Finally: A new build

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At long last a new build and a new blog post! For the past month I have been so busy working on the Build Automator that I haven't taken time to update the blog.

To cut a long story short, we released a new build yesterday, version 1.30.100. This is our "finished" build of the Build Automator, meaning that the product is now fully working and functional and we look at it as finished. We still have a very long list of new features to add and in fact we have already started added features for the next build. Our next scheduled build will be in early July, about a month from now, but it is quite possible that we will feel sufficiently excited about our progress that we'll issue interim builds. The main focus in next months build will be FTP. Automated FTP is just an awsome feature that can be used for so many things that are not really related to creating new installs. I, for example, plan on using it for updates to our websites.

There is a long list of new features and fixes in this new version that you can access on our version history page. I'm not going to rewrite that list here, just metion a few things.

By far the biggest change in this new version is our decision to combine the Standard and Developer edition. Rather than having a Developer Edition that contained everything and the kitchen sink we decided to have just one edtion of the software. We could then develop specific plugins in addition to the standard plugins that came with the software. These additional plugins would offer more in-dept support for specific tools or operations. For example we might have a special Clarion plugin that would be for Clarion only. Perhaps a plugin for Visual Studio or even narrow it more down and have plugins for C#, VB.NET and C++ that could offer very language specific support. We feel that this will give us the freedom to develop some very sophisticated plugins where there is market for it. It also gives you the freedom to choose exactly what plugins you want. In fact with this design you can basically design your own Build Automator to include exactly what you want and need!

The Set Variable action makes the Build Automator a very powerful tool. You can now set variables anywhere in your script and in addition to just setting them to static values, you can set them to increment or decrement numbers, which comes in handy when creating version resources, or you can use about 50 functions to format or parse data to what ever you need.

The command line parameters along with the file association in the install allowed us to add a very cool feature: create shortcuts to the project files. This allows you to create shortcuts to the project you have open so you can double click on those shortcuts to open or execute the project. When you create the shortcut you can select if it's an open or execute shortcut and also where to put it.

The final change in this version that I want to mention is that the Maintenance Plan has now been added to the software. From now on you will need to have a valid Maintenance Plan to download updates to the software. The Build Automator comes with a 60 day free Maintenance Plan when you purchase. Those who purchase the Build Automator before June 15, 2008 receive a Maintenance plan that is valid until June 30, 2009. Everyone who has purchased the Build Automator should have received their Maintenance Plans yesterday (June 5). If you did not receive our email, please let us know.

Please note that our office will be closed from today (Friday June 6) until Monday morning, June 9. We will probably not be able to answer emails during this time, but if you need to contact us, please use our forums.

-- Arnor Baldvinsson

Update on new build

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We have been so busy lately working on the next build that I haven't taken time to write!

We released a new build last week, May 15, and have released a few minor build since then to fix things. We had problems with our Clarion compile actions. We have received report from one of our tester that this problem is now solved. The fix will be included in the next build which is scheduled for Thursday, May 22. We also received reports about problems with the Project Items, which we have duplicated and we are about half way done fixing those.

The Web Update is now fully functional and future updates will be released as web updates from now on. You can of cource download the full install if you want to.

This week's build will include documentation about how to create new actions using the Developer Edition, but most of it is behind the scenes work on separating the Standard and Developer Editions.

One of the things that we wanted to do in order to separate the editions was to create a script to rebuild the Build Automator. That includes compiling all code, Clarion and Visual C++ code, and compile the standard install and the web update. We can now truly say that the Build Automator builds itself! It will compile and prepare each build from now on, fully automatically!

Next week's release will include the Maintenance plan setup in the software. We will start releasing Maintenance plan code to customers who purchased before June 1 in the first week of June and all customers will receive it before we release new updates after June 1st.

We will keep you updated as we get closer to the release of the new version, but so far everything looks good and the new build should be on schedule:)

-- Arnor Baldvinsson

When unexpected things happen...

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We had planned to release a new build today, Monday. But sometimes things just don't go as planned! The past 24 hours have been a demonstration to me that sometimes the only predictable thing is the unpredictability of things&#59;)

I have been meaning to take some time to customize the skin that I'm using for this blog and at least add the Build Automator logo at the top and put a link back to the website. It doesn't seem to be possible to add the link without modifying the skin. So last night I decided to install b2evolution on my local server, which I use for all web development testing before I upload it to our webserver. Installing was a breeze and then I was going to transfer the mySQL data from our webserver to our local server. I have been using SQL Front (formerly MySQL Front) for years for MySQL work. I didn't have it installed on the server machine so I downloaded the latest and installed it. While I was doing the transfer I got some SQL errors on couple of tables and it didn't finish the transfer. I had run into this with the forum database as well so I decided to use the same method and drop the local database and try again.

So I drop the database. About half a second later I realized to my horror that I had dropped the database on the webserver, not the local server! And now I had one non-existing database on the webserver and one partial database at home - not a good situation at 11:30 at night. After several minutes of sheer panic I realized that I did have the table with the postings on my local machine, it had made it over before the transfer failed, so I realized that I could rebuild the blog. I sent my hosting company an email and asked them if they had a backup. This morning I had an email from my friend Benjamin Krajmalnik, one of the owners of the Illumen Group which hosts our sites, with a zip of the database. I uploaded it and the blog was back up and running. Thanks to Benjamin, I had my blog up again:)

This morning I spent time getting the blog back up and since I was messing with it I figured that I should take the time and try to change the skin. After almost two hours I realized that there was something very, very strange going on. Half the skin is in a style sheet and the other half in php. The problem was that no matter what I did with that .css file, nothing changed in the layout! When I realized that I could delete the file and nothing changed, I decided to post on the b2evolution forum and ask for help&#59;) After taking a break for this all and doing something else it dawned on me that the path to the css was probably being fixed somewhere because I was using the data from the webserver! So I went back to the computer, renamed the .css file on the webserver and lo and behold, my local server was indeed pulling the file from the webserver, not local!

When I had finally figured that out it was kind of a relief to me as I realized that the darn .css hadn't taken over and posessed my computer! I settled down to do some final testing of the new build when I ran into something unpredictable and unexpected again that I had to fix. What I found was that our new "Compile multiple Clarion apps" action would not advance from one app to the next one unless I clicked on the Build Automator icon to activate it. Since I had also added the same method to the "Compile Clarion" action, it would not terminate the compile process either. Very strange behaviour indeed that demanded investigating and fixing right away. To add to my misery I realized at one point that I had been compiling the wrong DLL for about 30 mintues - definitely not my day&#59;) In the end I found the culprit, a timer that was expected to fire hadn't been initialized, so it never fired and that timer was responsible for breaking up the compile process. Simple thing that was overlooked and broke the code completely. Once that was fixed, everything started working as expected. I hadn't noticed it before because I was switching between Clarion and Build Automator to make sure everything worked ok when switching and I never realized that the compile process required a manual intervention between apps! Everything looks very good now and the build is scheduled for tomorrow, Tuesday May 13 :)

-- Arnor Baldvinsson

Tech Stuff: "Failed to execute target process..."

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When we first released the Build Automator one of the first people to download the demo got an error after running the program once. It was an obscure error that we had never seen or heard about, the message only stating "Failed to execute target process (Error Code 5)"
Error message

I posted questions about this on several developer newsgroups and did not get much information back. But my luck was about to change! Few hours after I posted a fellow Clarion programmer and photography enthusiast, Marty Honea, called me and asked if this customer was using Internet Explorer 7. He had run into a similar problem few months earlier and got information that this was caused by security settings in IE7 and he gave me information about how to fix this.

This was on April 30 and I posted this right away to my customer but didn't hear back from him until today. Apparently I wasn't receiving his emails for some reason. The fix I had sent to him worked perfectly.

First of all, the fix:

Open Explorer and navigate to the executable that is showing the error. Right click on the EXE file. At the bottom of the properties window, on the "General" tab there is a section at the bottom, called "Security" which shows a text about that "this file may have come from another computer and might be blocked to help protect this computer"

This section ONLY shows up if the file is blocked! Click the "Unblock" button on the right, under the "Advanced" button and this whole section disappear and so does this cryptic error message!

Next, some digging:

Tonight I decided to do some research and see what I could come up with. Apparently this comes from a zone protection that is implemented in IE7 and under Vista. From what I understand this may also happen under XP. When a file is downloaded or copied the OS seems to add an alternate data stream to it that indicates where it came from. When the file is run, or opened, the source of this datastream is compared to the computer where the program is currnently running and if they don't match, the zoning restrictions kick in. In this particular case the abrevity and obscurity of the message is such that it's impossible to figure out what is causing it.

Most people haven't heard much about Alternate Data Streams (ADS) sometimes also called "Additional Data Streams". This is a feature of the NTFS file system that allows anyone to attach data to a file, rather than add to the file. Not only that, this data doesn't show up anywhere unless you know where to look. Until XP SP2 you could create additional streams using notepad and save the file to something like myfile.txt:additionalstream.txt Notice the colon in the filename? That's the indicator that the data should go to an additional stream, rather than into the file itself.

The interesting thing is that if you view the size of the file in Explorer, or any other software that doesn't specifically look for ADS, the software will not report the ADS at all! It is, for all intents and purposes, completely hidden from view. This opens up the rather strange possibility of having a hard drive full of 0 byte files, but the drive is full of data!&#59;)

Some resources:

Progress on new build

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We have made very solid progress this week and we will probably cut a new build of the Build Automator on Monday. We have fixed all problems that have been reported to us so far, including:

  1. The Move up/down buttons on Project Window behaved erratically and could corrupt project script. Fixed.
  2. Confirmation message was showing when a new action item was created and then cancelled. Fixed.
  3. The Move up/down buttons on the Project Window did not work with the Project Item list, only the Action Item list. Fixed.
  4. When Setup Builder was run there was no indication that anything was happening. Setup Builder does not have any interface that shows when it is run from the Command Line. Now this action shows a window that tells what project is being compiled and asks the user to wait. Fixed.
  5. The "Compile Setup Builder" window did not fit into 800x600 window. The window has been made shorter and is now resizable. Fixed.
  6. Startup Folder on "Run Program" and "Run File" actions did not update. Fixed.
  7. The "Compile with Clarion" action was rather cumbersome. We have added a "Compile Multiple apps with Clarion" action. Fixed.
  8. When selecting paths and files, the default folder was always the program folder. We have changed this so that each file and folder select path is saved and restored. For example when you select the Startup folder for a "Run Program" action it will be saved to use next time you use that action. That does not affect the Startup folder in the "Run File" action. Fixed.
  9. Save button on Project Variables window did not close the window. Fixed.
  10. Adding variables to "Compile Setup Builder" would only allow one variable. Fixed.

We had one report of the "Compile with Clarion" action being unreliable and the DDE connection not working properly. We have rewritten part of the Clarion compile method we will be putting it through the pace over the weekend. So far it looks rock stable.

In addition to fixing those things we have the IDE now completely separated from our own plugins that contain all our actions. This is a huge step in the process of getting the Developer Edition ready for it's final release. We now have two independent action plugin DLLs, one for the Standard Edition and one for the Developer Edition. The technology is rock stable and we have had no issues with it whatsoever. We are very excited to see this product mature and grow up :)

-- Arnor Baldvinsson

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