Remembering FaceSpan

I was going through some archives and ran across items relating to my FaceSpan project. I’m still very sad that I was not able to make that project a success.

For those that don’t know, FaceSpan was a Rapid Application Builder based on AppleScript. You dragged UI components into a canvas and attached bits of AppleScript code to respond to events (button presses, etc.). The original FaceSpan (then called Frontmost) shipped with AppleScript 1.0. I acquired FaceSpan 4 and attempted to remove its dependance on AppleScript Studio. Sadly, it didn’t work out.

Here’s a video demoing FaceSpan 5:

Here’s the documentation for FaceSpan for those that are curious:

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I think I was sadder than you!

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It looks like the IDE works similarly to Xojo’s (formerly REALbasic), in that you had a contextual editor, i.e. you’d have individual code snippets for every object. What Xojo did better was that it even presented the event names for you, so you didn’t have to remember that the button’s event is called “on action”. And Xojo provides contextual help for an object’s members, so that when you typed “application’s”, it would tell you all the items you could then refer to. That makes it quite easy to write code without having to remember or look up docs that much.

I remember hearing of FaceSpan in the 90s, but never understood what it does and how it works. Also, AppleScript was too hard to write for me back then. When I saw REALbasic in 97 or 98 for the first time, I immediately fell in love, as its language was easy to learn, and its graphical IDE made all the difference compared to the complicated GUI frameworks like TCL and CodeWarrior’s at the time. Even learning Cocoa programming with Xcode in mid-2000 was still too weird for me, as having to make the connections between a UI element and its code was too detached. REALbasic make that very easy. Even now that I’ve written some apps in AppKit and for iOS, I still prefer to use Xojo for GUI apps as it’s so much easier to design and then connect all the UI behaviors.

It looks like FaceSpan 5 went the same path. And now that I’m more confident writing AppleScript code, I might have even given it a try, if it was still around and Apple didn’t give you the impression AppleScript is not going anywhere any more.

I see that FaceSpan wasn’t cheap and the demo use time was apparently way too short: For version 4, I found a comment saying that you only had 2 days to try. That’s impossible to play with something like that unless you already know how it works and what you want to try. Xojo, OTOH, does this smarter, IMO: You can use it for free forever as long as you run your apps only from within the IDE (in the debugger) - only if you want to build a standalone app, you have to purchase a license. Not sure if that model would’ve worked with FaceSpan, but I think the biggest hurdle was for non-AppleScript users to get a feeling for it, and get more guidance (even AppleScript tutorials were hard to find or were quite lengthy and vague to me). And whenever I use Script Debugger 5, I think: This is how it should’ve worked all the time since introduction of AppleScript! But back then I was not willing to pay a large sum for SD when I had no trust in ever liking AppleScript.

Oh, and I realize both FaceSpan and REALbasic adopted the design from Microsoft’s Visual Basic. Had I known VB back then, I might have more easily understood FaceSpan back then.

But what did AppleScript Studio do, then? I had thought that would do what FaceSpan was doing in this video.

Also, I never even heard of FaceSpan 5. It never came out of beta, I gather?

Oh, here are some answers:

Also, Matt Neuburg - he was pretty involved with REALbasic in the early times as well, teaching and writing books. I learned quite a lot from him.

So much impressive work, and all for nothing. I know the feeling.

I really loved FaceSpan 5. It had its limitations, but it had features that I could really use well right there in the IDE.