Archive for July, 2007

Codekana 1.0 released

Tuesday, July 24th, 2007

Here it is:


I have just officially released Codekana 1.0 for Visual Studio. You can visit www.codekana.com for all the details and to download the latest build. If you installed any of the beta builds, you will have to manually uninstall it before installing this one (hopefully the last time, as post-1.0 builds will sport automatic upgrades).

With regards to the product, its capabilities, how it can make your code reading and writing experience smoother and more productive, I think the best is that you visit the web site. I’ve made a big effort to convey the usefulness of the product, so the text and illustrations on the web site will probably be the best to explain it.

I have tried to design a more modern look for the website: a colorful design, large fonts, concise copy, etc… Even if the product is good (and, of course, I think it’s very good), nice packaging is always very important. I do plan to make quite some effort in marketing this product. ViEmu is a product for a very small niche, but for that niche, just making sure searches for “vi visual studio” or “vim outlook” reach the right page is the most important thing. For a product like Codekana, where hardly anybody will be looking for “enhanced syntax highlighting visual studio”, it is very important to raise awareness and to present the value of the product properly. Since writing articles has proven to be a very powerful method to get many thousands of developers to my site(s), I will probably do quite some writing about various development-related areas in the near future. It’s very likely I will set up another blog, more development-centric, and less oriented towards growing a small business. More news about this coming soon.

I have decided to finally release 1.0 today even if there is still one known issue with Codekana: sometimes, mainly when reinstalling it, Codekana colors and/or Visual Studio colors can get reset to odd values. This only happens occasionally, but it’s annoying, and it gives a certain feeling of instability to an otherwise rock-solid product (even if not perfect, of course). I know for sure that a feeling of being solid is important to sales, so it could detract a bit from sales if someone stumbles into it early. So, why did I decide to release without fixing this? Here is a short list of the relevant reasons:

  • The problem is due to some internal problem’s in Visual Studio’s color configuration system. You can check this VS forums thread for the details, how the behavior can be isolated and reproduced on a clean VS install without having Codekana installed, and how it seems only VS 2008 will fix it. I’ve spent weeks trying to work around this buggy VS behavior with no luck.
  • When it happens, the only effect is that colors can appear wrong, and this is fixed very easily by just going to Tools|Options|Fonts and Colors and clicking “Ok”, or resetting Codekana colors in Codekana’s settings dialog (the Codekana support page describes this in detail).
  • The rest of the product is rock-solid by now, after well over a month in beta testing, and it’s very useful already.
  • I was already planning to implement a revamped coloring system in a future build, to overcome some of VS’s limitations by doing my own rendering and bypassing its coloring system, and I’ve realized this will be the only way to reliably work around the buggy behavior. No need to say it, this will take quite some work to get working (it’s not a couple days’ hack)

All in all, I decided to release 1.0 today, put a prominent notice in the blog announcement and on the support page, and work from there. Hopefully it won’t be too annoying, it won’t detract too much from sales, and I will be able to have a better solution even before the trial period of the first users expires. Posting about a known issue on the release day is not very satisfying, but I think it’s only fair.

I will keep posting about how Codekana fares, what my next steps will be, my marketing initiatives in the near future, and of course the slow but steady advance towards kodumi 1.0, my always-in-development text editor.

Codekana

Saturday, July 21st, 2007

[Update July 25 - Codekana 1.0 has already been released, so you can go to www.codekana.com for the latest release and all the details]

For the past few months, I’ve been working in a new product: Codekana for Visual Studio. It is a Visual Studio add-in which provides enhanced code visualization for C/C++ and C# code in Visual Studio. It enhances the syntax coloring, not for decorative reasons, but in order to provide actual useful information, such as control flow cues; it can draw graphical outlines of the code’s block structure (allowing several One-True-Brace-Styles); it highlights all matches of the last search; it allows you to zoom in and out with control and the mouse wheel; and several other features. Here is a screenshot of how Visual studio looks with Codekana in action (click for a full-size view):



Some details about what you can see in this screenshot:

  • Blocks are highlighted and outlined according to their function: green for ‘if’ blocks, brown (dark-red) for ‘else’ blocks, red for loops and loop control structures, etc… The goal of this is not artistic, it allows you to grasp the control flow of your code without even having to read: you will see where the code loops, whether there is another way to exit a loop than by looping to the end, you can see what block a condition controls, and more – ‘return’s are also highlighted in orange to show early exits, multi-way conditions (‘switch’ blocks) are colored in blue, etc. Once you get accustomed to the coloring (of course, you can customize it to your own taste), you’ll be able to understand control flow at a glance.
  • Also thanks to the coloring above, when you have several nested blocks and a long list of closing braces, you know which brace closes what construct. If you want to insert some doe right before the end of a loop, you can visually tell where to insert it.
  • The name of the function at the top is highlighted too. This is a very quick way of knowing where in the code you are – especially with C-like languages’ brain-dead declaration syntax, the actual defined name can be lost among complex return types, template arguments, and what not. All definitions have the defined name highlighted: function definitions, class/struct/union/enum definitions, etc…
  • All matches of the last search are highlighted in yellow. When you are searching, you rarely want to find just the first occurrence. Visual feedback is invaluable in getting information with high bandwidth.
  • Mismatched braces and parentheses are conveniently highlighted. Also, thanks to some pretty sophisticated incremental parsing technology, and unlike all other tools out there, Codekana is pretty smart about which brace is the mismatched one. Look at the screenshot above, it’s not obvious that the mismatched brace is the one highlighted, and neither VS’s built-in parse, the compiler, or any other tools gets it right, but Codekana tells you which one is the mismatched one.

Of course, all this smart parsing happens in a background multithreaded processing framework – this way, it won’t slow down your editing even if you have just pasted 1,000 lines of pretty convoluted code.

Codekana has several more features, and I could go on talking about them, but since it’s been over one month in closed but intense beta, it’s very solid, and due out next week, I’ll just you furnish you with a link to the documentation if you want to know more, and with a link to download and install the beta version:

Codekana documentation
Download Codekana 0.9

As you might guess, this technology is also part of what will become kodumi, the text editor I’m working on. But, meanwhile, it is already available inside Visual Studio for your development convenience.

I’m now off to getting the web site ready. And BTW, I’m going to release this at a very affordable price-point ($39), to get as many users as possible on board while I prepare great new features.