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Kevin Walzer, software developer.



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Fri, 13 Nov 2015

FileMorph 2.6: A better experience on Windows

I've released version 2.6 of FileMorph, my file modification app for Mac and Windows. This version focuses mainly on Windows, with a substantially re-worked deployment structure that ensures smooth launching.

Apps written in Perl, FileMorph's main development language, are not easy to deploy on Windows. I prefer to use open-source tools rather than commercial toolkits like PerlApp from ActiveState, so I had deployed the last version using Par/PP, which creates standalone Perl application with all libraries bundled in a single executable file. Based on my research and testing, PAR/pp works fine for simple Perl/Windows applications that don't require a lot of polish.

However, for larger, more complex applications with multiple dependencies and professional-level polish--such as a custom icon, and standard application data such as version information contained in the executable--PAR/pp is seriously broken on Windows. Adding a custom icon and standard application text data is a non-trivial process, requires tools to actually hack the executable, and runs the serious risk of corrupting the executable to the point where it will not run. In my case, I got the executable to run, but at the cost of an extremely long startup time (over a minute) with a blank console popping up while everything loaded. After the application started, it still had issues: the default PAR icon still leaked out in places such as the Windows taskbar. While the app was entirely functional, it seemed rough, unpolished, and unprofessional.

This was unacceptable. I had held off on doing much marketing and promotion of FileMorph on Windows because it offered such a poor user experience out of the box. Something had to change.

After doing some additional research, I found a different approach that offered great promise: a simple stub executable that linked into Perl via its embedding API and did nothing but start the application. (The approach is outlined here: http://perl-node-interface.blogspot.com/2011/03/deploy-perl-application-on-windows.html.) I took interest in this approach because I've used something like it in my experimental ruby2app deployment tool for Ruby apps on OS X. I took the basic sample code for the Perl project, modified it to fit my application structure, and after some trial and error, got things working well. FileMorph now starts right up and, while the Windows download installer is much larger than before (60 megabytes vs. 20 megabytes), that's an acceptable trade-off for an application that runs well out of the box.

I commend this approach to any developer who is working with Perl on Windows; I am very pleased with it. While FileMorph is a commercial application, its source code is available under an open-source license at http://fossil.codebykevin.com/fossil.cgi/filemorph/timeline, so feel free to take a look. (As an aside, I also use a terrific module for deploying the application on the Mac: Mac::QuickBundle.)

And, of course, if you are an end user looking for a handy file modification tool for Windows, FileMorph may just do the trick--feel free to download and play with it. A one-time cost for a license includes free upgrades for life. It's worth your attention.

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