TweetFollow Us on Twitter

May 92 - Software Review - Userland Frontier

Software Review - Userland Frontier

John W. Baxter

In late January, Dave Winer and the rest of the folks at Userland shipped version 1.0 of Frontier. Frontier is a tool with which you can operate the growing number of modern Macintosh applications which can be controlled by sending them suitable Apple Events. Frontier also provides a clean-looking method by which very easily changed menus can be added to an AppleEvent-savvy application (this feature is called "Menu Sharing"). Here is a brief look at Frontier.

Drive those Applications

Frontier has an easy-to-use scripting language which controls both Frontier and other AppleEvent-aware applications. The language is presented in outline form, and Frontier has a good outline editor. The structure of a script is created by the levels of the outline. For example, here is an if statement:
if people.JWB.age > 50
    msg ("John, you are getting old.")
else
    msg ("Come on, John, tell the truth")

The statements controlled by the true branch of the if statement (here, just a msg verb) are indented one outline level inferior to the if. The next statement at the same level as the if marks the end of the controlled statements. Here, that statement is an else. Again, the else controls those statements inferior to it in the outline. As with outlining programs in general, you can hide the details and see only the if and else lines if you like.

The supplied language verbs include many which are implemented in the Frontier kernel and many others which are simply scripts themselves. A full list is well beyond the scope of this column, but one handy structure for script writing is

   on explore(path)
    fileloop (aFile in path)
        if (file.isFolder(aFile))
            explore(aFile)
        else
            « do something to each aFile
            « the « introduces comments

where path identifies an HFS directory, and aFile takes on the path to each file and directory contained in that directory. You can easily recurse down through the directory levels, as shown. The on construct introduces a script (routine).

The outlining capability is useful in its own right, but is limited to single-line headers. The outline editor is fully scriptable. There is also a simple word processing editor, and word processing documents can be maintained within Frontier. That editor is suitable for writing documentation about your Frontier scripts-it is not suitable for the next great novel. The word processing editor is also fully scriptable.

Things are stored in Frontier in a database, managed as a hierarchy of tables starting at a table called root. One of the items in the root table is a table called people, which has items named with the initials of each user of a given Frontier. The first example above assumes that my table, whose full address is root.people.JWB, contains an entry named age whose value is a number. A table entry consists of a name and a value. The value may be as simple as a number or string or as complex as a word processing document, an outline or script, or any Macintosh structure stored in binary form. The set of table manipulation verbs is fully scriptable.

Whose Menus are They, Anyhow

Using AppleEvents, an application can arrange for Frontier to supply one or more menus (which can include hierarchical submenus). A simple but solid-looking protocol provides for the application to inform Frontier of selections of the items in the menus Frontier has defined. The user provides a Frontier script for each such item. That script will usually send one or more AppleEvents to the application requesting services or directing actions. Provision is made for the user to edit the menus within Frontier and for the menus to be adjusted before the next time they are pulled down by the user if they have been edited. If Frontier shuts down, the application is notified and deletes the shared menus; if Frontier launches while a menu-sharing application is running, the menus get added.

Additionally, most of Frontier's own menus are fully editable by the user. Again, each item has a script associated with it. The outline editor (slightly modified) is used to edit menus and assign the scripts.

Userland supplies source code in C for the routines that need to be added to an application to support menu sharing. I've looked at MacApp 3.0, and at this writing I have a working subclass of TApplication which supports Frontier menu sharing. Unfortunately, that subclass is not yet ready for publication.

Agent 86

One of the tables in Frontier contains "agents". These agents are scripts which receive time periodically from Frontier. Frontier ships with an agent which updates a clock in Frontier's main window. An agent can trigger arbitrarily complex scripts. Frontier is pretty good about giving processing time to agents-for example, the agents are given time while Frontier is in the background awaiting a reply to an AppleEvent it sent out as requested by a script.

Almost Faceless Mini-Applications ("Appletts")

Frontier makes sense as a controller for small, nearly faceless applications which provide simple services. This is one of the directions software is moving at the moment, the do-one-thing-and-do-it-well idea. Userland practices what they preach in this area: Frontier's on-line documentation is provided by a separate DocServer application. A control-double-click on any Frontier verb ensures that DocServer is running, sends it AppleEvents directing that the appropriate documentation be displayed, and brings DocServer to the front. There is no technical reason why DocServer wouldn't be available to your application, too. I don't know the legal details at this time.

Paper Documentation

Yes, there is some. A user manual and a scripting language ("UserTalk") reference guide were written by Dan Shafer. They explain Frontier pretty clearly, though some of the more obscure verbs are only referenced, with the DocServer material (also prepared by Dan) being the only documentation.

Apple Object Model

Frontier scripts have the power to create and send AppleEvents which make use of the Object Model. This capability should be highly useful in testing MacApp-based applications which support the Object Model and the Object Support Library. A developer may also wish to supply a suitable "suite" of Frontier scripts to the users of an application.

What's In It for Me?

If you are writing an AppleEvent-driven application, Frontier represents a potentially valuable testing and debugging tool. If your application might benefit from the shared menu idea, that is easy to add. With or without Frontier, you were going to support AppleEvents for commanding your application, weren't you? There is no extra work there (and Userland will help you prepare the file which sets up the necessary verbs in Frontier to drive your application the way you want it driven).

Besides all that, Frontier is an amusing "toy", too. I have a script which runs my FarSide calendar the first time each day that Frontier starts up (I have Frontier starting from my Startup Items folder).

Availability

Frontier is available direct from Userland. Recently, Frontier has also found its way into the mail order and retail distribution system. Userland can be found in the Third Party area on AppleLink and in their own forum on CompuServe. Their address is UserLand Software, Inc., 490 California Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94306. Telephone (415) 325-5700; fax (415) 325-9829.
 
AAPL
$103.30
Apple Inc.
+0.80
MSFT
$45.09
Microsoft Corpora
-0.34
GOOG
$577.33
Google Inc.
+5.73

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

TextSoap 7.4.0 - Flexible text editing u...
TextSoap is for people who work with text. TextSoap effortlessly cleans up text from endlessly different formats. Wash away unwanted characters, spaces, tabs. Fix paragraphs with hard returns at the... Read more
NetShade 6.0.2 - Browse privately using...
NetShade is an Internet security tool that conceals your IP address on the web. NetShade routes your Web connection through either a public anonymous proxy server, or one of NetShade's own dedicated... Read more
Mac DVDRipper Pro 5.0 - Copy, backup, an...
Mac DVDRipper Pro is the DVD backup solution that lets you protect your DVDs from scratches, save your batteries by reading your movies from your hard disk, manage your collection with just a few... Read more
pwSafe 3.1 - Secure password management...
pwSafe provides simple and secure password management across devices and computers. pwSafe uses iCloud to keep your password databases backed-up and synced between Macs and iOS devices. It is... Read more
StatsBar 1.8 - Monitor system processes...
StatsBar gives you a comprehensive and detailed analysis of the following areas of your Mac: CPU usage Memory usage Disk usage Network and bandwidth usage Battery power and health (MacBooks only)... Read more
Path Finder 6.5.5 - Powerful, award-winn...
Path Finder is a file browser that combines the familiar Finder interface with the powerful utilities and innovative features. Just a small selection of the Path Finder 6 feature set: Dual pane... Read more
QuarkXPress 10.2.1 - Desktop publishing...
With QuarkXPress, you can communicate in all the ways you need to -- and always look professional -- in print and digital media, all in a single tool. Features include: Easy to Use -- QuarkXPress is... Read more
Skype 6.19.0.450 - Voice-over-internet p...
Skype allows you to talk to friends, family and co-workers across the Internet without the inconvenience of long distance telephone charges. Using peer-to-peer data transmission technology, Skype... Read more
Capo 3.1.2 - Slow down and learn to play...
Capo lets you slow down your favorite songs so you can hear the notes and learn how they are played. With Capo, you can quickly tab out your songs atop a highly-detailed OpenCL-powered spectrogram... Read more
VueScan 9.4.41 - Scanner software with a...
VueScan is a scanning program that works with most high-quality flatbed and film scanners to produce scans that have excellent color fidelity and color balance. VueScan is easy to use, and has... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Modern Combat 5 Gets a Major Multiplayer...
Modern Combat 5 Gets a Major Multiplayer Update Posted by Jessica Fisher on September 2nd, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Alien Creeps TD Review
Alien Creeps TD Review By Jennifer Allen on September 2nd, 2014 Our Rating: :: EXPENSIVE DEFENSESUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Alien Creeps TD would be a fun if unremarkable Tower Defense game, but its heavy focus on... | Read more »
The Journey Down: Chapter Two Review
The Journey Down: Chapter Two Review By Jennifer Allen on September 2nd, 2014 Our Rating: :: DARK YET ENTICINGUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad It’s a little dark, in every sense of the word, but The Journey Down:... | Read more »
Function Space, a Social Network App for...
Function Space, a Social Network App for Science, Launches on iOS Posted by Ellis Spice on September 2nd, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
Stupidfast – How Taylor Martinez Switche...
How do you make an Endless Running game more than just another Endless Running game? By adding real life prizes to it, of course! That’s the thinking behind StupidFast: a game designed for football enthusiasts, and the brainchild of former college... | Read more »
Little Raiders: Robin’s Revenge Review
Little Raiders: Robin’s Revenge Review By Jennifer Allen on September 2nd, 2014 Our Rating: :: CASUAL RAIDINGUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Combining simple combat with village building is a potent combination for... | Read more »
Treasure Tombs: Ra Deal Coming from Bulk...
Treasure Tombs: Ra Deal Coming from Bulkypix and Dark Tonic This Fall Posted by Jessica Fisher on September 2nd, 2014 [ permalink ] Dark Tonic and | Read more »
Pirate Bash Review
Pirate Bash Review By Nadia Oxford on September 2nd, 2014 Our Rating: :: BAD PIRATES, GOOD TIMESUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Pirate Bash’s turn-based battles add an intriguing twist to a typical physics game.   | Read more »
Tiny Tower Vegas Review
Tiny Tower Vegas Review By Jennifer Allen on September 2nd, 2014 Our Rating: :: STEADY DEVELOPMENTUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Build a huge tower again but Vegas-style in Tiny Tower Vegas.   | Read more »
The Manhattan Project Review
The Manhattan Project Review By Andrew Fisher on September 2nd, 2014 Our Rating: :: ROCKET SCIENCEUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad The Manhattan Project offers a great Euro-style gameplay experience, but it is totally... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Apple refurbished iPads available for up to $...
Apple is offering Certified Refurbished iPad Airs for up to $140 off MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is free. Stock tends to come and go with some of these... Read more
Are We Now In The Post-Post-PC Era?
A longtime and thoroughgoing laptop aficionado, I was more than a little dismayed by Steve Jobs’s declaration back in 2010 when he sprang the iPad on an unsuspecting world. that we’d entered a “post-... Read more
PC Outlook Improves, But 2014 Shipments Still...
According to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker, worldwide PC shipments are expected to fall by -3.7 percent in 2014. To hat’s actually an improvement from the... Read more
IDC Lowers Tablet Sales Projections for 2014...
Following a second consecutive quarter of softer than expected demand, International Data Corporation (IDC) has lowered its worldwide tablet plus 2-in-1 forecast for 2014 to 233.1 million units. The... Read more
Apple now offering refurbished 21-inch 1.4GHz...
The Apple Store is now offering Apple Certified Refurbished 21″ 1.4GHz iMacs for $929 including free shipping plus Apple’s standard one-year warranty. Their price is $170 off the cost of new models,... Read more
Save $50 on the 2.5GHz Mac mini, on sale for...
B&H Photo has the 2.5GHz Mac mini on sale for $549.99 including free shipping. That’s $50 off MSRP, and B&H will also include a free copy of Parallels Desktop software. NY sales tax only. Read more
Save up to $300 on an iMac with Apple refurbi...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished iMacs available for up to $300 off the cost of new models. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free. These are the best prices on... Read more
The Rise of Phablets
Carlisle & Gallagher Consulting Group, a businesses and technology consulting firm focused solely on the financial services industry, has released an infographic depicting the convergence of... Read more
Bad Driver Database App Allows Good Drivers t...
Bad Driver Database 1.4 by Facile Group is a new iOS and Android app that lets users instantly input and see how many times a careless, reckless or just plain stupid driver has been added to the... Read more
Eddy – Cloud Music Player for iPhone/iPad Fre...
Ukraine based CapableBits announces the release of Eddy, its tiny, but smart and powerful cloud music player for iPhone and iPad that allows users to stream or download music directly from cloud... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
Senior Event Manager, *Apple* Retail Market...
…This senior level position is responsible for leading and imagining the Apple Retail Team's global event strategy. Delivering an overarching brand story; in-store, Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.