Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Designing InScribeX Web version 4: Introduction

During the next few months I’m hoping to find enough time to complete the next version of InScribeX Web (see for the current technical preview). The idea of InScribeX Web is to provide some useful tools for working with Ancient Egyptian in Unicode without the need to buy or install specialist software.

For technical reasons, the next preview of InScribeX Web is unlikely to be online before March/April 2010 so I’ve decided that the best way forward is to blog on the subject so interested parties can follow the development work as it happens. There is no substitute for using software, rather than reading about it, but at least this way gives some opportunity for feedback.

Incidentally I’ve only just discovered my email spam filter had grown too aggressive (it’s a balancing act when one has a public email address) so please try again if you have attempted but failed to contact me in recent weeks.

In parallel with this development I’m continuing to work on a new version of InScribe 2004, namely InScribe 2004SE (Second Edition), which despite the 2004 handle is in fact a major functional upgrade which enables use of Unicode and refreshes the software to take advantage of new features in Windows Vista and 7 while retaining the mode of use and features of the original edition. This is relevant to InScribeX Web as the two are being designed to complement each other when the commercial InScribe 2004SE software is installed.

InScribeX Web uses the Microsoft Silverlight plugin for Web Browsers. The main reason for this choice is simple, I needed the most cost effective way of creating advanced internet software: the project is unfunded so there was no scope for the luxury of developing under more time consuming alternatives such as Adobe AIR or Google Gears (fortunately as Gears is no longer being developed in favour of Google changing tack to an as yet to be clarified HTML 5 approach in ChromeOS etc.). Practicalities aside, Silverlight also allows for fun graphics and other effects and must admit I rather enjoy having these facilities to hand as a refreshing change to the more formal approach necessary in the InScribe 2004SE development.

The choice of Silverlight is not without controversy, nor without complication from a developer perspective. The current InScribeX Web preview was written for Silverlight 2. Silverlight 3 was released in July adding new features and Silverlight 4 announced in November for release in the spring. If that is not enough, the Linux equivalent (Moonlight, developed as an open source project by Novell) is running some distance behind Silverlight itself with Moonlight 2 not expected to be released until early next year (when I built the InScribe Web technical preview, the Moonlight release was expected late Summer).

To sidestep the version complications, InScribeX Web development is now targeting Silverlight 4 (expected in March/April 2010, I am currently using the developer-only Beta preview) and for those interested in such matters I‘m using Visual Studio 2010 Beta 2 (with some Expression Blend) as the development environment. There are some major benefits using 4 which I’ll run over another day. It’s a pure guess but I’m half expecting version 4 to be the point at which Silverlight hits prime time; we shall see.

Unfortunately, this is not good news for Linux users! My thinking at the moment is to wait until Moonlight 2 is released and the current technical preview working and then make a call on what to do. I’m actually very keen on making InScribeX available on Linux (the X means cross-platform) but it would be perverse to penalize the 95% (or whatever it is) of the internet population who can use Silverlight.

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