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
$102.50
Apple Inc.
+0.25
MSFT
$45.43
Microsoft Corpora
+0.55
GOOG
$571.60
Google Inc.
+2.40

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

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
Cloud 3.0.0 - File sharing from your men...
Cloud is simple file sharing for the Mac. Drag a file from your Mac to the CloudApp icon in the menubar and we take care of the rest. A link to the file will automatically be copied to your clipboard... Read more
LibreOffice 4.3.1.2 - Free Open Source o...
LibreOffice is an office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, presentations, drawing tool) compatible with other major office suites. The Document Foundation is coordinating development and... Read more
SlingPlayer Plugin 3.3.20.505 - Browser...
SlingPlayer is the screen interface software that works hand-in-hand with the hardware inside the Slingbox to make your TV viewing experience just like that at home. It features an array of... Read more
Get Lyrical 3.8 - Auto-magically adds ly...
Get Lyrical auto-magically add lyrics to songs in iTunes. You can choose either a selection of tracks, or the current track. Or turn on "Active Tagging" to get lyrics for songs as you play them.... Read more
Viber 4.2.2 - Send messages and make cal...
Viber lets you send free messages and make free calls to other Viber users, on any device and network, in any country! Viber syncs your contacts, messages and call history with your mobile device,... Read more
Cocktail 7.6 - General maintenance and o...
Cocktail is a general purpose utility for OS X that lets you clean, repair and optimize your Mac. It is a powerful digital toolset that helps hundreds of thousands of Mac users around the world get... Read more
LaunchBar 6.1 - Powerful file/URL/email...
LaunchBar is an award-winning productivity utility that offers an amazingly intuitive and efficient way to search and access any kind of information stored on your computer or on the Web. It provides... Read more
Maya 2015 - Professional 3D modeling and...
Maya is an award-winning software and powerful, integrated 3D modeling, animation, visual effects, and rendering solution. Because Maya is based on an open architecture, all your work can be scripted... Read more
BBEdit 10.5.12 - Powerful text and HTML...
BBEdit is the leading professional HTML and text editor for the Mac. Specifically crafted in response to the needs of Web authors and software developers, this award-winning product provides a... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

This Week at 148Apps: August 25-29, 2014
Shiny Happy App Reviews   | Read more »
Qube Kingdom – Tips, Tricks, Strategies,...
Qube Kingdom is a tower defense game from DeNA. You rally your troops – magicians, archers, knights, barbarians, and others – and fight against an evil menace looking to dominate your kingdom of tiny squares. Planning a war isn’t easy, so here are a... | Read more »
Qube Kingdom Review
Qube Kingdom Review By Nadia Oxford on August 29th, 2014 Our Rating: :: KIND OF A SQUARE KINGDOMUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Qube Kingdom has cute visuals, but it’s a pretty basic tower defense game at heart.   | Read more »
Fire in the Hole Review
Fire in the Hole Review By Rob Thomas on August 29th, 2014 Our Rating: :: WALK THE PLANKUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Seafoam’s Fire in the Hole looks like a bright, 8-bit throwback, but there’s not enough booty to... | Read more »
Alien Creeps TD is Now Available Worldwi...
Alien Creeps TD is Now Available Worldwide Posted by Ellis Spice on August 29th, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Dodo Master Review
Dodo Master Review By Jordan Minor on August 29th, 2014 Our Rating: :: NEST EGGiPad Only App - Designed for the iPad Dodo Master is tough but fair, and that’s what makes it a joy to play.   | Read more »
Motorsport Manager Review
Motorsport Manager Review By Lee Hamlet on August 29th, 2014 Our Rating: :: MARVELOUS MANAGEMENTUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Despite its depth and sense of tactical freedom, Motorsport Manager is one of the most... | Read more »
Motorsport Manager – Beginner Tips, Tric...
The world of Motorsport management can be an unforgiving and merciless one, so to help with some of the stress that comes with running a successful race team, here are a few hints and tips to leave your opponents in the dust. | Read more »
CalPal Update Brings the App to 2.0, Add...
CalPal Update Brings the App to 2.0, Adds Lots of New Stuff Posted by Ellis Spice on August 29th, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
Baseball Battle Review
Baseball Battle Review By Jennifer Allen on August 29th, 2014 Our Rating: :: SIMPLE HITTINGUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Simple and cute, Baseball Battle is a fairly fun baseball game for those looking for something... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Labor Day Weekend MacBook Pro sale; 15-inch m...
B&H Photo has the new 2014 15″ Retina MacBook Pros on sale for up to $125 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only. They’ll also include free copies of Parallels Desktop... Read more
Labor Day Weekend iPad mini sale; $50 to $100...
Best Buy has the iPad mini with Retina Display (WiFi models) on sale for $50 off MSRP on their online store for Labor Day Weekend. Choose free shipping or free local store pick up. Price is for... Read more
13-inch 1.4GHz MacBook Air on sale for $899,...
Adorama has the new 2014 13″ 1.4GHz/128GB MacBook Air on sale for $899.99 including free shipping plus NY & NJ tax only. Their price is $100 off MSRP. Read more
It’s Official: Apple Issues Invitations To Se...
Apple has issued one of its characteristically cryptic press invitations for a special event to be held at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts in hometown Cupertino on Sept. 9, 2014 at 10:00 am... Read more
Tablet Shipments To See First On-year Decline...
TrendForce analyst Caroline Chen notes that when the iPad launched in 2010, it was an instant hit and spurred a tablet PC revolution, with tablets so popular that that notebook PC sales stagnated and... Read more
SOBERLINK Releases Apple iOS Compatible Handh...
Cypress, California based SOBERLINK, Inc., creator of the first handheld Breathalyzer designed to improve recovery outcomes, continues to show prominence in the mobile alcohol monitoring space with... Read more
New 21″ 1.4GHz iMac on sale again for $999, s...
Best Buy has the new 21″ 1.4GHz iMac on sale for $999.99 on their online store. Their price is $100 off MSRP. Choose free shipping or free local store pick up. Price is for online orders only, in-... Read more
Smartphone Outlook Remains Strong for 2014, U...
According to a new mobile phone forecast from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, more than 1.25 billion smartphones will be shipped worldwide in 2014,... Read more
Save up to $60 with Apple refurbished iPod to...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 5th generation iPod touches available starting at $149. Apple’s one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is free. Many, but not all... Read more
12-Inch MacBook Air Coming in 4Q14 or 2015 –...
Digitimes’ Aaron Lee and Joseph Tsai report that according to Taiwan-based upstream supply chain insiders, Apple plans to launch a thinner MacBook model either at year end 2014 or in 2015, and that... 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.