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Does LablTk have a future?
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Date: 2005-08-30 (04:39)
From: Matt Gushee <mgushee@h...>
Subject: Re: [Caml-list] Does LablTk have a future?
Jon Harrop wrote:

>>Regardless of the status of Tk itself, LablTk seems to be going nowhere 
> It is odd that you should bring this up now. I've spent the past week writing 
> a simple database for a new veterinary surgery in OCaml using labltk. I had 
> tried lablgtk before but failed to get to grips with it. By comparison, the 
> labktk examples explained everything that I needed and I had a decent GUI up 
> and running within a few hours.

Yes, it does have that simplicity about it.

>>1) A Quick Reference

> I haven't used anything exotic (or even non-trivial) but it seems to me that 
> the API is already so simple that there isn't really a need for a quick 
> reference.

Well, you need some source of information other than the OCaml manual. 
To give just one example, if you want to do anything serious with 
Listbox widgets, you need to know the Listbox.index type, which isn't 
described in the manual.

Now, I have lately realized that you can explore LablTk with 
ocamlbrowser, so a reference doc isn't strictly necessary. But you could 
say the same about any OCaml module ... anyway, the document mostly 
exists, and some people may find it more convenient/pleasant to use a 
Web page or a printed document.

>>2) A Book

> I think labltk is too specific to be commercially viable.

Specific in what sense? And do you mean LablTk as a tool, or as a book 

> Also, unless I've 
> missed some hidden complexities in Tk programming, I think you'd have a job 
> filling enough pages to call the result a book.

Ever used the Canvas or Text widgets? There's a lot going on there. 
Besides, there are several mainstream (i.e. published by major tech 
publishers and available in any well-stocked bookstore) books about Tk 
programming (including at least Tcl/Tk, Perl/Tk and Tkinter). They've 
mostly been available for several years, so there must be some market 
for them.

Of course--and as an author/publisher, I'm sure you know this--the 
questions of what to write about, and how and how much, depend a great 
deal on the audience.

I can tell you that when I read _Effective Tcl/Tk Programming_ in about 
'98, when my GUI-coding experience was limited to a few toy apps in 
Visual Basic, I found it tremendously useful, with its in-depth 
explanation and extended examples of the more complex widgets, geometry 
managers, and the event handling mechanism. Properly described, it was a 
book about GUI programming *with* Tk, rather than strictly about Tk itself.

Maybe today's OCamlers are by and large beyond needing that sort of 
book. But it's kind of self-defeating to take for granted that the 
status quo will continue. I'm inclined to think that as OCaml gains in 
popularity--as it is certainly doing--there will be more people who need 
more hand-holding. Which doesn't necessarily mean there's much of market 
for a book such as I've proposed, just that I see some reason to hope.

> However, I would be very interested in a book that described how to write GUIs 
> using OCaml.

That might indeed be a good thing. I don't think, in my current state of 
knowledge, I'm the one to write it.

> As I'm the author of the only existing self-published book on OCaml, you may 
> be interested to know that it is doing well (~500UKP per month for 6 months 
> so far).

Well, at 85 quid a pop, I should think so (what is that in US money, 
about $120?)! But you're targeting an audience that has significant 
institutional support. I doubt very much that any and all OCaml books 
can be sold for that kind of money.

>>3) A Community-based Modernization Project

> I think it would be more constructive to create a decent cross-platform GUI 
> library from the ground up for FPLs/OCaml.

Great idea! But it sounds to me like the kind of thing that will never 
get finished.

> This wouldn't need to be anything 
> fancy, just easy access to the simplest GUI elements to start with.

What kind of apps do you envision writing with only the simplest elements?

> I'd like to see GUIs described by purely functional data structures. I'm
> still factoring my current code so I'll let you know what I come up with.
> Also, despite GUI code being a pedagogical example for OO, I'm not yet
 > convinced that OO adds anything useful.

Agreed. Once I too was among the benighted souls, those who worship the 
false god of OO. But then I saw the functional light, and I was saved! 
Amen, brother!

Thanks for the comments. Lots of good food for thought there.

Matt Gushee
Englewood, CO, USA