Goldenseal Pro Progress Report- Messages (Mar 21)

All the basics are now working for the tables in lists and accounts. Menus pop up, check boxes change, and text saves. Our staff is double-checking all of the tables now, to find any small details that may need extra code.

Even better, our staff can use the same basic code for other types of tables. We aren’t masters of NSTableView yet, but at least we aren’t baffled by it any more. The home stretch is in sight.

In the current Goldenseal, the C++ table classes handle mouse clicks, screen drawing, and everything in between. For Goldenseal Pro, NSTableView takes over all the mouse stuff and screen drawing. So, the remaining work will be in the special details in the middle, plus deleting lots of obsolete code.

The first step was to entirely remove the old messaging system from Goldenseal.

There are lots of ways for users to interact with an app: they can click on something, or double-click, or click and drag. They can type stuff from the keyboard. Most actions need to be passed along elsewhere in the code, to actually do something. Most platforms do that by sending a message. Apple’s Cocoa framework is extremely message-heavy. Microsoft’s MFC framework and the PowerPlant framework also use messages, but less so.

The current version of Goldenseal has a few hundred different messages that go traveling around. Unfortunately, the whole message thing turned out to be one of those ideas that sounds great in theory, but never lives up to its promise.

The biggest problem has been that messages are hard to debug. All code starts out with bugs, but what counts is how easy it is to fix them. With messages, the code doesn’t directly explain how it works. One side sends a message and the other side receives it, but there’s no way to be sure it actually gets to the right place. To check it requires 2o or 50 steps in the debugger, instead of just one or two.

Even worse, messages can be sent at the wrong time, or in the wrong order. Debugging that kind of error is a nightmare. Sometimes we have to log every single message, and then try to deduce what’s wrong.

As our staff fixed bugs in Goldenseal between 2001 and present, we solved many problems by replacing messages with simple, direct connections. Often, a complete rewrite was easier than trying to debug and fix the messages.

The original plan was to replace the remaining messages gradually.  But then we discovered an extremely old bug in the Work Crews command. It’s not a biggie, but enough to inspire extra skepticism for the existing code. If we’re going to test every last detail, then there’s little reason to keep any remaining message-based code.  Better to delete it all, and reduce clutter.

BTW the message system inside the Cocoa framework drives us crazy. It’s one of the major reasons why this conversion is taking so long. I’ll complain more specifically in a future post.

Dennis Kolva
Programming Director
TurtleSoft.com

Goldenseal Pro Progress Report- Table Views vs Cells (Mar 13)

Our staff is back to working on Goldenseal Pro. Right now we are focused on the little tables inside lists. It’s going well, with steady progress each day.

Working with Cocoa’s NSTableView class has been extremely frustrating the past few months, but I think we are finally over the hump.

About a year ago, it only took a few weeks to get the various tables to show data. Back then we were very optimistic. Unfortunately, creating a data entry interface turned out to be much, much harder than just displaying some text.

Apple has two different ways to set up tables: with cells or with views. Last year, we set up all the tables with cells. They are simpler, and we couldn’t find any sample code that used views. Unfortunately, since then we discovered that Apple has deprecated cell-based tables. That means they are officially obsolete, and will eventually stop working.

Because of that, we switched the list tables over to view-based. After everything is working properly there, it shouldn’t be too painful to go back and switch over the other tables, also. After all this effort, we really don’t want to start out with any outdated code in Goldenseal Pro.

During the past month, our staff spent many hours in Excel, fiddling with the spreadsheets that calculate pricing and page details for SmartKnives.com. It was interesting to be writing Excel macros again! That is how TurtleSoft first began, back in the late 80s.

It was also interesting to work with the new Cocoa-based rewrite of Excel for Macintosh. It seems very clunky and awkward, compared to the previous Carbon versions. Maybe we aren’t the only ones who have struggled with NSTableView.

Dennis Kolva
Programming Director
TurtleSoft.com