If you saw my tweet about porting Chrome to the Roku, I'm afraid it was, indeed, an April Fools joke. I didn't actually rewrite Chrome in a TV scripting language. However, I did build something cool.

When you build software you have to map between two things. First is the representation that you develop with: your code, your graphics in photoshop, your CSS.. whatever it is. It's the thing you actually manipulate. Then you have the actual visual representation of the thing you are building: the app running on a real device, the page in the browser, the executing game.. whatever it is you are actually making. I believe software improves if we can minimize the distance between those two representations.

I suggest you watch Bret Victor's amazing presentation on the topic. It's long (1hr) but completely worth it. I have been a believer in this philosophy of minimizing editing distance for some time, but Bret explains it better than I ever could.

But back to the Roku

The Roku is very easy to develop for, but it still requires writing some code, turning it into an app, and installing it into the device. While not hard, it can be annoying. It also increases the distance between the editing and viewing representations. So, I decided to build a Roku power-up in Leonardo Sketch.

If you are new to my blog: Leo Sketch is an open source vector drawing tool I've been working on for a while. It can export to SVG, PNG, PDF, and JavaScript. The Roku power-up will export your current drawing into a Roku app, then compile and launch it. It is just a static image on the screen at this point, but it's a good start. In the future you will be able to add behavior and animation to the graphics. The Chrome April Fools hack was just a screenshot of Mac Chrome I had lying around, exported to the Roku through this plugin.

Leo Sketch Power Ups

Now you might be wondering what a Leo Sketch 'power up' is. It's a new kind of plugin system I'm working on, currently only available in an experimental branch. (the 'powerup' branch, if you want to try it out). Powerups are like plugins except they only have an effect when you explicitly activate them. This solves a lot of problems with traditional plugins, plus it enables a few new interesting things. I'll cover powerups more in a future blog. For now, just know that they will be awesome, and Leo Sketch will soon be exporting to far more than static image files.

Stay tuned.

I've posted the first beta of Leonardo 1.0, ready for your testing pleasure. More details over on the Leonardo blog.

Another month has gone by with no update to Leonardo, or a real release of Amino. It's interesting how life changes. When I started this projects last summer I had no idea Jen and I would be having a baby in a month, nor did I truly have any notion how much my life would change. Everyone always says having children will change your life, but you never really understand it until you do it yourself, and our journey has just begun.

So, the upshot of all this rambling is that kids take time, and when you have to distribute a finite resource between multiple buckets, something has to get less. Sadly this time the short straw goes to my open source projects. It doesn't mean I won't work on them anymore, just at a slower pace. However, in order to feel at peace with myself I need to leave them in a state where they can still progress without my large time commitment. That's what this post is about.

I've spent the last year working on two main open source projects called Leonardo and Amino. Quick recap: Amino is a scene graph library for Java and JavaScript. Leonardo is a vector drawing program built on top of Amino. I want to get them both to a state where they are stable, useful, and can live on their own. Hopefully more of my job will be driving the community and integrating patches rather than directly coding everything. Every project reaches a point where it should stop being driven by a singular vision, and instead be driven by needs of actual users (the good projects anyway). Now is the that time. Time to focus on gaining adoption, growing a community, and making these projects rock-freaking-solid.

Concrete Plans

Amino

Amino basically works. Shapes are animated and drawn on screen, input events are properly transformed, and it's got pixel effects on both the Java and JavaScript sides. Speed, efficiency and features driven by actual use.

Amino finally has it's own website at GoAmino.org and I've set up auto-builds for both the Java and JavaScript versions. They also have a redesigned API doc template that you can see here. Last steps before a 1.0 release: bug fixes for Mobile Safari and FireFox, more demos, and a tutorial for integrating with Swing apps. (Oh, and if someone has a nice spring easing function, that would be swell). Target: next weekend.

Leonardo

It's basically done. It lets you draw vector art of shapes, images, and paths; and also create attractive presentations (which is just multiple pages of vector art). Now comes polish and adoption and export features. I suspect the value will really be in the export features so I need to know from you guys: what do you want?

In concrete terms I have a bunch of old bugs to fix and will finish the redesigned fill picker (colors, swatches, gradients, patterns, etc.) I also need your help updating the translations. Once that's done I'll clean up the website and cut a 1.0 release. Target: end of April.

Next Steps

In short, a lot of work for the next few weeks, but with luck (and hopefully some great feedback from you) , both Amino and Leonardo will be just fine.

Vacation and travel is over and I'm happy to say things are moving again. I'm feeling refreshed and I have a lot to share with you in 2012; starting with the new book I'm writing for O'Reilly! Read on, MacDuff.

The Book

I've been working on a new book for O'Reilly, tentatively titled Building Mobile Apps in Java. I mentioned it briefly on Twitter but haven't gone into the details before. It will show you how to use GWT and PhoneGap to build mobile apps. With these two open source technologies you can code in Java but target pretty much any mobile platform such as iOS, Android, and webOS.

The book will cover the technical aspects of using GWT & PhoneGap. It will also dive into how to design for mobile. Navigation and performance varies greatly across devices, so it's an important topic. Oh, and the last chapter will show you how to make a mobile platform game with real physics. Tons of fun.

Building Mobile Apps in Java will be an eBook about 60 pages long, available every where O'Reilly publishes their ebooks. Look for it in February or early March.

Open Source and Speaking

For 2012 I want to spend some time doing more actual design work. I'm planning a new hand built wordpress theme for my blog, including proper phone and tablet support. I also have a few art side projects that you'll get to see later in the year.

And speaking of design, I have new significant releases of Amino and Leonardo Sketch coming. If you are in the Portland area come to the January PDX-UX meeting. I will be presenting how to do wire framing with Leonardo Sketch. I'll give a brief overview of Leo and show off some of the great export and collaboration features.

I will also be doing a 5 minute Ignite talk in Portland on February 9th about the future of ebooks and what a Hogwarts Textbook would look like.

Onward!

Finally, I plan to post both more and less on this blog. I used to do short posts on small topics or collections of links. I found social networks better for that thing so I'll do that on Twitter and Google Plus from now on. From now on I want to use the blog for more long form content such as my well read HTML Canvas Deep dive. Look for more long essays on canvas, app stores, and technology trends this year.

2012 is finally here!

 

 

Last week I flew down to California for orientation at Nokia. My return flight was supposed to leave Wednesday afternoon, but due to weather and United's bungled computer merge with Continental, I ended up stuck at SFO for a day and a half.

But my loss is your gain! Whoo hoo! Armed with my trusty laptop I fixed some long standing bugs in Leo Sketch and finished up the 1.1 release.

New in this release are:

  • let you end a path without closing it by just clicking the 'end' button.
  • gradients autoscale to fit the shape they are in
  • the Arrow tool is restored
  • HTML export supports multiple pages
  • Any shape can be turned into a link that jumps to another page in the document
  • dynamic bitmap font export for Amino
  • text wrapping *yay!*
  • many more export improvements and bug fixes

Download here