Mike MacDonagh's Blog

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

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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! ūüôā 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 ūüôā

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 ūüôā

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

Ngrams for nerds

Pictures that are worth 500 billion words!

Google Ngram Viewer shows graphs of how many times words or phrases have occurred in a set of 5 million books over the years. They’re a really interesting way of seeing trends in information and relative importance between words. It’s free and easy so check it out.

Here’s some I recently ran that I found interesting. I ran most of them from 1950 onwards and¬† the info only goes up to 2008.

Comparison of programming languages

Programming Languages

Ngram link – When looking at this you’ve got to mentally remove the baseline Java and Pascal references from the 1950 as they’re about coffee, islands and mathematicians. Interesting to see Java so dominant.

Programming paradigms

Programming Paradigms

Ngram link – I found this one really interesting. Compared to the others in my query “structured programming” had a lot more books written about it. I wonder how much this is a reflection of the rise of the internet… these days although there are lots of programming books the primary source for learning a language is online material?

Methodologies

Methodologies

Ngram link – I was a little surprised to see RUP so much more prevalent than agile but then I did have to add “software development” to the term to avoid including the bendy and stretchy. Also as with the previous one I suspect that there’s a difference here between a vendor driven process with supporting books and a more open source philosophy on agile as a generic umbrella for methodologies, and therefore more online sources. As Ivar Jacobson says: “No one reads process books

Shareware, Freeware and OSS

Shareware, Freeware and Open Source

Ngram link – This one speaks for itself ūüôā I wish I could have worked out how to add “expensive vendor products” to the query!

User Stories vs. Use Cases

User Story vs. Use Case

Ngram link – Ah yes, this argument again. Interestingly this dominance of use case over user story in written books correlates with query stats between user stories and use cases on by blog and the ivarjacobson.com site. Personally I think they’re both great and complimentary, I often use them together on software projects.

Windows vs. Linux

Windows vs. Linux

Ngram link – Yep, Linux beats Windows at every turn.

More Ngrams!

For more fun with Ngrams watch this very funny video explaining this stuff

How to deal with line feeds in Jazz RTC SCM

I’ve found that there’s sometimes a bit of confusion over how Eclipse & RTC deal with line feeds, especially when migrating files from ClearCase so thought I’d post about it.

By default RTC tries to be helpful when opening text files on windows and linux platforms by rewriting the text file contents to either windows standard or linux standard depending on which platform you’re currently using. This is generally quite helpful as it means that when you load a workspace on whatever platform and use an external editor to mess around with text files they’re in the right format to make sense to your editor.

There are some cases when this behaviour isn’t quite so helpful however which can often come up during migration from ClearCase or other SCM tools. During migration you tend to copy a set of files from a location, change permissions on them and then stick them into a workspace for sharing into Jazz SCM. If you do this on windows then your files will be converted to windows format. As I said in the previous paragraph this is generally helpful but in some cases isn’t, as if the team generally develop on linux then when they load the files they’ll convert the format again making a change set which can interfere in a simple understanding of the history of files or when doing a file contents comparison.

Similarly if you build on windows and then deploy to linux and run some bash scripts or similar in your set of files you can hit problems as the files loaded on windows will be converted to windows format, if they’re copied to a server without running a dos2unix (or similar) conversion on them then the scripts won’t run on the target server.

There are a couple of features that you can use to prevent these problems, which although minor and easily corrected, can sometimes dent confidence in adopting teams. I’ve heard teams say they want exactly the same files (in binary terms) that they had in ClearCase and they don’t want RTC to rewrite to platform… that’s easily achievable you just need to fiddle with some settings. Of course other teams simply don’t notice as the apparent contents stay the same whatever platform you’re on.

My advice for avoiding these issues is:

  1. Set a sensible set of default file format options in Eclipse before starting (Window -> Preferences -> Team -> File Content) including setting to “binary” any file formats you don’t want to change such as .sh (unfortunately this doesn’t have a */other files setting)
  2. Do the migration on the normal development platform the team will use with a bias towards linux – My process for doing migrations
  3. Ensure the adopting team is aware of the difference between line feed settings on different platforms and knows how to change them in their project.

RTC provides features to work around line feed formats, if you right click on a project in project explorer you can select Team -> Change File Properties to change the properties of the files in your project.  The setting text/plain : platform indicates that RTC should rewrite files to the current platform, so setting .sh files delimiter to LF (Unix) will prevent problems in the previous scenario even if the  project is built and deployed on Windows. Choosing next on this wizard allows you to set general preferences for types as well.

Windows upate broke my Media Center – now fixed!

So I went to windows update and installed Windows XP SP3 on my main PC. All of a sudden windows Media Player started not working properly and throwing strange errors about component registration failing when I tried to skip forward/backwards or even just leave a video. This was a big problem for me because I use media center with the remote to watch TV on my big flat screen TV in front of the bed.

Fortunately I managed to fix it by googling for a bit and finding this excellent post: linky. It’s a bit techie, but the gist is that you need to:

  1. Download and reinstall the .NET Framework 1.1 SP1
  2. Go to the Start menu, choose Run and type cmd
  3. From the cmd prompt, run %windir%\ehome\medctrro.exe /o /p RunOnce to re-run Update Rollup 2 registration code

Then wait for a bit… Suddenly it all works again ūüėÄ

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