Mike MacDonagh's Blog

Somewhere in the overlap between software development, process improvement and psychology

Tag Archives: delphi

Linux GUI Development: Lazarus 1.0 Review update

A while ago I wrote a review of Lazarus 0.9.30 and it came out with the 63% mainly because the installation process was so horrible. Well now it’s almost a year later and v1.0 has been released so it’s only fair I update my comments…

Installation

It’s still not exactly shiny but, and it’s a huge but, it is simple and it works! 🙂 To install on Linux I had to download 3 .deb files (1 for Lazarus, 1 for the compiler, 1 for the source) and then I could install them by simply doing:

doing sudo dpkg -i *.deb

It’s worth tidying up any old Lazarus installs first which you can do by running my script here.

Downloading *.deb files and installing them is pretty normal for linux users so although it’s not a shiny wizard installer or single command it is simple and most importantly it just works! I’m going to upgrade this from 1/19 to 8/10

First Impressions

A lot of the little niggles have gone away and it’s a much more stable, solid feeling environment. It does still load up with a million windows (Delphi style) and feel a little old fashioned (a lack of wizzy GUI controls and UI customisation, single window mode etc.) but being open source and written in itself I can change these things if I want to reasonably easily. In fact loading up the AnchorDockingDesign package makes the IDE a docked single window affair and there’s plenty of 3rd part controls to download and play with.

Normal multi-window interface for Lazarus
Lazarus as a single window IDE

There’s still no multi-project support and recompiling the IDE to get a new component on the toolbar feels a bit weird even if it does work perfectly well. I’m going to stick with 6/10 for those reasons.

The GUI designer and Code Editor haven’t really changed since my last review and so they stay happily at 9/10.

Language features

The handling of generics has improved since I last looked at Lazarus and all seems to work pretty well now 🙂

Otherwise nothing much has changed, no  multicast events or garbage collection but those things don’t really slow me down much. That’s why I gave it 6/10.

Despite the lack of some of these things the language has always been and still is quite elegant (other than the nasty globals), it’s got an excellent simple OO implementation and it’s really easy to quickly put an app together – oh yeah and it’s cross platform.

Cross-platform and backwards compatible

Lazarus works on windows, linux and mac. You can write a bit of code and natively compile it on each platform making for lightening fast code with no external dependencies. Write once, compile anywhere. You can already (partially) compile for android and other platforms are possible – anywhere the fpc compliler can be ported your code could work. That’s pretty impressive and it just works brilliantly.

Similarly all that ancient Delphi code can be loaded up edited and compiled and largely just works. Brilliant again. For that reason I’m going to bump up the language features to 8/10. (9 when android is working well).

I’ve not tried the feedback process again since v1 so I’m going to leave it at 7/10.

Conclusion

Despite it’s old fashioned feel in some places it’s simplicity is elegant and actually quite powerful. If you know the Object Pascal/Delphi language then it’s so fast to create good looking cross platform apps that it’ll knock your socks off.

When I pick up a new language I tend to do a challenge to load an xml file into a multi-column listview and create a details form to edit the selected row. In Java, something so apparently simple is a massive pain due to the imposition of the MVC pattern on everything. In C# it’s pretty easy, I can go MVC or not. In mono it’s reasonably easy too, although not the same easy and not as easy to get away from MVC.

In Lazarus it’s really easy, and it works fast and well on 3 major platforms. That’s a killer feature.

Category Score
Installation 8/10
First Impressions 6/10
GUI Designer 9/10
Code Editor 9/10
Language Features 8/10
Feedback process 7/10
Cross-Platform 10/10
Overall 81% – Easy to use and powerful

In my previous review I said I couldn’t really recommend it, and that made me sad. Now I can recommend it, in fact it’s quickly becoming my technology of choice for linux gui development, because it’s quick to put things together and they look good. Just maybe Lazarus is living up to it’s vision and bringing Delphi back to life, but bigger and better than it was before!

SimpleGit is developed in Lazarus

Linux GUI Development: Lazarus 0.9.30 review and screenshots

This blog is part of a series looking at programming tools on linux and covers Lazarus 0.9.30

EDIT: Since I wrote this Lazarus v.1 has been released  so I’ve updated my review here.

 


 

I’ve always liked Wirthian languages since programming in Modula-2 and university and Delphi late because they’re very readable and promote good programming practices in the structure of the language. Also, I like Wirth’s law “Software is getting slower more rapidly than hardware becomes faster.” from A Plea for Lean Software even if it wasn’t actually him that came up with it.

When I made the jump from Windows to Linux I was on the search for a nice high level language to do GUI development stuff in. In searching I came across Lazarus. Lazarus is a free cross-platform IDE which provides the Delphi experience for Linux (and Windows). Rather than Java’s “write once run anywhere” Lazarus aim’s for “write once compile anywhere” courtesy of the Fee Pascal Compiler (FPC). On top of the compiler Lazarus comes with the LCL (Lazarus Component Library) which gives a single interface for GUI programming despite underlying differences in implementation.

Lazarus is at 0.9.30 so it’s not a v1 product yet… However I’m not going to give much benefit for that since it’s been around for both windows and linux since 2008 and is available from the Ubuntu Software Centre.

Installation

Oh dear… the most important part of a software package, since if it fails your software doesn’t get used and for Lazarus it just sucks! When I first tried to install Lazarus it took me over 20 times to get it actually working. A comment from the Lazarus forum replied: “…20 times isn’t that much…” as if this is acceptable. Ok, so it’s free and open source but if it’s not accessible people won’t use it. It’s so hard to get running I’ve posted twice on the topic (and had a significant amount of hits from people with the same problems).

Worse, upgrades to Ubuntu have totally broken the installation and it’s not properly compatible with the new Ubuntu overlay scrollbars leading to focus problems with windows, text boxes and menus.

Basically, unless you really care it not going to be easy to get going. 1/10

First Impressions

Once I finally got it running my immediate reaction was summed up by the word “w00t“. Despite the always ugly multi-window layout here was an environment and language I knew like the back of my hand (so long as I rewind my memory 15 years) and could quickly put together good looking cross-platform apps in minutes 🙂

Normal multi-window interface for Lazarus

Lazarus as a single window IDE

It is possible (by recomiling the IDE) to get a single window mode which is a bit more modern. I was little disappointed to see that it didn’t have multi-project support but at least it’s solid and works if a little old-fashioned feeling. 6/10

WARNING: Due to problems with focus, the current version is close to unusable in Ubuntu 11.10.

GUI Designer

The GUI designer is solid and works well. Guidelines, alignment indicators and a pretty good set of visual components make putting together a simple form trivial. There’s no layout controls as you get in many newer GUI IDEs (flex boxes, tables, fixes vs.s flow etc.) but the use of anchors and panels means this isn’t a problem. The GUI designer feels a lot like the Delphi designer 9/10

Code Editor

The code editor features all of the old colour schemes and look and feel of Delphi with all of the modern stuff you’d expect like code folding, code completion etc.  The link between code and visual elements is easy to manage, especially with the excellent Actions feature. The Lazarus code editor is actually an improvement over the old Delphi editor 9/10

Language Features

Global variables are still there, I understand taking them out would cause problems for supporting old code bases but it’s still a shame.

The language is a good simple OO implementation but it misses out on some modern features like extension methods, anon methods, iterators, code attributes/decoration, multi-cast events…

Generics have been added but they feel a bit like a bolt on in this version, especially as when compared to their simplicity in languages like c#. Here’s the same example I used in the c# mono review in Lazarus.

generic TGList<T>; = class
  Items: array of T;
  procedure Add(Value: T);
end;

TBlobList = specialize TGList<Pointer>;

....

sb := TStringList.Create();
for n :=0 to Length(blobs.Items)-1 do
begin
  sb.Append(blobs.Items[n].name);
end;
Memo1.Text:= sb.Text;

I’ve created my own base generic collection here and then specialised it for a custom type. All seems to work pretty well.

Finally.. there’s no (limited) garbage collection. Although visual elements are dealt with when you close a form (it’s normally too late by then if there’s a problem) there’s no garbage collection which means in that code above I need to change the TStringList.Create to:

sb := TStringList.Create();
try
   ...
finally
sb.Free;
end;

All in all, although it used to be a neat elegant language, and it still is Object Pascal just feels a bit old fashioned and clunky now. Sadly I’m going to have to give this 6/10

Feedback Process

The main feedback mechanism is the Lazarus site with wiki and forum. The forum’s fairly active but there seems to be an acceptance of problems such as the installation issues which is worrying.  7/10

Conclusions

Although the current version doesn’t really work with Ubuntu 11.10 the previous (and I hope future) configurations provide a pretty easy to use solid GUI design and code experience if a little old fashioned.

The community is reasonably active but a lot of the Lazarus usage seems non-English meaning the resources are sometimes a little hard to understand for me and since Pascal is  a bit of a niche language these days there’s not much non-Lazarus resources that can apply (except for old Delphi resources).

Although I’m predisposed to be positive about Lazarus to be honest I can’t really recommend it unless:

  • You’re an old Delphi developer looking for some nostaligia
  • Someone who hasn’t accepted Delphi is dead (even the website set up to refute this http://www.isdelphidead.com/ is dead!)
  • You need to quickly produce something very simple for multiple platforms and don’t know any other languages
Category Score
Installation 1/10
First Impressions 6/10
GUI Designer 9/10
Code Editor 9/10
Language Features 6/10
Feedback process 7/10
Overall 63% – Sadly not good enough

Linux GUI Development: Monodevelop 2.6 review and screenshots

This blog is part of a series looking at programming tools on linux and covers MonoDevelop 2.6

MonoDevelop 2.6 is awesome 🙂 I first tried MonoDevelop about a year ago and gave up quickly. It just wasn’t usable, but these days it’s a totally different story. I’m quite drawn to Mono and MonoDevelop because I used to be a .net developer and really like C# as a language.  Also as an old Delphi developer the .net framework has an intuitive design and structure since they were both designed in large part by the same guy – Anders Hejlsberg. I saw him present on LINQ in LA, he’s a clever dude.

Mono is an open source project to make .Net compliant tools, compilers, runtimes etc. able to run not just on windows, but on linux, android, mac etc. MonoDevelop is an open source development environment for Mono providing GUI designers and language support for C#, Java, Boo, VB.Net, Python, Vala, C, C++, Oxygene (Object Pascal based .Net language, though not available in the current version of MonoDevelop).

Installation

I was able to install it directly from the Ubuntu Software Centre, it ran straight away with no issues. Not quite 10/10 though. I tried to write a “hello world app”  and  it wouldn’t compile 😦 A quick google later and I found that the default .net framework target in the project options needed changing from 2.0 to 4.0 then it was fine. 9/10

First Impressions

Starting up MonoDevelop you’re greeting with a very MS Visual Studio like welcome screen with links to create stuff, recent stuff and web links. The IDE has a very solid and elegant feel, it doesn’t start with a million views and tabs like Eclipse, is visually pleasing (unlike Lazarus) and incorporates platform theming well (unlike Eclipse/SWT). 10/10

MonoDevelop Welcome Screen

GUI Designer

The GUI designer is embedded in the main window in a similar fashion to MS Visual Studio, with widgets in a toolbox controlled by layout containers (fixed, aligning, tables etc.). Widgets are added to a window by drag and dropping and although there’s nice to have features like alignment guidelines missing the designer is solid, platform themed and doesn’t crash. It slightly frustrating to me that I can’t just double click on a button to create a default click handler and start writing my code but I can double click in the signals box (on the right) and do it from there.

MonoDevelop GUI designer

Brilliantly, it can handly some old c# .net forms I wrote which used custom visual inheritance to make a new form frame for an unusual app which I assumed would break it!

The only downside here is that many of the properties seem oddly named and aren’t consistent across different types. I keep having to hunt around for where to find the text property for different objects. There’s little relationship to WinForms either if you’re using GTK# in terms of property and event names. Oh yeah, and alignment/guide lines aren’t there yet when dragging components around.

Putting together a simple form is a trivial matter completed in seconds. 8/10

Code Editor

The code editor supports all the normal modern stuff like colour control, code folding, code completion etc. and again is neat and elegant. The code completion helper in particular is very easy to use as is the code snippets tool box. Obvious problems are underlined as you type and the link between the visual elements and code is easy to work with.

MonoDevelop - Code Editing

MonoDevelop - Code Errors

The only downsides for me are the refactoring interaction which features a visual arrow that jumps to suggested places to put the new code – it doesn’t jump to very sensible places sometime; the compilation errro/warnings which are shown inline embedded in the code. These can make it a little hard to read the code until you’re used to them. You can of course turn them off. Overall though, it’s excellent. 9/10

Language Features

Writing C# in mono is brilliant. From the mono project website:

The Mono C# compiler is considered feature complete for C# 1.0, C# 2.0 and C# 3.0 (ECMA). A preview of C# 4.0 is distributed with Mono 2.6, and a complete C# 4.0 implementation is available with Mono 2.8…

That means the language supports OO constructs, iterators, anon methods, generics, statics, extension methods, LINQ, memory management, reflection, threading and much more…

Between LINQ and the mono framework implementation of the powerful MVC pattern loading stuff into object graphs and presenting that in editable for to users is a high level programming exercise.

As an easy language example here’s  working with a collection of TestBlob entities:

private List<TestBlob> blobs = new List<TestBlob>();

...
StringBuilder sb = new StringBuilder();
for (int n=0;n<blobs.Count;n++)
{
      sb.AppendLine(blobs[n].Name);
}
....

Simplez! 😀

10/10

Feedback Process

There’s a little feedback button on the bottom of the IDE that lets you quickly send feedback to the community. I did this regarding my frustration over clicks from the visual designer direct to code handlers and another minor issue. Within the day I had a friendly response describing how my comments had been listed as two bugs on the public bug tracking system on xamarin.com and explaining how to add myself as a subscriber should I wish it.

MonoDevelop - Feedback

That’s awesomeness on toast! 10/10

Conclusions

The solid GUI designer, integrated debugger and high level language support for cross-platform development provided by MonoDevelop is brilliant. It’s easy to knock up a quick app to do something. My 7yr old son and I have been using it do develop a calculator as an introduction to programming basics and he things it’s a good easy to use system.

Getting going with the MVC pattern can be a little frustrating if you just want to programmatically put a bunch of things in a listview (btw if you do this use a treeview not a listview even if that sounds crazy at this point) but that’s a common hurdle for most modern day languages/gui widget sets.

The mono and monodevlop communities are large and active and the web is full of c# tutorials and info. I’ve found that guidance written for MS developers in c# is directly applicable to c# in mono. This is now my favourite cross-platform development environment and technology.

Category Score
Installation 9/10
First Impressions 10/10
GUI Designer 8/10
Code Editor 9/10
Language Features 10/10
Feedback process 10/10
Overall 93% – Excellent

Install single window Lazarus 0.9.30 in Ubuntu 11.10 step by step

I’ve previously blogged on installing lazarus on ubuntu but unfortunately upgrading to ubuntu 11.10 broke my lazarus installation 😦 Here’s how I fixed it all.

1. Totally remove previous Lazarus and fpc installations

sudo apt-get purge lazarus*
sudo apt-get purge fpc*
sudo rm -Rf /usr/lib/fpc
sudo rm -Rf /usr/lib/lazarus
sudo rm -Rf /usr/share/fpcsrc
sudo rm -f ~/.fpc
sudo rm -Rf ~/.lazarus
sudo rm -f /usr/bin/lazarus*
sudo rm -f /usr/bin/lazres*
sudo rm -f /usr/bin/lazbuild*
sudo rm -f ~/.local/share/applications/lazarus*

2. Install fpc so you can use it from the command line

sudo apt-get install fp-compiler-2.4.4

You can see if this has worked properly by writing a hello world command line app, comiling it and running it before you’ve even tried to install lazarus. Save the following in a file called cmdline_helloworld.pas:

begin

writeln('hello world!');

end.

Then compile using

fpc cmdline_helloworld.pas

and run using:

./cmdline_helloworld

Free Pascal Compiler use on the command line

3. Install lazarus

sudo apt-get install lazarus

You probably need to disable overlay scrollbars otherwise you can get problems using menus and dialogs in Lazarus and apps made with lazarus:

export LIBOVERLAY_SCROLLBAR=0

if you don’t want to make such a global change then just make a script to start lazarus like this:

#!/bin/sh
LIBOVERLAY_SCROLLBAR=0 lazarus-ide

4. Change IDE settings to make it easier to use with Unity

Unity is annoying for many reasons, but it doesn’t deal with multi-window apps like Lazarus very well. So here’s some suggestions to make it all behave a bit better.

First, if you use a taskbar plugin like tint you can have Lazarus only show one button rather than loads on the task bar (Environment -> Options -> Window and slect “Show single button in Taskbar” at the top.

Second, I recommend making lazarus use single window mode. This is a little experimental but I think it’s a major improvement over the old-fashioned pre-Delphi 2005 layout.

Normal layout:

Normal multi-window interface for Lazarus

To transform Lazarus into a single window mode application you need to install the AnchorDockingDsgn package which is helpfully installed with Lazarus. On ubuntu in a standard installation it’ll be in /usr/lib/lazarus/0.9.30/examples/anchordocking/design.

Do this as sudo otherwise the recompiling process doesn’t have enough rights to backup packages and wotnot. So start lazarus by doing

sudo lazarus-ide

In Lazarus File -> Open and browse to anchordockingdsgn.lpk

When the package editor comes up select the install button. Lazarus will ask for confirmation and tell you only static packages are supported so you need to rebuild lazarus (that really needs sorting out!), say yes and then sit back and enjoy the compilation process.

Next time you start Lazarus it’ll be in single window mode. For some reason the Object Inspector (F11) isn’t docked by default but you can easily add it yourself.

Lazarus as a single window IDE

Some thoughts on self-hosting

There are many benefits to self-hosting which tend to lead to self-hosted projects achieving high quality. Some examples of this are many compilers, IDEs such as Delphi, Visual Studio etc. The sheer breadth of testing on self-hosted systems means bugs and dodgy user experiences are ironed out early. More recent examples of high-quality self-hosted development efforts come from Eclipse and Rational Team Concert. Scott Rich recently blogged on the Jazz team blog about RTC having the “smoothest end game ever” and one of the key points that led to this smooth end game was the self-hosting of RTC.

The question is how can we get the benefits of self-hosting in normal projects, since most organisations aren’t in the business of building IDEs…

Personally, I get involved in a lot of projects that aim to improve an organisations software development capability, often these projects involve deploying tools into an organistion to deal with things such as planning, issue tracking, configuration management etc. So in my projects I always make sure I’m self-hosted, that is we use the planning tools to plan the delpoyment of the planning tools 😛 We track issues in the issue tracking tool that we want others to use and store our artifacts in the repositories we are deploying in the organisation. This approach gives the benefits of broad and deep testing of infrastructure, configuration, integration and usage models. Not to mention the opportunity of being in the strong position of practicing what we preach!

Currently I’m involved in rolling out Rational Portfolio Manager to about 500 people. Changing the way that many people plan and manage projects isn’t terribly easy, but it’s made easier by ensuring that the configuration of a tool and it’s usage models have really been put through the ringer and thoroughly tested. As a result my project is self-hosted in RPM. That way my team is the first to find things that haven’t been set up correctly, is the the first to feel pain points and can fix them before the general user base has to feel the pain.

Not to mention we’re practicising what we preach.

If you’re doing any sort of project and you can work out how to usefully use the output of the project in the project then do so.

Interesting links in the world of software development

At IJI we have an internal newsletter than includes a section about software development industry news. For the most recent edition I collated a few links and I think they might be interesting for broader consumption. Of course one of the best links for Microsoft, Rational, Jazz and Borland information is my blog 😛

So subscribe

Here’s the links:

And an addition:

What’s new in terms of Rational Jazz products

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