Standalone version available

By • Nov 17th, 2008 • Category: Developer diaries

An standalone version of Fnk is now available. It requires Adobe AIR 1.5 (which was released today) but it’s a pretty straightforward deal to install and update.

I guess some clarification is needed. One of the biggest features in the original Fnk project thesis is that it is meant to run from the web – it is supposed to be easy to access, requiring no installations (save for a browser and Flash player, of course) or any kind of administration privileges. This is part of its positioning as a mid-level prototyping, experimentation and learning tool; other similar platforms require an installation or some administrator-level access at some time. This self-imposed requirement may sound irrelevant for most people, but in an academic environment, an application that requires administrator access is a big issue; students have to go through all kinds of bureaucratic hops to get them installed on a lab computer. Plus, you’re not always using the same computer – actually, almost never. In that kind of environment, being able to run something from the web is a godsend.

Still, being based on a browser brings significant limitations to the Fnk environment. Most important, you don’t have unrestricted file reading and writing access; this means you cannot save a file when the user presses CTRL+S, or open a series of images from the user’s computer. You can do some of these things, but due to security limitations the Flash platform imposes you, you need absolute clarity for the user when doing so: for example, saving a file is only possible if you ask the user which file he wants to write to – having the equivalent of “Save As” works (since a file dialog is shown), but not a straight, unattended “Save” that writes to the disk with no user intervention. Saving an image sequence is out of question. And you cannot read a series of files from the disk: you have to let the user pick each and every file he wants your application to read.

And as unfortunate as it sounds, this is how it should be; can you imagine visiting a website and it starts saving data to your drive with no restriction? Hence those safety measures.

That’s why Fnk is supposed to have a separate, more advanced implementation layer, which is this standalone version. Since it runs as a more-or-less native application, it will be able to perform better file saving and reading, as well as having some other small but important features that are not available to the web Flash player (like keyboard access on fullscreen, using native OS menus, etc).

As of now, that standalone version is still as limited as the web version. It has no additional features whatsoever, save for a few probable additional bugs. However, in the future, as it gets more mature, it’ll be a good additional step for more serious prototyping, file manipulation, or installation work. The web version will always remain as the main version and a good starting point for Fnk patching, but if the need arrives, the standalone version will be there. It’ll require an installation, but in exchange, it will have further access to the user’s computer. It’s about providing both options.

PS: Right now, the standalone version is only available for Windows and Macintosh computers. The Linux version depends on AIR 1.5 being available for Linux, something that should happen in a few weeks.

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