Toxic Elephant

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I Want Cells-GTK for Ruby

Posted by matijs 22/01/2007 at 13h21

For some applications, a spreadsheet is the perfect development environment. The UI is a no-brainer, while the relations between the different values is clearly visible, and changes are automatically propagated from what could be called properties to derived values.

The problem is, of course, that you’re missing out on the features a programming language could offer. Macros are basically a dead end, unless you like to solve user issues like ‘It doesn’t work because I disabled all macros.’

What I want is something that gives me this easy linking within a model and between model and UI, but from withing Ruby. It is my prefered solution to the Gnome on Rails problem.

Cells for Common Lisp promises to take care of the automatic propagation and dependencies between cells:

Cells is a mature, stable extension to CLOS that allows you to create classes, the instances of which have slots whose values are determined by a formula. Think of the slots as cells in a spreadsheet (get it?), and you’ve got the right idea. You can use any arbitrary Common Lisp expression to specify the value of a cell. The Cells system takes care of tracking dependencies among cells, and propagating values.

That seems to take care of the automatic updating of derived values. The second part is the no-brain-UI. What’s needed for that is a dead-simple way to link settable values to input widgets (text boxes, spin buttons, etc.), and to link derived cell values to labels. By dead-simple I mean that it should be done in at most one line per widget/value pair.

It seems for that part, the solution would be to use cells-gtk:

Cells transparently link GUI elements with each other and the application model to greatly simplify development of rich interfaces. Cells also automate how Lisp GUI instances drive their GTK+ counterparts.

Sounds great!

The problem (for me at least) is that this is all in Lisp, and I don’t know Lisp yet. So, I want this, but in Ruby (since that’s the language I like to use most right now). Some basic ingredients are already there: We can use blocks as formulas for the derived values, and there’s the Observable module. Also, Ruby has bindings for Gtk+.

I have some more wishes, but they’re mostly about Gtk+, so I leave those till later.

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