Monday, December 28, 2009

Graphos: vector Drawing application for GNUstep

A long time ago 10 years now, Enrico Sersale began to work on a very interesting and promising application: GDraw. A vector drawing application for GNUstep. Its spline drawing capabilities and document-based design were very advanced for those early days of GNUstep.

A long time passed, there were no further developments and the application bitrotted, starting not to compile any more under GNUstep or not working properly in any case.

I decided to make GDraw come back from the ashes under the name of Graphos. It took me a lot of work to bring it up-to-date.

From a user perspective little has changed, as a kind of tribute to the original work I left the user-interface essentially as-is, planning to change and enhance it only in the next release. However when the application was written, Gorm was in its infancy so for example the Menus were hard-coded. Now they are done properly in Gorm.

All drawing operations were PostScript based, I converted them to use NSBezierPath, this makes the application portable to Macintosh and Cocoa, as the attached screenshot testifies.

I wanted then to bug-.fix and complete some of the existing functions, The when I tried to complete the implementation of the "Box" tool, I found out that the architecture was unclear and limited making it next to impossible to continue.

The upcoming task was thus an incremental re-factoring of the application core. The code itself was almost untouched, but a clearer distinction was formed between Editors and Objects (improving also the file format, making it Editor independent). Object inheritance permits now easier extension and organization of the code.

Now Graphos works on Mac and GNUstep almost like its predecessor GDraw, I intend to make a preliminary release soon and then evolve its missing functions and perform more refactoring.

The file format changed only little and Graphos is able to read GDraw files (but not the opposite) due to a better Editor/Object distinction.

Almost a tribute to a ghost from the past, I hope Enrico will appreciate the efforts.

As usual, the application is part of GAP, the GNUstep Application Project where it finds its new home.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Theme module for SystemPreferences

I implemented a new preference module for System Preferences. It allows the selection of the preferred theme system-wide for the current user (NSGlobalDefault GSTheme)

This is finally the way an end-user should set his preferred theme, since currently either the command line was needed (defaults write) or only per-application setting was possible.

The module uses themes for GSTheme and they can be created with thematic. It displays a short description, the author, if available the version, the icon and a small theme preview. Since it would be almost impossible to do a preview in a subview, each bundle can carry an image of its preview.

The user can "Apply" the theme which means essentially to set the selected theme to the SystemPreferences application as a sort of preview or to Save, which writes the default permanently.

In the attached screenshot, you can see that the "ThinkDark" theme is applied temporarily and that the user is inspecting the Neos theme. The rest of the system however still runs the standard theme.

Thanks to the dynamic loading capabilities of GSTheme, after saving the theme all application get the new theme immediately.

The Themes module supersedes the Color Schemes control panel which is thus now no longer built and installed by default, although it remains available.

System Preferences 1.1.0 was thus released, combining some other minor code and makefile improvements already present

Up-to-date themes are present in the GAP CVS repository, they will be re-released soon.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

DataBasin and deletion of Salesforce records

I implemented delete in the API Layer (DBSoap) of DataBasin.

The screenshot shows DataBasin running on the Mac, natively built in Xcode.

Delete is capable of deleting an array of records, on top of this I implemented a convenient function: QuickDelete. Just enter a ID and delete it.

Full handling of the error results is still missing, currently only the verbose message are retrieved. For the QuickDelete an error gets conveniently displayed as if it were an exception in a small scrollable panel.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Grr: RSS to go on GNUstep

Guenther Noack, the Author of Grr, donated the appreciated RSS Reader and its Framework RSSKit to the GNUstep Application Project some time ago, since he had no time to maintain it any more. I will not promise anything, but as it is usual for GAP projects we try hard to make our programs compatible.

Thus Grr got a general make up of crash fixes, makefile fixes and warning fixes. Then an extensive work of removing forward declaration of Protocols was done so that compilation on gcc 29.5 is now possible, expanding the list of platforms where to run Grr on.

I compiled and ported Grr to the MIPS based Letux 400 netbook as can be seen in the screenshot. Grr uns perfectly and thus tracking RSS on the small device is now smooth as butter. RSS everywhere with you!

Friday, September 25, 2009

OpenOffice frustration

Subtitle: Why OpenSource continues to fail in many sectors.

Now. this is going to be a negative post full of criticism. Beware and decide if you want to stop reading. A rant.

A premise: I have mainly two uses of Open Source: the first is personal. That means I do stuff for myself. Or maybe I use it with my development of Open Source. That means I use it within a clean environment. Mostly I use developer tools but also Office and Graphics tool. But it is easy, I send material to a colleague that means he is most probably using the same thing.

The real problem is the second use: real business. Here things immediately take another turn. There are no excuses. My main rant is against OpenOffice and MS Office incompatibility. There are no excuses possible!

The new shiny 3.1.1 is out there and once again I give it a try. It is so appealing to have an alternative. An alternative which I can also use on Linux, on BSD or on Solaris. And on Windows of course. I notice many improvements, the applications on Windows XP looks good. I am pleased that OO did not yet follow the terrible "new MS style without menu bars and big fancy icons". I know it will happen, but for now it is fine.

But what is the real world task I need to solve? Take a file from a colleague, work on it, give it back. Sounds simple, doesn't it?

I take a power point file, modify it, give it back.

The file is ruined, the graphic images are broken. Things gets misplaced, connectors are broken...

The verdict is just one: OpenOffice is unusable in the real world. So sorry to say that. 

I reported a similar bug in Word documents about a year ago. The comments were more or less useless. Like "duplicate" or "we are different". Now indeed, there are a lot of bugs about similar problems posted. With that philosophy you can't go far with applications that need to inter-operate.

Also, I may note, that OpenOffice clearly dips into MS Office footsteps. It is not a "different" office suite. It is a suite that wants to appeal the MS user. You see it in almost every detail of the user interface. Also, the compatibility is actually high, but not enough. There are no excuses.

Heck, OpenOffice has that small office assistant even! But corrupts diagrams? 

Yet some of the compatibility bugs are there since months, years even. I do not care in this case on how much I can do "within" OpenOffice itself: I am not making a slide presentation for FOSDEM, I am making one for someone else, that someone else will be using MS Office or, in any case, expects that as an exchange format.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Neos: make-up for GNUstep

I released today a first version of Neos, a new theme for GNUstep. It is not yet a definitive release, but perfectly usable. More subtle, with less contrast. Yet I intend to retain the NeXT spirit to the maximum.

I will try to make minor releases which each change I implement, up to a first official release.

The theme is done inside Thematic and also illustrates the progress done on that front, the current Neos version is code-less and consists only in new pixmaps and other point-and-click configurations.

The Neos theme is part of the GAP project and there I created an extra section to collect themes, wallpapers, color schemes to offer an easy way to adapt and customize the GNUstep interface, something which gets often criticized.

In the screenshot, the Gorm document and palette with the new theme.

Friday, August 21, 2009

DataBasin is now able to create records in sfdc

DataBasin is now able to create records in starting from a CSV file.

First, as shown in the screenshot, the already implemented method describeGlobal retrieves the available objects to insert into. Once the user selects them the CSV file is read and the objects get created. There is no provision yet for mapping the fields, the first line is assumed to contain the field names.

The API implemented by DBSoap is now getting a little more complete step after step. The basic operations of creation and query are already possible.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

describeGlobal implemented in DataBasin

I implemented describeGlobal in the DBSoap layer of DataBasin which communicates with Thus a list of all objects in the system can be queried, standard and custom objects. The return is just an array of strings.

Step after step I am recreating a simple API interface to the Web services in pure Objective-C.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Login manager for GNUstep

After 7 years and 5 months that it was committed to GAP, during which it was more or less dormant, LoginPanel saw a surge in activity again. A first public release is near. With it, the "Desktop Environment" experience will begin right at the beginning.

First, authentication is now possible both with PAM as with a fallback on standard UNIX /etc/passwd files.
Then, the most important work, a session gets started with the execution of the standard .xsession file. Terminating a session gets then correctly all processes killed

I propose something along the lines:
exec openapp GWorkspace
That will make the session dependent on GWorkspace and not WindowMaker, this way the "Logout" command does indeed log the user out.
Also Gregory implemented a way to set a default variable at application startup so that the mini-window doesn't get drawn, this is important both at startup, when no window manager is running, as well as during execution, since loginpanel remains "frozen" in the background.

More informations will come on the GAP website.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

GShisen 1.3.0 released

GShisen 1.3.0 is there!

GShisen is a long-existing GNUstep application written by Enrico Sersale many years ago, its claim is to be the first GNUstep game. Unfortunately, as many old application, it did not see any maintenance and updates and started to bitrot.

I decided to overhaul it and import it into the GNUstep Application Project.

The biggest change is that it now uses Gorm files to create the interface instead of creating it from code. This means less code to maintain. A new project was created and the makefile is now gnustep make 2.0 compliant.

Once the restructuring was done, the game was ported to both Mac and Windows, as past posts on this blog document, for added fun on any platform. It also of course certifies again the maturity and flexibility of GNUstep on different Platforms. Note that the Mac port is completely native without the need of GNUstep at all.

GSPdf 0.3 released

Version 0.3 GSPdf has been released The main feature is a Preference Panel where the user can select the GhostScript binary to use. Packagers are still encouraged to set the default path which is correct for the operating system they target to, but now for example multiple instances of GS are easily supported.

GSPdf is a PDF and PostScript viewer for GNUstep, it is a backend to GhostScript.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Limited screen real estate

The Letux 400 has a wide-VGA screen, 800x480 pixels. Bright, crisp and well readable, but sure an uncommon format. 800x600 was common for laptops for a long time.
How do standard desktop applications fare on the Netbook? Some just don't fit, but there are several which just work and allow to have a small workspace available.

The first screenshot shows that albeit crammed, the Workspace is fine. The panel with the folders could be closed to gain even more space. Behind you can see the Terminal application. Sure, only one can be seen at a time, but it is enough to work.

Then we have the AddressManager showing up in all its glory. Fits tight but fits. A really useful application on a Netbook!

The last image shows the Vespucci browser on the Letux. Works fine.

Note: Screenshots are from applications actually running on the Letux 400, not mock-ups.

Friday, June 12, 2009

GShisen on Windows

Well, after having ported to GShisen to Macintosh I had absolutely get it running on Windows. This requried some minor changs in the code since mingw is not a complete POSIX system.
However, as the screenshot testifies, GNUstep proves once again its portability power. The screenshot also shows the horizontal in-window style menus.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

GShisen on the Macintosh

So, after the work of clean-up of GShisen its interface is now created mostly from its Gorm file, including its menu structure and dialog panels. The nice thing is that mostly it was code removal! Everything is not smoother and clearer.

Now, with a clean project I attempted a port to Mac, I redid the whole project in Xcode and the NIB file in InterfaceBuilder, within two hours I had a usable GShien on the Macintosh. A port already existed, but the new NIB-based interface is much smoother and indeed perfectly native. Really amazing at how fast the port is and how ProjectCenter-XCode and Gorm-IB relate side by side. I actually like how clean the GNUstep counterparts are. Setting up the InfoPanel on ProjectCenter is a breeze and it comes out perfect!

Friday, June 05, 2009

Reviving GShisen

There is an application - half forgotten - that claims to be the first GNUstep game: GShisen. It is part of of the large number of programs Enrico Sersale worked on.

The application has its roots 9 years ago and its code, and project is old, although it still works fine.

I intend to make GShisen part of the GNUstep Application Project: development in GNUstep has taken long strides and I want to update GShisen for it: a modern ProjectCenter project and not hand coded files, GORM files for windows but also menus, which were hand coded in main.m! As well as standard ways to show Infopanels, dialogs, etc. Things are so convenient now. The advantage is also that the code size gets smaller!

For the first release, I do not intend to add any new features, the user won't notice the difference.

Stay tuned! (Or check GAP cvs for progress)

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

GNUstep to go... on MIPS

GNUstep is addictive, so one has to have it always handy... laptops, virtual machines, Windows port are means, but netbooks? The current trend?

The smallest one I found around is the Letux 400. This small nifty thing is light (670g, about 2/3 of the typical Atom netbook) and really small, as an A5 piece of paper. Small enough that the thumbs can reach the touchpad. The display is small, but extremely bright and very crisp. It is perfectly viewable even outside with sunlight, really amazing. Both WiFi as standard LAN networking are present. The nice touch is the MIPS CPU instead of an x86, which, as a seasoned SGI machine user, stirred up my interest. The CPU, of embedded fame, is just passively cooled (which, since the 2GB flash constitutes the solid-state drive, makes it absolutely silent) and consumes little power, I reached more than the stated 4h of operation, getting almost 5h sometimes.

The picture compares the Letux 400 atop of my Compaq EVO notebook. You can also barely see GWorkspace and Vespucci running on it...

The machine comes with a 2.4 series kernel and a custom distribution, which I won't discuss here. Golden Delicious computer, the distributor, sets up a second partition where Debian comes preinstalled and with a script (easy to customize) it is possible to work with chroot in Debian. This is a good setup for the current phases of development, convenient as it uses the standard mipsel distribution.

With the current version of GNUstep, it is possible to install easily the core system and, thanks to the GNUstep Application Project, one can get a small and functional GNUstep environment. The Workspace Manager GWorkspace runs fine as well as Terminal.

Of course I also tried SimpleWebKit and Vespucci on the Letux and, as expected, they work fine and run! It is the foray to a small, portable browser.

The future is bright! Apart from standard GNUstep development, a better kernel (2.6, which is in the work) able to solve some of the glitches present in the SkyTone supplied one, as well as a more optimized Linux distribution instead of the chrooted Debian could provide a really interesting ultra-mobile solution for GNUstep.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A pracitcal use...

Vespucci + SWK are approaching a state where they are of practical use: browsing the GNUstep reference documentation! Some things are still rough, but the latest work on Frames by Nikolaus is very promising.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A browser on HURD

From time to time I check how the status of GNUstep is on GNU/HURD. After all, the goal of GNUstep and the GNUstep Application Project is to provide a complete Workspace or, in current speak, a Desktop Environment.

So, why do not use it on HURD, the crown of the GNU OS? Hurd is a project always in an unkown status, with the menace of changing the microkernel to something unknown, but with nobody taking GNU-Mach to top-notch status.

In any case, the combination of Debian on HURD is pretty interesting and complete and the advantage is that getting a "familiar" environment is relatively easy.

In any case, currently GNUstep on HURD runs pretty reasonable. With pedning limitaitons, the core seems to work, Workspace runs, the Terminal application does work and what is perhaps coolest, the Vespucci browser runs! So this not only proves the portability of gnustep core and simplewebkit, but also gives hope for a decent graphical web browser for Hurd once simplewebkit progresses more.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Bookmarks... and drawing pencils

Bookmarks are maybe the most valuable personal value that gets created by a user with a browser.  Bookmarks are what you miss if you use somebody else's computer or you loose your data for whatever reason.
Just a couple of days before OrobienStep I discussed extensively with Greg a flexible and yet simple bookmark archival strategy for Vespucci. I started implementing it,  then at OrobienStep with Nikolaus I shared the idea, since it would be core for the future to have a shared and exchangeable data model. Exchanging bookmarks from the GNUstep workstation to myStep mobile solutions, to ports to the mac, to netbooks... pretty much essential.
We did some reverse engineering of the Safari bookmark format and it did have similarities to my format, although it looks a bit more quirky and complex, the basic information is the same, so I started adapting my loader to it.
Vespucci is now able to load Safari bookmarks without any modifications and the native format of Vespucci is almost the same, so saved bookmarks can be loaded in Safari again. iSync information  does not get produced by Vespucci and gets lost if previously converted.
I think the result was worth the extra effort.

One note: you can also port over your Safari bookmarks from the Macintosh to GNUstep, but the property list (plist) needs to be converted from XML to the standard format. You can do that with the "Property List Editor" utility supplied by apple, use "ASCII Property List File".
And as an end note... I had some graphic design time as a break from coding time. Laterna Magica and Vespucci enjoy new icons...

Sunday, January 25, 2009

OrobienStep '09

The developers departed, the lights have been shut down: OrobienStep has ended. We had a nice developer meeting in Italy, near Bergamo. We started Friday evening and went on to Sunday afternoon. Staying at Hotel Quarti, we had a convenient meeting room equipped with LAN, WLAN, Beamer, flip-chart... Attendees were Fred, Nikolaus, Gerold and of course myself, Riccardo. Gregory was able to communicate through skype and webcamera.

Friday was more a warm-up day. Windows work was a bit halted since the new make from svn busted both my gnustep installations. That overcome, work started well.

We tackled several areas and poor Fred was a bit overbooked since a lot came down to gui and back.

  • SimpleWebKit made great strides. Existing bugs with redirect were squashed by Nikolaus, which allows now to visit sites like google or yahoo. Nikolaus worked on Form support too, which got to a reasonable state on Cocoa (sending the data is still buggy) but it still doesn't work on GNUstep
  • both SWKBrowser and Vespucci saw work on Bookmarks support
  • both SWKBrowser and Vespucci got document editor/viewer type problems fixed on GNUstep and can now correctly do new document and open files from disk
  • art backend can now display 16bit images (both on little and big endian machines)
  • sparse bugs were fixed which impeded Windows compilation
  • several bugs were discovered or analyzed (windows problems with display and keycodes, missing features which cause Bean not to save files correctly, focus problems with gnome

A lot of information was exchanged, ideas discussed... I think everything was quite interesting and if an actual implementation follows it will be great.

We demoed some cool stuff to each other too:

  • Nikolaus showed us the evolution on his Macintosh software for the bluetooth Paperium pen+block system
  • we played on the Letux 400 system, an extremely small MIPS based netbook
  • I demoed DataBasin

All in all, everything was packed and productive. Nice trips to Italian restaurants were in, but unfortunately due to the tight schedule and the cold weather, no sightseeing was possible.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

DataBasin, or how to access from Objective-C

After several weeks of work, I can announce my first concrete success: the download of the contact list from the CRM to a CSV file.

On supported platforms, like Java or C#, offers libraries for a convenient access to their APIs (webservice interfaces). For Objective-C and GNUstep of course there is nothing of the kind. Thus I started writing a layer to access the webservices directly using SOAP calls. To be able to write those, I use GNUstep's WebServices framework, which I discovered was still quite rough and incomplete. Richard Frith-MacDonald though promptly debugged it and extended it. Until the first login was possible, a lot of debugging and investigation on the calls was necessary, I was patiently supported by my colleague Andrea Rosa.

Currently the donload means that the Login method completes correctly and returns a valid session, which is then reused to perform the query request and interpret its response. It is a demonstration that the whole concept can work

My intention is to develop DataBasin to be a free Open Source alternative to the DataLoader tool supplied by Once I reach that goal, I alreayd have further ideas on how to extend it.

DataBasin is part of the GNUstep Application Project and will be released there once ready for prime time.