartex Media Desktop (codename “Amibian.js”). While Amibian.js is an open source endeavour, there will be both free and commercial products running on top of that platform. I have written at length about Cloud Forge in the past, so I wont re-hash that again. But 2020 will see a paradigm shift in how teams and companies approach software development.

quartex

Company logo professionally milled and on its way to my new office

I will also, once there is more time, continue to sell and support software license components.

Quartex Media Desktop

The “Amibian.js” project is moving along nicely. The deadline is Q4 2019, but im hoping to wrap up the core functionality before that. So we are on track and kicking ass 🙂

amibian_01

More and more elaborate functionality is being implemented for the desktop

Here is an overview of work done this month:

  • TSystemService application type has been created (node.js)
    • TApplication now holds IPC functions (inter process communication)
    • Running child processes + sending messages is now simplicity itself
    • Database drivers are 90% done. Delete() and DeleteTable() functionality needs to be implemented in a uniform way
  • Authentication is now a separate service
    • Service database layer is finished (using SQLite3 driver by default)
    • Authentication protocol has been designed
    • Server protocol and JSON message envelopes are done
    • Presently working on the client interface
  • LDEF bytecode assembler has been improved
    • Faster symbolic lookup
    • Smarter register recognition
    • Early support for stack-frames
    • Fixed bug in parser (comma-list parse)
  • QTX framework has seen a lot of work
    • Large parts of the RTL sub-strata has been implemented
    • UTF16 codec implemented
    • QTX versions of common controls:
      • TQTXButton
      • TQTXLabel
      • TQTXToolbar
        • TQTXToolButton
        • TQTXToolSeparator
        • TQTXToolElement
      • TQTXPanel
      • TQTXCheckBox
      • .. and much, much more
  • Desktop changes
    • Link Maker functionality has been added
    • Handshake process between desktop and child app now runs on a separate timer, ensuring better conformity and a more robust initialization
    • The Quartex Editor control has been optimized
      • All redraw calls are now synchronized
      • Canvas is created on demand, avoids flicker during initial redraw
      • Support for DEL key + behavior
      • Gutter is now rendered to an offscreen bitmap and blitted into the control’s canvas. The gutter is only fully rendered when cursor forces the view to change

I will continue to keep everyone up to date about the project. As you can understand, its a bit hectic right now so please be patient – it is turning into an EPIC environment!

VMWare: A Delphi developers best friend

March 3, 2019 1 comment

Full disclosure: I am not affiliated with any particular virtualization vendor of any sorts. The reason I picked VMWare was because their product was faster when I compared the various solutions. So feel free to replace the word VMWare with whatever virtualization software suits your needs.

On Delphi Developer we get new members and questions about Delphi and C++ builder every day. It’s grown into an awesome community where we help each other, do business, find jobs and even become personal friends.

A part of what we do in our community, is to tip each other about cool stuff. It doesn’t have to be directly bound to Delphi or code either; people have posted open source graphic programs, video editing, database designers – as long as its open source or freeware its a great thing (we have a strict policy of no piracy or illegal copying).

Today we got talking about VMWare and how its a great time saver. So here goes:

Virtualization

Virtualization is, simply put, a form of emulation. Back in the mid 90s emulators became hugely popular because for the first time in history – we had CPU’s powerful enough to emulate other computers at full speed. This was radical because up until that point, you needed special hardware to do that. You had also been limited to emulating legacy systems with no practical business value.

vmware

VmWare Workstation is an amazing piece of engineering

Emulation has always been there, even back in the 80s with 16 bit computers. But while it was technically possible, it was more a curiosity than something an office environment would benefit from (unless you used expensive compute boards). We had to wait until the late 90s to see commercial-grade x86 emulation hitting the market, with Virtuozzo releasing Parallels in 1997 and VMWare showing up around 1998. Both of these companies grew out of the data-center culture and academia.

It’s also worth noting that modern CPU’s now support virtualization on  hardware level, so when you are “virtualizing” Windows the machine code is not interpreted or JIT compiled – it runs on the same CPU as your real system.

Why does it matter

Virtualization is not just for data-centers and server-farms, it’s also for desktop use. My personal choice was VMWare because I felt their product performed better than the others. But in all fairness it’s been a few years since I compared between systems, so that might be different today.

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A screengrab of my desktop, here showing 3 virtual machines running. I have 64 gigabyte memory and these 3 virtual machines consume around 24 gigabytes and uses 17% of the Intel i7 CPU power during compile. It hardly registers on the CPU stats when idle.

VMWare Workstation is a desktop application available for Windows, Linux and OS X. And it allows me to create virtual machines, or “emulations” if you like. The result is that I can run multiple instances of Windows on a single PC. The virtual machines are all sandbox in large hard-disk files, and you have to install Windows or Linux into these virtual systems.

The bonus though is fantastic. Once you have installed an operating-system, you can copy it, move it, do partial cloning (only changes are isolated in new sandboxes) and much, much more. The cloning functionality is incredibly powerful, especially for a developer.

It also gives you something called snap-shot support. A snapshot is, like the word hints to, a copy of whatever state your virtual-machine is in at that point in time. This is a wonderful feature if you remember to use it properly. I try to take snapshots before I install anything, be it larger systems like Delphi, or just utility applications I download. Should something go wrong with the tools your work depends on — you can just roll back to a previous snapshot (!)

A great time saver

Updates to development tools are always awesome, but there are times when things can go wrong. But if you remember to take a snapshot before you install a program, or before you install a component package — should something go wrong, then rolling back to a clean point is reduced to a mouse click.

I mean, imagine you update your development tools right? Suddenly you realize that a component package your software depends on doesn’t work. If you have installed your devtools directly on the metal, you suddenly have a lot of time-consuming work to do:

  • Re-install your older devtools
  • Re-install your components and fix broken paths

That wont be a problem if you only have 2-3 packages, but I have hundreds of components install on my rig. Just getting my components working can take almost a full work-day, and I’m not exaggerating (!).

With VMWare, I just roll back to when all was fine, and go about my work like nothing happened.

I made a quick, slapdash video to demonstrate how easy VmWare makes my Delphi and JS development. If you are not using virtualization I hope this video at least makes it a bit clearer why so many do.

vmware_youtube

Click the image to watch the video on YouTube

Repository updates

February 25, 2019 2 comments

As most know by now, I was running a successful campaign on Patreon until recently. I know that some are happy with Patreon, but hopefully my experience will be a wakeup call about the total lack of rights you as a creator have – should Patreon decide they don’t understand what you are doing (which I can only presume was the case, because I was never given a reason at all). You can read more about my experience with Patreon by clicking here.

Setting up repositories

Having to manually build a package for each tier that I have backers for would be a disaster. It was time-consuming and repetitive enough to create packages on Patreon, and I don’t have time to reverse engineer Patreon either. Which I might do in the future and release as open-source just to give them a kick in the groin back.

To make it easier for my backers to get the code they want, I have isolated each project and sub-project in separate repositories on BitBucket. This covers Delphi, Smart Pascal, LDEF and everything else.

cloud_ripper

The CloudRipper architecture is coming along nicely. Here running on ODroid XU4

I’m just going to continue with the Tiers I originally made on Patreon, and use my blog as the news-center for everything. Since I tend to blog about things from a personal point of view, be it for Delphi, JavaScript or Smart Pascal — I doubt people will notice the difference.

So far the following repositories have been setup:

  • Amibian.js Server (Quartex Web OS)
  • Amibian.js Client
  • HexLicense
  • TextCraft (source-code parser for Delphi and Smart Pascal)
  • UAE.js (a fork of SAE, the JS implementation of UAE)

I need to clean up the server repository a bit, because right now it contains both the server-code and various sub projects. The LDEF assembler program for example, is also under that repository — and it belongs in its own repository as a unique sub-project.

The following repositories will be setup shortly:

  • Tweening library for Delphi and Smart Pascal
  • PixelRage graphics library
  • ByteRage bugger library
  • LDEF (containing both Delphi and Smart Pascal code)
  • LDEF Assembler

It’s been extremely busy days lately so I need to do some thinking about how we can best organize things. But rest assured that everyone that backs the project, or a particular tier, will get access to what they support.

Support and backing

I have been looking at various ways to do this, but since most backers have just said they want Paypal, I decided to go for that. So donations can be done directly via paypal. One of the new features in Paypal is repeated payments, so setting up a backer-plan should be easy enough. I am notified whenever someone gives a donation, so it’s pretty easy to follow-up on.

 

 

Updates used to be monthly, but with the changes they will be ad-hoc, meaning that I will commit directly. I do have local backups and a local git server, so for parts of the project the commits will be issued at the end of each month.

While all support is awesome, here are the tiers I used on Patreon:

  • $5 – “high-five”, im not a coder but I support the cause
  • $10 – Tweening animation library
  • $25 – License management and serial minting components
  • $35 – Rage libraries: 2 libraries for fast graphics and memory management
  • $45 – LDef assembler, virtual machine and debugger
  • $50 – Amibian.js (pre compiled) and Ragnarok client / server library
  • $100 – Amibian.js binaries, source and setup
  • $100+ All the above and pre-made disk images for ODroid XU4 and x86 on completion of the Amibian.js project (12 month timeline).

So to back the project like before, all you do is:

  1. Register with Bitbucket (free user account)
  2. Setup donation and inform me of your Bitbucket user-name
  3. I add you on BitBucket so you are granted access rights

Easy. Fast and reliable.

The QTX RTL

Those that have been following the Amibian.js project might have noticed that a fair bit of QTX units have appeared in the code? QTX is a run-time library compatible with Smart Mobile Studio and DWScript. Eventually the code that makes up Amibian.js will become a whole new RTL. This RTL has nothing to do with Smart Mobile Studio and ships with its own license.

Amigian_display

QTX approaches the DOM in more efficient way. Its faster, smaller and more powerful

Backers at $45 or beyond access to this code automatically. If you use Smart Mobile Studio then this is a must. It introduces a ton of classes that doesn’t exist in Smart Pascal, and also introduces a much faster and clean visual component framework.

If you want to develop visual applications using QTX and DWScript,  then that is OK,  providing the license is respected (LGPL, non commercial use).

Well, stay tuned for more info and news!

Quartex: Mali GPU glitches

February 20, 2019 Leave a comment

EDIT: I did further testing after this article was written, and believe the source of this to be about heat. Even with extra fans, running games like Tyrian (asm.js) that are extremely demanding, plus resizing a graphics intensive windows constantly, the temperature reached 71 degrees C very quickly. And this was with two cabinet fans helping the built-in fan to cool the device. It is thus not unthinkable that when running solo (no extra fans) that the kernel shut the device down to not cook the chipset. Which also explains why the device wont boot properly afterwards (the device is still hot).

Glitches

Something really strange is happening on Chrome and Firefox for ARM. JavaScript is not supposed to be able to take down a system, and in this case it’s neither an attempt as such either — yet for some reason I have managed to take down the ODroid XU4 with both Chrome and Firefox lately.

ODroid XU4

I guess I should lead with that I’m not able to replicate this on x86. One of the things I really love about the ODroid XU4 is that it’s affordable, powerful and probably the only SBC I have used that runs stable on the mali GPU. As you probably know I tested at least 10 different SBC’s back in 2018, and whenever there was a mali GPU involved, the product was either haunted by instabilities or lacked drivers all together.

amibian

Since the codebase for Chrome (and I presume Firefox) is ultimately the same between platforms, it leaves a question-mark about the ODroid. It is by far the most stable SBC I have tested so far (except for the PI, which is sadly underpowered for this task), but stable doesn’t mean flawless. And to be honest, Amibian.js is pushing web tech to the very limits.

Not Mali again

The reason I suspect the mali to be the culprit behind all this, is because the “bug” if we can call it that, happens exclusively during resize. So if there is a lot going on inside a desktop-window, you can sometimes provoke the ODroid to cold-crash and reboot. You actually have to power the board down and switch it back on for it to boot properly.

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Cloudripper ~ 5x ODroid XU4 [40 cores] in a PICO 5h cube

The resize and moving of windows uses CSS transformation, which in modern browsers makes use of the GPU. Chrome talks directly with OpenGL (or glES), so the operations are proxied through that. And again, since OpenGL is pretty rock solid elsewhere, we are only left with one common denominator: the mali GPU.

The challenge is that there is no way to debug or catch this error, because when it occurs the whole system literally goes down. There is no exception thrown, nor is the browser process terminated (not even a log entry, so it’s a clean-cut) — the system reboots on the spot. Since it fails on reboot when opening X (setting a screen-mode) I again point the finger at the GPU. Somehow a flag or lock survives the cold-reboot and that’s why you have to manually switch it off and on again.

This is the exact problem that made the NanoPI Fire useless. It only shipped with Android embedded drivers. The X drivers could hardly open a display without crashing. Such a waste of a good cpu.

x86 as head

ODroid is perfect for a low-cost Amibian.js experience, but I was unsure if it would handle the payload. Interestingly it handles it just fine and even with a high-speed action game running + background tasks we are not using 50% of the CPU even.

Ram is holding up too, with memory consumption while running Tyrian + having a few graphics viewers open, is at a reasonable 700 mb (of 2 gigabyte in total).

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Tyrian jogs along at 45 fps ~ that is not bad for a $45 SBC

Right now this strange error is rare, but if it continues or grows into a problem (chrome is hardly useable at all, only firefox) then I have no option than to replace the master sbc in the cluster with something else. The x86 UP board is more than capable, but it would be a shame to break the price range because of that (excuse my language) crap mali GPU. I honestly don’t understand why board makers insist on using a mali. Every board that has a mali is haunted by problems and get poor reviews.

It will be exciting to check out the dragonboard, although I fear 1Gb memory will not be enough for smooth operation. Not without a sata interface and a good swap-file.

Android and Delphi

One alternative is to switch to Android and use Delphi to code a custom Chromium Embedded webview. I am hoping to avoid the overhead of Android, but Delphi would definitively be a bonus with Android embedded (“Android of things”).

We will see.

Leaving Patreon: Developers be warned

February 17, 2019 4 comments

As a person I’m quite optimistic. I like to think the glass is half-full rather than half-empty. I have spent over a decade building up a thriving Delphi and C++ builder community on social media, I have built up a rich creative community for node and JavaScript on the side — not to mention retro computing, embedded tech and IOT. For better or for worse I think most developers in the Embarcadero camp have heard my name or engage in one of the 12 groups I manage around the world on a daily basis. It’s been hard work but man, it’s been worth every minute. We have so much fun and I get to meet awesome coders on a daily basis. It’s become an intrinsic part of my life.

I have been extremely fortunate in that despite my disadvantage, a spine injury in 2012 – not to mention being situated in Norway rather than the united states; despite these obstacles to overcome I work for a great American company, and I get to socialize and have friends all over the planet.

The global village is the concept, or philosophy, that technology makes it possible no-matter where you live, to connect and be a part of something bigger. You don’t have to be a startup in the san-francisco area to work with the latest tech. Sure a commute from Burlingame to Redwood beats a 14 hour flight from Norway any day of the week — but that’s the whole idea: we have Skype now, and Slack and Github; you don’t have to physically be on location to be a part of a great company. The only requirement is that you make yourself relevant to your field of expertise.

Patreon, a digital talent agency

Patreon is a service that grew straight out of the global village. If the world is just one place, one great big family of human beings with great ideas, then where is the digital stage that helps nurturing these individuals? I mean, you can have a genius kid living in poverty in Timbuktu that could crack a mathematical problem on the other side of the globe. The next musical prodigy could be living in a loft in Germany, but his or her voice will never be heard unless it’s recognized and given positive feedback.

“The irony is that Patreon doesn’t even pass their own safety tests. That should make you think twice about their operation”

My examples are extremes I agree, most people on Patreon are like me, creative but absolutely not cracking math problems for Nasa; nor am I singing a duet with Bono any time soon. But that’s the fun thing about the world – namely that all things have value when put in the correct context. Life is about combinations, and you just have to find one that works for you.

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The global village, the idea of unity through diversity

The global village is this wonderful idea that we can use technology to transcend the limitations the world oppose on us, be they nationality, color, gender or location. Good solutions know no bounds and manifests wherever a mind welcomes it. Perhaps a somewhat romantic idea, if not naive, but it seems the only reasonable solution given the rapid changes we face as a species.

In my case, I love to make software components in my spare time. My day job is packed and I couldn’t squeeze in more work during the weekdays if I wanted to, so I only have a couple of hours after-work and the weekends to “do my thing”. So being a total geek I relax by making components. Some play chess, the guitar or whatever — I relax by coding something useful.

Obviously “code components” are completely useless to anyone who is not a software developer. The relevance is further clipped by the programming-language they are written for, and ultimately the functionality they provide. Patreon for me was a way to finance the evolution of these components. A way of self motivating myself to keep them up to date and available.

I also put a larger project on Patreon, namely the cloud desktop system people know as “Amibian.js” or “Quartex Web OS”. Amibian being the nickname, or codename.

Patreon seemed like the perfect match. I could take these seemingly unrelated topics, Delphi and C++ builder specific components and a cloud architecture, and assign each component and project to separate “tiers” that the audience could pick from. This was great! People could now subscribe to the tier’s they wanted, and would be notified whenever there was an update or new features. And I could respond to service messages in one place.

The Tier System

The thing about software is that it’s not maintained on infinite repeat. You don’t fix a component that is working. And you don’t issue updates unless you have fixed bugs or added new functionality. A software subscription secures a customer access to all and any updates, with a guarantee of X number of updates a year. And equally important, that they can get help if they are stuck.

“when you are shut down without so much as an explanation, with nothing but positive feedback, zero refunds and over 1682 people actively following the progress — that is utterly unacceptable behavior”

I set a relatively low number of guaranteed updates per year for the components (4). The things that would see the most updates were the Rage Libraries (PixelRage and ByteRage) and Amibian.js, but not until Q3 when all the modules would come together as a greater whole — something my backers are aware of and have never had a problem with.

Amigian_display

Amibian.js running on ODroid XU4, a $45 single board computer

The tiers I ended up with was:

  • $5 – “high-five”, im not a coder but I support the cause
  • $10 – Tweening animation library
  • $25 – License management and serial minting components
  • $35 – Rage libraries: 2 libraries for fast graphics and memory management
  • $45 – LDef assembler, virtual machine and debugger
  • $50 – Amibian.js (pre compiled) and Ragnarok client / server library
  • $100 – Amibian.js binaries, source and setup
  • $100+ All the above and pre-made disk images for ODroid XU4 and x86 on completion of the Amibian.js project (12 month timeline).

Note: Each tier covers everything before them. So if you pick the $35 tier, that also includes access to the license management system and the animation library.

As you can see, the tier-system that is intrinsic to Patreon, solves the software subscription model elegantly. After all, it would be unreasonable to demand $100 a month for a small component like the Tweening library. A programmer that just needs that library and nothing else shouldnt have to pay for anything else.

Here is a visual representation, showing graphically why my tiers are organized as they are, and how they all fit into a greater whole:

tier_dependencies

The server-side aspect of the architecture would take days to document, but a general overview of the micro-service architecture is fairly easy to understand:

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Each of the tiers were picked because they represent key aspects of what we need to create a visually pleasing, fast and reliable, distributed (each part running on separate machines or boards) cloud eco-system. Supporters can just get the parts they need, or support the bigger project. Everyone get’s what they want – all is well.

The thing some people don’t grasp, is that you are not getting something to just put on Amazon or Azure, you are getting your own Amazon or Azure – with source code! You are not getting services, you are getting the actual code that allows YOU to set up your own services. Anyone with a server can become a service provider and offer both hosting and software access. And they can expand on this without having to ask permission or pay through the nose.

So it’s a little bit bigger than first meets the eye.

I Move In Mysterious Ways ..

Roughly 3 weeks ago I was busy preparing the monthly updates.

Since each tier is separate but also covers everything before it (like explained above) I have to prepare a set of inclusive updates. The good news is that I only have to do this once and then add it as an attachment to my posts. Once added I can check of all the backers in that tier. I don’t have to manually email each backer, physically copy my songs or creations onto CD and send it – we live in the digital age as members of the global village. Or so i thought.

So I published two of the minor cases first: the full HTML5 assembly program, that can be run both inside Amibian.js as a hosted application — or as a solo program directly in the browser. So here people can write machine-code in the browser, assemble it to bytecodes, run the code, inspect registers, disassemble the bytecodes and all the normal stuff you expect from an assembler.

This update was special because the program contained the IPC (inter process communication) layer that developers use to make their programs talk to the desktop. So for developers looking to make their own web programs access the filesystem, open dialogs (normal system features), that code was quite important to get!

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Although published, none of my backers could see them due to the suspended status

The second post was a free addition, the QTX library which is an open-source RTL (run time library) compatible with the Smart Pascal Compiler. While not critical at this juncture, several of my backers use Smart Mobile Studio, and for them to get access to a whole new RTL that can be used for open-source, is very valuable indeed.

I was just about to compress the Amibian.js source-code and binaries when I got a message on Facebook by a backer:

“Dude, your Patreon is shut down, what is happening?”

What? hang on let me check i replied, and rushed into Patreon where the following header greeted me:

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What the hell Patreon? I figured there must be some misunderstanding and that perhaps I missed an email or something that needed attention. I get close to 50 emails a day (literally) so it does happen that I miss one. I also check my spam folder regularly in case my google filters have been careless and flagged a serious email as spam. But there was nothing. Not a word.

Ok, so let’s check the page feedback, has there been any complaints? Perhaps a backer has misunderstood something and I need to clear that up? But nope. I had nothing but positive feedback and not even a single refund request.  In fact the Amibian.js group on Facebook has grown to 1,662 members. Which shows that the project itself holds considerable interest outside software development circles.

Well, let’s get on this quickly I thought, so I rushed off an email asking why Patreon would do such a thing? My entire Patreon page was visibly marked with the above banner, so my backers never even saw the updates I had issued.

Instead, the impression people would get, was that I was involved in something so devious that it demanded my account to be suspended. Talk about shooting first and asking later. I have never in my life seen such behavior from a company anywhere, especially not in the united states; Americans don’t take kindly to companies behaving like bullies.

Just Contact Support, If You Can Find Them

To make a long story short it took over a week before Patreon replied to my emails. I sent a total of 3 emails asking what on earth would have prompted them to shut down a successful campaign. And how they found it necessary to slander the project without even informing me of the problem. Surely a phone call could have sorted this up in minutes? Where I come from you pick up the phone or get in contact with people before you flag them in public.

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Sounds great, sadly it’s pure fiction

The response I got was that “some mysterious activity had been reported on my page”, and that they wanted my name, address, phone number and credit card (4 last digits). Which I found funny because with the exception of credit-card details, I always put my name, address, phone numbers and email etc. at the head of my letters.

I’m not a 16-year-old kid working out of a garage, im a 46-year-old established software developer that have worked as a professional for close to 3 decades. Unlike the present generation I moved into my first apartment when I was 16, and was working as an author for various tech magazines by the time I was 17. I also finished college at the same time and went on to higher-education (2 years electrical engineering, 3 years arts and media, six years at the university in oslo, followed by 4 years of computer science and then certifications). The focus being, that Patreon is used to dealing with young creators that will go along with things that grown men would not accept.

But what really piss me off, was that they never even bothered to explain what this “mysterious behavior” actually was? I write about code, clustering, Delphi, JavaScript and bytecodes for christ sake. I might have published updates and code wearing a hoodie at one point, in a darken room, listening to Enigma.. but honestly: there is not enough mystery in my life to cover an episode of Scooby-Doo.

Either way, I provided the information they wanted and expected the problem to be resolved asap. Two days at themost. Maybe three, but that was pushing it.

It’s now close to 3 weeks since this ridiculous temporary suspension occurred, and neither have I been given any explanation to what I have done, nor have they removed the ban on the content. I must have read their guidelines 100 times by now, but given the nature of their ruling (which are more than reasonable), I can’t see that I have violated a single one:

  • No pornography and adult content
  • No hate speech against minorities or forms of religious extremism
  • No piracy or spreading copyrighted material
  • No stealing from backers

Let’s go over them one by one shall we?

Pornography and adult content

Seriously? I don’t have time to loaf around glaring at naked women (i’m a geek, I look weird enough as it is), and after 46 years on this planet I know what a woman looks like nude from every possible angle; I don’t need to run around like a retard posting pictures of body parts. And if you are talking about me — good lord is there a marked for hobbits? Surely the world has enough on it’s plate. Sorry, never been huge on porn.

And for the record, porn is for teenagers and singles. The moment you love someone deeply, the moment you have children together — it changes you profoundly. You get a bond to your wife or girlfriend that makes you not want to be with others. Not all men are into smut, some of us are invested more deeply in a relationship.

Hate speech and religious extremism

Hm, that’s a tough one (sigh). Did you know that one of my best friends is so gay – that he began to speculated that he actually was a liquid? He makes me laugh so bad and he’s probably the best human being I have ever met. I actually went with him on Pride last year, not because i’m gay but because he needed someone to hold the other side of the banner. That’s what friends do. Besides, I looked awesome, what can I say.

As for religion I am a registered Tibetan Buddhist. I believe in fluffy pillows, comfy robes, mother nature and quite frankly I find the world inside us far more interesting than the mess outside. You cant be extreme in Buddhism: “Be kind now, or ill hug you until you weep the tears of compassion!”. Buddhism sucks as an extreme doctrine.

So I’m going to go out on a limb and say nuuuu to both.

Piracy and copyrighted material

Eh, I’m kinda writing the software from scratch before your eyes (including the run-time-library for the compiler), so as far as worthy challenges go, piracy would be the opposite. I am a huge fan of classical operating-systems though, like the Amiga; But unlike most people I actually took the time to ask permission to use a OS4 inspired CSS theme-file.

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The Amibian.js project is well organized and I have worked systematically through a well planned architecture. This is not some slap-dash project made for a quick buck

Most people just create a theme-file and don’t bother to ask. I did, and Trevor Dickinson was totally cool about it. And not a single byte has been taken or stolen from anyone. The default theme file is inspired by Amiga OS 4.1, but the thing is: the icons are all freeware. Mason, the guy that did the OS icons, have released large sets of icons into GPL. There is also a website called OS4Depot where people publish icons and backdrops that are free for all.

So if this “mysterious activity” is me posting a picture of a picture (not a typo) of an obscure yet loved operating-system, rest assured that it’s not violating anyone.

Stealing from backers

That they even include this as a point is just monumental. Patreon is a service established to make that impossible (sigh); meaning that the time-frame where you deliver updates or whatever – and the time when the payout is delivered, that is the window where backers can file a complaint or demand a refund.

And yes, complaints on fraud would indeed (and should!) flag the account as potentially dubious — but again, I have not a single complaint. Not even a refund request, which I believe is pretty uncommon.

And even if this was the case, shutting down an account without so much as a dialog in 2019? Who the hell becomes a thief for 600 dollars? Im not some kid in a garage, I make twice that a day as a consultant in Oslo, why the heck would I setup a public account in the US, only to run off with 600 bucks! I have standing offers for projects continuously, I havent applied for a job since the 90s – so if I needed some extra money I would have taken a side project.

I even posted to let my backers know I had a cold last month just to make sure everyone knew in case I was unavailable for a couple of days. Truly the tell-tell sign of a criminal mastermind if I ever saw one ..

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Sorry Patreon, but your behavior is unacceptable

Hopefully your experience with Patreon has not been like mine. They spent somewhere in the range of 5 weeks just to register me, while friends of mine in the US was up and running in less than 2 days.

We are now 3 weeks into a temporary suspension, which means that most of my backers will run out of patience and just leave. It sends a signal of being whimsical about other people’s trust, and that people take a risk if they back my project.

At this point it doesn’t matter that none of these thoughts are true, because they are thoughts that anyone would think when a project remains flagged for so long.

What should scare you as a creator with Patreon though, is that they can do this to anyone. There is nothing you can do, neither to prove your innocence or sort out a misunderstanding — because you are not even told what you allegedly have done wrong. I also find it alarming that Patreon actually doesn’t have a phone-number listed, nor do they have offices you can call or reach out to.

The irony is that Patreon doesn’t even pass their own safety tests. That should make you think twice about their operation. I had heard the rumors about them, but I honestly did not believe a company could operate like this in our day and age. Especially not in the united states. It undermines the whole spirit of US as a technological hub. No wonder people are setting up shop in China instead, if this is how they are treated in the valley.

After this long, and the damage they have caused, I have no option than to inform my backers to terminate their pledges. I will have to relocate my project to a host that has more experience with software development, and who treats human beings with common decency and respect.

If I by accident had violated any of their guidelines, although I cannot see how I could have, I have no problem taking responsibility. But when you are shut down without so much as an explanation, with nothing but positive feedback, zero refunds and over 1682 people actively following the progress — that is utterly unacceptable.

It is a great shame. Patreon symbolized, for a short time, that the global village had matured into more than an idea. But I categorically refuse to be treated like this and find their modus-operandi insulting.

Stay Well Clear

If you as a developer have a chance to set up shop elsewhere, then I urge you to do so. And make sure your host have common infrastructure such as a phone number. Patreon have taken the art of avoiding direct contact to a whole new level. It is absolutely mind-boggling.

I honestly don’t think Patreon understands software development at all. Many have voiced more sinister motives for my shutdown, since the project obviously is a threat to various companies. But I don’t believe in conspiracies. Although, if Patreon does this to enough creators on interval, the interest rates from holding the assets would be substantial.

It could be that the popularity of the project grew so fast that it was picked up as a statistical anomaly, but surely that should be a good thing? Not to mention a potential case study Patreon could have used as a success story? I mean, Amibian.js didn’t get up and running until october, so stopping a project 5 months into a 12 month timeline makes absolutely no sense. Unless someone did this on purpose.

Either way, this has been a terrible experience and I truly hope Patreon get’s their act together. They could have resolved this with a phone-call, yet chose to let it fester for almost a month.

Their loss.

Quartex Web OS: A cloud OS in takes form

January 19, 2019 Leave a comment

It’s been a while since I’ve posted now. I have 3 articles in escrow, and every time I think I will finish them, I end up writing more. But yes, more Delphi articles is coming and I have lined up both components and rich code that everyone will be happy about.

Please look before shooting

Before we dig into the new stuff, I want to clear up a misconception. We programmers often forget that not everyone knows what we do, and we take it for granted that everyone will instantly understand something we talk about. Which is rarely the case.

I have noticed that quite a few have misjudged the project radically, thinking that the first version (cloud ripper) is just a toy, a mock desktop or even worse: just a remake of a legacy system that “has no role in modern computing”.

It is true that I have taken more than a little from Amiga OS in terms of architecture, but I have exclusively taken ideas that are good and works well under the ASYNC execution model. I have also replicated the way the filesystem is organized, things like REXX (which was added to OS X in 2015), the menu system – these are indeed built on how Amiga OS did things. The same can be said about library functions. Not because they are old, but because they make sense. Many of the functions appear in other systems too, like GTK on Linux and WinAPI for Windows. There are only so many ways to open a window, change the title, define scrollbars and execute processes.

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Kiosk systems like this are great targets for the Quartex Web OS

While there are clear architectural aspects taken from older systems, doesn’t mean that the system itself is old in any way. This system is designed to run as WebAssembly, ASM.js and vanilla Javascript – which is ASYNC by nature. It is designed to run and share payload over several machines, not a single outdated CPU and chipset. You have swarm based task solving – which is quite cutting edge if I might say so. None of these things were invented back in the day.

Some have also asked why this is even needed. Well, let me give you a simple use case.

One of my customers is doing work for Jensen, a Danish producer of IT hardware. They make mostly routers, wifi usb dongles and similar devices. But like many hardware vendors their web interface leaves a lot to be desires. Router web interfaces are usually quite annoying and poorly written. Something that should have taken 5 minutes can end up taking 30 just because the design of the interface is rubbish.

With my solution these vendors will be able to drop a whole infrastructure into their products; a infrastructure that provides all the things they need to quickly build a great control panel and router interface. Things like file system mapping, being able to store data to the filesystem through an established websocket protocol; all of it wrapped up in a simple but powerful API. Their settings and features can be represented as programs, which run in windows that are intuitively styled and easy to understand. They will also cut development time dramatically by calling the Quartex Soft-Kernel, rather than having to re-invent everything from scratch.

That is just a tiny, tiny use-case where the desktop and services makes perfect sense. But also keep in mind that the same system can scale up to a 1000 instance Amazon supercomputer if you need to, providing software for your offices and development teams.

In 8 months the desktop is complete (probably before) and I start building the first purely web powered software development toolchain. Everything has been transformed into Javascript (as in compilers, linkers – the whole lot). Both freepascal, clang c/c++ and much more. And developers will be able to login and start producing applications out of the box. The fact that the entire system is chipset and platform independent is quite unique. People tend to use native code behind a facade of html5. Not here. Here you have over 4000 classes, 800.000 lines of code just for the desktop client, looking back at you.

Hopefully this has shed some lights on the project, and people will stop looking at this as “old junk”. As a person who loves older computers, Amiga especially, I am quite frankly astounded by the ignorance regarding that platform. A juiced up 30 year old Amiga will give any modern computer a run for it’s money when it comes to ease of use, quality software and pure productivity. 10 years before Windows even existed, europeans enjoyed a colorful, window based desktop with full multitasking. When we had to switch to PC it was like going back to the 1500’s in terms of functionality – and it wasnt until Windows 7 that Microsoft caught up with Commodore. So if I have managed to get over even 1% of the spirit in that machine – then I will be very happy indeed.

But to limit a clustered, 40 CPU core architecture using modern, off-the-shelves parts, a multitude of node services to “old junk” is nothing short of an intellectual emergency. Please read, digest and look more closely before passing judgement.

Right then, so what’s new?

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The Quartex “Cloud Ripper”

Where to begin! Like mentioned in my previous post Amibian.js is a cluster system. As such the project now has its first real hardware sorted! I have gone for a 5 x ODroid XU4 model, neatly tucked inside a PICO 5H case. The budget was set at USD 400, but with shipping and taxes it ended up costing around USD 600. But that is not a bad price for the firepower you get (40 CPU cores, 20 GPU cores and 16 Gb Ram), the ODroid is a powerful, stable and reliable ARM SBC (single board computer). In benchmarks the Raspberry PI 3b scored 830 Dhrystones, the ODroid scored 5500 Dhrystones. And my architecture use five of them, so this is a $600 super-computer built using off the shelves part.

The back-end server has had several bugs fixed, especially the problems with path’s and databases. You can now edit the settings.ini file and tell the system where the database should be created or accessed from, you can set the port for the server, if it should use SSL + Secure WebSocket,  or ordinary HTTP + Websocket.

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40 ARM CPU cores, that is a lot of firepower for USD 200 !

I am also ditching the TW3NodeFileSystem driver for server logic and using ordinary node.js calls there. The TW3NodeFileSystem driver is mounted as you perform a login – and it acts as a sandbox, mounting your folder as a device (and making sure you can’t ever touch files outside your “home” server folder). We still need to implement a proper UNIX directory parser, but that is easy enough.

Quartex Pascal

Yes, I have picked up Quartex Pascal again, which originally started in 2014. I have started writing a new RTL for DWScript which is an alternative to Smart Mobile Studio. It is different from the Smart RTL and is closer to FMX than VCL.

Eventually the Quartex Web OS and all its services will compile without code from Smart Mobile Studio.

Hosted applications, messages and our soft-kernel

The biggest news, which is also the most tricky to get right, is getting hosted applications (applications are hosted in IFrame containers) to communicate with the desktop. As you probably know browsers have rigid security measures, and the rules for threads (web workers) and separate processes (frames) are severe to say the least.

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The LDEF assembler is the first application to grace the system

A secondary application hosted in a frame has absolutely no access to the rest of the DOM. Meaning that the code has no way of calling functions or manipulating elements outside its own DOM in the frame container. This is a good system because we don’t want rouge applications causing havoc.

The only way an application can talk to the desktop is through messages. And while this sounds easy, remember: we are doing this as a solid system, not just slapping something together.

  • After loading a hosted application, the desktop will send a handshake request. It will do this on interval until the application accepts.
  • When the application replies with a handshake message, the desktop sends a special message-channel object to the app. All communication with the desktop must happen on that secure channel.
  • With the channel obtained, the application has to provide the application manifest file. This is a special INI-File containing information about the program, including access rights. None of the soft-kernel API functions will execute until a valid manifest-file has been delivered.
  • Once the manifest has been sent and accepted, the hosted application is free to call the soft-kernel functions.

The above might sound simple but it includes several sub technologies to be in place first:

  • Call Stack: a class that keep track of sent messages and a callback. When a response arrives it will execute the correct callback to deliver the response. This is a kind of “promises” engine for message delivery.
  • Message factory, matches message-data to the correct message class, creates the instance and de-serialize the data automatically for you
  • Message dispatcher: Allows you to register a message with a handler procedure. When a message arrives the dispatcher calls the message-factory, then calls the correct handler.
  • Base64 Encoding on byte-array, stream and buffer level (does not exist in either node.js or JavaScript in general)
  • String to UTF8 Byte-Array encoding
  • UTF8 Byte-Array to String encoding
  • escape and unescape for byte-array, stream and buffer
  • URI-encoder for byte-array, stream and buffer

But that was just the beginning, I also had to introduce an object that I have been dreading to even start on, namely the “process” class. The process is not just a simple reference to the frame container, it has to keep track of the websocket endpoint, application manifest, error handling, message routing and much more.

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CLANG compiled to webassembly, meaning we can now compile proper C/C++ in the browser

Since Amibian.js supports not just JavaScript, but also bytecode applications – the process object also contains the LDEF runtime engine; not to mention all the system resources a process can own.

The cool part is that things work exactly like I planned! There is plenty of room to optimize, but all in all the architecture is sound. And it was quite a hallelujah moment when the first API call went through at 00:00 19.01.2019! A call to SetWindowTitle() where the hosted application set the caption of its main-window purely via code. Cross domain communication at it’s very best.

The LDEF Assembler

Yes LDEF Bytecodes are fantastic, and the first program I have made is a traditional assembler. I went all in and implemented a full text-editor to get better control, and also to get rid of the ACE code editor, which was a massive dependency. So glad we got rid of that.

So now you can write assembly code, assemble it, run it, dis-assemble it and even dump the bytecodes to the window. You will be able to save the bytecodes to disk by the end of this weekend, and then run the bytecode programs from shell or the desktop. So we are really making progress here.

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A good shell / pipe infrastructure is the key to a powerful desktop

LDEF is the bytecode system that will be used to build high-level languages like Basic and Pascal. Since Freepascal is now able to compile itself to JavaScript I will naturally add that to the IDE next fall; the same is true for CLANG which has compiled itself to WebAssembly — and who generates webassembly.

So C/C++ and object pascal are already working and waiting for the IDE.

LDEF is a grander system though, because libraries can be loaded by Delphi, C++ builder, C# or whatever you fancy – and used. It can be post-processed to real machine code, or converted to pure WebAssembly. It holds much wider scope than stack machines like CLR and Java, and its more natural for assembly programmers – because it’s based on real CPU’s. It’s a register based virtual machine, not a stack-machine.

More?

Tons, but you have to visit my patreon page to keep track. I try to publish as much as possible there rather than here. I post a bit on both, but the proper channel for Amibian.js (or “Quartex Web OS” as its official name is) will always be Patreon.

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The picture viewer now has momentum scrolling in full-mode.

Also, fixed more bugs in the Smart RTL than I can count, and re-made window movement. Window movement now uses the GPU, so they are silky smooth everywhere. Resize will be optimized next, then you can’t really tell it’s not native code at all.

Delphi Component updates

Yes Delphi is also a huge part of the Patreon project, and you will be happy to hear that the form designer (which shares a codebase with the graphics application components) have seen more work!

You can check out some of the changes to the form-designer here:

These changes will be in the january update (end of month) together with all the changes to Amibian.js, HexLicense, Tween library and all the rest 🙂

Cheers!

Amibian.js under the hood

December 5, 2018 2 comments

Amibian.js is gaining momentum as more and more developers, embedded systems architects, gamers and retro computer enthusiasts discover the project. And I have to admit I’m pretty stoked about what we are building here myself!

intro

In a life-preserver no less 😀

But, with any new technology or invention there are two common traps that people can fall into: The first trap is to gravely underestimate a technology. JavaScript certainly invites this, because only a decade ago the language was little more than a toy. Since then JavaScript have evolved to become the most widely adopted programming language in the world, and runtime engines like Google’s V8 runs JavaScript almost as fast as compiled binary code (“native” means machine code, like that produced by a C/C++ compiler, Pascal compiler or anything else that produces programs that run under Linux or Windows).

It takes some adjustments, especially for traditional programmers that havent paid attention to where browsers have gone – but long gone are the days of interpreted JavaScript. Modern JavaScript is first parsed, tokenized and compiled to bytecodes. These bytecodes are then JIT compiled (“just in time”, which means the compilation takes place inside the browser) to real machine-code using state of the art techniques (LLVM). So the JavaScript of 2018 is by no means the JavaScript of 2008.

The second trap you can fall into – is to exaggerate what a new technology can do, and attach abilities and expectations to a product that simply cannot be delivered. It is very important to me that people don’t fall into either trap, and that everyone is informed about what Amibian.js actually is and can deliver – but also what it wont deliver. Rome was not built-in a day, and it’s wise to study all the factors before passing judgement.

I have been truly fortunate that people support the project financially via Patreon, and as such I feel it’s my duty to document and explain as much as possible. I am a programmer and I often forget that not everyone understands what I’m talking about. We are all human and make mistakes.

Hopefully this post will paint a clearer picture of Amibian.js and what we are building here. The project is divided into two phases: first to finish Amibian.js itself, and secondly to write a Visual Studio clone that runs purely in the browser. Since it’s easy to mix these things up, I’m underlining this easy – just in case.

What the heck is Amibian.js?

Amibian.js is a group of services and libraries that combined creates a portable operating-system that renders to HTML5. A system that was written using readily available web technology, and designed to deliver advanced desktop functionality to web applications.

The services that make up Amibian.js was designed to piggyback on a thin Linux crust, where Linux deals with the hardware, drivers and the nitty-gritty we take for granted. There is no point trying to write a better kernel in 2018, because you are never going to catch up with Linus Torvalds. It’s must more interesting to push modern web technology to the absolute limits, and build a system that is truly portable and distributed.

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Above: Amibian.js is created in Smart Pascal and compiled to JavaScript

The service layer is written purely in node.js (JavaScript) which guarantees the same behavior regardless of host platform. One of the benefits of using off-the-shelves web technology is that you can physically copy the whole system from one machine to the other without any changes. So if you have a running Amibian.js system on your x86 PC, and copy all the files to an ARM computer – you dont even have to recompile the system. Just fire up the services and you are back in the game.

Now before you dismiss this as “yet another web mockup” please remember what I said about JavaScript: the JavaScript in 2018 is not the JavaScript of 2008. No other language on the planet has seen as much development as JavaScript, and it has evolved from a “browser toy” – into the most important programming language of our time.

So Amibian.js is not some skin-deep mockup of a desktop (lord knows there are plenty of those online). It implements advanced technologies such as remote filesystem mapping, an object-oriented message protocol (Ragnarok), RPCS (remote procedure call invocation stack), video codec capabilities and much more — all of it done with JavaScript.

In fact, one of the demos that Amibian.js ships with is Quake III recompiled to JavaScript. It delivers 120 fps flawlessly (browser is limited to 60 fps) and makes full use of standard browser technologies (WebGL).

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Click on picture above to watch Amibian.js in action on YouTube

So indeed, the JavaScript we are talking about here is cutting edge. Most of Amibian.js is compiled as “Asm.js” which means that the V8 runtime (the code that runs JavaScript inside the browser, or as a program under node.js) will JIT compile it to highly efficient machine-code.

Which is why Amibian.js is able to do things that people imagine impossible!

Ok, but what does Amibian.js consist of?

Amibian.js consists of many parts, but we can divide it into two categories:

  • A HTML5 desktop client
  • A system server and various child processes

These two categories have the exact same relationship as the X desktop and the Linux kernel. The client connects to the server, invokes procedures to do some work, and then visually represent the response This is identical to how the X desktop calls functions in the kernel or one of the Linux libraries. The difference between the traditional, machine code based OS and our web variation, is that our version doesn’t have to care about the hardware. We can also assign many different roles to Ambian.js (more about that later).

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Enjoying other cloud applications is easy with Amibian.js, here is Plex, a system very much based on the same ideas as Amibian.js

And for the record: I’m trying to avoid a bare-metal OS, otherwise I would have written the system using a native programming language like C or Object-Pascal. So I am not using JavaScript because I lack skill in native languages, I am using JavaScript because native code is not relevant for the tasks Amibian.js solves. If I used a native back-end I could have finished this in a couple of months, but a native server would be unable to replicate itself between cloud instances because chipset and CPU would be determining factors.

The Amibian.js server is not a single program. The back-end for Amibian.js consists of several service applications (daemons on Linux) that each deliver specific features. The combined functionality of these services make up “the amibian kernel” in our analogy with Linux. You can think of these services as the library files in a traditional system, and programs that are written for Amibian.js can call on these to a wide range of tasks. It can be as simple as reading a file, or as complex as registering a new user or requesting admin rights.

The greatest strength of Amibian.js is that it’s designed to run clustered, using as many CPU cores as possible. It’s also designed to scale, meaning that it will replicate itself and divide the work between different instances. This is where things get’s interesting, because an Amibian.js cluster doesn’t need the latest and coolest hardware to deliver good performance. You can build a cluster of old PC’s in your office, or a handful of embedded boards (ODroid XU4, Raspberry PI’s and Tinkerboard are brilliant candidates).

But why Amibian.js? Why not just stick with Linux?

That is a fair question, and this is where the roles I mentioned above comes in.

As a software developer many of my customers work with embedded devices and kiosk systems. You have companies that produce routers and set-top boxes, NAS boxes of various complexity, ticket systems for trains and busses; and all of them end up having to solve the same needs.

What each of these manufacturers have in common, is the need for a web desktop system that can be adapted for a specific program. Any idiot can write a web application, but when you need safe access to the filesystem, unified API’s that can delegate signals to Amazon, Azure or your company server, things suddenly get’s more complicated. And even when you have all of that, you still need a rock solid application model suitable for distributed computing. You might have 1 ticket booth, or 10.000 nation wide. There are no systems available that is designed to deal with web-technology on that scale. Yet 😉

Let’s look at a couple of real-life scenarios that I have encountered, I’m confident you will recognize a common need. So here are some roles that Amibian.js can assume and help deliver a solution rapidly. It also gives you some ideas of the economic possibilities.

Updated: Please note that we are talking javascript here, not native code. There are a lot of native solutions out there, but the whole point here is to forget about CPU, chipset and target and have a system floating on top of whatever is beneath.

  • When you want to change some settings on your router – you login to your router. It contains a small apache server (or something similar) and you do all your maintenance via that web interface. This web interface is typically skin-deep, annoying to work with and a pain for developers to update since it’s connected to a native apache module which is 100% dependent on the firmware. Each vendor end up re-inventing the wheel over and over again.
  • When you visit a large museum notice the displays. A museum needs to display multimedia, preferably on touch capable devices, throughout the different exhibits. The cost of having a developer create native applications that displays the media, plays the movies and gives visual feedback is astronomical. Which is why most museums adopt web technology to handle media presentation and interaction. Again they re-invent the wheel with varying degree of success.
  • Hotels have more or less the exact same need but on a smaller scale, especially the larger hotels where the lobby have information booths, and each room displays a web interface via the TV.
  • Shopping malls face the same challenge, and depending on the size they can need anything from a single to a hundred nodes.
  • Schools and education spend millions on training software and programming languages every year. Amibian.js can deliver both and the schools would only pay for maintenance and adaptation – the product itself is free. Kids get the benefit of learning traditional languages and enjoying instant visual feedback! They can learn Basic, Pascal, JavaScript and C. I firmly believe that the classical languages will help make them better programmers as they evolve.

You are probably starting to see the common denominator here?

They all need a web-based desktop system, one that can run complex HTML5 based media applications and give them the same depth as a native operating-system; Which is pretty hard to achieve with JavaScript alone.

Amibian.js provides a rich foundation of more than 4000 classes that developers can use to write large, complex and media rich applications (see Smart Mobile Studio below). Just like Linux and Windows provides a wealth of libraries and features for native application development – Amibian.js aims to provide the same for cloud and embedded systems.

And as the name implies, it has roots in the past with the machine that defined multimedia, namely the Commodore Amiga. So the relation is more than just visually, Amibian.js uses the same system architecture – because we believe it’s one of the best systems ever designed.

If JavaScript is so poor, why should we trust you to deliver so much?

First of all I’m not selling anything. It’s not like this project is something that is going to make me a ton of cash. I ask for support during the development period because I want to allocate proper time for it, but when done Amibian.js will be free for everyone (LGPL). And I’m also writing it because it’s something that I need and that I havent seen anywhere else. I think you have to write software for yourself, otherwise the quality wont be there.

Secondly, writing Amibian.js in raw JavaScript with the same amount of functions and depth would take years. The reason I am able to deliver so much functionality quickly, is because I use a compiler system called Smart Mobile Studio. This saves months and years of development time, and I can use all the benefits of OOP.

Prior to starting the Amibian.js project, I spent roughly 9 years creating Smart Mobile Studio. Smart is not a solo project, many individuals have been involved – and the product provides a compiler, IDE (editor and tools), and a vast run-time library of pre-made classes (roughly 4000 ready to use classes, or building-blocks).

amibian_shell

Writing large-scale node.js services in Smart is easy, fun and powerful!

Unlike other development systems, Smart Mobile Studio compiles to JavaScript rather than machine-code. We have spent a great deal of time making sure we could use proper OOP (object-oriented programming), and we have spent more than 3 years perfecting a visual application framework with the same depth as the VCL or FMX (the core visual frameworks for C++ builder and Delphi).

The result is that I can knock out a large application that a normal JavaScript coder would spend weeks on – in a single day.

Smart Mobile Studio uses the object-pascal language, a dialect which is roughly 70% compatible with Delphi. Delphi is exceptionally well suited for writing large, data driven applications. It also thrives for embedded systems and low-level system services. In short: it’s a lot easier to maintain 50.000 lines of object pascal code, than 500.000 lines of JavaScript code.

Amibian.js, both the service layer and the visual HTML5 client application, is written completely using Smart Mobile Studio. This gives me as the core developer of both systems a huge advantage (who knows it better than the designer right?). I also get to write code that is truly OOP (classes, inheritance, interfaces, virtual and abstract methods, partial classes etc), because our compiler crafts something called a VMT (virtual method table) in JavaScript.

Traditional JavaScript doesn’t have OOP, it has something called prototypes. With Smart Pascal I get to bring in code from the object-pascal community, components and libraries written in Delphi or Freepascal – which range in the hundreds of thousands. Delphi alone has a massive library of code to pick from, it’s been a popular toolkit for ages (C is 3 years older than pascal).

But how would I use Amibian.js? Do I install it or what?

Amibian.js can be setup and used in 4 different ways:

  • As a true desktop, booting straight into Amibian.js in full-screen
  • As a cloud service, accessing it through any modern browser
  • As a NAS or Kiosk front-end
  • As a local system on your existing OS, a batch script will fire it up and you can use your browser to access it on https://127.0.0.1:8090

So the short answer is yes, you install it. But it’s the same as installing Chrome OS. It’s not like an application you just install on your Linux, Windows or OSX box. The whole point of Amibian.js is to have a platform independent, chipset agnostic system. Something that doesn’t care if you using ARM, x86, PPC or Mips as your CPU of preference. Developers will no doubt install it on their existing machines, Amibian.js is non-intrusive and does not affect or touch files outside its own eco-system.

But the average non-programmer will most likely setup a dedicated machine (or several) or just deploy it on their home NAS.

The first way of enjoying Amibian.js is to install it on a PC or ARM device. A disk image will be provided for supporters so they can get up and running ASAP. This disk image will be based on a thin Linux setup, just enough to get all the drivers going (but no X desktop!). It will start all the node.js services and finally enter a full-screen web display (based on Chromium Embedded) that renders the desktop. This is the method most users will prefer to work with Amibian.js.

The second way is to use it as a cloud service. You install Amibian.js like mentioned above, but you do so on Amazon or Azure. That way you can login to your desktop using nothing but a web browser. This is a very cost-effective way of enjoying Amibian.js since renting a virtual instance is affordable and storage is abundant.

The third option is for developers. Amibian.js is a desktop system, which means it’s designed to host more elaborate applications. Where you would normally just embed an external website into an IFrame, but Amibian.js is not that primitive. Hosting external applications requires you to write a security manifest file, but more importantly: the application must interface with the desktop through the window’s message-port. This is a special object that is sent to the application as a hand-shake, and the only way for the application to access things like the file-system and server-side functionality, is via this message-port.

Calling “kernel” level functions from a hosted application is done purely via the message-port mentioned above. The actual message data is JSON and must conform to the Ragnarok client protocol specification. This is not as difficult as it might sound, but Amibian.js takes security very seriously – so applications trying to cause damage will be promptly shut down.

You mention hosted applications, do you mean websites?

Both yes and no: Amibian.js supports 3 types of applications:

  • Ordinary HTML5/JS based applications, or “websites” as many would call them. But like I talked about above they have to establish a dialog with the desktop before they can do anything useful.
  • Hybrid applications where half is installed as a node.js service, and the other half is served as a normal HTML5 app. This is the coolest program model, and developers essentially write both a server and a client – and then deploy it as a single package.
  • LDEF compiled bytecode applications, a 68k inspired assembly language that is JIT compiled by the browser (commonly called “asm.js”) and runs extremely fast. The LDEF virtual machine is a sub-project in Amibian.js

The latter option, bytecodes, is a bit like Java. A part of the Amibian.js project is a compiler and runtime system called LDEF.

patron_asm2

Above: The Amibian.js LDEF assembler, here listing opcodes + disassembling a method

The first part of the Amibian.js project is to establish the desktop and back-end services. The second part of the project is to create the worlds first cloud based development platform. A full Visual Studio clone if you like, that allows anyone to write cloud, mobile and native applications directly via the browser (!)

Several languages are supported by LDEF, and you can write programs in Object Pascal, Basic and C. The Basic dialect is especially fun to work with, since it’s a re-implementation of BlitzBasic (with a lot of added extras). Amiga developers will no doubt remember BlitzBasic, it was used to create some great games back in the 80s and 90s. It’s well suited for games and multimedia programming and above all – very easy to learn.

More advanced developers can enjoy Object Pascal (read: Delphi) or a sub-set of C/C++.

And please note: This IDE is designed for large-scale applications, not simple snippets. The ultimate goal of Amibian.js is to move the entire development cycle to the cloud and away from the desktop. With Amibian.js you can write a cool “app” in BlitzBasic, run it right in the browser — or compile it server-side and deploy it to your Android Phone as a real, natively compiled application.

So any notion of a “mock desktop for HTML” should be firmly put to the side. I am not playing around with this product and the stakes are very real.

But why don’t you just use ChromeOS?

There are many reasons, but the most important one is chipset independence. Chrome OS is a native system, meaning that it’s core services are written in C/C++ and compiled to machine code. The fundamental principle of Amibian.js is to be 100% platform agnostic, and “no native code allowed”. This is why the entire back-end and service layer is targeting node.js. This ensures the same behavior regardless of processor or host system (Linux being the default host).

Node.js has the benefit of being 100% platform independent. You will find node.js for ARM, x86, Mips and PPC. This means you can take advantage of whatever hardware is available. You can even recycle older computers that have lost mainstream support, and use them to run Amibian.js.

A second reason is: Chrome OS might be free, but it’s only as open as Google want it to be. ChromeOS is not just something you pick up and start altering. It’s dependence on native programming languages, compiler toolchains and a huge set of libraries makes it extremely niche. It also shields you utterly from the interesting parts, namely the back-end services. It’s quite frankly boring and too boxed in for any practical use; except for Google and it’s technology partners that is.

I wanted a system that I could move around, that could run in the cloud, on cheap SBC’s. A system that could scale from handling 10 users to 1000 users – a system that supports clustering and can be installed on multiple machines in a swarm.

A system that anyone with JavaScript knowledge can use to create new and exciting systems, that can be easily expanded and serve as a foundation for rich media applications.

What is this Amiga stuff, isn’t that an ancient machine?

In computing terms yes, but so is Unix. Old doesn’t automatically mean bad, it actually means that it’s adapted and survived challenges beyond its initial design. While most of us remember the Amiga for its games, I remember it mainly for its elegant and powerful operating-system. A system so flexible that it’s still in use around the world – 33 years after the machine hit the market. That is quite an achievement.

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The original Amiga OS, not bad for a 33-year-old OS! It was and continues to be way ahead of everyone else. A testament to the creativity of its authors

Amibian.js as the name implies, borrows architectural elements en-mass from Amiga OS. Quite simply because the way Amiga OS is organized and the way you approach computing on the Amiga is brilliant. Amiga OS is much more intuitive and easier to understand than Linux and Windows. It’s a system that you could learn how to use fully with just a couple of days exploring; and no manuals.

But the similarities are not just visual or architectural. Remember I wrote that hosted applications can access and use the Amibian.js services? These services implement as much of the original ROM Kernel functions as possible. Naturally I can’t port all of it, because it’s not really relevant for Amibian.js. Things like device-drivers serve little purpose for Amibian.js, because Amibian.js talks to node.js, and node talks to the actual system, which in turn handles hardware devices. But the way you would create windows, visual controls, bind events and create a modern, event-driven application has been preserved to the best of my ability.

But how does this thing boot? I thought you said server?

If you have setup a dedicated machine with Amibian.js then the boot sequence is the same as Linux, except that the node.js services are executed as background processes (daemons or services as they are called), the core server is initialized, and then a full-screen HTML5 view is set up that shows the desktop.

But that is just for starting the system. Your personal boot sequence which deals with your account, your preferences and adaptations – that boots when you login to the system.

When you login to your Amibian.js account, no matter if it’s just locally on a single PC, a distributed cluster, or via the browser into your cloud account — several things happen:

  1. The client (web-page if you like) connects to the server using WebSocket
  2. Login is validated by the server
  3. The client starts loading preferences files via the mapped filesystem, and then applies these to the desktop.
  4. A startup-sequence script file is loaded from your account, and then executed. The shell-script runtime engine is built into the client, as is REXX execution.
  5. The startup-script will setup configurations, create symbolic links (assigns), mount external devices (dropbox, google drive, ftp locations and so on)
  6. When finished the programs in the ~/WbStartup folder are started. These can be both visual and non-visual.

As you can see Amibian.js is not a mockup or “fake” desktop. It implements all the advanced features you expect from a “real” desktop. The filesystem mapping is especially advanced, where file-data is loaded via special drivers; drivers that act as a bridge between a storage service (a harddisk, a network share, a FTP host, Dropbox or whatever) and the desktop. Developers can add as many of these drivers as they want. If they have their own homebrew storage system on their existing servers, they can implement a driver for it. This ensures that Amibian.js can access any storage device, as long as the driver conforms to the driver standard.

In short, you can create, delete, move and copy files between these devices just like you do on Windows, OSX or the Linux desktop. And hosted applications that run inside their own window can likewise request access to these drivers and work with the filesystem (and much more!).

Wow this is bigger than I thought, but what is this emulation I hear about? Can Amibian.js really run actual programs?

Amibian.js has a JavaScript port of UAE (Unix Amiga Emulator). This is a fork of SAE (scripted Amiga Emulator) that has been heavily optimized for web. Not only is it written in JavaScript, it performs brilliantly and thus allows us to boot into a real Amiga system. So if you have some floppy-images with a game you love, that will run just fine in the browser. I even booted a 2 gigabyte harddisk image 🙂

But Amiga emulation is just the beginning. More and more emulators are ported to JavaScript; you have Nes, SNes, N64, PSX I & II, Sega Megadrive and even a NEO GEO port. So playing your favorite console games right in the browser is pretty straight forward!

But the really interesting part is probably QEmu. This allows you to run x86 instances directly in the browser too. You can boot up in Windows 7 or Ubuntu inside an Amibian.js window if you like. Perhaps not practical (at this point) but it shows some of the potential of the system.

I have been experimenting with a distributed emulation system, where the emulation is executed server-side, and only the graphics and sound is streamed back to the Amibian.js client in real-time. This has been possible for years via Apache Guacamole, but doing it in raw JS is more fitting with our philosophy: no native code!

I heard something about clustering, what the heck is that?

Remember I wrote about the services that Amibian.js has? Those that act almost like libraries on a physical computer? Well, these services don’t have to be on the same machine — you can place them on separate machines and thus its able to work faster.

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Above: The official Amibian.js cluster, 4 x ODroid XU4s SBC’s in a micro-rack

A cluster is typically several computers connected together, with the sole purpose of having more CPU cores to divide the work on. The cool thing about Amibian.js is that it doesn’t care about the underlying CPU. As long as node.js is available it will happily run whatever service you like – with the same behavior and result.

The official Amibian.js cluster consists of 5 ODroid XU4/S SBC (single board computers). Four of these are so-called “headless” computers, meaning that they don’t have a HDMI port – and they are designed to be logged into and software setup via SSH or similar tools. The last machine is a ODroid XU4 with a HDMI out port, which serves as “the master”.

The architecture is quite simple: We allocate one whole SBC for a single service, and allow the service to copy itself to use all the CPU cores available (each SBC has 8 CPU cores). With this architecture the machine that deals with the desktop clients don’t have to do all the grunt work. It will accept tasks from the user and hosted applications, and then delegate the tasks between the 4 other machines.

Note: The number of SBC’s is not fixed. Depending on your use you might not need more than a single SBC in your home setup, or perhaps two. I have started with 5 because I want each part of the architecture to have as much CPU power as possible. So the first “official” Amibian.js setup is a 40 core monster shipping at around $250.

But like mentioned, you don’t have to buy this to use Amibian.js. You can install it on a single spare X86 PC you have, or daisy chain a couple of older PC’s on a switch for the same result.

Why Headless? Don’t you need a GPU?

The headless SBC’s in the initial design all have GPU (graphical processing unit) as well as audio capabilities. What they lack is GPIO pins and 3 additional USB ports. So each of the nodes on our cluster can handle graphics at blistering speed — but that is ultimately not their task. They serve more as compute modules that will be given tasks to finish quickly, while the main machine deals with users, sessions, traffic and security.

The 40 core cluster I use has more computing power than northern europe had in the early 80s, that’s something to think about. And the pricetag is under $300 (!). I dont know about you but I always wanted a proper mainframe, a distributed computing platform that you can login to and that can perform large tasks while I do something else. This is as close as I can get on a limited budget, yet I find the limitations thrilling and fun!

Part of the reason I have opted for a clustered design has to do with future development. While UAE.js is brilliant to emulate an Amiga directly in the browser – a more interesting design is to decouple the emulation from the output. In other words, run the emulation at full speed server-side, and just stream the display and sounds back to the Amibian.js display. This would ensure that emulation, of any platform, runs as fast as possible, makes use of multi-processing (read: multi threading) and fully utilize the network bandwidth within the design (the cluster runs on its own switch, separate from the outside world-wide-web).

I am also very interested in distributed computing, where we split up a program and run each part on different cores. This is a topic I want to investigate further when Amibian.js is completed. It would no doubt require a re-design of the LDEF bytecode system, but this something to research later.

Will Amibian.js replace my Windows box?

That depends completely on what you use Windows for. The goal is to create a self-sustaining system. For retro computing, emulation and writing cool applications Amibian.js will be awesome. But Rome was not built-in a day, so it’s wise to be patient and approach Amibian.js like you would Chrome OS. Some tasks are better suited for native systems like Linux, but more and more tasks will run just fine on a cloud desktop like Amibian.js.

Until the IDE and compilers are in place after phase two, the system will be more like an embedded OS. But when the LDEF compiler and IDE is in place, then people will start using it en-mass and produce applications for it. It’s always a bit of work to reach that point and create critical mass.

tomes

Object Pascal is awesome, but modern, native development systems are quite demanding

My personal need has to do with development. Some of the languages I use installs gigabytes onto my PC and you need a full laptop to access them. I love Amibian.js because I will be able to work anywhere in the world, as long as a browser and normal internet line is available. In my case I can install a native compiler on one of the nodes in the cluster, and have LDEF emit compatible code; voila, you can build app-store ready applications from within a browser environment.

 

I also love that I can set-up a dedicated platform that runs legacy applications, games – and that I can write new applications and services using modern, off the shelve languages. And should a node in the cluster break down, I can just copy the whole system over to a new, affordable SBC and keep going. No super expensive hardware to order, no absurd hosting fees, and finally a system that we all can shape and use in a plethora of systems. From a fully fledged desktop to a super advanced NAS or Router that use Amibian.js to give it’s customers a fantastic experience.

And yes, I get to re-create the wonderful reality of Amiga OS without the absurd egoism that dominates the Amiga owners to this day. I don’t even know where to begin with the present license holders – and I am so sick of the drama that rolling my own seemed the only reasonable path forward.

Well — I hope this helps clear up any misconceptions about Amibian.js, and that you find this as interesting as I do. As more and more services are pushed cloud-side, the more relevant Amibian.js will become. It is perfect as a foundation for large-scale applications, embedded systems — and indeed, as a solo platform running on embedded devices!

I cant wait to finish the services and cluster this sucker on the ODroid rack!

If you find this project interesting, head over to my Patreon website and get involved! I could really use your support, even if it’s just a $5 “high five”. Visit the project at: http://www.patreon.com/quartexNow

Admin woes on Delphi Developer

November 17, 2018 8 comments

For well over 10 years I have been running different interest groups on Facebook. While Delphi Developer is without a doubt the one that receives most attention from myself and my fellow moderators, I also run the Quartex Components group and lately, Amiga Disrupt. The latter dedicated to my favorite hobby, namely retro computing.

I have to say, it’s getting harder to operate these groups under the current Facebook regime. I applaud them for implementing a moral codex, that is both fair and good, but that also means that their code must be able to distinguish between random acts of hate and bullying, and moderator operations.

A couple of days ago I posted an update picture from Amibian.js. This is a picture of my vmware development platform, with pascal code, node.js and the HTML5 desktop running. You would  have be completely ignorant of technology to not recognize the picture as having to do with software development.

amibian_shell

This picture was flagged as hateful, and was enough to get an admin’s account frozen for 30 days

Sadly facebook contains all sorts of people, and for some reason even grown men will get into strange, ideological debates about what constitutes retro-computing. In this case the user was a die-hard original-amiga fan, who on seeing my post about amibian.js went on a spectacular rant. Listing in alphabetical and chronological order, the depths of depravity that people have stooped to in implementing 68k as Javascript.

Well, I get 2-3 of these comments a week and the rules for the group is crystal clear: if you post comments like that, or comments that are racist, hateful or otherwise regarded as a provocative to the general group standard — you are given a single warning and then you are out.

So I gave him a warning that such comments are not welcome; He immediately came back with a even worse response – and that was the end of that.

But before I managed to kick the user, he reported a picture of Amibian as hateful. Again, we are talking about a screen-dump from VMWare with pascal code. No hate, no poor choice of images – nothing that would violate ordinary Facebook standards.

The result? Facebook has now frozen my account for 30 days (!)

Well I’m not even going to bother being upset, because this is not the first time. When people seem to willfully seek out conflict, only to use the FB’s reporting tools as weapons of revenge — well, there is not much I can do.

Anyways, Gunnar, Glenn, Peter and Dennis got you covered – and I’ll see you in a month. I think it’s time i contact FB in Oslo and establish separate management profiles.

Delphi Developer Competition

September 28, 2018 Leave a comment

The Delphi Developer group on Facebook has been around for a few years, and in that time we have held two very interesting demo competitions. The last competition we held was for Smart Pascal (Smart Mobile Studio) only, but we are extending it to include the dialects supported by our group; meaning Delphi, Smart Pascal, Freepascal and Remobjects Oxygene!

Embarcadero shipped over some extra goodies for us, so the competition this year is indeed a magical one. The top 3 contestants all get the official Embarcadero T-Shirt. We also throw in 10 Sencha ball-pens for each of the top 3 contestants; this is in addition to the actual prizes listed below (!)

The #1 winner not only get the 100€ FPGA devkit (see prizes below), he or she walks off with a high-quality, stainless steel Embarcadero branded coffee mug that holds half a litre of breakfast! (I seriously wanted to keep this for myself).

all_prices

The prizes in all their glory!

Submission rules are:

  • Source submission (GPL, LGPL) + binary
  • No dependencies on commercial libraries or components
  • Submissions must be available through GIT or BitBucket
  • Submission must include everything it needs to be compiled

Submission categories are:

  • Graphical demo (demo-scene style)
  • Games and multimedia
  • General purpose (utility programs)

Use the following Google form to register:

The purpose of the submissions is to show off both the language and your skills. Back in 2013 we got a ton of really cool demo-scene stuff, demonstrating timeless techniques; everything from bouncing meta-balls, gouraud shaded vectors, sinus scroll-texts and webgl landscape flight. We also had a fantastic fractal explorer program, bitmap rotozoom generator – and two great games! Which both made it onto AppStore and Google Play!

First prize

first_price.png

The winner walks off with some exciting stuff!

The first prize this year is something really, really special. The winner walks off with a spiffing Altera Cyclone IV FPGA starter board. This is a spectacular FPGA kit that allows you to upload a wide range of ready-to-rock FPGA core’s, as well as your own logic designs.

But to make it more accessible we added a retro daughter board, this gives you VGA, audio, keyboard, mouse, MicroSD, serial and two old school joystick ports. The daughterboard is needed if you plan on using some of the retro-cores out there. I personally love the Amiga core (shock, I know) but you can run anything from a humble Spectrum to Sega Megadrive, SNES, Atari ST/E, Neo-Geo and many others.

While the daughter-board makes this wonderful for retro-computing and gaming, fpga is first and foremost a tool for engineering. It ships with a USB-Blaster which allows you to connect it directly to your PC and it will be recognized as a device. FPGA modeling applications will pick this up and you can test out designs “live”, or just place a core on the SD-card and edit the boot config.

The kit sells for roughly 100€ with a case, but getting both the motherboard and the retro daughter-board is difficult. These things are sold separately, and the daughter board is produced in small numbers by dedicated hackers. So winning a kit that is pre-assembled, soldered and ready to go is quite a prize!

If you are even remotely interested in FPGA programming, this should give you goosebumps!

Second prize

tinker

The most powerful SBC I have ever used

The silver medal is the powerful Asus Tinkerboard, this is probably the most powerful SBC you can get below 100€. It delivers 10 times the firepower a Raspberry PI 3b can muster – and is superbly suited for Android development, Smart Mobile Studio kiosk systems and much, much more.

Of all the board I have tested and own this is the one with enough CPU grunt (even the mighty ODroid XU4 can’t touch this) to rival a low-end x86 laptop. You have to fork out for a SnapDragon IV to beat the Tinkerboard.

I have two of these around the house myself, one as a game console running Emulation Station (emulates PSX 1, 2 and 3 games), and another under my TV with Kodi and a 2 terabyte movie collection.

Third prize

Last but not least the bronze medal is a Raspberry PI 3b. The PI should be no stranger to programmers today, it more or less defines the IOT revolution and has, by far, the biggest collection of software available of all SBC (single board computers) available today.

Raspberry_Pi_3_Large

The device that represents the IOT phenomenon

The PI is a wonderful starter board for Delphi developers who want to play with hardware under android. It’s also a fantastic board for Smart and FPC development.

I use a PI to test node.js services written in Smart Mobile Studio.

Dates

We start the clock on the 1st of october and submission must be delivered by the 31st. So you have a full month to code something cool!

Remember comments

While not always possible, try to write clean code. Part of the point here is to use these demos as an educational source.

We wont reject non-commented code, but please try to avoid 20k lines of spaghetti.

Hints and tips

Delphi has brilliant support for DirectX and OpenGL, so taking advantage of hardware acceleration should not be a problem. FMX is largely powered by the GPU and has 3d rendering and modeling as an integral feature – so Delphi developers have a slight advantage there.

16_bit_smb2_smm_wip_by_trackmasterfan341-da3nch3

Tilesets are graphics-blocks that can be used to create large game levels with a map-editor

If you want to use DIB’s under vanilla WinAPI there is always Graphics32, a wonderful and exceptionally detailed library for fast graphics.

Music: Most demo-scene code use mod music (actually today people play MP3’s as well), and there are good wrappers for player libraries like Bass. It’s always a nice touch to add a spot of music (and literally millions of free mod tracks freely available). So give your demo some flair by adding a kick-ass mod track, or impress us by writing a score yourself?

In the world of demo coding anything goes! Bring out that teenage spirit and go wild, create wonderful graphical effects, vector objects, scrolling texts, games or whatever tickles your fancy. If you need inspiration, check out the demo scene videos on YouTube (if that is what you would like to submit of course). A kick-ass database application, X server renderer, paint program or a compiler — it’s all good!

Make people go WOW that is cool!

Tile graphics: which is often used in games and demos, can be found almost anywhere. If you google “tileset” or “game tiles” you should get more than you need. Brilliant for parallax scrolling. Why not give Super Mario a run for its money? Show the next generation how to code a platform game! Check out the Tiled map-editor, this has a JSON export filter for you Smart Pascal coders.

screenshot-objects

Tiled is a powerful map editor. There is also mappy, which I believe have a Delphi player

OK guys, the game is a-foot! May the best coder win!

Smart Mobile Studio presentation in Oslo

September 28, 2018 Leave a comment

Yesterday evening I traveled to Oslo and held a presentation on Smart Mobile Studio. The response was very positive and I hope that everyone who attended left with some new ideas regarding JavaScript, the direction the world of software is heading – and how Smart Mobile Studio can be of service to Delphi.

Smart Pascal is especially exciting in concert with Rad-Server, where it opens the doors to Node based, platform independent services and sub clustering. With relatively little effort Rad-Server can absorb the wealth that node has to offer through Smart – but on your terms, and under Delphi’s control. The best of both worlds.

You get the stability and structure that makes Delphi so productive, and then infuse that with the flamboyance, flair and async brilliance that JavaScript represents.

More important than technology is the community! It’s been a few years since I took part in the Oslo Delphi Club’s meetups, so it was great to chat with Halvard Vassbotten, Trond Grøntoft, Alf Christoffersen, Torgeir Amundsen and Robin Bakker face to face again. I also had the pleasure of meeting some new Delphi developers.

prespic

Presentation at ABG Sundal Collier’s offices in Oslo

Thankfully the number of attendees were a moderate 14, considering this was my first presentation ever. Last time I visited was when our late Paweł Głowacki presented FMX, and the turnout was in the ballpark of a hundred. So it was an easy-going, laid-back atmosphere throughout the evening.

Conflict of interest?

Some might wonder why a person working for Embarcadero will present Smart Mobile Studio, which some still regard as competition. Smart is not in competition with Delphi and never will be. It is written by Delphi developers for Delphi developers as a means to bridge two worlds. It’s a project of loyalty and passion. We continue because we love what it enables us to do.

The talks on Smart that I am holding now, including the november talk in London, were booked before I started at Embarcadero (so it’s not a case of me promoting Smart in leu of Embarcadero). I also made it perfectly clear when I accepted the job that my work on Smart will continue in my spare time. And Embarcadero is fine with that. So I am free to spend my after-work hours and weekend time as I see fit.

smart_desktop

The Smart Desktop, codename Amibian.js, is a solid foundation for building large-scale web front-ends. Importing Sencha’s JS API’s can be done via our TypeScript wizard

So, after my presentation in London in november Smart Mobile Studio presentations (at least hosted by me) can only take place during weekends. Which is fair and the way it should be.

Recording the English version

Since the presentation last evening was in Norwegian, there was little point in recording it. Norway have a healthy share of Delphi developers, but a programming language available internationally must be presented in English.

techA couple of months back, before I started working for Embarcadero I promised to do a video presentation that would be available on Delphi Developer and YouTube. I very much like to keep that promise. So I will re-do the presentation in English as soon as possible. I would have done it today after work, but buying tech from the US have changed quite dramatically in just a couple of years.

In short: I haven’t received the remaining equipment I ordered for professional video recording and audio podcasting (which is a part of my Patreon offering as well), as such there will be no live video-feed /slash/ webinar – and questions will be limited to either the comment-section on Delphi Developer; or perhaps more appropriate, the Smart Mobile Studio Forums.

I’m hoping to get the HD camera, mic-table-arm and various bits-and-bobs i ordered from the US sometime next week. I have no idea why FedEx have become so difficult lately, but the package is apparently at LaGuardia, and I have to send receipts that document that these items are paid for before they ship them abroad (so the package manifest listing me as the customer, my address, phone number and receipt from the seller is somehow not enough). This is a first for me.

Interestingly they also stopped a package from Embarcadero with giveaways for my upcoming Delphi presentation in Sweden – at which point I had to send them a copy of my work contract to prove that I indeed work for an American company.

But a promise is a promise, so come rain or shine it will be done. Worst case scenario we can put Samsung’s claims to the test and hook up a mic + photo lens and see if their commercials have any merit.

Graphics essentials in Smart Mobile Studio 3

August 5, 2018 Leave a comment

JavaScript and the DOM has a few quirks that can be a bit tricky for Delphi developers to instinctively understand. And while our RTL covers more or less everything, I would be an idiot if I said we havent missed a spot here and there. A codebase as large as Smart is like a living canvas; And with each revision we cover more and more of our blind-spots.

Where did TW3Image.SaveToStream vanish?

We used to have a SaveToStream method in TW3Image that took the raw DIB data (raw RGBA pixel data) and emitted that to a stream. That method was never really meant to save a picture in a compliant format, but to make it easy for game developers to cache images in a buffer and quickly draw the pixel-data to a canvas (or push it to localstorage, good if you are making a paint program). This should have been made more clear in the RTL unit, but sadly it escaped me. I apologize for that.

But in this blog-post we are going to make a proper Save() function, one that saves to a proper format like PNG or JPG. It should be an interesting read for everyone.

Resources are global in scope

Before we dig in, a few words about how the browser treats resources. This is essential because the browser is a resource oriented system. Just think about it: HTML loads everything it needs separately, things like pictures, sounds, music, css styles — all these resources are loaded as the browser finds them in the code – and each have a distinct URI (uniform resource identifier) to represent them.

So no matter where in your code you are (even a different form), if you have the URI for a resource – it can be accessed. It’s important to not mix terminology here because URI is not the same as a URL. URI is a unique identifier, an URL (uniform resource location) defines “where” the browser can find something (it can also contain the actual data).

If you look at the C/C++ specs, the URL class inherits from URI. Which makes sense.

Once a resource is loaded and is assigned an URI, it can be accessed from anywhere in your code. It is global in scope and things like forms or parent controls in the RTL means nothing to the underlying DOM.

Making new resources

When you are creating new resources, like generating a picture via the canvas, that resource doesn’t have an URI. Thankfully, generating and assigning an URI so it can be accessed is very simple — and once we have that URI the user can download it via normal mechanisms.

But the really cool part is that this system isn’t just for images. It’s also for raw data! You can actually assign a URI to a buffer and make that available for download. The browsers wont care about the content.

If you open the RTL unit SmartCL.System.pas and scroll down to line 107 (or there about), you will find the following classes defined:


  (* Helper class for streams, adds data encapsulation *)
  TAllocationHelper = class helper for TAllocation
    function  GetObjectURL: string;
    procedure RevokeObjectURL(const ObjectUrl: string);
  end;

  TW3URLObject = static class
  public
    class function  GetObjectURL(const Text, Encoding, ContentType, Charset: string): string; overload;
    class function  GetObjectURL(const Text: string): string; overload;
    class function  GetObjectURL(const Stream: TStream): string; overload;
    class function  GetObjectURL(const Data: TAllocation): string; overload;
    class procedure RevokeObjectURL(const ObjectUrl: string);

    // This cause a download in the browser of an object-url
    class procedure Download(const ObjectURL: string; Filename: string); overload;
    class procedure Download(const ObjectURL: string; Filename: string;
          const OnStarted: TProcedureRefS); overload;
  end;

The first class, TAllocationHelper, is just a helper for a class called TAllocation. TAllocation is the base-class for objects that allocate raw memory, and can be found in the unit System.Memory.Allocation.pas.
TAllocation is really central and more familiar classes like TMemoryStream expose this as a property. The idea here being that if you have a memory stream with something, making the data downloadable is a snap.

Hopefully you have gotten to know the central buffer class, TBinaryData, which is defined in System.Memory.Buffer. This is just as important as TMemoryStream and will make your life a lot easier when talking to JS libraries that expects an untyped buffer handle (for example) or a blob (more on that later).

The next class, TW3URLObject, is the one that is of most interest here. You have probably guessed that TAllocationHelper makes it a snap to generate URI’s for any class that inherits from or expose a TAllocation instance (read: really handy for TMemoryStream). But TW3URLObject is the class you want.

The class contains 3 methods with various overloading:

  • GetObjectURL
  • RevokeObjectURL
  • Download

I think these are self explanatory, but in short they deliver the following:

  • GetObjectURL creates an URI for a resource
  • RevokeObjectURL removes a previously made URI from a resource
  • Download triggers the “SaveAs” dialog so users can, well, save the data to their local disk

The good news for graphics is that the canvas object contains a neat method that does this automatically, namely the ToDataUrl() function, which is a wrapper for the raw JS canvas method with the same name. Not only will it encode your picture in a normal picture format (defaults to png but supports all known web formats), it will also return the entire image as a URI encoded string.

This saves us the work of having to manually call GetObjectURL() and then invoke the save dialog.

Making some offscreen graphics

TW3Image is not meant for drawing, it’s like Delphi’s TImage and is a graphics container. So before we put a TW3Image on our form we are going to create the actual graphics to display. And we do this by creating an off-screen graphics context, assign a canvas to it, draw the graphics, and then encode the data via ToDataUrl().

To make things easier, lets use the Delphi compatible TBitmap and TCanvas classes. These can be found in SmartCL.Legacy. They are as compatible as I could make them.

  • Browsers only support 32 bit graphics, so only pf32bit is allowed
  • I havent implemented checkered, diagonal or other patterns – so bsSolid and bsClear are the only brush modes for canvas (and pen style as well).
  • Brush doesn’t have a picture property (yet), but this will be added later at some point. I have to replace the built-in linedraw() method with the Bresham algorithm for that to happen (and all the other primitives).
  • When drawing lines you have to call Stroke() to render. The canvas buffers up all the drawing operations and removes overlapping pixels to speed up the final drawing process — this is demanded by the browser sadly.

Right, with that behind us, lets create an off-screen bitmap, fill the background red and assign it to a TW3Image control.

To replicate this example please use the following recipy:

  1. Start a new “visual components project”
  2. Add the following units to the uses clause:
    1. System.Colors
    2. System.Types.Graphics
    3. SmartCL.Legacy
  3. Add a TW3Button to the form
  4. add a TW3Image to the form
  5. Save your project
  6. Double-Click on the button. This creates a code entry point for the default event, which for a button is OnClick.

Let’s populate the entry point with the following:

procedure TForm1.W3Button1Click(Sender: TObject);
var
  LBitmap:  TBitmap;
  LRect:    TRect;
begin
  LBitmap := TBitmap.Create;
  try
    LBitmap.Allocate(640, 480);
    LRect := TRect.Create(0, 0, LBitmap.width-1, LBitmap.Height-1);
    LBitmap.Canvas.Brush.Color := clRed;
    LBitmap.Canvas.FillRect(LRect);

    w3image1.LoadFromUrl( LBitmap.Canvas.ToDataURL('image/png') );

  finally
    LBitmap.free;
  end;
end;

The code above creates a bitmap, which is an off-screen (not visible) graphics context. We then set a background color to use (red) and fill the bitmap with that color. When this is done we load the picture-data directly into our TW3Image control so we can see it.

Triggering a download

With the code for creating graphics done, we now move on to the save mechanism. We want to download the picture when the user clicks the button.

offscreen

Offscreen graphics is quite fun once you know how it works

Since the image already have an URI, which it get’s when you call the ToDataURL() method, we don’t need to mess around with blob buffers and generating the URI manually. So forcing a download could not be simpler:

procedure TForm1.W3Button1Click(Sender: TObject);
var
  LBitmap:  TBitmap;
  LRect:    TRect;
begin
  LBitmap := TBitmap.Create;
  try
    LBitmap.Allocate(640, 480);
    LRect := TRect.Create(0, 0, LBitmap.width-1, LBitmap.Height-1);
    LBitmap.Canvas.Brush.Color := clRed;
    LBitmap.Canvas.FillRect(LRect);

    var LEncodedData:= LBitmap.Canvas.ToDataURL('image/png');
    w3image1.LoadFromUrl(LEncodedData);

    TW3URLObject.Download( LEncodedData, 'picture.png');

  finally
    LBitmap.free;
  end;
end;

Note: The built-in browser in Smart doesn’t allow save dialogs, so when you run this example remember to click the “open in browser” button on the execute window. Then click the button and voila — the image is downloaded directly.

Well, I hope this has helped! I will do a couple of more posts on graphics shortly because there really is a ton of cool features here. We picked heavily from various libraries when we implemented TW3Canvas and TCanvas, so if you like making games or display data – then you are in for a treat!

Nano PI Fire 3, part two

July 18, 2018 Leave a comment

If you missed the first installment of this test, please click here to catch up. In this installment we are just going to dive straight into general use and get a feel for what can and cannot be done.

Solving the power problem

pi-powerLike mentioned in the previous article, a normal mobile charger (5 volt, 2 amps) is not enough to support the nano-pi. Since I have misplaced my original PI power-supply with 5 volt / 3 amps I decided to cheat. So I plugged the power USB into my PC which will deliver as much juice as the device needs. I don’t have time to wait for a new PSU to arrive so this will have to do.

But for the record (and underlined) a proper PSU with at least 2.5 amps is essential to using this board. I suggest you order the official Raspberry PI 3b power-supply. But if you should find one with 3 amps that would be even better.

Web performance

The question on everyone’s mind (or at least mine) is: how does the Nano-PI fire 3 perform when rendering cutting edge, hardcore HTML5? Is this little device a potential candidate for running “The Smart Desktop” (a.k.a Amibian.js for those of you coming from the retro-computing scene)?

Like I suspected earlier, X (the Linux windowing framework) doesn’t have drivers that deliver hardware acceleration at all.

shot_desktop-1024x819-2-1024x819

Lubuntu is a sexy desktop no doubt there, but it’s overkill for this device

This is quite easy to test: when selecting a rectangle on the Lubuntu desktop and moving the mouse-cursor around (holding down the left mouse button at the same time) if it lags terribly, that is a clear indicator that no acceleration exists.

And I was right on the money because there is no acceleration what so ever for the Linux distribution. It struggles hopelessly to keep up with the mouse-pointer as you move it around with an active selection; something that would be silky smooth had the GPU been tasked with the job.

But, hardware acceleration is not just about the desktop. It’s not some flag you enable and it magically effect everything, but rather several API’s at either the kernel-level or immediate driver level (modules the kernel loads), each affecting different aspects of a system.

So while the desktop “2d blitting” is clearly cpu driven, other aspects of the system can still be accelerated (although that would be weird and rare. But considering how Asus messed up the Tinkerboard I guess anything goes these days).

Asking Chrome for the hard facts

I fired up Google Chrome (which is the default browser thank god) and entered the magic url:

chrome://gpu

This is a built-in page that avails a detailed report of what Chrome learns about the current system, right down to specific GPU features used by OpenGL.

As expected, there was NO acceleration what so ever. So I was quite surprised that it managed to run Amibian.js at all. Even without hardware acceleration it outperformed the Raspberry PI 3b+ by a factor of 4 (at the very least) and my particle demo ran at a whopping 8 fps (frames per second). The original Rasperry PI could barely manage 2 fps. So the Nano-PI Fire is leagues ahead of the PI in terms of raw cpu power, which is brilliant for headless servers or computational tasks.

FriendlyCore vs Lubuntu? QT for the win

Now here is a funny thing. So far I have used the Lubuntu standard Linux image, and performance has been interesting to say the least. No hardware acceleration, impressive cpu results but still – what good is a SBC Linux distro without fast graphics? Sure, if you just want a head-less file server or host services then you don’t need a beefy GPU. But here is the twist:

Turns out the makers of the board has a second, QT oriented distro called Friendly-core. And this image has OpenGL-ES support and all the missing acceleration lacking from Lubuntu.

I was pretty annoyed with how Asus gave users the run-around with Tinkerboard downloads, but they have thankfully cleaned up their act and listened to their customers. Friendly-elec might want to learn from Asus mistakes in this area.

Qtwebenginebrowser

QT has a rich history, but it’s being marginalized by node.js and Delphi these days

Alas, Friendly-core xenial 4.4 Arm64 image turned out to be a pure embedded development image. This is why the board has a debug port (which is probably awesome if you are into QT development). So this is for QT developers that want to use the board as a single-application system where they write the code on Windows or Linux, compile and it’s all transported to the board with live debugging back to the devtools they use. In other words: not very useful for non C/C++ QT developers.

Android Lolipop

2000px-Android_robot.svgI have only used Android on a pad and the odd Samsung Galaxy phone, so this should be interesting. I Downloaded the Lolipop disk image, burned it to the sd-card and booted up.

After 20 minutes with a blank screen i gave up.

I realize that some Android distros download packages ad-hoc and install directly from a repository, so it can take some time to get started; but 15-20 minutes with a black screen? The Android logo didn’t even show up — and that should be visible almost immediately regardless of network install or not.

This is really a great shame because I wanted to test some Delphi Firemonkey applications on it, to see how well it scales the more demanding GPU tasks. And yes i did try a different SD-Card to be sure it wasnt a disk error. Same result.

Back to Lubuntu

Having spent a considerable time trying to find a “wow” factor for this board, I have to just surrender to the fact that it’s just not there. . This is not a “PI” any more than the Tinkerboard is a PI. And appending “pi” to a product name will never change that.

I can imagine the Nano-PI Fire 3 being an awesome single-application board for QT C/C++ developers though. With a dedicated debug port making it a snap to transport, execute and do live debugging directly on the hardware — but for general DIY hacking, using it for native Android development with Delphi, or node.js development with Smart Mobile Studio – or just kicking back with emulators like Mame, UAE or whatever tickles your fancy — its just too rough around the edges. Which is really a shame!

So at the end of the day I re-installed Lubuntu and figure I just have to wait until Friendly-elec get their act together and issue proper drivers for the Mali GPU. So it’s $35 straight out the window — but I can live with that. It was a risk but at that price it’s not going to break the bank.

The positive thing

The Nano-PI Fire 3 is yet another SBC in a long list that fall short of its potential. Like many others they try to use the word “PI” to channel some of the Raspberry PI enthusiasm their way – but the quality of the actual system is not even close.

In fact, using PI in their product name is setting themselves up for a fall – because customers will quickly discover that this product is not a PI, which can cause some subconscious aversion and resentment.

37013365_10155541149775906_3122577366065348608_o

The Nano rendered Amibian.js running some very demanding demos 4 times as fast as the PI 3b, one can only speculate what the board could do with proper drivers for the GPU.

The only positive feature the Fire-3 clearly has to offer, is abundantly more cpu power. It is without a doubt twice as fast (if not 3 times as fast) as the Raspberry PI 3b. The fact that it can render highly demanding and complex HTML5 demos 4 times faster than the Raspberry PI 3b without hardware acceleration is impressive. This is a $35 board after all, which is the same price.

But without proper drivers for the mali, it’s a useless toy. Powerful and with great potential, but utterly useless for multimedia and everything that relies on fast 2D and 3D graphics. For UAE (Amiga emulation) you can pretty much forget it. Even if you can compile the latest UAE4Arm with SDL as its primary display framework – it wouldn’t work because SDL depends on the graphics drivers. So it’s back to square one.

But the CPU packs a punch that is without question.

Final verdict

Top the x86 UP board, left bottom a Raspberry PI 3, bottom right the ODroid XU4

There are a lot of stable and excellent options out there, take your time

I was planning to test UAE next but as I have outlined above: without drivers that properly expose and delegate the power of the mali, it would be a complete disaster. I’m not even sure it would build.

As such I will just leave this board as is. If it matures at some point that would be great, but my advice to people looking for a great SBC experience — get the new Raspberry PI 3b+ and enjoy learning and exploring there.

And if you are into Amibian.js or making high quality HTML5 kiosk / node.js based systems, then fork out the extra $10 and buy an ODroid XU4. If you pay $55 you can pick up the Asus Tinkerboard which is blistering fast and great value for money, despite its turbulent introduction.

Note: You cannot go wrong with the ODroid XU4. Its affordable, stable and fast. So for beginners it’s either the Raspberry PI 3b+ or the ODroid. These are the most mature in terms of software, drivers and stability.

What is new in Smart Mobile Studio 3.0

July 16, 2018 1 comment

Trying to sum up the literally thousands of changes we have done in Smart Mobile Studio the past 12 months is quite a challenge. Instead of just blindly rambling on about every little detail – I’ll try to focus on the most valuable changes; changes that you can immediately pick up and experience for yourself.

Scriptable css themes

theme_structure

A visual control now has its border and background styled from our pre-defined styles. The styles serve the same function in all themes even though they look different.

This might not feel like news since we introduced this around xmas, but like all features it has matured through the beta phases. The benefits of the new system might not be immediately obvious.

So what is so fantastic about the new theme files compared to the old css styling?

We have naturally gone over every visual control to make them look better, but more importantly – we have defined a standard for how visual controls are styled. This is important because without a theme system in place, making application “theme aware” would be impossible.

  • Each theme file is constructed according to a standard
  • A visual control is no longer styled using a single css-rule (like we did before), but rather a combination of several styles:
    • There are 15 background styles, each with a designated role
    • There are 14 borders, each designed to work with specific backgrounds
    • We have 4 font sizes to simplify what small, normal, medium and large means for a particular theme.
  • A theme file contains both CSS and Smart pascal code
  • The code is sandboxed and has no access to the filesystem or RTL
  • The code is executed at compile time, not runtime (!). So the code is only used to generate things like gradients based on constants; “scaffolding” code if you will that makes it easier to maintain and create new themes.

Optimized and re-written visual controls

Almost all our visual controls have been re-written or heavily adjusted to meet the demands of our users. The initial visual controls were originally designed as examples, following in the footsteps of mono where users are expected to work more closely with the code.

To remedy this we have gone through each control and added features you would expect to be present. In most cases the controls are clean re-writes, taking better advantage of HTML5 features such as flex-boxing and relative positions (you can now change layout mode via the PositionMode property. Displaymode is likewise a read-write property).

flexing

Flex boxing relieves controls of otherwise expensive layout chores and evenly distributes elements

Flex-boxing is a layout technique where the browser will automatically stretch or equally distribute screen real estate for child elements. Visual controls like TW3Toolbar and TW3ListMenu makes full use of this – and as a result they are more lightweight, requires no resize code and behave like native controls.

Momentum scrolling as standard

Apple have changed the rules for scrolling 3 times in the past eight years, and it’s driving HTML/JS developers nuts every time. We decided years ago that we had enough and implemented momentum scrolling ourselves written in Smart Pascal. So no matter if Apple or anyone else decides to make life difficult for developers – it wont bother us.

momentum

Momentum scrolling with indicator (or scrollbars) are now standard for all container controls and lists.

Our new TW3Scrollbox and (non visual) TW3ScrollController means that all our container and list controls supports GPU powered momentum scrolling by default. You can also disable this and use whatever default method the underlying web-view or browser has to offer.

Bi-directional Tab control

A good tab control is essential when making mobile and web applications, but making one that behaves like native controls do is quite a challenge. We see a lot of frameworks that have problems doing the bi-directional scrolling that mobile tabs do, where the headers scroll in-place as you click or touch them – and the content of the tab scroll in from either side (at the same time).

tabcontrol

Thankfully this was not that hard to implement for us, since we have proper inheritance to fall back on. JS developers tend to be limited to prototype cloning, which makes it difficult to build up more and more complex behavior. Smart enjoys the same inheritance system that Delphi and C++ uses, and this makes life a lot easier.

Google Maps control

Not exactly hard to make but a fun addition to our RTL. Very useful in applications where you want to pinpoint office locations.

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Updated ACE coding editor

ACE is by many regarded as the de-facto standard text and code editor for JavaScript. It is a highly capable editor en-par with SynEdit in the Delphi and C++ world. This is actually the only visual control that we did not implement ourselves, although our wrapper code is substantial.

ace

Ace comes with a wealth of styles (color themes) and support for different programming languages. It can also take on the behavior of other editors like emacs (an editor as old as Unix).

We have updated Ace to the latest revision and tuned the wrapper code for speed. There was a small problem with padding that caused Ace to misbehave earlier, this has now been fixed.

The Smart Desktop, windowing framework

People have asked us for more substantial demos of what Smart Mobile Studio can do. Well this certainly qualifies. It is probably the biggest product demo ever made and represents a complete visual web desktop with an accompanying server (the Ragnarok Websocket protocol).

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The Smart Desktop showcases some of the power Smart Mobile Studio can muster

It involves quite a bit of technology, including a filesystem that uses the underlying protocol to browse and access files on the server as if they were local. It can also execute shell applications remotely and pipe the results back.

A shell window and command-line system is also included, where commands like “dir” yields the actual directory of whatever path you explore on the server.

Since the browser has no concept of “window” (except a browser window) this is fully implemented as Smart classes. Moving windows, maximizing them (and other common operations) are all included.

The Smart desktop is a good foundation for making large-scale, enterprise level web applications. Applications the size of Photoshop could be made with our desktop framework, and it makes an excellent starting-point for developers involved in router, set-top-boxes and kiosk systems.

Node.JS and server-side technology

While we have only begun to expand our node.js namespace, it is by far one of the most interesting aspects of Smart Mobile Studio 3.0. Where we only used to have rudimentary support (or very low-level) for things like http – the SmartNJ namespace represents high-level classes that can be compared to Indy under Delphi.

As of writing the following servers can be created:

  • HTTP and HTTPS
  • WebSocket and WebSocket-Secure
  • UDP Server
  • Raw TCP server

The cool thing is that the entire system namespace with all our foundation code, is fully compatible and can be used under node. This means streams, buffers, JSON, our codec classes and much, much more.

I will cover the node.js namespace in more detail soon enough.

Unified filesystem

The browser allows some access to files, within a sandboxed and safe environment. The problem is that this system is completely different from what you find under phonegap, which in turn is wildly different from what node.js operates with.

In order for us to make it easy to store information in a unified way, which also includes online services such as Azure, Amazon and Dropbox — we decided to make a standard.

filesys

The Smart Desktop shows the filesystem and device classes in action. Here accessing the user-account files on the server both visually and through our command-line (shell) application.

So in Smart Mobile Studio we introduce two new concepts:

  • Storage device classes (or “drivers”)
  • Path parsers

The idea is that if you want to save a stream to a file, there should be a standard mechanism for doing so. A mechanism that also works under node, phonegap and whatever else is out there.

For the browser we went as far as implementing our own filesystem, based on a fast B-Tree class that can be serialized to both binary and JSON. For Node.js we map to the existing filesystem methods – and we will continue to expand the RTL with new and exciting storage devices as we move along.

Path parsers deals with how operative-systems name and deal with folders and files. Microsoft Windows has a very different system from Unix, which again can have one or two subtle differences from Linux. When a Smart application boots it will investigate what platform it’s running on, and create + install an appropriate path parser.

You will also be happy to learn that the unit System.IOUtils, which is a standard object pascal unit, is now a part of our RTL. It contains the class TPath which gives you standard methods for working with paths and filenames.

New text parser

Being able to parse text is important. We ported our TextCraft parser (initially written for Delphi) to Smart, which is a good framework for making both small and complex parsers. And we also threw in a bytecode assembler and virtual-cpu demo just for fun.

Note: The assembler and virtual cpu is meant purely as a demonstration of the low-level routines our RTL has to offer. Most JS based systems run away from raw data manipulation, well that is not the case here.

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Time to get excited!

I hope you have enjoyed this little walk-through. There are hundreds of other items we have added, fixed and expanded (we have also given the form-designer and property inspector some much needed love) – but some of the biggest changes are shown here.

For more information stay tuned and visit www.smartmobilestudio.com

Smart Mobile Studio: Q&A about v3.0 and beyond

July 1, 2018 4 comments

A couple of days back I posted a sneak-peek of our upcoming Smart Mobile Studio 3.0 web desktop framework; as a consequence my Facebook messenger app has practically exploded with questions.

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The desktop client / server framework is an example of what you can do in Smart

As you can imagine, the questions people ask are often very similar; so similar in fact that I will answer the hottest topics here. Hopefully that will make it easier for everyone.

If you have further questions then either ask them on our product forums or the Delphi Developer group on Facebook.

 

Generics

Yes indeed we have generics running in the labs. We havent set a date on when we will merge the new compiler-core, but it’s not going to happen until (at the earliest) v3.4. So it’s very much a part of Smart’s future but we have a couple of steps left on our time-line for v3.0 through v3.4.

RTTI access

RTTI is actually in the current version, but sadly there is a bug there that causes the code generator to throw a fit. The fix for this depends on a lot of the sub-strata in the new compiler-core, so it will be available when generics is available.

Associative arrays

This is ready and waiting in the new core, so it will appear together with generics and RTTI.

Databases

We have supported databases since day 1, but the challenge with JavaScript is that there are no “standards” like we are used to from established systems like Delphi or Lazarus.

Under the browser we support WebSQL and our own TW3Dataset. We also compiled SQLite from native C to JavaScript so we can provide a fast, lightweight SQL engine for the browser regardless of what the W3C might do (WebSQL has been deprecated but will be around for many years still).

Server side it’s a whole different ballgame. There you have drivers (or modules) for every possible database you can think of, even Firebird. But each module is implemented as the authors see fit. This is where our Database framework comes in, sets a standard, and we then inherit out classes and implement the engines we want.

This framework and standard is being written now, but it wont be introduced until v3.1 and v3.2. In the meantime you have sqlite both server-side and client-side, WebSQL and TW3Dataset.

Attributes

This question is often asked separately from RTTI, but it’s ultimately an essential part of what RTTI delivers.

So same answer: it will arrive with the new compiler-core / infrastructure.

Server-side scripting

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The new theme system in action

While we do see how this could be useful, it requires a substantial body of work to make a reality. Not only would we have to implement the whole “system” namespace from scratch since JavaScript would not be present, but we would also have to introduce a a secondary namespace; one that would be incompatible with the whole RTL at a fundamental level. Instead of going down this route we opted for Node.js where creating the server itself is the norm.

 

If we ever add server-side scripting it would be JavaScript support under node.js by compiling the V8 engine from C to asm.js. But right now our focus is not on server-side-scripting, but on cloud building-blocks.

Bytecode compilation

I implemented the assembler and runtime for our bytecode system (LDef) this winter / early spring; So we actually have the means to create a pure bytecode compiler and runtime.

But this is not a priority for us at this time. Smart Mobile Studio was made for JavaScript and while it would be cool to compile Delphi sourcecode to portable bytecodes, such a project would require not just a couple of namespaces – but a complete rewrite of the RTL. The assembler source-code and parser can be found in the “Next Generation Demos” folder (Smart Mobile Studio 3.0 demos). Feel free to build on the codebase if you fancy creating your own language;Get creative and enjoy! **Note: Using the assembler in your own projects requires a valid Smart Mobile license.

Native Apps

It’s interesting that people still ask this, since its one of our central advantages. We already generate native apps via the Phonegap post-processor.

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Phonegap turns your JS apps into native apps

Phonegap takes your compiled Smart (visual projects only) compiled code, processes it, and spits out native apps for every mobile OS on the market (and more). So you don’t have to compile especially for iOS, Android, Tizen or FireOS — Phonegap generates one for each system you need, ready for AppStore.

So we have native covered by proxy. And with millions of users Phonegap is not going anywhere.

Release date

We are going over the last beta as I type this, and Smart Mobile Studio 3.0 should be available next week. Which day is not easy to say, but at least before next weekend if all goes accoring to plan.

Make sure you visit www.smartmobilestudio.com and buy your license!