Apps vs Web (Jun 28)

Our staff took a short break from Goldenseal Pro, the past couple weeks. Instead, we’ve been finishing up the shopping cart for SmartKnives.com.  It’s almost done. A contractor did most of the work, but we needed to import inventory data, and tweak the appearance.

As app developers, it has been interesting to visit the world of e-commerce and website development.  Things are very different there.

When building an app like Goldenseal Pro, programmers spend most of their time in source code. For us it’s a couple thousand text files, mostly in the C++ programming language. Some of the files are 25 years old. We make life easier by writing clean code, and adding comments to explain what’s going on. When something doesn’t work, there’s a debugger that shows what is happening, line by line. Most of the code is very well polished.

App developers also use libraries, usually written by some big entity like Microsoft or Apple. Some libraries show their source code, and some don’t. It’s always harder to work with code written by other people. It’s even harder when the source code isn’t visible. But, lots of people use the same libraries. For most problems, there usually is an answer on Stack Overflow or a developer forum.

Web development is much crazier.

It’s possible to create simple web pages by just writing some html and css text files. But, to accomplish anything complicated, programmers must use layers upon layers upon layers of other people’s code. Most of it is open-source. Most is in a state of utter chaos.

App developers occasionally make hacks- an ugly bit of code that does the job. It’s the duct tape of the programming world. Eventually we refactor them into good, solid code.

E-commerce code is almost entirely hacks. It’s an empire built entirely of duct tape. No debuggers. Lots of poorly written code that is rarely fixed. Lots of guessing.

It will be good to get back to the comfort zone of Goldenseal Pro source code. We’ll probably appreciate the Cocoa libraries more.

Dennis Kolva
Programming Director
TurtleSoft.com

Goldenseal Pro Progress- Bank Transactions (Jun 14)

When we first designed Goldenseal accounting software, banking was heavily regulated. There were clear distinctions between different types of banks, so it made sense to have different types of bank accounts. Then, deregulation and the Internet gradually made it all blurry.

Goldenseal Pro uses a new file format. When you open an old-format file, it automatically converts the data. The process is an opportunity to do other conversions, so it also condenses the original 7 types of bank accounts down to just 3. Investment accounts are special, because they can be job costed. Ditto for Escrows, since they aren’t assets. Everything else is now just a plain old Bank account. We added a popup menu that you can still use to distinguish the old types (plus new banking types that have arisen since then).

Up until now, our staff has done most testing on expense transactions. They are relatively simple, which made them a good starting point. Bank transactions are more complicated. The biggest problem is that every account gets a separate window. That is different from everything else, which just has one class per window. There is a lot of interface code that does something special for bank transactions. It’s working now, but it took a few days to find all the quirks. The old system to display bank transactions was rather clunky, but it’s much better now.

We also revised the indexes so the Reconcile command is much faster. When we used Reconcile for our own bank statements, we discovered that start balances were slightly off. That tracked down to a few dud transactions in the early Aughties. The original Goldenseal ignored them, but Goldenseal Pro didn’t. The change is annoying because it throws off the start balance for all later periods. We’re still deciding how best to handle old, corrupted data like that. Turtlesoft sometimes used beta versions for daily data entry, so it’s possible that other business users won’t run into the same problems.

Bank transactions are probably the third-most difficult thing in Goldenseal. Estimates are more complicated, and Payroll is more complicated yet. We are getting close to fixing all the banking bugs. Then it’s on to the tougher stuff.

Dennis Kolva
Programming Director
TurtleSoft.com

Goldenseal Pro Progress- Constraints & Beta Version (June 4)

Besides the crashing bug that we fixed recently, there has also been a long-time problem with window layouts. They functioned, but didn’t resize in a pretty way.

Apple has at least 4 different methods to position things on the screen. They started with plain old x and y coordinates, plus a springs and struts model to move things when you resize the window. Then they added constraints, a more complicated version of springs and struts. Finally they added anchors, yet another method for window setup. It’s a confusing jumble.

Last week we decided to finally get it right. But, for a while, everything we tried just made things worse. At one point, switching between tabs caused the whole window to jump around on the screen. Then we discovered setTranslatesAutoResizingMaskIntoContraints, a poorly-documented bit of magic that solves most conflicts between the different systems. After a bit more tweaking, the main window finally works like it should.

In the last post I compared Apple’s Cocoa library to Serius Developer, an unusable platform we tried briefly in the early 90s. Serius was close to fradulent, but I didn’t mean to imply that Cocoa is that way.

I think the main problem is that Apple has developed the Cocoa framework primarily to build their own apps.  Making it work well for other software companies is a relatively low priority. So, Cocoa is great for building apps that are similar to something from Apple. The more you diverge, the harder it gets.

Goldenseal Pro uses NSOutlineView to replace most of the current menu commands. It only took a week to set up, and it has worked great ever since. Apple uses that class for the Finder, so they must have really polished it. It was one of the first things we programmed 2 years ago, and the ease gave us a false sense of optimism.

Getting NSTabView to work properly was much harder. Apple uses it for Preferences, but our tabs are more complicated. Our staff has spent a couple months getting them right.

The NSTableView class that we use for breakdown tables has been a nightmare that consumed almost 3/4 of a year. Apple built a spreadsheet app, but after exploring its package I’m pretty sure that Numbers doesn’t use NSTableView.  With hindsight, we probably should have adapted our existing table code for breakdowns, and ignored NSTableView.

At any rate, our staff has fixed all the big problems. Goldenseal Pro is stable enough that we just started to use it to run our own business. There are plenty of small bugs still lurking, but they don’t take long to fix. Daily use is now daily testing. Eating our own dog food.

When the app stops being frustrating, we will release a public beta version. Best guess: in a month or so.

Dennis Kolva
Programming Director
TurtleSoft.com