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Jan 20th, 2018, 4:15pm


Cross-platform BBC BASIC (Win32, Linux x86, Android, Mac OS-X, Raspberry Pi)

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treehouse
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« Thread started on: Jan 7th, 2018, 2:59pm »

Hello forum users,

I'll try to keep this to a few points, although there's a lot on my mind. First of all, I want to say what an enormous pleasure it is to be here and to be using BB4W again. My use of the language has been sporadic, for a number of reasons. I tend to get into programming in the winter (North of England), and then have a bit less interest in the summer. I also try other languages, and find one other useful for the kinds of things that make life easier using my Windows computer - more automation and enhancement than stand-alone programs.

What brought me back to BB4W this time was a decision to stop trying to make a business out of writing programs, which seems to have freed my up to play with computing as I used to in the old days on my Electron. I can't tell you how many hours of my life I've spent since I bought that machine for 120 in 1983, after a friend introduced me to his BBC Micro and chucked me the handbook, or how much it taught me about maths, logic and some of the most important things in life (since it seems much of life - even of reality itself, perhaps - is about computation). I'm currently exploring stigmergy, or self-organisation, emergence, etc., through writing simple algorithms and running them.

OK, this just turned into a hello and about-me thing, which brings me to my first point - I wonder if the forum should have some more sections. Usually there is an Introductions section, and an Off-Topic or Hanging Out area. Next up, I'd suggest that "Support and Promote" is two distinct categories, and even that Support might be divided between different platforms. (There is also no obvious place to discuss the forum itself, hence I'm putting it in here.)

Under the heading "Development" there are various sections for Android, Mac OS-X, etc., but nothing specifically for Windows, only "Integrated Development Environment". I found this a bit confusing as to where I should discuss using BB4W on Windows.

I realise there's another forum that might have a lot of information useful to a relative beginner with BB4W, but I want to promote this forum, so it may be useful to revamp some of the categories and sections to invite more discussion on a whole range of issues. The Windows editor, for instance, could be a whole section (I've at least one request there), or perhaps some discussion of other editors. I realise these could just go under "General", but I wasn't sure if I should put stuff like that there.

Hope that helps, and thanks for a brilliant language!
John
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Richard Russell
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« Reply #1 on: Jan 7th, 2018, 5:43pm »

on Jan 7th, 2018, 2:59pm, treehouse wrote:
Under the heading "Development" there are various sections for Android, Mac OS-X, etc., but nothing specifically for Windows

The reason is that no 'development' of BB4W is taking place, and nor is any likely! It might, I suppose, be clearer if "development of" was added to the description of each section, but it would be repetitive.

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I found this a bit confusing as to where I should discuss using BB4W on Windows.

The expectation is that one of the sections under 'Programming' would be appropriate. If that isn't the case let me know what aspect of using BB4W you want to discuss and I'll consider adding a new section.

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The Windows editor, for instance, could be a whole section

That's a valid point. It's not obvious where it should go, however, because it neither falls under 'development' nor 'programming'. It'a a bit of a cop out, but the simplest solution would be to add a section for Program Editor(s) under 'General'.

Richard.
« Last Edit: Jan 7th, 2018, 5:56pm by Richard Russell » User IP Logged

treehouse
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« Reply #2 on: Jan 8th, 2018, 7:53pm »

on Jan 7th, 2018, 5:43pm, Richard Russell wrote:
The reason is that no 'development' of BB4W is taking place, and nor is any likely! It might, I suppose, be clearer if "development of" was added to the description of each section, but it would be repetitive.

I see. I didn't realise that BB4W wasn't still being developed. That's a surprise, but presumably reflects the completeness of the project, does it? I was thinking that most software developers can't help tweaking, so if a project isn't being updated it's usually abandoned. What about keeping up with changes to Windows?

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The expectation is that one of the sections under 'Programming' would be appropriate. If that isn't the case let me know what aspect of using BB4W you want to discuss and I'll consider adding a new section.

As a relative newbie with BB4W, the first and most pressing issues are to do with the editor. I was hoping/assuming that suggestions for improvements would be welcome, or maybe I should find a different editor. It would be a pity, because there are things I do like, and it's often a faff getting the integration right for a new language in something else. The BB4W editor has amazing features I'd lose. I'm not sure anything else would handle being able to code in lower or upper case, for example. Improvements to the current set of features would be wonderful.

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It'a a bit of a cop out, but the simplest solution would be to add a section for Program Editor(s) under 'General'.

Sure, that's an option. If the editor for BB4W isn't in development, I guess it's a pretty general area and could go under General - I just didn't know BB4W wasn't in development, where it would have been natural to put as a subset of that if it was.
« Last Edit: Jan 8th, 2018, 7:56pm by treehouse » User IP Logged

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« Reply #3 on: Jan 8th, 2018, 8:00pm »

Also, going back to my first post, an Introductions section is often welcoming, and it still seems to me that "Support and Promote" is a weird combo. smiley
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« Reply #4 on: Jan 8th, 2018, 11:19pm »

on Jan 8th, 2018, 7:53pm, treehouse wrote:
I didn't realise that BB4W wasn't still being developed.

Formal development ceased way back, probably something like a decade ago in fact. That's not to say that nothing has changed since then; until fairly recently I liked to release a new version roughly annually, if only to update the copyright date! Usually I would fix a minor bug or two and/or add some small new feature at the same time, as an incentive to upgrade.

But - and anybody who has suffered my pronouncements on this subject over the years must be thoroughly fed up by now - my opinion is very firmly that stability and freedom from bugs are more important than adding bells and whistles. I remember fondly when BASIC interpreters were programmed into Read Only Memory chips and couldn't be upgraded, and that was quite comforting!

At some stage in the life cycle of every software product there comes a point when the risk/benefit analysis shifts in favour of leaving it well alone. In the case of an interpreted language like BBC BASIC this tends to happen sooner because any additions cause the interpreter to grow in size, and that will hit the performance of every BASIC program, even those that do not use the new feature(s).

BBC BASIC has always had the reputation of being a 'lean and mean' language: the core interpreter supports only features that are either commonly used or cannot practically be added by means of libraries; in that respect it's a bit like C. I only stopped developing BB4W when I was satisfied that it could do (virtually) anything.

Anyway, in the last couple of years another important factor has come into play: my own abilities to make changes safely. As you probably know, I am suffering from memory loss and cognitive decline, and things that I used to be able to do I can do no longer. This was amply demonstrated when I released v6.10a of BB4W last year, when it turned out (to my horror) than I had introduced a serious bug. It was the first time in the 15 years since BB4W was first released that such a thing had happened.

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I was thinking that most software developers can't help tweaking

I have always been untypical in that regard; I hate making changes.

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What about keeping up with changes to Windows?

Such as? Microsoft have announced that Windows 10 will be the 'last ever' version; although of course that doesn't stop them releasing updates. The assumption which I make is that they will not - deliberately at least - introduce any incompatible changes that would stop BB4W running.

I expect the next 'major' advance in PC operating systems from that source (if indeed Microsoft retain their dominance) will be something drastic like dropping support for 32-bit apps or changing to a different processor architecture, whereupon BB4W will stop working and no amount of 'tweaking' will help! I'll probably be long gone by then.

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I was hoping/assuming that suggestions for improvements would be welcome, or maybe I should find a different editor.

The BB4W program editor was written more than 17 years ago now; the code is substantially undocumented and I can't remember how it works any more (heck, I don't even remember writing it). It would be irresponsible to risk any changes, especially as the main enhancements that have been suggested over the years (usually in the vein of making it more like Notepad++ or Programmers' Notepad) would be impossible.

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Improvements to the current set of features would be wonderful.

It's for precisely that reason that I decided, from the outset, that the program editor for BBCSDL - and indeed the entire IDE - would itself be coded in BBC BASIC. That wasn't an option when BB4W was first developed because back in 2001 PCs were not fast enough for an editor coded in interpreted BASIC to have an acceptable performance. But the BBCSDL IDEs (for there are two: Andy Parkes' BBCEdit and my SDLIDE) run adequately fast on modern hardware - even on a Raspberry Pi.

BBCSDL is the future of BBC BASIC (if it has one at all). It's the only route to it working in 64-bits, and within two years Windows is likely to be the only major OS (if any) still supporting 32-bit applications. It's the only (reasonably) portable version of 'my' branch of BBC BASIC (Brandy can be considered a portable version of the 'Wilson' branch).

So if you want an enhanced program editor, I suggest you take the code of either BBCEdit or SDLIDE - whichever comes closest to your ideal - and make the necessary changes yourself! The one major feature of the BB4W editor that the BBCSDL editors don't support - and it would admittedly be very difficult to add - is RTL languages such as Arabic and Hebrew.

Richard.
« Last Edit: Jan 8th, 2018, 11:39pm by Richard Russell » User IP Logged

treehouse
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« Reply #5 on: Jan 9th, 2018, 7:44pm »

on Jan 8th, 2018, 11:19pm, Richard Russell wrote:
Formal development ceased way back, probably something like a decade ago in fact. That's not to say that nothing has changed since then; until fairly recently I liked to release a new version roughly annually, if only to update the copyright date! Usually I would fix a minor bug or two and/or add some small new feature at the same time, as an incentive to upgrade.

I've been well out of the loop.

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stability and freedom from bugs are more important than adding bells and whistles.

Amen to that.

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I remember fondly when BASIC interpreters were programmed into Read Only Memory chips and couldn't be upgraded, and that was quite comforting!

Yeah. You blink now and everything's changed. I enjoyed gradually getting to know some of the ins and outs of my Electron, like exploring a land that would always be there, complete with names of the first explorers engraved into the silicon. I was still using it for writing student essays in 1997. I really didn't want to move on, and then, when I did, I had no idea how to program on Windows, at least until I learned a new script language or two, and then found BB4W.

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I only stopped developing BB4W when I was satisfied that it could do (virtually) anything.

Seems like a good time!

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Anyway, in the last couple of years another important factor has come into play: my own abilities to make changes safely. As you probably know, I am suffering from memory loss and cognitive decline, and things that I used to be able to do I can do no longer.

No, I didn't know that. I'm sorry to hear it.

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This was amply demonstrated when I released v6.10a of BB4W last year, when it turned out (to my horror) than I had introduced a serious bug. It was the first time in the 15 years since BB4W was first released that such a thing had happened.

You may have other evidence, of course, but this may just be co-incidental. I think we have a tendency to a bias in this area as we get older. When we're young, we just don't notice the times we make mistakes and forget things; when we're older, we notice them. Then we start getting anxious about it, and anxiety makes us forget things.

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Microsoft have announced that Windows 10 will be the 'last ever' version;
Yikes, well out of the loop! Not that I'm a fan. I stuck with it as my main workhorse mainly because I like all the choices of software compared with Linux, and I can write AutoHotkey programs to make the most of Windows...and BB4W programs...but now it looks like I could write BBC BASIC on Linux, and not running under Wine. Ace.

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BBCSDL is the future of BBC BASIC (if it has one at all). It's the only route to it working in 64-bits,

I see. What's "SDL"? I gather it's the cross-platform version, but I don't even know what the acronym stands for. (Edited to add: OK, I found it, Simple Directmedia Layer.) Would it be sensible for me to start using that instead? If there's a bit of a learning curve, I probably won't notice the difference in gradient, as my BB4W is very rusty anyway.

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So if you want an enhanced program editor, I suggest you take the code of either BBCEdit or SDLIDE - whichever comes closest to your ideal - and make the necessary changes yourself!

Sounds like fun, but probably not for me. I've no particular desire to stick with BB4W if BBCSDL does much the same.

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The one major feature of the BB4W editor that the BBCSDL editors don't support - and it would admittedly be very difficult to add - is RTL languages such as Arabic and Hebrew.
No problem. I can't see me needing them.

I tend to use AutoHotkey for enhancement of the Windows experience and things where I want to intercept keystrokes - it's great at a cross-window level, if you know what I mean. The last time I was using BB4W, it was certainly limited in this area (or perhaps just needed more low-level number crunching and OS calls). But BB4W was great for designing a specific program in a window or set of windows, mainly because of my extensive use of BBC BASIC and 6502 Assembler code over the decades (and AutoHotkey syntax is schizophrenic and does my head in). Now that I've given up the idea of trying to sell software, I'm just into learning with these tools and writing stuff that's useful to me....or entertaining to share.

I obviously need to do some reading and have a play with BBCSDL! Thanks for all that, it's becoming clearer.
« Last Edit: Jan 9th, 2018, 8:38pm by treehouse » User IP Logged

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« Reply #6 on: Jan 9th, 2018, 11:03pm »

on Jan 9th, 2018, 7:44pm, treehouse wrote:
I think we have a tendency to a bias in this area as we get older.

I don't think it's something I'm imagining, but it's 'in the mind' either way! In the next month I will be undergoing some hospital tests (including memory tests) which should shed some objective light on it.

What I am definitely not imagining is the large arachnoid cyst in my right frontal lobe - see the MRI scan below for proof! Whether that could be connected to my symptoms is an open question.

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OK, I found it, Simple Directmedia Layer.) Would it be sensible for me to start using that instead? If there's a bit of a learning curve, I probably won't notice the difference in gradient, as my BB4W is very rusty anyway.

I would say yes, but it's a subject on which you will receive very different views depending on where and whom you ask. The differences between BB4W and BBCSDL, from the BBC BASIC language viewpoint, are very minor (I've made sure of that as far as possible). Of course as soon as you stray into 'OS specific' areas, such as calling Windows API functions or wanting to mimic the native GUI, then they are necessarily very different - although in some cases the use of libraries can hide those differences.

Probably the most serious shortcoming of BBCSDL at present is that you can't 'compile' self-contained standalone executables. That's not to say you can't distribute applications you create, but it has to be in the form of a 'bundle' of files (probably Zipped into a single archive for convenience). But of course the plus side is that it becomes very easy, almost trivial, to write programs that will run in Windows, Linux, Mac OS, Android, Raspberry Pi and other platforms.

My intention is to make BBCSDL Open Source, and already the IDEs are necessarily distributed that way because they're written in BBC BASIC! So if one is looking to the future BBCSDL is at the beginning of its journey whereas BB4W is at the end.

Richard.

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« Reply #7 on: Jan 11th, 2018, 12:14am »

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What I am definitely not imagining is the large arachnoid cyst in my right frontal lobe


That is unfortunate. I hope its not serious.
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« Reply #8 on: Jan 11th, 2018, 8:35pm »

There's me going on about biases. embarassed I too hope it's not serious.
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« Reply #9 on: Jan 11th, 2018, 9:02pm »

on Jan 11th, 2018, 8:35pm, treehouse wrote:
There's me going on about biases. embarassed I too hope it's not serious.

It doesn't result in any known impairments, and was only discovered by accident, but it's a handy excuse for any lapses of memory - or almost anything else really: "Don't blame me, it's the hole in my brain that was responsible"!

Richard.
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