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Quartex Media Desktop, new compiler and general progress

September 11, 2019 Leave a comment

It’s been a few weeks since my last update on the project. The reason I dont blog that often about Quartex Media Desktop (QTXMD), is because the official user-group has grown to 2000+ members. So it’s easier for me to post developer updates directly to the audience rather than writing articles about it.

desktop_01

Quartex Media Desktop ~ a complete environment that runs on every device

If you haven’t bothered digging into the project, let me try to sum it up for you quickly.

Quick recap on Quartex Media Desktop

To understand what makes this project special, first consider the relationship between Microsoft Windows and a desktop program. The operating system, be it Windows, Linux or OSX – provides an infrastructure that makes complex applications possible. The operating-system offers functions and services that programs can rely on.

The most obvious being:

  • A filesystem and the ability to save and load data
  • A windowing toolkit so programs can be displayed and have a UI
  • A message system so programs can communicate with the OS
  • A service stack that takes care of background tasks
  • Authorization and identity management (security)

I have just described what the Quartex Media Desktop is all about. The goal is simple:

to provide for JavaScript what Windows and OS X provides for ordinary programs.

Just stop and think about this. Every “web application” you have ever seen, have all lacked these fundamental features. Sure you have libraries that gives you a windowing environment for Javascript, like Embarcadero Sencha; but im talking about something a bit more elaborate. Creating windows and buttons is easy, but what about ownership? A runtime environment has to keep track of the resources a program allocates, and make sure that security applies at every step.

Target audience and purpose

Take a second and think about how many services you use that have a web interface. In your house you probably have a router, and all routers can be administered via the browser. Sadly, most routers operate with a crude design and that leaves much to be desired.

router

Router interfaces for web are typically very limited and plain looking. Imagine what NetGear could do with Quartex Media Desktop instead

If you like to watch movies you probably have a Plex or Kodi system running somewhere in your house; perhaps you access that directly via your TV – or via a modern media system like Playstation 4 or XBox one. Both Plex and Kodi have web-based interfaces.

Netflix is now omnipresent and have practically become an institution in it’s own right. Netflix is often installed as an app – but the app is just a thin wrapper around a web-interface. That way they dont have to code apps for every possible device and OS out there.

If you commute via train in Scandinavia, chances are you buy tickets on a kiosk booth. Most of these booths run embedded software and the interface is again web based. That way they can update the whole interface without manually installing new software on each device.

plex-desktop-movies-1024x659

Plex is a much loved system. It is based on a mix of web and native technologies

These are just examples of web based interfaces you might know and use; devices that leverage web technology. As a developer, wouldn’t it be cool if there was a system that could be forked, adapted and provide advanced functionality out of the box?

Just imagine a cheap Jensen router with a Quartex Media Desktop interface! It could provide a proper UI interface with applications that run in a windowing environment. They could disable ordinary desktop functionality and run their single application in kiosk mode. Taking full advantage of the underlying functionality without loss of security.

And the same is true for you. If you have a great idea for a web based application, you can fork the system, adjust it to suit your needs – and deploy a cutting edge cloud system in days rather than months!

New compiler?

Up until recently I used Smart Mobile Studio. But since I have left that company, the matter became somewhat pressing. I mean, QTXMD is an open-source system and cant really rely on third-party intellectual property. Eventually I fired up Delphi, forked the latest  DWScript, and used that to roll a new command-line compiler.

desktop_02

Web technology has reached a level of performance that rivals native applications. You can pretty much retire Photoshop in favour of web based applications these days

But with a new compiler I also need a new RTL. Thankfully I have been coding away on the new RTL for over a year, but there is still a lot of work to do. I essentially have to implement the same functionality from scratch.

There will be more info on the new compiler / codegen when its production ready.

Progress

If I was to list all the work I have done since my last post, this article would be a small book. But to sum up the good stuff:

  • Authentication has been moved into it’s own service
  • The core (the main server) now delegates login messages to said service
  • We no longer rely on the Smart Pascal filesystem drivers, but use the raw node.js functions instead  (faster)
  • The desktop now use the Smart Theme engine. This means that we can style the desktop to whatever we like. The OS4 theme that was hardcoded will be moved into its own proper theme-file. This means the user can select between OS4, iOS, Android and Ubuntu styling. Creating your own theme-files is also possible. The Smart theme-engine will be replaced by a more elaborate system in QTX later
  • Ragnarok (the message api) messages now supports routing. If a routing structure is provided,  the core will relay the message to the process in question (providing security allows said routing for the user)
  • The desktop now checks for .info files when listing a directory. If a file is accompanied by an .info file, the icon is extracted and shown for that file
  • Most of the service layer now relies on the QTX RTL files. We still have some dependencies on the Smart Pascal RTL, but we are making good progress on QTX. Eventually  the whole system will have no dependencies outside QTX – and can thus be compiled without any financial obligations.
  • QTX has it’s own node.js classes, including server and client base-classes
  • Http(s) client and server classes are added to QTX
  • Websocket and WebSocket-Secure are added to QTX
  • TQTXHybridServer unifies http and websocket. Meaning that this server type can handle both orinary http requests – but also websocket connections on the same network socket. This is highly efficient for websocket based services
  • UDP classes for node.js are implemented, both client and server
  • Zero-Config classes are now added. This is used by the core for service discovery. Meaning that the child services hosted on another machine will automatically locate the core without knowing the IP. This is very important for machine clustering (optional, you can define a clear IP in the core preferences file)
  • Fixed a bug where the scrollbars would corrupt widget states
  • Added API functions for setting the scrollbars from hosted applications (so applications can tell the desktop that it needs scrollbar, and set the values)
  • .. and much, much more

I will keep you all posted about the progress — the core (the fundamental system) is set for release in december – so time is of the essence! Im allocating more or less all my free time to this, and it will be ready to rock around xmas.

When the core is out, I can focus solely on the applications. Everything from Notepad to Calculator needs to be there, and more importantly — the developer tools. The CloudForge IDE for developers is set for 2020. With that in place you can write applications for iOS, Android, Windows, OS X and Linux directly from Quartex Media Desktop. Nothing to install, you just need a modern browser and a QTX account.

The system is brilliant for small teams and companies. They can setup their own instance, communicate directly via the server (text chat and video chat is scheduled) and work on their products in concert.

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 🙂

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!

Delphi AST, XML and weekend experiments

April 29, 2019 1 comment

One of the benefits of the Delphi IDE is that it’s a very rich eco-system that component writers and technology partners can tap into for their own products. I know that writing your own components is not something everyone enjoy, but knowing that you can in-fact write tools that expands the IDE using just Delphi or C++ builder, opens up for some interesting tools.

Ye old compiler bible

Ye old compiler bible

Delphi has a long tradition of “IDE enhancement” software and elaborate third-party tools that automate or delivers some benefit right in the environment. RemObjects SDK is probably the best example of how flexible the IDE truly is. RemObjects SDK integrates a whole service designer, which will generate source-code for you, update the code if you change something – and even generate service manifests for you.

There are also other tools that show off the flexibility of the IDE, ranging from code migration to advanced code refactoring and optimization.

It was with the last bit, namely code refactoring, that a third-party open-source library received a lot of deserving attention a couple of years back. A package called DelphiAST. This is a low-level syntax parser that reads Delphi source-code, applies fundamental syntax checks, and transforms the code into XML. A wet dream for anyone interested in writing advanced tooling that operates directly on source-code level.

Delphi AST

Like mentioned above, DelphiAST is a parser. Its job is very simple: parse the code, perform language level syntax checking, and convert each aspect of the code to a valid XML element. We are not talking about stuffing source-code into a CDATA segment here, but rather breaking each statement into separate tags (begin, end, if, procedure, param) so you can apply filtering, transformations and everything XML has to offer.

Back when Roman first started on DelphiAST, I got thinking — could we follow this idea further, and apply XML transformation to produce something more interesting? Would it actually be possible to approach the notion of compiling from a whole new angle? Perhaps convert between languages in a more effective way?

The short answer is: yes, everything is possible. But as always there are caveats and obstacles to overcome.

First of all, DelphiAST despite its name doesn’t actually generate a fully functional abstract symbol tree (AST). It generates a data model that is very suitable for AST generation, but not an actual AST. Everything in a programming language that can be referenced, like a method, a class, a global variable, a local variable, a parameter – are all called “symbols”. And before you can even think about processing the code, a fast and reliable AST must be in place.

Who cares?

Before I continue, you might be wondering why re-inventing the wheel is even a thing here? Why would anyone research compilers in 2019 when the world is abundant with compilers for a multitude of languages?

Because the world of computing is about to be hit by a tsunami, that’s why.

Quartex Pascal

Quartex Pascal

In the next 8-10 years the world of computing will be turned on its head. NVIDIA and roughly 100 tech companies have invested in open-source CPU designs, making it very clear that playing by Intel’s rules and bleeding royalties will no longer be tolerated. IBM has woken up from its “patent induced slumber” and is set to push their P9 cpu architecture, targeting both the high-end server and embedded market (see my article last year on PPC). At the same time Microsoft and Apple have both signaled that they are moving to ARM (an estimate of 5 years is probably reasonable). Laptop beta’s are said to be already rolling, with a commercial version expected Q3 this year (I think it wont arrive before xmas, but who knows).

Intel has remained somewhat silent about any long-term plans, but everyone that keeps an eye on hardware knows they are working like mad on next-gen FPGA. A tech that has the potential to disrupt the whole industry. Work is also being done to bridge FPGA coding with traditional code; there is no way of predicting the outcome of that though.

Oh and AMD is usurping the Intel marketshare at a steady rate — so we are in for a fight to the death.

The rise of C/C++

Those that keep tabs on languages have no doubt noticed the spike in C/C++ popularity lately. And the cause of this is that developers are safeguarding themselves for the storm to come.  C as a language might not be the most beautiful out there, but truth be told, it’s tooling requires the least amount of work to target a new platform. When a new architecture is released, C/C++ is always the first language available. You wont see C#, Flutter or Rust shipping with the latest and greatest; It’s always GCC or Clang.

Note: GCC is not just C, it’s actually a family of languages, so ironically, Gnu Basic hits a platform at the same time.

Those that have followed my blog for the past 10 years, should be more than aware of my experiments. From compiling to Javascript, generating bytecodes – and right now, moving the whole development paradigm to the browser. Hopefully my readers also recognize why this is important.

But to make you understand why I am so passionate about my compiler experiments, let’s do a little thought experiment:

Rethinking tooling

Let’s say we take Delphi, implement a bytecode format and streamline the RTL to be platform agnostic. What would the consequences of that be?

Well, first of all the compiler process would be split in two. The traditional compilation process would still be there, but it would generate bytecodes rather than machine code. That part would be isolated in a completely separate process; a process that, just like with the Delphi IDE’s infrastructure, could be outsourced to component-writers and technology partners. This in turn would provide the community with a high degree of safety, since the community itself could approach new targets without waiting for Embarcadero.

Even more, such an architecture would not be limited to machine-code. There is no law that says “you must convert bytecodes to machine code”. Since C/C++ is the foundation that modern operating-systems rest on, generating C/C++ source-code that can be built by existing compilers is a valid strategy.

There is also another factor to include in all of this, and that is Linux. Borland was correct in their assessment of Linux (the Kylix project), but they failed miserably with regards to timing. They also gravely underestimated Linux user’s sense of quality, depending on Wine (a Windows virtualization framework) to even function. They also underestimated Freepascal and Lazarus, because Linux is something FPC does exceptionally well. Competing financially against free products wont work unless you bring outstanding abilities to the table. And Linux have development tools that rival Visual Studio in quality, yet costs nothing.

But no matter how financially tricky Linux might be, we have reached the point in time where Linux is becoming mainstream. 10 years ago I had to setup my own Linux machine. There were no retailers locally that shipped a Linux box. Today I can walk into two major chains and pick dedicated Linux machines. Ubuntu in particular is well established and delivers LTS.

So for me personally, compiler tech has never been more important. And even more important is the tooling being universal and unbound by any specific API or cpu instruction-set. Firemonkey is absolutely a step in the right direction, but I think it’s a disaster to focus on native UI’s beyond a system level binding. Because replicating the same level of support and functionality for ARM, P9, RISC 5 and whatever monstrosity Intel comes up with through FPGA will take forever.

Transformation based conversion

We have wandered far off topic now, so let’s bring it back to this weekends experiment.

In short, XML transformations to convert code does work, but the right tooling have to be there to make it viable. I implemented a poor-man’s symbol table, just collecting classes, types and methods – and yeah, works just fine. What worries me a bit though is the XML parser. Microsoft has put a lot of money into XML file handling on enterprise level. When working with massive XML files (read: gigabytes) you really can’t be bothered to load the file into conventional ram and then old-school traverse the XML character by character. Microsoft operates with pure memory mapping so that you can process gigabytes like they were megabytes — but sadly, there is nothing similar for Linux, Unix or Android, that abruptly ends the fascination for me.

The only place I see using XML transformations to process source-code, is when converting to another language on source-level.

So the idea, although technically sound, gives zero benefits over the traditional process. I am however very interested in using DelphiAST to analyze and convert Delphi code directly from the IDE. But that will have to be an experiment for 2020, im booked 24/7 with Quartex Media Desktop right now.

But it was great fun playing around with DelphiAST! I loved how clean and neat the codebase has become. So if you need to work with source-code, DelphiAST is just the ticket!

Edit: You dont have to emit the code as XML. DelphiAST is perfectly happy to act as a clean parser, just saying.

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.

village

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:

tier_dependencies2

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!

tier_posts

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:

tier_header

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.

patreon

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.

asana

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 ..

tier_refunds

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.

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.

smart_ass

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).

utube

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).

smartdesk

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.

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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.

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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

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.

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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.

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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.

HexLicense, Patreon and all that

September 6, 2018 Comments off

Apparently using modern service like Patreon to maintain components has become a point of annoyance and confusion. I realize that I formulated the initial HexLicense post somewhat vague and confusing, in retrospect I will admit that and also take critique for not spending a little more time on preparations.

Having said that, I also corrected the mistake quickly and clarified the situation. I feel some of the comments have been excessively critical for something that, ultimately, is a service to the community. But I’ll roll with the punches and let’s just put this issue to bed.

From the top please

fromthetopI have several products and frameworks that naturally takes time to maintain and evolve. And having to maintain websites, pay for tax and invoicing services, pay for hosting (and so on), well it consumes a lot of hours. Hours that I can no longer afford to spend (my work at Embarcadero must come first, I have a family to support). So Patreon is a great way to optimize a very busy schedule.

Today developers solve a lot of the business strain by using Patreon. They make their products open source, but give those that support and help fund the development special perks, such as early access, special builds and a more direct line of control over where the different projects and sub-projects are heading.

The public repository that everyone has access to is maintained by pushing the code on interval, meaning that the public “free stuff” (LGPL v3 license) will be some months behind the early-access that patrons enjoy. This is common and the same approach both large and small teams go about things in 2018. Quite radical compared to what we “old-timers” are used to, but that’s how things work now. I just go with flow and try to do the most amount of good on the journey.

Benefits of Patreon

The benefits are many, but first and foremost it has to do with time. Developer don’t have to maintain 3-4 websites, pay for invoicing services on said products, pay hosting fees and rent support forums — instead focus is on getting things done. So instead of an hour here and there, you can (based on the level of support) allocate X hours within a week or weekend that are continuous.

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Patreon solves two things: time and cost

Everyone wins. Those that support and help fund the projects enjoy early access and special builds. The community at large wins because the public repository is likewise maintained, albeit somewhat behind the cutting edge code patrons enjoy. And the developers wins because he or she doesn’t have to run around like a mad chicken maintaining X number of websites -wasting more time doing maintenance than building cool new features.

 

And above all, pricing goes down. By spreading the cost over a larger base of interest, people get access to code that used to cost $200 for $35. The more people that helps out, the more the cost can be reduced per tier.

To make it crystal clear what the status of my frameworks and component packages are, here is a carbon copy from HexLicense.com

For immediate release

Effective immediately HexLicense is open-source, released under the GNU Lesser General Public License v3. You can read the details of that license by clicking here.

Patreon model

Patreon_logo.svgIn order to consolidate the various projects I maintain, I have established a Patreon account. This means that people can help fund further development on HexLicense, LDEF, Amibian and various Delphi libraries as a whole. This greatly simplifies things for everyone.

I will be able to allocate time based on a broader picture, I also don’t need to pay for invoicing services, web hosting and more. This allows me to continue to evolve the components and code, but without so many separate product identities to maintain.

Patreon supporters will receive updates before anyone else and have direct access to the latest code at all times. The public bitbucket repository will be updated on interval, but will by consequence be behind the Patreon updates.

Further security

One of the core goals on Patreon is the evolution of a bytecode compiler. This should be of special interest to HexLicense users. Being able to compile modules that hackers will be unable to debug gives you a huge advantage. The engine is designed so that the instruction-set can be randomized for a particular build. Making it unique for your application.

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The LDEF assembler prototype running under Smart Mobile Studio

Well, I want to thank everyone involved. It has been a great journey to produce so many components, libraries and solutions over the years – but now it’s time for me to cut down on the number of projects and focus on core technology.

HexLicense with the update license files will be uploaded to BitBucket shortly.

Sincerly

Jon Lennart Aasenden

 

 

Power for pennies, getting a server rack and preparing my ultimate coding environment

July 18, 2018 Leave a comment

One of the benefits of doing repairs on your house, is that during the cleanup process you come over stuff you had completely forgot about. Like two very powerful Apple blade servers (x86) I received as a present three years ago. I never got around to using them because I there was literally no room in my house for a rack cabinet.

Sure, a medium model rack cabinet isn’t that big (the size of a cabin refrigerator), but you also have to factor in that servers are a lot more noisy than desktop PCs; the older they are the more noise they make. So unless you have a good spot to place the cabinet, where the noise wont make it unbearable to be around,  I suggest you just rent a virtual instance at Amazon or something. It really depends on how much service coding you do, if you need to do dedicated server and protocol stress testing (the list goes on).

Power for pennies

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Sellers photo. It needs a good clean, but this kit would have set you back $5000 a decade ago; so picking this up for $400 is almost ridicules.

The price of such cabinets (when buying new ones) can be anything from $800 to $5000 depending on the capacity, features and materials. My needs for a personal server farm are more than covered by a medium cabinet. If it wasnt for my VMWare needs I would say it was overkill. But some of my work, especially with node.js and Delphi system services that should handle terabytes of raw data reliably 24/7, that demands a hard-core testing environment.

Having stumbled upon my blade servers I decided to check the local second-hand online forum; and I was lucky enough to find (drumroll) a second-hand cabinet holding a total of 10 blades for $400. So I’ll be picking up this beauty next weekend. It will be so good to finally get my blades organized. Not to mention all my SBC / Node.js cluster experiments centralized in one physical location. Far away from my home office space (!)

Interestingly, it comes fitted with 3 older servers. There are two Dell web and file servers, and then a third, unmarked mystery box (i3 cpu + sata caddies so that sounds good).

It really is amazing how much cpu fire-power you can pick up for practically nothing these days. $50 buys you a SBC (single board computer) that will rival a Pentium. $400 buys you a 10 blade cabinet and 3 servers that once powered a national newspaper (!).

VMWare delights

All the blades I have mentioned so far are older models. They are still powerful machines, way more than $400 livingroom NAS would get you. So my node.js clustering will run like a dream and I will be able to host all my Delphi development environments via VMware. Which brings us neatly to the blade I am really looking forward to get into the rack.

I bought an empty server blade case back in 2015. It takes a PSU, motherboard, fans and everything else is there (even the six caddies for disks). Into this seemingly worthless metal box I put a second generation Intel i7 monster (Asus motherboard), with 32 gigabyte ram – and fitted it with a sexy NVidia GEFORCE GTX 1080 TI.

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All my Delphi work, Smart work and various legacy projects I maintain, all in one neat rack

This little monster (actually it takes up 2 blade-spots) allows me to run VMWare server, which gives me at least 10 instances of Windows (or Linux, or OSX) at the same time. It will also be able to host and manage roughly 1000 active Smart Desktop users (the bottleneck will be the disk and network more than actual computation).

Being a coder in 2018 is just fantastic!

Things we could only dream about a decade ago can now be picked up for close to nothing (compared to the original cost). Just awesome!

 

Using Smart Mobile Studio under Linux

April 22, 2018 Leave a comment

Every now and then when I post something about Smart Mobile Studio, an individual or two wants to inform me how they cannot use Smart because it’s not available for Linux. While more rare, the same experience happens now and then with OS X.

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The Smart desktop demo running in Firefox on Ubuntu, with Quake 3 at 60 fps

While the request for Linux or OS X support is both valid and understandable (and something we take seriously), more often than not these questions can be a pre-cursor to a larger picture; one that touches on open-source, pricing and personal philosophical points of view; often with remarks on pricing.

Truth be told, the price we ask for Smart Mobile Studio is close to symbolic. Especially if you take the time to look at the body of work Smart delivers. We are talking hundreds of hand written units with thousands of classes, each spesifically adapted for HTML5, Phonegap and Node.js. Not to mention ports of popular JavaScript frameworks.

If you compare this to native object pascal development tools with similar functionality, they can set you back thousands of dollars. Our asking price of $149 for the pro edition, $399 for the enterprise edition, and a symbolic $42 for the basic edition, that is an affordable solution. Also keep in mind that this gives you access to updates for a duration of 12 months. When was the last time you bought a full development suite that allows you to write mobile applications, platform independent servers, platform independent system services and HTML5 web applications for less that $400 ?

prices

Our price model is more than reasonable considering what you get

With platform independent we mean that in the true sense of the word: once compiled, no changes are required. You can write a system service on Windows and it will run just fine under Linux or OS X. No re-compile needed. You can take a server and copy it to Amazon or Azure, run it in a cluster or scale it from a single instance to 100 instances without any change. That is unheard of for object pascal until now.

Smart Mobile Studio is the only object pascal development system that delivers a stand-alone IDE, stand-alone compiler, a wast object-oriented run-time library written from scratch to cover HTML5, Node.js and embedded systems that run JavaScript.

And yes, we know there are other systems in circulation, but none of them are even close to the functionality that we deliver. Functionality that has been polished for seven years now. And our RTL is growing every day to capture and expose more and more advanced functionality that you can use to enrich your products.

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The RTL class browser shows the depth of our RTL

As of writing we have a team of six people working on Smart Mobile Studio. We have things in our labs that is going to change the way people build applications forever. We were the first to venture into this new landscape. There were nobody we could imitate, draw inspiration from or learn from. We had to literally make the path as we moved forward.

And our vision and goal remains the same today as it was seven years ago: to empower object pascal developers – and to secure their investment in the language and methodology that is object pascal.

Discipline and purpose

There is so much I would like to work on right now. Things I want to add to Smart Mobile Studio because I find them interesting, powerful and I know people are going to love them. But that style of development, the “Garage days” as people call it, is over. It does wonders in the beginning of a project maybe, but eventually you reach a stage where a formal timeline and business plan must be carved in stone.

And once defined, you have to stick to it. It would be an insult to our customers if we pivoted left and right on a whim. Like every company we have room for research, even a couple of skunkwork projects, but our primary focus is to make our foundation rock solid before further growth.

j5

By tapping into established JavaScript frameworks you can cover more than 40+ embedded systems and micro-controllers. More and more hardware supports JS for automation

Our “garage days” ended around three years ago, and through hard work we defined our timeline, business model and investor program. In 2017 we secured enough capital to continue full-time development.

Our timeline has been published earlier, but we can re-visit some core points here:

The visual components that shipped with Smart Mobile Studio in the beginning, were meant more as examples than actual ready-to-use modules. This was common for other development platforms of the day, such as Xamarin’s C# / Mono toolchain, where you were expected to inherit from and implement aspects of a “partial class”. This is also why Smart Pascal has support for partial classes (neither Delphi or Freepascal supports this wonderful feature).

native

One of our skunkwork projects is a custom linux distro that runs your Smart applications directly in the Linux framebuffer. No X or desktop, just your code. Here running “the smart desktop” as the only visual front-end under x86 vmware

Since developers coming from Delphi had different expectations, there was only one thing to do. To completely re-write every single visual control (and add a few new controls) so that they matched our customers expectations. So the first stretch of our timeline has been 100% dedicated to the visual aspects of our RTL. While doing so we have made the RTL faster, more efficient, and added some powerful sub-systems:

  • A dedicated theme engine
  • Unified event delegation
  • Storage device classes
  • Focus and control tracking
  • Support for relative position modes
  • Support for all boxing models
  • Inline linking ( {$R “file.js”} will now statically link an external library)
  • And much, much more

So the past eight months has been all about visual components.

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Theming is important

The second stretch, which we are in right now, is dedicated to the non-visual infrastructure. This means in particular Node.js but also touches on non-visual components, TAction support and things that will appear in updates this year.

Node.js is especially important since it allows you to write platform and chipset independent web servers, system services and command-line applications. This is pioneering work and we are the first to take this road. We have successfully tamed the alien landscape of JavaScript, both for client, mobile and server – and terraformed it into a familiar, safe and productive environment for object pascal developers.

I feel the results speak for themselves, and our next update brings Smart Mobile Studio to the next level: full stack cloud and web development. We now cover back-end, middle-ware and front-end technologies. And our RTL now stretches from micro-controllers to mobile application to clustered cloud services.

This is the same technology used by Netflix to process terabytes of data every second on a global scale. Which should tell you something about the potential involved.

Working on Linux

Since Smart Mobile Studio was designed to be a swiss army knife for Delphi and Lazarus developers, capable to reaching segments of the market where native code is unsuitable – our primary focus is Microsoft Windows. At least for now.

Delphi itself is a Windows-based development system, and even though it supports multiple targets, Windows is still the bread and butter of commercial software development.

Like I mentioned above, we have a timeline to follow, and until we have reached the end of that line, we are not prepared to refactor our IDE for Linux or OS X. This might change sooner than people think, but until our timeline for the RTL is concluded, we will not allocate time for making the IDE platform independent.

But, you can actually run Smart Mobile Studio on both Linux and OS X today.

Linux has a system called Wine. This is a system that implements the Windows API, but delegates all the calls to Linux. So when a Windows program calls a WinAPI through Wine, its delegated to Linux variation of the same call. This is a massive undertaking, but it has years of work behind it and functions extremely well.

So on linux you can install it by opening up a shell and typing:

sudo apt-get install wine

I take for granted here that your Linux flavour has aperture installed (I’m using Ubuntu since that is easy to work with), which is the package manager that gives you the “apt-get” command. If you have some other system then just google how to install a package.

With Wine and it’s dependencies installed, you can run the Smart Mobile Studio installer. Wine will create a virtual, sandboxed disk for you – so that all the files end up where they should. Once finished you punch in the license serial number as normal, and voila – you can now use Smart Mobile Studio on Linux.

Note: in some cases you have to right-click the SmartMS.exe and select “run with -> Wine”, but usually you can just double-click the exe file and it runs.

Smart Mobile Studio on OSX

Wine has been ported to OS X, but it’s more user friendly. You download a program called wine-bottler, which takes Smart and bundles it with wine + any dependencies it needs. You can then start Smart Mobile Studio like it was a normal OS X application.

Themes and look

The only problem with Wine is that it doesnt support Windows themes out of the box. It would be illegal for them to ship those files. But you can manually copy over the windows theme files and install them via the Wine config application. Once installed, Smart will look as it should.

By default the old Windows 95 look & feel is used by Wine. Personally I dont care too much about this, it’s being able to code, compile and run the applications that matters to me – but if you want a more modern look then just copy over the Windows theme files and you are all set.

 

 

Smart Mobile Studio 3.0 and beyond

March 20, 2018 Leave a comment

cascade_03With Smart Mobile Studio 3.0 entering its second beta, Smart Pascal developers are set for a boost in quality, creativity and power. We have worked extremely hard on the product this past year, including a complete rewrite of all our visual controls (and I mean all). We also introduced a completely new theme engine, one that completely de-couples visual appearance from structural architecture (it also allows scripting inside the CSS theme files).

All of that could be enough for a version bump, but we didn’t stop there. Much of the sub-strata in Smart has been re-implemented. Focus has been on stability, speed and future growth. The system is now divided into a set of name-spaces (System, SmartCL, SmartNJ, Phonegap, and Espruino), making it easier to navigate between the units as well as expanding the codebase in the future.

To better understand the namespaces and why this is a good idea, let’s go through how our units are organized.

smart_namespace

The RTL is made to expand easily and preserve as much functionality as possible

  • The System namespace is the foundation. It contains clean, platform independent code. Meaning code that doesn’t rely on the DOM (browser) or runtime (node). Focus here is on universal code, and to establish common object-pascal classes.
  • Our SmartCL namespace contains visual code, meaning code and controls that targets the browser and the DOM. SmartCL rests on the System namespace and draws functionality from it. Through partial classes we also expand classes introduced in the system namespace. A good example is System.Time.pas and SmartCL.Time.pas. The latter expands the class TW3Dispatch with functionality that will only work in the DOM.
  • SmartNJ is our high-level nodejs namespace. Here you find classes with fairly complex behavior such as servers, memory buffers, processes and auxillary classes. SmartNJ draws from the system namespace just like SmartCL. This was done to avoid multiple implementations of streams, utility classes and common functions. Being able to enjoy the same functionality under all platforms is a very powerful thing.
  • Phonegap is our namespace for mobile devices. A mobile application is basically a normal visual application using SmartCL, but where you access extra functionality through phonegap. Things like access to a device’s photos, filesystem, dialogs and so on is all delegated via phonegap.
  • Espruino is a namespace for working with Espruino micro-controllers. This has been a very low-level affair so far, due to size limitation on these devices. But with our recent changes you can now, when you need to, tap into the system namespace for more demanding behavior.

As you can see there is a lot of cool stuff in Smart Mobile Studio, and our codebase is maturing nicely. With out new organization we are able to expand both horizontally and vertically without turning the codebase into a gigantic mess (the VCL being a prime example of how not to implement a multi-platform framework).

Common behavior

One of the coolest things we have added has to be the new storage device classes. As you probably know the browser has a somewhat “limited” storage mechanism. You are stuck with name-value pairs in the cache, or a filesystem that is profoundly frustrating to work with. To remedy this we took the time to implement a virtual filesystem (in memory filesystem) that emits data to the cache; we also implemented a virtual storage device stack on top of it, one for each target (!).

In short, if a target has IO capability, we have implemented a storage “driver” for it. So instead of you having to write 4-5 different storage mechanisms – you can now write the storage code once, and it works everywhere.

This is a pretty cool system because it doesn’t limit us to local device storage. We can have device classes that talk to Google-Storage, One-Drive, Dropbox and so on. It also opens up for custom storage solutions should you already have this pre-made on your server.

Database support, a quick overview

Databases have always been available in Smart Mobile Studio. We have units for WebSQL, IndexDB and SQLite. In fact, we even compiled SQLite3 from native C code to asm.js, meaning that the whole database engine is now pure JavaScript and no-longer dependant on W3C standards.

smart_db

Each DB engine is implemented according to a framework

Besides these we also have TW3Dataset which is a clean, Smart Pascal implementation of a single table dataset (somewhat inspired by Delphi’s TClientDataset). In our previous beta we upgraded TW3Dataset with a robust expression parser, meaning that you can now set filters just like Delphi does. And its all written in Smart Mobile Studio which means there are no dependencies.

 

And ofcourse, there is also direct connections to Embarcadero Datasnap servers, and Remobjects SDK servers. This is excellent if you have an already existing Delphi infrastructure.

A unified DB framework

If you were hoping for a universal DB framework in beta-2 of v3.0, sadly that will not be the case. The good news is that databases should make it into v3.2 at the latest.

Databases looks simple: table, rows and columns right? But since each database engine known to JavaScript is written different from the next, our model has to take height for these and be dynamic enough to deal with them.

The model we used with WebSQL is turning out to be the best way forward I feel, but its important to leave room for reflection and improvements.

So getting our DB framework established is a priority for us, and we have placed it on our timeline for (at the latest) v3.2. But im hoping to have it done by v3.1. So it’s a little ahead of us, but we need that time to properly evolve the framework.

Smart Desktop [a.k.a Amibian.js]

The feedback we have received on our Smart Desktop demos have been pretty overwhelming. It is also nice to know that our prototype is being used to deliver software to schools and educational centers. So our desktop is not going away!

smart_desktop

Fancy a game of Quake at 60+ fps? Web assembly rocks!

But we are not rushing into this without some thought first. The desktop will become a project type like I have written about many times before. So you will be able to create both the desktop and client applications for it. The desktop is suitable for software that requires a windowing environment (a bit like Sencha or similar frameworks). It is also brilliant for kiosk displays and as a remote application hub.

Our new storage device system came largely from Amibian, and with these now a part of our RTL we can clean up the prototype considerably!

Smart assembler

It may sound like an oxymoron, but a lab project we created while testing our parser framework (system.text.parser unit) turned into an exercise in compiler / assembler making. We implemented a virtual machine that runs instructions represented by bytecodes (fairly straight ahead stuff). It supports the most common assembler methods, vaguely inspired by the Motorolla 68k processor with a good dose of ARM thrown in for good measure.

smart_assembler

Yes that is a full parser, assembler and runtime model

If you ponder why on earth this would be interesting, consider the following: most web platforms allow for scripting by third-party developers. And by opening up for that these, the websites themselves become prone to attacks and security breaches. There is no denying that any JS based framework is very fragile when potentially hundreds of unknown developers are hacking away at it.

But what if you could offer third parties to write plugins using more traditional languages? Perhaps a dialect of pascal, a subset of basic or perhaps C#? Wouldnt that be much better? A language and (more importantly) runtime that you have 100% control over.

While our assembler, disassembler and runtime is still in its infancy (and meant as a demo and excercise), it has future potential. We also made the instructions in such a way that JIT compiling large chunks of it is possible – and the output (or codegen) can be replaced by for example web assembly.

Right now it’s just a curiosity that people can play with. But when we have more time I will implement high-level parsers and codegens that emit code via this assembler. Suddenly we have a language that runs under node.js, in the browser or any modern JS runtime engine – and its all done using nothing but Smart Mobile Studio.

Well, stay tuned for more!

LDef parser done

July 21, 2017 Leave a comment

Note: For a quick introduction to LDef click here: Introduction to LDef.

Great news guys! I finally finished the parser and model builder for LDef!

02237439ec5958f6ec7362f726a94696-cogwheels-red-circle-icon-by-vexelsThat means we just need to get the assembler ported. This is presently running fine under Smart Pascal (I like to prototype things there since its faster) – and it will be easy to port it over to Delphi and Freepascal after the model has gone through the steps.

I’m really excited about this project and while I sadly don’t have much free time – this is a project I truly enjoy working on. Perhaps not as much as Smart Pascal which is my baby, but still; its turning into a fantastic system.

Thoughts on the architecture

One of the things I added support for, and that I have hoped that Embarcadero would add to Delphi for a number of years now, is support for contract coding. This is a huge topic that I’m not jumping into here, but one of the features it requires is support for entry and exit sections. Essentially that you can define code that executes before the method body and directly after it has finished (before the result is returned if it’s a function).

This opens up for some very clever means of preventing errors, or at the very least give the user better information about what went wrong. Automated tests also benefits greatly from this.

For example,  a normal object pascal method looks, for example, like this:

procedure TForm1.MySpecialMethod;
begin
  writeln("You called my-special-method")
end;

The basis of contract design builds on the classical and expands it as such:

procedure TForm1.MySpecialMethod;
  Before()
  begin
    writeln("Before my-special-method");
  end;

  After()
  begin
    writeln("After my-special-method");
  end;

begin
  writeln("You called my-special-method")
end;

Note: contract design is a huge system and this is just a fragment of the full infrastructure.

What is cool about the before/after snippets, is that they allow you to verify parameters before the body is even executed, and likewise you get to work on the result before the value is returned (if any).

You mights ask, why not just write the tests directly like people do all the time? Well, that is true. But there will also be methods that you have no control over, like a wrapper method that calls a system library for instance. Being able to attach before/after code for externally defined procedures helps take the edge off error testing.

Secondly, if you are writing a remoting framework where variant data and multi-threaded invocation is involved – being able to check things as they are dispatched means catching potential errors faster – leading to better performance.

As always, coding techniques is a source of argument – so im not going into this now. I have added support for it and if people don’t need it then fine, just leave it be.

Under LDef assembly it looks like this:

public void main() {
  enter {
  }

  leave {
  }
}

Well I guess that’s all for now. Hopefully my next LDef post will be about the assembler being ready – leaving just the linker. I need to experiment a bit with the codegen and linker before the unit format is complete.

The bytecode-format needs to include enough information so that the linker can glue things together. So every class, member, field etc. must be emitted in a way that is easy and allows the linker to quickly look things up. It also needs to write the actual, resulting method offsets into the bytecode.

Have a happy weekend!

Smart Pascal: Amibian vs. FriendOS

July 20, 2017 Leave a comment

This is not a new question, and despite my earlier post I still get hammered with these on a weekly basis – so lets dig into this subject and clean it up.

I fully understand that for non-developers suddenly having two Amiga like web desktops can be a bit confusing; especially since they superficially at least do many of the same things. But there is actually a lot of co-incidence surrounding all this, as well as evolution of the general topic. People who work with a topic will naturally come up with the same ideas from time to time.

But ok, lets dig into this and clear away any confusion

You know about FriendOS right? It looks a lot like Amibian

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Custom native web servers has been a part of Delphi for ages, so it’s not that exciting for us

“A lot” is probably stretching it. But ok:  FriendOS is a custom server system with a sexy desktop front-end written in HTML5. So you have a server that is custom written to interact with the browser in a special way. This might sound like a revolution to non-developers but it’s actually an established technology; its been a part of Delphi and C++ builder for at least 12 years now (Intraweb being the best example, Raudus another). So if you are wondering why im not dazzled, it’s because this has been there for a while.

The whole point of Amibian.js is to demonstrate a different path; to get away from the native back-end and to make the whole system portable and platform independent. So in that regard the systems are diametrically different.

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Custom web servers that talk to your web-app is old news. Delphi developers have done this for a decade at least and it’s not really interesting at this point. Node.js holds much greater promise.

What FriendOS has done that is unique, and that I think is super cool – is to couple their server with RDP (remote desktop protocol) and some nice video streaming for smooth video chat. Again these are off the shelves parts that anyone can add once you have a native back-end, it’s not really hard to code but time-consuming; especially when you are potentially dealing with large number of users spawning threads all over the place. I think Friend-Labs have done an exceptional good job here.

When you combine these features it creates the impression of an operating system like environment. And this is perfectly fine for ordinary users. It all depends on your needs and what exactly you use the computer for.

And just to set the war-mongers straight: FriendOS is not going up against Amibian. it’s going up against ChromeOS, Nayu and and a ton of similar systems; all of them with deep pockets and an established software portfolio. We focus on software development. Not even in the same ballpark.

To be perfectly frank: I see no real purpose for a web desktop except when connected to a context. There has to be an advantage beyond isolating web functions in one place. You need something special that your system does better than others, or different than others. Amibian has been about UAE.js and to run retro games in a familiar environment. And thus create a base that Amiga lovers can build on and play with. Again based on our prefab for customers that make embedded systems and use our compiler and RTL for that.

If you have a hardware product like a NAS, a ticket system or a retro-game machine and want to have a nice web front-end for it: then it makes sense. But there is absolutely nothing in both our systems that you can’t whip-up using Intraweb or Raudus in a few weeks. If you have the luxury of a native back-end, then adding Active Directory support is a matter of dropping a component. You can even share printers and USB devices over the wire if you like, this has been available to Delphi and c++ developers for ages. The “new” factor here, which FriendOS does very well i might add, is connectivity.

This might sound like criticism but it’s really not. It’s honesty and facts. They are going to need some serious cash to take on Google, Samsung, LG and various other players that have been doing similar things for a long time (or about to jump on the same concepts) — Amibian.js is for Amiga fans and people who use Smart Pascal to write embedded applications. We don’t see anything to compete with because Amibian is a prefab connected to a programming language. FriendOS is a unification system.

A programming language doesnt have the aspirations of a communication company. So the whole “oh who is best” or “are you the same” is just wrong.

Ok you say it’s not competing, but why not?

To understand Amibian.js you first need to understand Smart Pascal (see Wikipedia article on Smart Pascal). Smart Pascal (smartmobilestudio.com) is a software development studio for writing software using web technology rather than native machine-code. It allows you to create whatever you like, from games to servers, or kiosk software to the next Facebook clone.

Our focus is on enabling our customers to quickly program robust mobile applications, servers, kiosk software, games or large JavaScript projects; products that would otherwise be hard to manage if all you have is vanilla JavaScript. I mean why spend 2 years coding something when you can do it in 2 months using Smart? So a web desktop is just ridicules when you understand how large our codebase is and the scope of the product.

smart

Under Smart Pascal what people know as Amibian.js is just a project type. There is no competition between FriendOS and Amibian because a web desktop represents a ridicules small piece of our examples; it’s literally mistaking the car for the factory. Amibian is not our product, it is a small demo and prefab (pre fabricated system that others can download and build on) project that people use to save time. So under Smart, creating your own web desktop is a piece of cake, it’s a click, and then you can brand it, expand it and do whatever you like with it. Just like you would any project you create in Visual Studio, Delphi or C++ builder.

So we are not in competition with FriendOS because we create and deliver development tools. Our customers use Smart Pascal to create web environments both large and small, and naturally we deliver what they need. You could easily create a FriendOS clone in Smart if you got the skill, but again – that is but a tiny particle in our codebase.

Really? Amibian.js is just a project under Smart Pascal?

Indeed. Our product delivers a full object-oriented pascal compiler, debugger and IDE. So you can write classes, use inheritance and enjoy all the perks of a high-level language — and then compile this to JavaScript.

You can target node.js, the browser and about 90+ embedded devices out of the box. The whole point of Smart Pascal is to avoid the PITA that is writing large applications in JavaScript. And we do this by giving you a classical programming language that was made especially for application authoring, and then compile that to JavaScript instead.

Screenshot

Amibian.js is just a tiny, tiny part of what Smart Pascal is all about

This is a massive undertaking that started back in 2009/2010 and involves a high-quality compiler, linker, debugger and code generator; a full IDE with a ton of capabilities and last but not least: a huge run-time library that allows you to work with the DOM (document object model, or HTML) and node.js from the vantage point of a programmer.

Most people approach web development as a designer. They write html and then style them using a stylesheet. They work with colors, aspects and pages. Which means people who traditionally write programs falls between two chairs: first they must learn about html and css, and secondly a language which is ill equipped for large scale applications (imagine writing adobe photoshop in nothing but JS. Sure it’s possible, but wouldnt you rather spend a month coding that than a year? In a language that actually makes sense?).

With Smart you approach web development like you do writing programs. You work with visual controls, change properties, write code in response to events. Even writing your own visual controls that you can re-use and inherit from later is both fun and easy. So rather than ending up with a huge was of spaghetti code, which sadly is the fate of most large-scale JavaScript projects — Smart lets you work like you are used to. In a language better suited for the task.

And yes, I was not kidding when I said this was a huge undertaking. The source code in our codebase is close to 2.5 gigabytes. And keep in mind that this is source-code and libraries. So it’s not something you slap together over the weekend.

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The Smart source-code is close to 2.5 gigabytes. It has taken years to complete

But why do Amibian and FriendOS both focus on the Amiga?

That is pure co-incidence. The guys over at Friend Labs started out on the Amiga just like we did. So when I updated our desktop project (previously called Quartex Media Desktop) the Amiga look and feel came natural to me.

commodoreI’m a huge retro-computing fan that loves the Amiga. When I sat down to rewrite our window manager I loved the way Amiga OS 4.x looked, so I decided to implement an UI inspired by that.

People have to remember that the Amiga was a huge success in Scandinavia, so finding developers that are in their late 30s or early 40s that didn’t own an Amiga is harder than you think.

So the fact that we all root our ideas back to the Amiga is both co-incidence and a mutual passion for a great platform. One that really should have survived the financial onslaught of fat CEO’s and thir minions in the board.

But Amibian does a lot of what FriendOS does?

Probably. JavaScript is multi-tasking by default so if loading external URL’s into window containers, doing live resize and other things is what you refer to then yes. But that is the nature of web programming. Its like creating a bucket if you want to carry water; it is a natural first step of an evolutionary pattern. It’s not like FriendOS is copying us I would imagine.

240_F_61497799_GnuUiuJliH9AyOJTeo6i3bS8JNN7wgr2

For the record Smart started back in 2010 and the media desktop came in with the first hotfix, so its been available years before Friend-Labs even existed. Creating a desktop has not been a huge part of what we do because mobile applications, building a rich and solid run-time-library with hundreds of classes for our customers – and making an IDE that is great to use, that is our primary job.

We didn’t even know FriendOS existed. Let alone that it was a Norwegian product.

But you posted that you worked for FriendOS earlier?

Yes I did, very briefly. I was offered a position and I worked there for a month. It was a chance to work side by side with legends like David John Pleasance, ex head of Commodore for europe; and also my childhood hero Francois Lionet, author of Amos Basic for the Amiga way back in the 80’s and 90s.

blastfromthepast

We never forget our childhood heroes

Sadly we had our wires crossed. I am an awesome object pascal developer, while the guys at Friend-Labs are awesome C developers. I work primarily on Windows while they work mostly on Linux. So in essence they hired a Delphi developer to work in a language he doesn’t know on a platform he havent used.

They simply took for granted that I worked in C/C++, while I took for granted that they used object pascal. Its an easy mistake to make and its not the first time; and probably not the last.

Needless to say the learning curve would be extremely high for any developer (learning a new operating-system and programming language at the same time as you are supposed to be productive).

When my girlfriend suddenly faced a life threatening illness the situation became worse. It was impossible for me to commute or leave her side for the unforeseeable future; so when you add the six months learning curve to this situation; six months of not being able to contribute on the level I am used to; well I am old enough to know how that ends. So I did what was best for everyone and resigned.

Besides, I am a damn good Delphi developer with standing invitation to many companies; so it made more sense to just take a step backwards. Which was not fun because I really enjoyed the short time I was there. But, it was not meant to be.

And that is basically all there is to it.

Ok. But if Smart is a development tool, will it support Friend-OS ?

This is something that I really want to do. But since The Smart Company is a proper company with stocks, shareholders and investors – it’s not a decision I can take on my own. It is something that must be debated by the board. But personally yeah, I would love that.

friend

As they grow, so does the need for proper development tools

One of the reasons I hope FriendOS succeeds is because it’s a win-win situation. The more they expand the more relevant Smart becomes. Say what you will about JavaScript but writing large and complex applications is not easy by any measure.

So the moment we introduce Smart Pascal for Friend, their users will be able to write large applications rapidly, with better time-to-market and consequent ROI. So it’s a win-win. If they succeed then we get a bigger market; If they don’t we havent lost anything.

This may sound extremely self-serving, but Friend-Labs have had the same chance as everyone else to invest in Smart; our investor plans have been available for quite some time, and we have to do what is best for our company.

But what about Amibian, was it just a short thing?

Not at all. It is put on hold for a few months while we release the next generation RTL. Which is probably the biggest update in the history of Smart Pascal. We have a very clear agenda ahead of us and Amibian.js is (as underlined) a very small part of what we do.

But Amibian is written using our next generation RTL, and without that our customers cant really do much with it. So it’s important to get the RTL out first and then work on the IDE to reflect its many new features. After that – Amibian.js development will continue.

The primary target for Amibian.js is embedded devices and kiosk systems, coupled with full-screen web applications and hardware front-ends (NAS and backup devices being great examples). So the desktop will run on affordable, off the shelves hardware starting at $40 and all the way up to the most powerful and expensive x86 boards on the market. Cheap solutions like Raspberry PI, ODroid XU4 and Tinkerboard will deliver what you today need a dedicated $120 x86 board to achieve.

kiosk-systems

Our desktop will run on many targets and is platform independent by design

This means that our deskop has a wildly different modus operandi. We will not require a constant connection to a remote server. Amibian will happily boot up on a single device, regardless of processor type.

Had we coded our backend using Delphi or C++ builder (native like FriendOS have done) we would have been finished months ago. And I could have caught up with FriendOS in a couple of months if I wanted to. But that is not in our agenda. We have written our server framework for node.js as we coded the desktop  – which means it’s platform and OS agnostic by design. If node.js runs, Amibian will run. It wont care if you are running on a $40 embedded board or the latest Intel i9 cpu.

Last words

I really hope this has helped and that the confusion between Amibian.js and our agenda, versus what Friend-Labs is doing, is now clearer.

Amibian666

From Norway with love

I wish Friend-Labs the very best and hope they are successful in their endeavour. They have worked very hard on the product and deserve that. And while I might come over as arrogant at times, im really not.

Web desktops have been around for a long time now (Asustor is my favorite) through Delphi and C++ builder and that is just facts. But that doesn’t mean you can’t put things together in new and interesting ways! Smart itself was first put together by existing technology. It was said to be impossible by many because JavaScript and object pascal are unthinkable companions. But it turned out to be a perfect match.

As for the future – personally I don’t believe in the web-desktop outside a specific context, something to give it purpose if you like. I believe for instance that Amibian.js will be awesome for Amiga users when its running on a $99 ARM laptop. Where the system boots straight into a full-screen desktop and where UAE.js is fully integrated into the core, making retro-gaming and running old programs close to seamless. That I can believe in.

But it would make no sense running Amibian or FriendOS in a browser on top of a Windows desktop or a full Ubuntu X session. Unless the virtual desktop functions as your corporate window with access to company mail, documents and essentially what every web-based intranet already does. So once again we end up with the fact that this has already been done. And unless you create a unique context for it, it just wont have any appeal. This is also why I havent pursued the same tech Friend-Labs have, because that’s not where the exciting stuff is happening.

But I will happily be proven wrong, because that means an even bigger market for us should we decide to support the platform.

LDef and bytecodes

July 14, 2017 Leave a comment

LDef, short for Language Definition format, is a standard I have been formulating for a couple of years. I have taken my experience with writing various compilers and parsers, and also my experience of writing RTL’s and combined it all into a standard.

programming-languages-for-iot-e1467856370607LDef is a way for anyone to create their own programming language. Just like popular libraries and packages deals with the low-level stuff, like Gr32 which is an excellent graphics library — LDef deals with the hard stuff and leaves you with the pleasant job of defining what the language should look like.

The idea is to make a language construction kit if you like, where the underlying engine is flexible enough to express the languages we know and love today – and also powerful enough to express new ideas. For example: let’s say you want to create an awesome new game system (just as an example, it applies to any system that can be automated). You have the means and skill to create the actual engine – but how are you going to market it? You will be up against monoliths like Unity and simple “click and play” engines like ClickTeam Fusion, Game Maker and the likes.

Well, the only way to make good games is hard work. There is no two ways about it. You can fake your way only so far – so at the end of the day you want to give your users something solid.

In our example of publishing a game-engine, I think that you would stand a much better chance of attracting users if you hooked that engine up to a language. A language that is easy to use, easy to learn and with commands that are both specific and non-specific to your engine.

There are some flavours of Basic that has produced knock-out games for decades, like BlitzBasic. That language alone has produced hundreds of titles for both PC, XBox and even Nintendo. So it’s insanely fast and not a pushover.

And here is the cool part about LDEF: namely that it makes it easy for you to design your own languages. You can use one of the pre-defined languages, like object pascal or visual basic if that is what you like – but ultimately the fun begins when you start to experiment with new ideas and language features. And it’s fun when you get to that point, because all the nitty gritty is handled. You get to focus on the superficial stuff like syntax and high level functions. So you can shave off quite a bit of development time and make coding fun again!

The paradox of faster bytecodes

Bytecodes used to be to slow for anything substantial. On 16-bit machines bytecodes were used in maybe one language (that I know of) and that was the ‘E’ compiler. The E language was maybe 30 years ahead of its time and is probably the only language I can think of that fits cloud programming like hand in glove. But it was also an excellent system automation language (scripting) and really turned some heads back in the late 80s and early 90s. REXX was only recently added to OS X, some 28 years after the Amiga line of computers introduced it to the general public.

ldef_bytecodes

Bytecode dump of a program compiled with the node.js version of the compiler

In modern times bytecodes have resurfaced through Java and the .NET framework which for some reason caused a stir in the whole development community. I honestly never bought into the hype, but I am old enough to remember the whole story – so I’m probably not the Microsoft demographic anyways. Java hyped their virtual machine opcodes to the point of exhaustion. People really are stupid. Man did they do a number on CEO’s and heads of R&D around the world.

Anyways, end of the story was that Intel and AMD went with it and did some optimizations that could help bytecodes run faster. The stack was optimized with Java, because let’s face it – it is the proverbial assault on the hardware. And the cache was expanded on command from the emper.. eh, Microsoft. Also (if I remember correctly) the “jump to pointer” and various branch instructions were made to execute faster. I remember reading about this in Dr. Dobbs Journal and Microsoft Developer Magazine; granted it was a few years ago. What was interesting is the symbiotic relationship that exists between Intel and Microsoft, I really didn’t know just how closely knit these guys were.

Either way, bytecodes in 2017 is capable of a lot more than they ever were on 16-bit and early 32-bit systems. A cpu like Intel i5 or i7 will chew through bytecodes like a warm knife on butter. It depends on how you orchestrate the opcodes and how much work you delegate to the various instructions.

Modeled instructions

Bytecodes are cool but they have to be modeled right, or its all going to end up as a bloated, slow and limited system. You don’t want to be to low-level, otherwise what is the point of bytecodes? Bytecodes should be a part of a bigger picture, one that could some day be modeled using FPGA’s for instance.

The LDef format is very flexible. Each instruction is ultimately a single 32-bit longword (4 bytes) where each byte holds key information about the command, what data is forward in the cache and how it should be read.

The byte organization is:

  • 0 – Actual opcode
  • 1 – Instruction layout

Depending on the instruction layout, the next two bytes can hold different values. The instruction layout is a simple value that defines how the data for the instruction is passed.

  • Constant to register
  • Variable to register
  • Register to register
  • Register to variable
  • Register to stack
  • Stack to register
  • Variable to variable
  • Constant to variable
  • Stack to variable
  • Program counter (PC) to register
  • Register to Program counter
  • ED (exception data) to register
  • Register to exception-data

As you can probably work out from the information here, this list hints to some archetectual features. Variables are first class citizens in LDef, they are allocated, managed and released using instructions. Constants can be either automatically handled and references by id (a resource chunk is linked to the class binary) or “in place” and compiled directly into the assembly as part of the instruction. For example

load R[0], "this is a test"

This line of code will take the constant “this is a test” and move it into register #0. You can choose to have the text-data stored as a proper resource which is appended to the compiled bytecode (all classes and modules have a resource chunk) or just compile “as is” and have the data read directly. The first option is faster and something you can adjust with compiler optimization options. The second option is easier to work with when you debug since you can see the data directly as a part of the debug memory dump.

And last but not least there are registers. 32 of them in number (so for the low-level coders out there you should have few limitations with regards to register mapping). All operations (like divide, multiply etc) operate on registers only. So to multiply two variables they first have to be moved into registers and the multiplication is executed there – then you can move the result to a variable afterwards.

ldef_asm

LDef assembly code. Simple but extremely effective

The reason registers is used in my runtime system – is because you will not be able to model a FPGA with high-level concepts like “variables” should someone every try to implement this as hardware. Things like registers however is very easy to model and how actual processors work. You move things from memory into a cpu register, perform an action, and then move the result back into memory.

This is where Java made a terrible mistake. They move all data onto the stack and then call the operation. This simplifies execution of instructions since there is never any registers to keep track of, but it just murders stack-space and renders Java useless on mobile devices. The reason Google threw out classical Java (e.g Java as bytecodes) is due to this fact (and more). After the first android devices came out they quickly switched to a native compiler – because Java was too slow, to power-hungry and required too much memory (especially stack space) to function properly. Battery life was close to useless and the only way to save Java was to go native. Which is laughable because the entire point of Java was mobility, “compile once run everywhere” — yeah well, that didn’t turn out to well did it 😀

Dot net improved on this by adding a “load resource” type instruction, where each method will load in the constant data by number – and they are loaded into pre-defined slots (the variables you have used naturally). Then you can execute operations in typical “A + B to C” style (actually all of that is omitted since the compiler already knows both A, B and C). This is much more stack friendly and places performance penalty on the common language runtime (CLR).

Sadly Microsoft’s platform, like everything Microsoft does, requires a pretty large infrastructure. It’s not simple, elegant and fast – it’s more monolithic, massive and resource hungry. You don’t see .net being the first thing ported to a new platform. You typically see GCC followed by Freepascal.

LDef takes the bytecode architecture one step further. On assembly level you reference data using identifiers just like .net, and each instruction is naturally executed by the runtime-engine – but data handling is kept within the virtual realm. You are expected to use the registers as temporary holding slots for your information. And no operations are ever done directly on a variable.

The benefit of this is:

  • Better payload balancing
  • Easier to JIT since the architecture is closer to real assembly
  • Retains important aspects of how real hardware works (with FPGA in mind)

So there are good reasons for the standard, all of them very good.

C like intermediate language

With assembler so clearly defined you would expect  assembly to be the way you work. In essence that what you do, but since OOP is built into the system and there are structures you are expected to populate — structures that would be tedious to do in raw unbridled assembler, I have opted for a C++ inspired intermediate language.

ldef_app

The LDEF assembler kitchen sink

You would half expect me to implement pascal, but truth be told pascal parsing is more complex than C parsing, and C allows you to recycle parsers more easily, so dealing with sub structures and nested regions is less maintainance and easier to write code for.

So there is no spesific reason why I picked C++ as a intermediate language. I would prefer pascal but I also think it would cause a lot of confusion since object pascal will be the prime citizen of LDef languages. My other language, N++ also used curley brackets so I’m honestly not strict about what syntax people prefer.

Intermediate language features supported are:

  • Class declarations
  • Struct declarations
  • Parameter to register mapping
  • Before mehod code (enter)
  • After method code (leave)
  • Alloc section for class fields
  • Alloc section for method variables

The before and after code for methods is very handy. They allow you to define code that should execute before the actual procedure. On a higher level when designing a new language, this is where you would implement custom allocation, parameter testing etc.

So if you call this method:

function testcode() {
    enter {
      writeln("this is called before the method entry");
    }
    leave { 
      writeln("this is called after the method exits");
    }
  writeln("this is the method body");
}

Results in the following output:

this is called before the method entry
this is the method body
this is called after the method exits

 

When you work with designing your language, you eventually.

Truly portable

Now I have no aspirations in going into competition with neither Oracle, Microsoft or anyone in between. Like most geeks I do things I find interesting and enjoy working within a field of computing that is stimulating and personally rewarding.

Programming languages is an area where things havent really changed that much since the golden 80s. Sure we have gotten a ton of fancy new software, and the way people use languages has changed – but at the end of the day the languages we use havent really changed that much.

JavaScript is probably the only language that came out of the blue and took the world by storm, but that is due to the central role the browser holds for the internet. I sincerely doubt JavaScript would even have made a dent in the market otherwise.

LDef is the type of toolkit that can change all this. It’s not just another language, and it’s not just another bytecode engine. A lot of thought has gone into its architecture, not just notions of “how can we do this or that”, but big ideas about the future of computing and how IOT will sculpt the market within 5-8 years. And the changes will be permanent and irrevocable.

Being able to define new languages will be utmost important in the decade ahead. We don’t even know the landscape yet but we can extrapolate some ideas based on where technology is going. All of it in broad strokes of course, but still – there are some fundamental facts about computers that the timeless and havent aged a day. It’s like mathematics, the Pythagorean theorem may be 2500 years old but it’s just as valid today as it was back then. Principles never die.

I took the example of a game engine at the start of this article. That might have been a poor choice for some, but hopefully the general reader got the message: the nature of control requires articulation. Regardless if you are coding an invoice system or a game engine, factors like time, portability and ease of use will be just as valid.

There is also automation to keep your eye on. While most of it is just media hype at this point, there will be some form of AI automation. The media always exaggerates things, so I think we can safely disregard a walking, self-aware Terminator type robot replacing you at work. In my view you can disregard as much as 80% of what the media talks about (regardless of topic). But some industries will see wast improvement from automation. The oil and gas sector are the most obvious. A the moment security is as good as humans can make them – which means it is flawed and something goes wrong every day around the globe. But smart pumping stations and clever pressure measurements and handling will make a huge difference for the people who work with oil. And safer oil pipelines means lives saved and better environmental control.

The question is, how do we describe programs 20 years from now? Is our current tools up for the reality of IOT and billions of connected devices? Do we even have a language that runs equally well as a 1000 instance server-cluster as it would as a stand alone program on your desktop? When you start to look into parallel computing and multi-cluster data processing farms – languages like C# and C++ makes little sense. Node.js is close, very close, but dealing with all the callbacks and odd limitations of JavaScript is tedious (which is why we created Smart Pascal to begin with).

The future needs new things. And for that to happen we first need tools to create them. Which is where my passion is.

Node, native and beyond

When people create compilers and programming languages they often do so for a reason. It could be that their own tools are lacking (which was my initial motivation), or that they have thought of a better way to achieve something; the reasons can be many. In Microsofts case it was revenge and spite, since they were unsuccessful in stealing Java away from Sun Microsystems (Oracle now owns Java).

LDEF

LDef binaries are fairly straight forward. The less fluff the better

Point is, you implement your idea using the language you know – on the platform you normally use. So for me that is object pascal on windows. I’m writing object pascal because while the native compiler and runtime is written in Delphi – it is made to compile under Freepascal for Linux and OS X.

But the primary work is done in Smart Pascal and compiled to JavaScript for node.js. So the native part is actually a back-port from Smart. And there is a good reason I’m doing it this way.

First of all I wanted a runtime and compiler system that would require very little to run. Node.js has grown fat in features over the past couple of years – but out of the box node.js is fast, portable and available almost anywhere these days. You can write some damn fast and scalable cloud servers with node (and with fast i mean FAST, as in handling thousands of online gamers all playing complex first person worlds) and you can also write some stable and rock solid system services.

Node is turning into a jack of all trades, capable of scaling and clustering way beyond what native software can do. Netflix actually re-wrote their entire service stack using node back in 2014. The old C++ and ASP approach was not able to handle the payload. And every time they did a small change it took 45 minutes to compile and get a binary to test. So yeah, node.js makes so much more sense when you start looking a big-data!

So I wanted to write LDef in a way that made it portable and easy to implement. Regardless of platform, language and features. Out of the box JavaScript is pretty naked stuff and the most advanced high-level feature LDef uses is buffers to deal with memory. everything else is forced to be simple and straight forward. No huge architecture or global system services, just a small and fast runtime and your binaries. And that’s all you need to run your compiled applications.

Ultimately, LDef will be written in LDef itself and compile itself. Needing only a small executable stub to be ported to a new platform. Most of mono C# for Linux is written in C# itself – again making it super easy to move mono between distros and operating systems. You can’t do that with the Visual Studio, at least not until Microsoft wants you to. Neither would you expect that from Apple XCode. Just saying.

The only way to achieve the same portability that mono, freepascal and C/C++ has to offer, is naturally to design the system as such from the beginning. Keep it simple, avoid (operatingsystem) globalization at all cost, and never-ever use platform bound APIs except in the runtime. Be Posix but for everything!

Current state of standard and licensing

The standard is currently being documented and a lot of work has been done in this department already. But it’s a huge project to document since it covers not only LDEF as a high-level toolkit, but stretches from the compiler to the source-code it is designed to compile to the very binary output. The standard documentation is close to a book at this stage, but that’s the way it has to be to ensure every part is understood correctly.

But the question most people have is often “how are you licensing this?”.

Well, I really want LDEF to be a free standard. However, to protect it against hijacking and abuse – a license must be obtained for financial entities (as in companies) using the LDEF toolkit and standard in commercial products.

I think the way Unreal software handles their open-source business is a great example of how things should be done. They never charge the little guy or the Indie developer – until they are successful enough to afford it. So once sales hits a defined sum, you are expected to pay a small percentage in royalties. Which is only fair since Unreal engine is central to the software to begin with.

So LDef is open source, free to use for all types of projects (with an obligation to pay a 3% royalty for commercial products that exceeds $4999 in revenue). Emphasis is on open source development. As long as the financial obligations by companies and developers using LDEF to create successful products is respected, only creativity sets the limit.

If you use LDEF to create a successful product where you make 50.000 NKR (roughly USD 5000) you are legally bound to pay 3% of your product revenue monthly for the duration of the product. Which is extremely little (3% of $5000 is $150 which is a lot less than you would pay for a Delphi license, the latter costing between upwards of USD 3000).

 

Smart-Pascal: A brave new world, 2022 is here

April 29, 2017 6 comments

Trying to explain what Smart Mobile Studio does and the impact it can have on your development cycle is very hard. The market is rampant with superficial frameworks that promises you the world, and investors have been taken for a ride by hyped up, one-click “app makers” more than once.

I can imagine that being an investor is a bit like panning for gold. Things that glitter the most often turn out to be worthless – yet fortunes may hide beneath unpolished and rugged surfaces.

Software will disrupt most traditional industries in the next 5-10 years.
Uber is just a software tool, they don’t own any cars, yet they are now the
biggest taxi company in the world. -Source: R.M.Goldman, Ph.d

So I had enough. Instead of trying to tell people what I can do, I decided I’m going to show them instead. As the american’s say: “talk is cheap”. And a working demonstration is worth a thousand words.

Care to back that up with something?

A couple of weeks ago I published a video on YouTube of our Smart Pascal based desktop booting up in VMWare. The Amiga forums went off the chart!

vmware

For those that havent followed my blog or know nothing about the desktop I’m talking about, here is a short summary of the events so far:


Smart Mobile Studio is a compiler that takes pascal, like that made popular in Delphi or Lazarus, and compiles it JavaScript instead of machine-code.

This product has shipped with an example of a desktop for years (called “Quartex media desktop”). It was intended as an example of how you could write a front-end for kiosk machines and embedded devices. Systems that could use a touch screen as the interface between customer and software.

You have probably seen those info booths in museums, universities and libraries? Or the ticket machines in subways, train-stations or even your local car-wash? All of those are embedded systems. And up until recently these have been small and expensive computers for running Windows applications in full-screen. Applications which in turn talk to a server or local database.

Smart Mobile Studio is able to deliver the exact same (and more) for a fraction of the price. A company in Oslo replaced their $300 per-board unit – with off the shelves $35 Raspberry Pi mini-computers. They then used Smart Pascal to write their client software and ran it in a fullscreen-browser. The Linux distribution was changed to boot straight into Firefox in full-screen. No Linux desktop, just a web display.

The result? They were able to cut production cost by $265 per unit.


Right, back to the desktop. I mentioned the Amiga community. This is a community of coders and gamers that grew up with the old Commodore machines back in the 80s and 90s. A new Amiga is now on the way (just took 20+ years) – and the look and feel of the new operating-system, Amiga OS 4.1, is the look and feel I have used in The Smart Desktop environment. First of all because I grew up on these machines myself, and secondly because the architecture of that system was extremely cost-effective. We are talking about a system that delivered pre-emptive multitasking in as little as 512Kb of memory (!). So this is my “ode to OS 4” if you will.

And the desktop has caused quite a stir both in the Delphi community, cloud community and retro community alike. Why? Because it shows some of the potential cloud technology can give you. Potential that has been under their nose all this time.

And even more important: it demonstrate how productive you can be in Smart Pascal. The operating system itself, both visual and non-visual parts, was put together in my spare time over 3 weeks. Had I been able to work on it daily (as a normal job) I would have knocked it out in a week.

A desktop as a project type

All programming languages have project types. If you open up Delphi and click “new” you are greeted with a rich menu of different projects you can make. From low-level DLL files to desktop applications or database servers. Delphi has it all.

delphistuff

Delphi offers a wide range of projects types you can create

The same is true for visual studio. You click “new solution” and can pick from a wide range of different projects. Web projects, servers, desktop applications and services.

Smart Pascal is the only system where you click “new project” and there is a type called “Smart desktop” and “Smart desktop application”. In other words, the power to create a full desktop is now an integrated part of Smart Pascal.

And the desktop is unique to you. You get to shape it, brand it and make it your own!

Let us take a practical example

Imagine a developer given the task to move the company’s aging invoice and credit system from the Windows desktop – to a purely web-based environment.

legacy2The application itself is large and complex, littered with legacy code and “quick fixes” going back decades. Updating such a project is itself a monumental task – but having to first implement concepts like what a window is, tasks, user space, cloud storage, security endpoints, look and feel, back-end services and database connectivity; all of that before you even begin porting the invoice system itself ? The cost is astronomical.

And it happens every single day!

In Smart Pascal, the same developer would begin by clicking “new project” and selecting “Smart desktop”. This gives him a complete desktop environment that is unique to his project and company.

A desktop that he or she can shape, adjust, alter and adapt according to the need of his employer. Things like file-type recognition, storage, getting that database – all of these things are taken care of already. The developer can focus on his task, namely to deliver a modern implementation of their invoice and credit software – not waste months trying to force JavaScript frameworks do things they simply lack the depth to deliver.

Once the desktop has the look and feel in order, he would have to make a simple choice:

  • Should the whole desktop represent the invoice system or ..
  • Should the invoice system be implemented as a secondary application running on the desktop?

If it’s a large and dedicated system where the users have no need for other programs running, then implementing the invoice system inside the desktop itself is the way to go.

If however the customer would like to expand the system later, perhaps add team management, third-party web-services or open-office like productivity (a unified intranet if you like) – then the second option makes more sense.

On the brink of a revolution

The developer of 2022 is not limited to the desktop. He is not restricted to a particular operating system or chip-set. Fact is, cloud has already reduced these to a matter of preference. There is no strategic advantage of using Windows over Linux when it comes to cloud software.

Where a traditional developer write and implement a solution for a particular system (for instance Microsoft Windows, Apple OS X or Linux) – cloud developers deliver whole eco systems; constellations of software constructed from many parts, both micro-services developed in-house but also services from others; like Amazon or Azure.

All these parts co-operate and can be combined through established end-point standards, much like how components are used in Delphi or Visual Studio today.

smartdesk

The Smart Desktop, codename “Amibian.js”

Access to products written in Smart is through the browser, or sometimes through a “paper thin” native host (Cordova Phonegap, Delphi and C/C++) that expose system level functionality. These hosts wrap your application in a native, executable container ready for Appstore or Google Play.

Now the visual content is typically the same, and is only adapted for a particular device. The real work is divided between the client (which is now very much capable) and your server back-end.

So people still write code in 2022, but the software behaves differently and is designed to function as a group (cluster). And this requires a shift in the way we think.

asmjs

Above: One of my asm.js prototype compilers. Lets just say it runs fast!

Scaling a solution from processing 100 invoices a minute to handling 100.000 invoices a minute – is no longer a matter of code, but of architecture. This is where the traditional, native only approach to software comes up short, while more flexible approaches like node.js is infinitely more capable.

What has emerged up until now is just the tip of the ice-berg.

Over the next five to eight years, everything is going to change. And the changes will be irrevocable and permanent.

Running your Smart Pascal server as a system-level daemon is very easy once you know what to look for :)

The Smart Desktop back-end running as a system service on a Raspberry PI

As the Americans say, talk is cheap – and I’m done talking. I will do this with you, or without you. Either way it’s happening.

Nightly-build of the desktop can be tested here: http://quartexhq.myasustor.com/

Smart Pascal, the next generation

April 15, 2017 1 comment

I want to take the time to talk a bit about the future, because like all production companies we are all working towards lesser and greater goals. If you don’t have a goal then you are in trouble; Thankfully our goals have been very clear from the beginning. Although I must admit that our way there has been.. “colorful” at times.

When we started back in 2010 we didn’t really know what would become of our plans. We only knew that this was important; there was a sense of urgency and “we have to build this” in the air; I think everyone involved felt that this was the case, without any rational explanation as to why. Like all products of passion it can consume you in a way – and you work day and night on turning an idea into something real. From the intangible to the tangible.

transitions_callback

It seems like yesterday, but it was 5 years ago!

By the end of 2011 / early 2012, Eric and myself had pretty much proven that this could be done. At the time there were more than enough nay-sayers and I think both of us got flamed quite often for daring to think different. People would scoff at me and say I was insane to even contemplate that object pascal could ever be implemented for something as insignificant and mediocre as JavaScript. This was my first meeting with a sub-culture of the Delphi and C++ community, a constellation I have gone head-to-head with on many occasions. But they have never managed to shake my resolve as much as inch.

 

 

When we released version 1.0 in 2012 some ideas about what could be possible started to form. Jørn defined plans for a system we later dubbed “Smart net”. In essence it would be something you logged onto from the IDE – allowing you to store your projects in the cloud, compile in the cloud (connected with Adobe build services) and essentially move parts of your eco-system to the cloud. Keep in mind this was when people still associated cloud with “storage”; they had not yet seen things like Uber or Netflix or played Quake 3 at 160 frames per second, courtesy of asm.js in their browser.

The second part would be a website where you could do the same, including a live editor, access to the compiler and also the ability to buy and sell components, solutions and products. But for that we needed a desktop environment (which is where the Quartex Media Desktop came in later).

cool

The first version of the Media Desktop, small but powerful. Here running in touch-screen mode with classical mobile device layout (full screen forms).

Well, we have hit many bumps along the road since then. But I must be honest and say, some of our detours have also been the most valuable. Had it not been for the often absurd (to the person looking in) research and demo escapades I did, the RTL wouldn’t be half as powerful as it is today. It would deliver the basics, perhaps piggyback on Ext.js or some lame, run of the mill framework – and that would be that. Boring, flat and limited.

What we really wanted to deliver was a platform. Not just a website, but a rich environment for creating, delivering and enjoying web and cloud based applications. And without much fanfare – that is ultimately what the Smart Desktop and it’s sexy node.js back-end is all about is all about.

We have many project types in the pipeline, but the Smart Desktop type is by far the most interesting and powerful. And its 100% under your control. You can create both the desktop itself as a project – and also applications that should run on that desktop as separate projects.

This is perfectly suited for NAS design (network active storage devices can usually be accessed through a web portal on the device), embedded boards, intranets and even intranets for that matter.

You get to enjoy all the perks of a multi-user desktop, one capable of both remote desktop access, telnet access, sharing files and media, playing music and video (we even compiled the mp4 codec from C to JavaScript so you can play mp4 movies without the need for a server backend).

The Smart Desktop

The Smart Desktop project is not just for fun and games. We have big plans for it. And once its solid and complete (we are closing in on 46% done), my next side project will not be more emulators or demos – it will be to move our compiler(s) to Amazon, and write the IDE itself from scratch in Smart Pascal.

smart desktop

The Smart Desktop – A full desktop in the true sense of the word

And yeah, we have plans for EmScripten as well – which takes C/C++ and compiles it into asm.js. It will take a herculean effort to merge our RTL with their sandboxed infrastructure – but the benefits are too great to ignore.

As a bonus you get to run native 68k applications (read: Amiga applications) via emulation. While I realize this will be mostly interesting for people that grew up with that machine – it is still a testament to the power of Smart and how much you can do if you really put your mind to it.

Naturally, the native IDE wont vanish. We have a few new directions we are investigating here – but native will absolutely not go anywhere. But cloud, the desktop system we are creating, is starting to become what we set out to make five years ago (has it been half a decade already? Tempus fugit!). As you all know it was initially designed as an example of how you could write full-screen applications for Raspberry PI and similar embedded devices. But now its a full platform in its own right – with a Linux core and node.js heart, there really is very little you cannot do here.

scsc

The Smart Pascal compiler is one of our tools that is ready for cloud-i-fication

Being able to login to the Smart company servers, fire up the IDE and just code – no matter if you are: be it Spain, Italy, Egypt, China or good old USA — is a pretty awesome thing!

Clicking compile and the server does the grunt work and you can test your apps live in a virtual window; switch between device layouts and targets — then hit “publish” and it goes to Cordova (or Delphi) and voila – you get a message back when binaries for 9 mobile devices is ready for deployment. One click to publish your applications on Appstore, Google play and Microsoft marketplace.

Object pascal works

People may have brushed off object pascal (and from experience those people have a very narrow view of what object pascal is all about), but when they see what Smart delivers, which in itself is written in Delphi, powered by Delphi and should be in every Delphi developer’s toolbox — i think it should draw attention to both Delphi as a product, object pascal as a language – and smart as a solution.

With Smart it doesn’t matter what computer you use. You can sit at home with the new A1222 PPC Amiga, or a kick-ass Intel i7 beast that chew virtual machines for breakfast. If your computer can handle a modern website, then you can learn object pascal and work directly in the cloud.

desktop_embedded

The Smart Desktop running on cheap embedded hardware. The results are fantastic and the financial savings of using Smart Pascal on the kiosk client is $400 per unit in this case

Heck you can work off a $60 ODroid XU4, it has more than enough horsepower to drive the latest chrome or Firefox engines. All the compilation takes place on the server anyways. And if you want a Delphi vessel rather than phonegap (so that it’s a Delphi application that opens up a web-view in full-screen and expose features to your smart code) then you will be happy to know that this is being investigated.

More targets

There are a lot of systems out there in the world, some of which did not exist just a couple of years ago. FriendOS is a cloud based operating system we really want to support, so we are eager to get cracking on their SDK when that comes out. Being able to target FriendOS from Smart is valuable, because some of the stuff you can do in SMS with just a bit of code – would take weeks to hand write in JavaScript. So you get a productive edge unlike anything else – which is good to have when a new market opens.

As far as Delphi is concerned there are smaller systems that Embarcadero may not be interested in, for example the many embedded systems that have come out lately. If Embarcadero tried to target them all – it would be a never-ending cat and mouse game. It seems like almost every month there is a new board on the market. So I fully understand why Embarcadero sticks to the most established vendors.

ov-4f-img

Smart technology allows you to cover all your bases regardless of device

But for you, the programmer, these smaller boards can repsent thousands of dollars worth of saving. Perhaps you are building a kiosk system and need to have a good-looking user interface that is not carved in stone, touch capabilities, low-latency full-duplex communication with a server; not much you can do about that if Delphi doesnt target it. And Delphi is a work horse so it demands a lot more cpu than a low-budget ARM SoC can deliver. But web-tech can thrive in these low-end environments. So again we see that Smart can compliment and be a valuable addition to Delphi. It helps you as a Delphi developer to act on opportunities that would otherwise pass you by.

So in the above scenario you can double down. You can use Smart for the user-interface on a low power, low-cost SoC (system on a chip) kiosk — and Delphi on the server.

It all depends on what you are interfacing with. If you have a full Delphi backend (which I presume you have) then writing the interface server in Delphi obviously makes more sense.

If you don’t have any back-end then, depending on your needs or future plans, it could be wise to investigate if node.js is right for you. If it’s not – go with what you know. You can make use of Smart’s capabilities either way to deliver cost-effective, good-looking device front-ends of mobile apps. Its valuable tool in your Delphi toolbox.

Better infrastructure and rooting

So far our support for various systems has been in the form of APIs or “wrapper units”. This is good if you are a low-level coder like myself, but if you are coming directly from Delphi without any background in web technology – you wouldn’t even know where to start.

So starting with the next IDE update each platform we support will not just have low-level wrapper units, but project types and units written and adapted by human beings. This means extra work for us – but that is the way it has to be.

As of writing the following projects can be created:

  • HTML5 mobile applications
  • HTML5 mobile console applications
  • Node.js console applications
  • node.js server applications
  • node.js service applications (requires PM2)
  • Web worker project (deprecated, web-workers can now be created anywhere)

We also have support for the following operating systems:

  • Chrome OS
  • Mozilla OS
  • Samsung Tizen OS

The following API’s have shipped with Smart since version 1.2:

  • Khronos browser extensions
  • Firefox spesific API
  • NodeWebkit
  • Phonegap
    • Phonegap provides native access to roughly 9 operating systems. It is however cumbersome to work with and beta-test if you are unfamiliar with the “tools of the trade” in the JavaScript world.
  • Whatwg
  • WAC Apis

Future goals

The first thing we need to do is to update and re-generate ALL header files (or pascal units that interface with the JavaScript libraries) and make what we already have polished, available, documented and ready for enterprise level use.

kiosk-systems

Why pay $400 to power your kiosk when $99 and Smart can do a better job?

Secondly, project types must be established where they make sense. Not all frameworks are suitable for full project isolation, but act more like utility libraries (like jQuery or similar training-wheels). And as much as possible of the RTL made platform independent and organized following our namespace scheme.

But there are also other operating systems we want to support:

  • Norwegian made Friend OS, which is a business oriented cloud desktop
  • Node.js OS is very exciting
  • LG WebOS, and their Enyo application framework
  • Asustor DLM web operating system is also a highly attractive system to support
  • OpenNAS has a very powerful JavaScript application framework
  • Segate Nas OS 4 likewise use JavaScript for visual, universal applications
  • Microsoft Universal Platform allows you to create truly portable, native speed JavaScript applications
  • QNap QTS web operating system [now at version 4.2]

All of these are separate from our own NAS and embedded device system: Smart Desktop, which uses node.js as a backend and will run on anything as long as node and a modern browser is present.

Final words

I hope you guys have enjoyed my little trip down memory lane, and also the plans we have for the future. Personally I am super excited about moving the IDE to the cloud and making Smart available 24/7 globally – so that everyone can use it to design, implement and build software for the future right now.

Smart Pascal Builder (or whatever nickname we give it) is probably the first of its kind in the world. There are a ton of “write code on the web” pages out there, but so far there is not a single hard-core development studio like I have in mind here.

So hold on, because the future is just around the corner 😉

Delphi developer on its own server

April 4, 2017 Leave a comment

While the Facebook group will naturally continue exactly like it has these past years, we have set up a server active Delphi developers on my Quartex server.

This has a huge benefit: first of all those that want to test the Smart Desktop can do so from the same domain – and people who want to test Smart Mobile Studio can do so with myself just a PM away. Error reports etc. will still need to be sent to the standard e-mail, but now I can take a more active role in supervising the process and help clear up whatever missunderstanding could occur.

casebook

Always good with a hardcore Smart, Laz, amibian.js forum!

Besides that we are building a lively community of Delphi, Lazarus, Smart and Oxygene/Remobjects developers! Need a job? Have work you need done? Post an add — wont cost you a penny.

So why not sign up? Its free, it wont bite you and we can continue regardless of Facebook’s up-time this year..

You enter here and just fill out user/pass and that’s it: http://quartexhq.myasustor.com/sharetronix/

Amiga revival, Smart Pascal and growing up

March 11, 2017 1 comment

Maybe its just me but the Amiga is kinda having a revival these days? Seems to me like the number of people going back to the Amiga has just exploded the past couple of years. Much of that is no doubt thanks to my buddy Gunnar Kristjannsen’s excellent work on the Amibian distro for Raspberry PI. Making a high-end Amiga experience that would have cost you thousands of dollars available at around $35.

amifuture

Looking forward to some cosy reading

While Gunnar’s great distro is no doubt a huge factor in this, I believe its more than just easy access. I think a lot of us that grew up with the system, who lived the Amiga daily from elementary school all the way to college – have come full circle. We spend our days coding on PC’s, Mac’s or making mobile software – but deep down inside, I think all of us are still in love with that magical machine; The Commodore Amiga.

I am honestly at a loss for words on this (and that’s a first, most days you can’t get me to shut the hell up). Why should a 30-year-old system attract me more, and still cause so much joy in my life – compared to the latest stuff? I mean, I got a fat ass I7 that growls when you start it with 64 gigabyte ram, SSD and all the extras; I got macs all over the house, the latest consoles – and enough embedded boards to start my own arcade if I so desired.

Yet at the end of the day, when the kids are in bed and GF firmly planted in front of her favorite tv show, fathers are down in basements all around europe. Not watching porn, not practising black magic or trying to transform led into gold, nope: coding in assembler on a mc68k processor running at a whopping 7Mhz and loving every minute of it!

Today the madness held no bounds and forced me, out of sheer perverted joy, to order 4 copies of Amiga Future magazine (yes there are still magazines for the Amiga, believe it or not), a few posters, a mousemat and (drumroll) the ever sexy A1222. Actually that was a lie, I ordered that weeks ago, Trevor Dickenson over at A-EON hooked me up so im getting it as soon as it comes off the assembly line. And for those that don’t know, the A1222 is the new affordable Amiga that is released today. It’s not a remake of the older models, but a brand new thing. I havent been this giddy about a piece of silicon since I fell into a double-d cup at a beach in Spain last year.

Smart Pascal

It made sense to unite my two great computing passions, namely the object pascal language and Amiga into one package. So whenever I have some spare time I work my ass off on the update for Smart Mobile Studio. And it’s getting probably the biggest “demo” ever shipped with a programming language.

What? Well, a remake of the Amiga operating system. But not just a simple css-styled shallow lookalike. You know me, I just had to go all the way. So I married the system with something called uae.js. Which is essentially the JavaScript version of the Amiga emulator. Its compiled with EmScripten – a post processor that takes LLVM compiled bitcode compiled with C/C++ and spits out Asm.js optimized code.

amidesk

You just cant kill it, Amiga is 4ever

So, Smart Pascal in one hand – C/C++ in the right hand. Its like being back in college all over again. Only thing missing now is that Wacom suddenly returns and Borland rise from the grave with another Turbo product. But yes, JavaScript is something I really enjoy. And being able to compile object pascal to JavaScript is even better.

The end result? Well since I don’t have too much time on my hands it’s roughly 31-32% done, and when we hit 50% is when UAE.js will be activated. So right now its a sexy cloud front end. It has a virtual filesystem that runs fine over localstorage, but it can also talk to node.js and access the real filesystem on your server.

But when UAE.js kicks in you will be able to run your favorite Amiga demos, applications and games in your browser. I am actually very excited about seeing the performance. It runs most demos OK (using the Aros rom-files). I imagine running things like blitzbasic, Amos basic and SAS-C/C++ should work fine. Or at least be within the “usable” range if you got a powerful PC to play with.

The V8 JavaScript engine in webkit is due for an overhaul next year – and while I can only speculate I’m guessing real-life compilation will be the addition. They already do some heavy JIT’ing but once you throw LLVM based actual compilation into the picture – large JS applications is going to fly side by side with native stuff. And that’s when cloud front-ends like ChromeOS and other FriendOS is going to take off.

My little remake is not that ambitious, but I do intend to make this an absolute kick-ass system as far as Amiga is concerned. And for Smart Pascal developers? Well, lets just say that this demo project has pushed the RTL for all it’s worth and helped fix bugs and expand the RTL in a way that makes it a real power-house!

Growing up

Do we ever really grow up? I’m not sure any more. I look at others and see some that have adopted this role, this image of how an adult should be like — but its more often than not tied into the whole A4 family thing or some superficial work profile. And since most Amiga fanatics are in their 40’s and 50’s (same age as Delphi hooligans, Turbo was released in 1983 same year as the Amiga came out), I guess this is when kids have grown up enough for people to go “wait a minute, what .. where is my Amiga!“.

But good things come to those who wait. If someone told me that I would one day work side by side with giants like David John Pleasance, Francois Lionet and the crew at FriendUp systems – I would never have believed them. A member of quartex in meetings with the head of Commodore? My teenage self would never have believed it. Both of these men, including all the tech guys at Commodore, Mark Sibly the guy behind BlitzBasic — these were my teenage heroes. And now I get to work with two of them. That is priceless.

As for growing up – if that means losing that spark, that trigger that when lost would render us incapable of enjoying things like the Amiga, reduced to a suit in a grey world of PCs – you know, then I’m happy to be exactly where I am. If you can go to work wearing an Amiga T-Shirt, tracker music on your iPod, a family you love at home, cool people to work with – I would call that a wrap.

And looking at the hundreds and thousands of people returning to the Amiga after 30 years in the desert – something tells me I wont be alone .. 😉

 

Smart Pascal: Download streams

January 20, 2017 Leave a comment

Real, binary streams has been a part of the Smart Pascal RTL for quite some time now. As a Delphi developer you probably take that for granted, but truth be told – no other JavaScript framework even comes close to our implementation. So this is unique to Smart Pascal, believe it or not.

The same can be said about the ability to allocate, move and work with memory buffers. Sure you can write similar code by hand in pure JavaScript, but the amount of code you have to write will quickly remind you why object orientation is so important.

Binary data counts

So you got streams, what of it? I hear you say. But you are missing the point here. If there is one thing JavaScript sucks at, it’s dealing with binary data. It has no concept really of bytes versus 32 bit integers, or 64bit integers. There is no such thing as a pointer in JavaScript. So while we have enjoyed pointers, memory allocations, being able to manipulate memory directly and use streams to abstract from our binary data for decades in Delphi — all of this is brand new under JavaScript.

672274_cd11_2

And binary data counts. The moment you want to write code that does something on any substancial level – the capacity for dealing with binary data in a uniform way is imperative. If you are into HTML5 game coding you will sooner or later get in contact with map editors (or level editors) that work best in binary format. If you plan on making a sound app that runs in the cloud, again being able to read binary files (just like we do in Delphi) is really, really important. Just stop and think for a few seconds how poor Delphi and C++ builder would be without streams.

Making data available

One developer asked me an important question earlier: how do you get data out? And he meant that quite literally. What if my Smart app is the producer of binary data? What if I use SMS to create the fancy map editor, or the waveform generator code or whatever – what then?

Indeed that is a good question, but thankfully an easy one.

Most JavaScript objects, or data objects in general, inside a browser can be exported. What this means is that the browser can tag a spesific object with an ID, and then make the data available as a normal link.

For instance, if you have a block of memory like an uint8Array and you want that data exported, you would call url.createObjectURL() and it will create an URL you can use to get that data. Let’s have a look at the code you need first:

function BinaryStreamToURLObject(Stream: TStream):String;
var
  mBlob:  THandle;
begin
  if stream<>NIL then
  begin
    stream.position:=0;
    var mTemp := TDatatype.BytesToTypedArray(Stream.read(stream.size));
    asm
      var encdec = window.URL || window.webkitURL;
      @mBlob = new Blob([@mTemp],{ type: "application/octet-binary" } );
      @result = encdec.createObjectURL(@mBlob);
      console.log(@result);
    end;
  end;
end;

procedure ForceDownloadOf(FileName: string; Stream: TStream);
var
  LARef:  TControlHandle;
begin
  if Stream <> nil then
  begin
    if Stream.Size > 0 then
    begin
      // Create node
      asm
        @LARef = document.createElement('a');
      end;

      // Setup values
      LARef.style := "display: none";
      LARef.href := BinaryStreamToURLObject(Stream);
      LARef.download := Filename;

      // Add to DOM
      asm
        document.body.appendChild(@LARef);
      end;

      // Wait for the obj to appear in the DOM
      LARef.readyExecute( procedure ()
        begin
          // Invoke click on link
          LARef.click();
        end);

    end;
  end;
end;

Note #1: Notice how I use a TControlHandle in the example above. Why? Because this handle has a helper class that gives us some perks, like readyExecute(), which fires when the element is safely in the DOM and is ready to be used.

Note #2: Since the built-in browser in Smart Mobile Studio doesnt have download functionality, nothing will happen when you run this inside the IDE. So click on the “Open in browser” and run your app there to see it.

The first function takes a stream and converts it into a blob object. The second function creates an anchor object, and then calls the click() method on that anchor. Essentially kick-starting the download. It is the exact same as you clicking on a download link, except we do it purely through code.

Let’s go through the steps

  • Grab all the data from the stream
  • Convert from TByteArray to a typed browser array
  • Fetch the browser’s URL object
  • Call createObjectURL, passing the data
  • Return the internal URL for the data, which is now kept safe
  • Create an anchor link object
  • Make sure the anchor is invisible
  • Set the URL to our blob above
  • Add the anchor to the DOM
  • Call the Click() method on the anchor

Voila! Not to hard was it 🙂

So now you can just have a button and in the onClick event you just call ForceDownload() and bob’s your uncle 🙂

Here is the internal link I got after saving a TW3Dataset to a stream and pushing it through the steps above: blob:http%3A//192.168.38.102%3A8090/9a351a97-5f6d-4a43-b23b-c81b77972e21

This link is relative to the content, so it will only work for as long as your Smart app is in memory (actually, only while the blob is managed, you can remove the blob as well).

LDef try/catch support

January 14, 2017 1 comment

Now this was a pickle: namely to support try/catch constructs in LDEF on assembly level. It may sound simple, but it all depends on how exactly the data-model stores individual instructions.

Since LDef has various blocks where code can be defined, abstracting the instruction buffers had to be done. With blocks I naturally mean code sections. A procedure for instance is such a block. A procedure contains instructions and calls to other code blocks. But – it can also contain sub-blocks. Consider the following:

/* block 1 */
public void SomeProc() {
  a = 12;
  b = 24;
  c = a + b;
  if (c >= 27) {
    /* Block 2 */
  } else {
    /* block 3 */
  }
}

The code above, ridicules in it’s simplicity, demonstrates a fundamental principle that all compilers must support, namely to execute different blocks based on some value. In this example block #2 will execute if “c” is more or equal to 27, or block #3 if its not.

This is pretty straight forward right? Well not quite. It all depends on how you store bytecodes in the data model. The first question you should ask is: how do we execute block #2 and not block #3. Remember that in assembly language (or bytecode) this is all one big chunk. Had this been machine code, the compiler would have to calculate the offset of block #3, also where block #3 ends. If the condition was false a jump to block #3 must be performed (skipping over block #2). Well, you get the idea I think.

LDEF was first written in Smart Pascal and runs on node.js and in vanilla html5 applications

LDEF was first written in Smart Pascal and runs on node.js and in vanilla html5 applications

Since LDef is very low-level, I have to come up with something similar. But I also wanted a solution that made things easier. Doing in-place forward calculations etc. is not hard, boring perhaps but not a showstopper by any means. But could I come up with a more flexible solution

First stop was to fragment the instruction blocks. So instead of having a single list of instructions associated with a procedure or function, these can now have as many instruction lists associated with it as memory can hold. The idea is that they are all glued together into a final list when the model is emitted to disk. But the ability to organize and work with chunks of code like this is really a step up from barebone assembly.

type
  TLDefModelParamType =
    (
    ptRegister,   // Parameter is a register
    ptVariable,   // Parameter is a variable (index follows in bytecode)
    ptConst,      // Parameter is a constant (index follows in bytecode)
    ptValue,      // Parameter is a direct value, raw data follows in bytecode
    ptDC          // Parameter is the data-control register
    );

  TLDefModelParam = class
  strict private
    FType:  TLDefModelParamType;  // Param type
    FIndex: integer;              // index (register only!)
    FData:  string;               // data (const + variable only!)
  public
    property  ParamType: TLDefModelParamType read FType write FType;
    property  Index: integer read FIndex write FIndex;
    property  Data: string read FData write FData;
  end;
  TLDefModelParamList = TObjectList;

  TLDefModelInstruction = class(TLDefModelSymbol)
  strict private
    FInstr:     integer;          // Index of instruction in dictionary
    FParams:    TLDefModelParamList;   // Parsed parameters
  public
    property    Id: integer read FInstr write FInstr;
    property    Params: TLDefModelParamList read FParams;
    constructor Create(const AParent: TParserModelObject); override;
    destructor  Destroy; override;
  end;

  TLDefModelInstructionIfThen = class(TLDefModelInstruction)
  strict private
    FThen:      TLDefModelInstructionList;
  public
    property    ThenCode: TLDefModelInstructionList read FThen;
    constructor Create(const AParent: TParserModelObject); override;
    destructor  Destroy; override;
  end;

  TLDefModelInstructionIfThenElse = class(TLDefModelInstructionIfThen)
  strict private
    FElse:      TLDefModelInstructionList;
  public
    property    ElseCode: TLDefModelInstructionList read FElse;
    constructor Create(const AParent: TParserModelObject); override;
    destructor  Destroy; override;
  end;

  TLDefModelInstructionTryCatch = class(TLDefModelInstruction)
  strict private
    FTryCode:   TLDefModelInstructionList;
    FCatchCode: TLDefModelInstructionList;
  public
    property  TryCode: TLDefModelInstructionList read FTryCode;
    property  CatchCode: TLDefModelInstructionList read FCatchCode;
    constructor Create(const AParent: TParserModelObject); override;
    destructor  Destroy; override;
  end;

  TLDefModelInstructionList = class(TLDefModelSymbol)
  strict protected
    function  GetItem(index: integer): TLDefModelInstruction;
  public
    property  Count: integer read ChildGetCount;
    property  Item[index: integer]: TLDefModelInstruction read GetItem;
    function  Add: TLDefModelInstruction; overload;
    function  Add(const NewInstance: TLDefModelInstruction): TLDefModelInstruction; overload;

    function  AddIfThen: TLDefModelInstructionIfThen;
    function  AddIfThenElse: TLDefModelInstructionIfThenElse;
    function  AddTryExcept: TLDefModelInstructionTryCatch;
  end;

  TLDefModelByteCodeChunk = class(TLDefCollectionSymbol)
  strict protected
    function  GetSegment(index: integer): TLDefModelInstructionList; virtual;
  public
    property  Count: integer read ChildGetCount;
    property  Segment[index: integer]: TLDefModelInstructionList read GetSegment;

    function  Add: TLDefModelInstructionList;
  end;

By splitting up TLDefMOdelInstructionList into these parts, especially the if/then, if/then/else and so on classes, working with conditional execution is no longer problematic. A list will always know it’s own size and length, so it’s not really that much work involved in emitting the jump instructions and test stuff.

Exceptions

Exceptions is an intricate part of the virtual machine. How to deal with them however is something I have thought long and hard about. I finally ended up with a system that is easy to use. The ES register will be 0 (zero) if no except has occured, otherwise it will contain the exception identifier.

When an exception occurs, the type and message is pushed on the stack by the virtual machine. A catch block then have to read them out and deal with them. You can also re-throw the exception via “rethrow;” or just throw a new one via “throw ”

    try {
      /* calc longs */
      move r1, count;
      mod r1, 8;
      move r2, count;
      move _longs, r1;
    } catch {
      /* The ES register contains the exception state,
         but the message will be on the stack */
      pop r0; /* get type */
      pop r1; /* get message */
      swap r0, r1; /* Syntax for showmessage wants text in r0 */
      syscall -rtl_showmessage;
    }

Well, fun times ahead! Cant wait to finish the emitters and get this puppy running 🙂