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Oxygene on the Big Screen

January 4, 2013 in Android, Elements, iOS, Java, Mac, Metro, Windows, Windows Phone

Android powered Ouya ConsoleYou already know Oxygene is the best choice for mobile development – Oxygene for Java on Android, Oxygene for .NET for Windows Phone and the Windows RT Surface and the beta “Nougat” already providing great support for iOS development. But what if you want to develop on the big screen? Like that 50 plus inch TV in your front room?

Enter the Ouya, the Android powered game console for your TV. They just released their ODK (Ouya Development Kit), and since it is Android powered, it is perfectly supported by Oxygene for Java right out of the box. Oxygene for Java is a completely native Android development tool – there are no forced abstraction layers or additional run-times to get in your way or require updating when new variations or versions of the platform come out.

Red Ant Games has just announced they are using Oxygene for Java to move their Subject 33 to Ouya and Android mobile devices. Subject 33 is currently an Alpha prototype on Windows. They also have plans to support iOS and Mac with “Nougat”.

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by marc

What, exactly, is “native” development?

April 19, 2012 in Android, Data Abstract, Elements, iOS, Mac, Metro, non-tech, Platforms, Windows, Windows Phone

Some developers, mostly those tied to unmanaged languages such as C++ or Delphi, define nativeness as compiling directly to the byte code expected by the physical CPU. That’s certainly one way to look at it, but we think it’s imprecise, and doesn’t take into account the full picture and the complexity of today’s software systems. Consider this for example: if you compile an application for x86, and then run it on a x64 CPU – is that really “native”? Arguably not.

CPU-native, unmanaged code, is becoming less and less relevant these days, and we believe true nativeness of code, of applications, and — most of all — of the developer experience defines itself by other criteria.

Here at RemObjects, we pride ourselves on providing truly native software development solutions for a variety of platforms. We consider two different and separate levels to determine what we consider “native” development: a native user experience, and a native developer experience.

A Native User Experience

What makes a native user experience? For a long time, there was only one platform for mainstream development: Windows. This has changed, and users are, by and large, choosing their work environment by preference. Even when avoiding to get into the “OS wars”, it cannot be disregarded that each platform out there today has its own distinct user paradigms, and that customers usually choose their computing platform carefully and want their applications to work and behave well on that particular system, adhering to their platform’s paradigms.

Windows users expect applications to behave “the Windows way”, and Mac users want them to work “the Mac way”. Similarly, iOS users want applications for their iPhones and iPads that fit in with that platform’s design philosophy, and Windows Phone (7) applications once again need to adhere to completely different UI paradigms than what Android users expect from their platform of choice.

Obviously, the degree to which applications need to fit in with their surrounding platform varies — most games, for example, usually sport more esoteric and platform-independent UIs (after all, they aim to take you out of your daily routing and immerse you in an entertainment experience), while business and productivity applications usually should adhere to the platform most strictly.

Nativeness also isn’t purely driven by using stock UI controls and themes exactly as prescribed. For example, many of the most famous and most well-respected iPhone applications add subtle textures or nuances to the OS provided controls. But they continue to feel “native”, because they stick to the basic UI paradigms, and the controls — while looking visually refined — look, feel and, most importantly, behave according to the user’s expectations.

This is generally achieved by using what is often referred to as the “native widget sets” of the platforms. Whether it’s a standard Win32 “Button” control or a native Mac NSButton, each widget set provides its own unique look and feel — from the spacing of text within the confines of the surrounding rectangle, over font sizes, styles and gradient strengths and directions, to the intricate details of how the control reacts and animates when it is clicked or touched. These subtle details are ingrained in the user’s mind; the user has subconscious expectations for how the control will feel when used, often down to the timing of animations. What may seem like unnecessary attention to detail becomes crucial to the user’s experience, and the user will feel an “Uncanny Valley” effect, if their expectations are not met.

But nativeness extends beyond just user controls. Most operating systems provide a lot of general infrastructure that users are used to seeing and working with — from the standardized Open/Close or Print dialogs on desktops to OS-provided Email or Tweet sheets on phones.

We believe that in order to create a truly native user experience with your application, your development tools need to let you work with the native widgets and infrastructure of the platform. No matter how much effort is put into “one size fits all” libraries, no cross-platform button will ever truly feel like a standard Windows button, like a standard Mac button, like a standard iOS button. In order to treat your customers to a truly native application, you need to choose a development tool chain that lets you work against the native platform.

Currently, such tool chains include .NET/WPF, Metro/WinRT, Delphi/VCL (for Windows), Objective-C/Xcode (for Mac and iOS), MonoMac and MonoTouch (for Mac and iOS, respectively), Java (for Android) or MonoDroid (also for Android).

It goes without saying that here at RemObjects we try to support developers with all of these tool chain choices. On the compiler side with Oxygene, we don’t have full coverage, but we can provide support for .NET and WinRT, all the Mono variations, as well as native Java/Android with our new Oxygene for Java. With our Data Abstract product suite, we have you covered on literally each and every one of the combinations listed above.

But: we believe that a native user experience, while key, is only half the story for successful app development.

A Native Developer Experience

Back in the day when Win32 was the gold standard of operating system APIs (and before), developer tools needed to provide strong abstraction layers for developers to work against — because the OS APIs themselves were so basic that working against them directly was akin to working in assembly language (or was, in fact, working in assembly).

When tools like the later Turbo Pascals, Visual Basic, or Delphi first came out, development against the core DOS or Win16/Win32 APIs was a chore, so developers welcomed abstraction layers that made coding easier, from basic class libraries to UI abstraction layers such as TurboVision, OWL, the VCL, or MFC.

But platforms have evolved, and with the likes of Microsoft’s .NET and WinRT, Apple’s Cocoa (and Cocoa Touch) or Android’s Java-based Dalvik, OS APIs have long reached a level that is developer friendly, a level that can and should be coded directly against.

Further abstractions on top of these APIs are a distraction, not a help to the developer, as they add an extra layer of unnecessary overhead to both the application and the development experience. And such abstractions have repeatedly shown to be failures, like when VCL.NET tried to reconstruct Delphi’s well-liked class library on top of the (already much more evolved and sophisticated, but orthogonal and thus incompatible) .NET Framework (then at early version 1.1).

Unnecessary abstractions of already good (or great) APIs serve no purpose to the developers using them. On the contrary, they separate developers from the platform, and from each other. For every article, sample or blog post provided by, say, Apple or the Cocoa community that shows how to use a feature of iOS, there has to be the equivalent “and here is how you do it in MonoTouch”, “and here is how you do it in FireMonkey”, “and here is how you do it in …”. The abstraction keeps developers from being able to (re)use the platform vendor’s documentation or samples. Worse, it fragments the developer community on the same platform, keeping programmers from interacting and sharing code — every Cocoa control written in MonoTouch is a Cocoa control that can’t be easily reused by a developer using the native Xcode/Objective-C toolchain (nor by a developer using FireMonkey, or Titanium, or any other abstraction layer).

Abstractions also keep developers from adopting new platform features quickly and easily. When the latest SDKs from the platform vendor come out, developers using the native tool chains usually can start working with the new technologies from day one (or even earlier). The very moment a new Android SDK hits, native Java developers can consume the new APIs. The very day a new iOS version becomes available, Cocoa developers can start getting their fingers dirty with the new goodness. All the while developers stuck behind a non-native abstraction layer need to wait for their tool vendor to abstract the new APIs for them.

Not to mention that non-native development tools will often lock you in and force you to stick with the abstraction layer.

The main selling point and attractiveness of a non-native tool chain usually is “familiarity”, the notion that the abstraction layer will let you get into a new platform without the steep learning curve of, well, learning a new platform.

But that is misleading and frequently turns out not to be the case. The main learning curve on a new platform is usually not the development language, or even the class framework — it is getting to know the platform itself and how to write great applications for that platform (looping us back to our first criterium: the native user experience).

Working with an abstraction layer turns out to actually have the opposite effect than intended, by making it harder to understand the platform vendor’s documentation (which is all tailored towards the platform-native tools, of course) and making it harder to re-use existing code samples found online.

To go back to the example of iOS: having to look at and understand documentation or samples written for Cocoa’s Objective-C APIs might seem difficult, if one is not yet familiar with the paradigms of Objective-C. But what’s actually more difficult is having to look at that same documentation or sample and then having to figure out how it translates to your — say — C#-based abstraction layer.

And no abstraction layer is ever perfect. Eventually, the underlying platform and its APIs will leak through and will have to be dealt with. Any efforts to avoid getting to know and understand the platform before developing on it is misguided and only delays the inevitable. Eventually the abstraction is missing a feature and the developer has to dig down to the base APIs and implement it themselves. Or a bug arrises that needs more debugging than the abstraction layer supports.

As with the native user experience, here at RemObjects Software we have made it our mission to support (and encourage) developers to use platform-native development tools; you’ll notice we’ll even encourage developers to go for the more native tool chain in cases where recommending a less native solution would mean an additional sale for us.

On the compiler front, Oxygene supports platform native development on classic Windows, Metro (Windows 8) and Android, and it is also a great choice for cross-platform servers based on Mono. The one notable omission is iOS and Mac, for which we recommend the excellent Xcode and Objective-C, even though Oxygene can support it via non-native development tool chains such as Mono and MonoTouch or Java.

With the Data Abstract suite, we support native development for all current major platforms: classic Windows (via .NET and Delphi), Windows Phone, Mac and iOS, as well as Android and other Java-based platforms (Data Abstract for Java is currently in beta).

Other Concerns, Such as Code Reuse

We realize of course that other factors play into the decision for the development tool chain. Considerations such as code reuse might rank higher on the list of priorities than a native development experience, and that is ok.

Our philosophy is that, all other things being equal, developers should aim for a toolchain that is native on both accounts: user experience and developer experience. If necessary, a compromise in developer experience can be made — it is after all a compromise that affects only the developer, if pursued correctly. No compromise, in our experience, should ever be made with regard to providing a truly native user experience.

In terms of code reuse between platforms, we at RemObjects Software aim to help, both on the language front (by providing the common Oxygene language as developer-native language for .NET, WinRT and Java/Android, at least) and on the back-end database front, by keeping Data Abstract wire compatible and letting you share a common server infrastructure for all your native client applications.

Read More

You can find out more about our cross-platform, platform-native products, Oxygene and Data Abstract, at remobjects.com/oxygene and remobjects.com/da, respectively.

And you can find an overview matrix of how our products fit into the various native (as well as semi-native and non-native, if you must go there) development chains, at remobjects.com/products/toolchains.

Thank you for reading, and we are looking forward to your feedback and comments.

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by marc

Choosing the Best Toolchain for each Platform

February 4, 2012 in .NET, Android, ASP.NET, Cocoa, Data Abstract, Delphi, Elements, iOS, Java, JavaScript, Mac, Metro, Mono, MonoTouch, non-tech, Oxygene, Platforms, RemObjects, Visual Studio, Windows, Windows Phone, Xcode

Four or five years ago, the software world was simple: if you were a commercial software developer, you were developing for Windows. But this has changed drastically with the advent of mobile platforms such as iOS and Android, the steadily increasing market share of Macs, and the establishment of new development paradigms such as rich web applications hosted in browsers.

Here at RemObjects, I field the majority of so called “sales related” emails (that is, emails that aren’t technical support requests handled by our excellent support team and the product developers) myself — and as this century gets older, I see more and more requests asking what tools and toolchains to pick for different platforms. “Can I develop for both Windows Phone 7 and Android with Oxygene and share code?” — “Which version of Data Abstract is best for targeting iOS?” — “Should I use Oxygene for .NET with MonoDroid or Oxygene for Java for my Android app?”.

There are a lot of great development tool chains for the different platforms out there — be they Xcode/Cocoa, Visual Studio/.NET, Delphi, JavaScript — and sometimes the decision does not seem easy, because here at RemObjects we provide editions of most of our products for various development platforms, and often more than one choice can be applied to a specific platform need.

To help make heads and tails of this, we created a small graphical overview chart on our website that gives insight into which language/framework/product combinations we support on any given platform and — more importantly IMHO — which combination we recommend.*

[*And that recommendation might not always be what you think — for example, I often get looked at weirdly when I recommend Xcode over our own Oxygene (plus Mono) for Mac development. But development tools, even versatile ones such as Oxygene, or Delphi, or Visual Studio, are not and should not be Jacks of all Trades, and thus no single tool, no matter how great (and we happen to think Oxygene is pretty great ;) can be the best choice for all scenarios. We acknowledge and honor that.]

You can find this overview matrix — which will be ever-expanding as time goes by and the development world around us changes — at remobjects.com/products/toolchains; i’m also including a static screenshot of it, below.

May it help you to choose the best set of tools for your needs!



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by marc

Hydra 4 and Oxygene January 2012 Releases

February 1, 2012 in .NET, Android, ASP.NET, Cooper, Delphi, Elements, Hydra, Java, Oxygene, Visual Studio, Windows, Windows Phone

We’re hitting the ground running for 2012 and finished January with the first two product releases of the year.

Hydra 4

Hydra 4 is a major new release for our .NET/Delphi cross-platform product, and one we’re very excited about. Hydra has been at version 3 for a while now and seen mostly incremental changes, but with version 4 we’re adding three major new features/platforms to the mix:

  • Support for 64-bit Delphi Host Applications and Plugins
  • Support for FireMonkey Host Applications and Plugins
  • Support for hosting Silverlight-based Plugins

Compiling true 64-bit Windows applications has been on the wish-list for Delphi developers for a long time, and Delphi XE2 finally provided the elusive support, and Hydra has been updated to match. This makes it easier to build applications that use large amounts of memory, can interact with .NET plugins in 64-bit space, or simply run more natively on the 64-bit Windows systems that are standard these days.

FireMonkey is Embarcadero’s new framework for creating rich “HD” or 3D graphical user interfaces in Delphi, and it is destined to supersede the VCL sooner or later. Unfortunately, Embarcadero does not let applications mix FireMonkey (FMX) and VCL by default — but that is no reason to jump ship to FireMonkey and discard all your existing VCL code. Hydra adds FireMonkey to its list of platforms supported by plugins and lets you seamlessly mix new FireMonkey UI alongside existing VCL code or even among WinForms and WPF. And FireMonkey host support lets you create new FMX applications and integrate existing VCL (or WinForms and WPF) code and UI into them, as well.

Finally, there’s Silverlight, Microsoft’s platform for rich web controls and (more prominently, as of recent) Windows Phone 7. Silverlight is based on the same concepts as .NET but uses a smaller and a tad more limited runtime — in exchange it can run in Browsers on Windows and Mac, as well as on Microsoft’s new phone platform. With Hydra 4, Silverlight can now also run in your Delphi (or .NET) based host applications, alongside other plugins. This allows you to easily share code and visual elements between your web application and your desktop app, or between your phone and your desktop.

We think Hydra 4 will be an essential tool for the modern Delphi developer — whether to add .NET to your Delphi projects or to add FireMonkey.

Hydra 4 is a free update to all users with an active subscription and available for immediate download. If your subscription expired before January 27, you can renew now for $249 to get access to Hydra 4; the price for new users is $499, including on year of free updates (and we do have more exciting stuff planned for Hydra in 2012!). Of course Hydra 4 is also included in the Suite Subscriptions for both .NET and Delphi.

Oxygene — January 2012 Release

Last November, we shipped a major new release of Oxygene, introducing the brand new Oxygene for Java as second platform for everyone’s favorite modern Object Pascal.

After skipping the holidays, we’re back to our monthly release cycle, and the January 2012 release kicks the year off with a large range of fixes and enhancements for both .NET and Java/Android developers. Altogether, the change log contains over 170 improvements.

The new Oxygene build is a free update for all customers with an active subscription, including all users of Prism XE2 and RAD Studio XE2.

For those of you using Oxygene for both .NET and Java, the update (like all future updates) is a combined installer — it will automatically detect if you have both editions of Oxygene and update both.

Get Em While They’re Hot

Head over to our trials download page at remobjects.com/trials now to give Hydra 4 or Oxygene a spin. Or if you’re already a customer, visit the downloads page on your customer portal to get the latest versions.

Oxygene and Hydra go great together by the way. If you’re a Delphi-only developer right now but thinking about adding .NET code to your application, Hydra makes that easy, and Oxygene lets you keep using the familiar Object Pascal language, even for your .NET work.

CodeRage 6 – Windows Phone 7 Development with Oxygene for .NET

November 15, 2011 in .NET, Elements, Windows Phone

Just in case you missed (or want to watch again) my CodeRage 6 session on Windows Phone 7 Development with our Oxygene for .NET compiler (that powers Embarcadero Prism XE2) it is available now on YouTube. There are a few other short videos on our Oxygene channel of RemObjects TV, but this one is a great summary that goes into more depth than the others. This one explains the architecture of Windows Phone 7 development more, and shows a lot more advanced topics, including MVVM and Tombstoning. At the end a simple Twitter client is created.

More information on Windows Phone 7 development is in our Oxygene Language Wiki. Just look for the Windows 7 Primer.

I’ve used the YouTube annotations to let you jump to just the parts you want to see. Turn on annotations (lower right) if you don’t see them.

CodeRage requires the videos at 1280×1024, which YouTube doesn’t like a whole lot. It prefers the native 720p (1280×720). As a result it has stretched this video horizontally a little. So pardon the aspect ratio being off.

Android and Windows Phone 7 Development

September 3, 2011 in .NET, Android, Elements, Oxygene, short, Windows Phone

Oxygene 5 unlocks native mobile phone app development. Oxygene for .NET / Embarcadero Prism XE2 supports building applications for Windows Phone 7, and Oxygene for Java (FKA Project “Cooper”) supports building native applications for Android tablets and phones. I’ve put together videos and primers on both of these platforms. The Windows Phone 7 video is online, and the Android video will be online next week, but you can check out the Android Primer today.

If you pre-order Oxygene for Java now, you get access to the beta today. You can also order the Oxygene bundle and get Embarcadero Prism XE2 (powered by Oxygene for .NET) today, and pre-order Oxygene for Java.

Look for more coverage on these exciting platforms to come soon!