Has Abacus been abandoned?

No, not really

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. I just need a good incentive to work on it again.
My incentive for working on version 0.1 (and 0.1.1, which I released when I realized 0.1 was broken) was the O’Reilly Open Source Convention 2004. Since then I’ve received e-mails about it from about a dozen people. That’s over the past six months.
It’s a little disheartening. 🙂
I’ve had other things take up my time, and not a lot of motivation to get Abacus going forward again. No one has filed bugs or offered patches to it, and no one’s indicated they’re actively testing it. (I’ve had a couple people, including one today, who said they want to see it working in N|vu, but there’s a N|Vu bug with XPInstall that stops Abacus in its tracks.) All the work I did on Abacus was on my dime. Nobody’s really reviewed the code.
Abacus is stagnating because it’s a community of one.
In a way, I suppose that’s my fault. Editing mathematics isn’t as “sexy” as IRC chat, user-friendly browsers and mail clients, Gmail notifiers, etc. I picked a niche, and I got a niche community. 🙂
(I should note my serverpost widget, which seems a lot more immediately useful to the Mozilla app developers crowd, is also a community of one…)
Oh, well. At least I haven’t gotten any real complaints about Abacus, either.

5 thoughts on “Has Abacus been abandoned?”

  1. About serverpost, I am really interested with it, i want to work on testcases and a proof-of-concept app for it, i have an app to keep track of books that I am reading that I wrote about a year ago that is based on php/html that could use this, but i have had troubles with permissions and all that good stuff workin with the database. But now with the mysql support in mozilla, theoretically i could just use that instead of rdf.
    anyway- if you are interested in working on one with me that would be cool, let me know.

  2. I know I sent a message a while ago asking about Abacus.
    It didn’t work at all, and I was asking I should bother filing bug reports or asking for help at this point in development.
    Perhaps others try it and don’t do anything because of a total lack of functionality?
    (From Alex: It’s possible that I inadvertently deleted your message without reading it. I’m human, and I do make mistakes. ajvincent at gmail if you want to send me a new note.)

  3. I have seen this more often – people getting disappointed because they get little feedback, or few people (at least much less than they expected) are using their program.
    But I really think you can’t expect something to become a community effort out of the blue. If you start by yourself, you should most importantly do the project for yourself and be motivated enough to finish it by yourself (if you intend to do so). If other people contribute – that’s great! But if you do something for yourself, you can never really be disappointed if it doesn’t turn out as popular as you thought it would be.
    Right now it feels like you’re laying the blame on us, which isn’t right.
    Then again, I am the person who wrote a Tiger Hash implementation for the Z80. I am probably the only one who has ever used the code, and even I don’t see a real use in it :). So maybe I’m an extreme case. However, I did that small project for myself, so I’m not disappointed, and I didn’t expect there to be much interest.
    Anyways, I guess that is some kind of lesson to be learned :).
    On a sidenote, if you’re dropping the project, but still need a good MathML editor, I can recommend OpenMathEdit, which I have been using for a while.
    (From Alex: The chances of me dropping this project are zero. I may lose interest for a time, but I’ll still care about it. 🙂 And no, I’m not so much laying blame as I am looking for reassurance and/or feedback on what I’m doing wrong.)

  4. About the lack of feedback about Abacus: in my case, I’m very interested on it, writing my own editor. I even submitted a small bug fix for Amaya when it was at version 1.4. And I do find mathematical expression editing a “sexy” subject.
    My experience was that, first of all, it didn’t work.
    I got the abacus icon in the Composer tool bar, and when clicking it the “template” dialog appeared, but without any content: it had the two scroll panes, with the “Update template” and “Apply template” buttons, but the toolbars that appear in your screenshot were not there.
    Could be something related to the crappy MacOS X system I’m using.
    Then, from looking at the screenshoots, I just can’t figure out how I would use it. And many of them aren’t displayed anyway: both FireFox (1.0) and Mozilla (1.7.3) say that they contain errors.
    When talking about a MathML editor for Mozilla, I understand something like this:
    I got really lost with Abacus, and kept checking it only because it’s GPL so I could reuse something I found useful, but so far I haven’t.
    I’ve re-read the above text, and it sounds harsh, but it reflects my feelings after trying to use Abacus.
    (From Alex: File bugs, then! Did you install JSLib as well?)

  5. Yes, I did install JSLib.
    As for filing bugs, I didn’t know even then how to describe them properly. It took me a long time to get sure that indeed it was not working as it should, as opposed to me not having the slightest clue on how to use it.
    The following is a diary of my new attempts to install and use it.
    As you see, I’ve had problems with several things, so I don’t really know were the problem lies so as to file a bug in the proper place.
    After installing JSLib “quick install”, and then Abacus, I get the button in Composer. When clicking it, the template dialog opens, but it doesn’t work.
    One correction to my previous post: the “tool bars” I mentioned were in fact “menu bars”, and in the Mac they appear at the top of the screen, so they are there. However, the “Language Sets” menu is void, the dialog borders are absent, with the content clipped (the “Cancel” button is only partially visible), etc.
    In the JavaScript console appears the following:
    Warning: assignment to undeclared variable JS_LIB_DEBUG
    Source File: chrome://abacus/content/math/editor.js
    Line: 1361
    Error: FileUtils is not defined
    Source File: chrome://abacus/content/math/editor.js
    Line: 1365
    Error: uncaught exception: AssertionError: There must be a user error box in place!
    Which looks like JSLib isn’t properly installed.
    The “quick install” link is actually the “lite” version:
    Trying to install directly from each of the links in the download table, gives the error “Download error”:
    (I reinstall Mozilla after each attempt, to make sure that there are no remnants of previous installed packages, including my own applications)
    After downloading them with wget, and opening the file with Mozilla, the installation of the “static” version (which I tried first since I assumed it would be more robust or complete) complains about not having permissions to install globally, and asks for confirmation to install in the current profile. I press “OK”, and at the end of the installation, it says “Required file not found”.
    The version “current” seems to work fine. After installing from the downloaded file, and restarting Mozilla, the test link “chrome://jslib/content/” shows the splash screen. (I now realize that I didn’t restart Mozilla after installing the “quick install” version, so it could be that it worked. I’d suggest stating in Abacus’ installation instructions which version of JSLib you are supposed to install)
    Now, installing Abacus from the website I get again “Download error”. This didn’t happen before.
    Again, download and open the XPI file. Works.
    Better: in “Language Sets” I get “en-US/MathML”. And the “OK” button is disabled, but still the “Update template” and “Apply template” are also disabled. Also, the window appearance (no borders, content clipped, etc.) is the same.
    In the JavaScript console:
    Warning: Abacus MathML Editor should receive a language to use (xml:lang=’en-US’, lang=’en’ or for example)!
    Source File: chrome://abacus/content/math/editor.js
    Line: 1322
    Warning: We need a way to notify the user that we’ve set a default language they may not want.
    Source File: chrome://abacus/content/math/editor.js
    Line: 1324
    I remember seeing these warnings long ago, which probably means that I managed to install JSLib back then.
    Trying to restart Mozilla just in case: exactly the same results.
    I’ve noticed now two debug entries in the console that were there before, above the warnings:
    ****** [xpconnect wrapped nsIURI]
    ****** [xpconnect wrapped nsIURI]
    I thought they were produced by the download process for the XPIs, but now it seems that they come from either JSLib or Abacus. They don’t seem relevant, though.
    The “Help” button doesn’t seem to work, but at least the “Cancel” one does.
    Again about the menu bars: in the “EditorStart.png” snapshot, there are two rows that look like this:
    [Controls] [Language Sets]
    [en-US/MathML] [Basics] [Index]
    What I see in my top-of-the-screen menu bar is:
    [Controls] [Language Sets]
    The content of “Controls” is [Undo, Redo, Move Selection Up, Move Selection Down]. The content of “Language Sets” is [en-US/MathML] (selected). Nothing more.
    Apart from that, the lower scroll pane doesn’t have the red square that appears in the snapshot.
    Another discrepancy is that the “Help” button appears on the left side, not to the right of the “Cancel” button as in the snapshot.
    That’s it.
    My suggestion is, first, to fix the snapshots. It’s quite frustrating trying to follow the user’s manual, clicking in some promisingly-named image, and getting the error.
    I really don’t have time even for the hours (!) it took me to write this diary, but my first impulse would be to look in the XUL for what I call “the template dialog”. There could be some non-standard construct there that doesn’t work in the Mac version.
    Finally, the snapshots that work are indeed ugly. I suppose there are good reasons for the interface you built, and details like the malformed closing parenthesis are not Abacus’ fault, but again they don’t compel me to install Abacus. It looks like more work that typing the MathML directly.
    I suspect that the esthetic factor accounts for a good part of the lack of feedback you got.
    For instance, the page of ASCIIMathML works very well: no installation, and you can play with it and get fancy 2D notation right away:
    I realize that you are probably doing something much more capable, but the point gets lost in all that steps you need to perform just for getting a simple expression in Composer.

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