Towards a native windows GUI

Joe Armstrong (AL/EAB) joe.armstrong@REDACTED
Wed Aug 17 11:45:16 CEST 2005

   Some random thoughts on a windows GUI:

   About once every second year I get the same crazy thought - why not run
Erlang on windows - I hack for a bit and then give up and go back to *nix 

   So I started googeling and found some interesting stuff.

   I have often toyed with the idea of using the win32 api to do graphics and *not*
use a library to hide the gory details - but how easy is this. Having made ex11
which has a raw X11 interface I thought that it might be nice to look at the
Win32 api.

   This is what I have learnt so far. (Actually I may be wrong here - so I'd be grateful if a real windows expert could fill me in on the details, and correct my mistakes)

   I started by reading 

   This was very interesting - what I learnt was:

   A win32 applications is made up from windows. Inside a window you can place several
"controls" - a control is something like a button, a listbox, and editor, ...

   Controls *are* windows.

   You manipulate controls by sending them *messages*
   There are two primitives that send Messages

	PostMessage and SendMessage

   PostMessage is asynchronous - SendMessage is like a remote procedure call.

   It appears that a very large number of the routines in the winapi merely are wrappers
to SendMessage and PostMessage.

   Thus interfacing Erlang to the windapi "merely" involves interfacing SendMessage
and PostMessage and a few small routines like CreateWindowEx.

   << I think you could get a lot of mileage from just interfacing CreateWindowEx, SendMessage and PostMessage - but this might be incorrect << can a real windows expert comment on this>> >>

   Next problem - where are the arguments to PostMessage and SendMessage documented?

   Not in the APIs and you can't read the source - BUT - I did find the following

   Has a free program that actually makes windows useful - this stuff is *amazing*
I didn't realise you can automate any windows operation - this is very cool. There's
lots of documentaion on the arguments to the messages on this site.

   Then I found polyML

   In particular

    The polyml distribution has all the answers 

     Writing a native window app in polyML is "easy" (TM)


    Reproducing this in Erlang seems not unreasonable.

    Then I thought to myself "can I write postMessage, sendMessage etc. as BIFs"
this requires compiling Erlang on windows :-(

     I tried mingw - no success so I read the read me on "compiling for windows" -
double yuck.

    So I thought "how do I write a port program for windows" - and we're back to
"interfacing Erlang to C" - triple yuck.

    Now all the methods for interfacing Erlang to C suck greatly. Why can't you just
make a generic metacall from erlang to C - is this possible? - answer "possibly"

    Then I found

     Avcall is part of the ffcall package - now this looks hopeful and does compile
under mingw.

     So now the plan is this:

     Use avcall to write a generic interface to the win32api

     Implement PostMessage SendMessage and CreatWindowEx using the generic interface
write a simple windows app with the above, then recode the polyML stuff in Erlang.

      This is leading me into unexplored terratories - since I know *nothing*
about the problems of compiling C apps on windows - I'd like to end up with
rock solid native compiled winapi applications - 

      I really like some feedback here from a real windows expert - are my statements
about windows correct, is the API as simple as it appears to be?

      The really interesting observation is that the underlying windows GUI architecture is
a pure message passing system - (Like X) - which should mean that it will interface
well with the Erlang process model (like the X11 ex11 code did).

      Is this observation correct?


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