Interocitor Beta Program

Surely many of you are wondering what is going on with PatroNet and why nothing new seems to be happening. Indeed, many members and potential members have been experiencing issues that may have discouraged them from using the service at all. Hopefully, we can now answer some of those questions in a way that will be encouraging.

First, a little bit of technical background. PatroNet is based on a concept called 'VPN', which stands for 'virtual private network'. The important term here is 'private', because while the system uses the internet for communication, it does not use the standard protocols that most applications (especially browsers) use to move information. Because the protocols are non-standard and encrypted, hackers and other mischief makers cannot easily intercept and interpret any sensitive communications between our server and the client on your computer. The result is a heightened level of security for both members and service providers. For example, we have never had any sensitive user information stolen from our servers (mostly because there is none to steal).

When the PatroNet system was first designed, it was thought we could use the browsers that already existed on most users computers. However, we soon discovered that because of the differences in browser implementation it was nearly impossible to guarantee that what was displayed would be identical for all users. Furthermore, there were security issues in using the same protocol so familiar to hackers. As a result, we realized we had to develop our own programs on both the client (your computer) and server (our computer) that would ensure a uniform experience and maximum security.

After a thorough exploration of the alternatives available, we settled on a development platform called Director. This environment allowed us to create client applications that looked and ran identically across the computer operating systems we intended to support. For the past decade, all programming for the system (including the component on your computer, the Interocitor) has been based on the Director IDE (integrated development environment).

Several years ago, the company that markets Director (Macromedia) was acquired by Adobe Systems. While no one at Adobe has stated definitively what the future of Director is, the general assumption is that the product has been abandoned. There have been no updates or bug fixes in over 2 years and no active support team to deal with developer issues.

At the same time, operating systems on the platforms we want to support (Windows, OSX) have continued to evolve, sometimes in radical ways. For instance, Macs now come in 2 flavors (PPC and Intel) and require software to be authored in a special 'universal binary' format to run effectively on both. Since the last Director version predates the Intel Mac, there is no way to create universal binaries of our programs.

Worse than this, programs like the Interocitor that used to work will slowly start to break down as updates to the operating systems change the requirements that programs need to function properly. Many users have contacted us when they discover that the Interocitor will freeze or crash after a recent system software update. Unfortunately, even if we knew the exact source of the problem, our outdated development environment would continue to create incompatible applications.

The only conclusion to be drawn is that, in lieu of some unforseen announcement of support by Adobe for Director, our system needs to be rebuilt in an environment that does have a life, that is being fully and actively supported by it's developers.

We've spent a few months exploring alternatives with the following criteria in mind:

* We want to recover as much of the look and feel that users have become used to
* We want to continue to display the widest range of media possible
* We want to support the latest hardware with 'universal binary' applications
* We want to continue to enable user authoring of channels
* We don't want to take forever to make the transition

If you have ever done any programming, you probably have some suggestions for alternative IDEs. Java comes to mind, and we have thoroughly evaluated it's possibilities. RealBasic (which is like a cross-platform Visual Basic) was also evaluated. While both IDEs are powerful and have much to recommend them, they are missing an 'abstraction layer' (a high-level application format that takes care of a lot of the details such as asset management and interface construction), and therefor fail the final requirement. The way they structure the development process is too different from the object-oriented, script-based Director implementation that it might take years to complete the transition.

The good news is that we have found a suitable substitute (called Runtime Revolution) that is similar enough to Director that we have already been able to port certain essential components. For instance, we have a working standalone Combadge that looks identical to the one in your Interocitor, except that it runs in it's own window so it is not confined to the Interocitor screen.

Over the coming weeks we'll make a few of these components available for testing. We will discontinue updates to the existing system, but it will continue to run in parallel while the new components are brought online. Eventually, the old Interocitor will be obsoleted and the old Metaluna (the server) will be brought down.

Subscriptions have been indefinitely extended throughout this period so you will not lose any access to TRTV. The clock has stopped until we can ensure the satisfaction of every subscriber.

We're aware that we've already asked for more patience than should reasonably be expected. Hopefully, this major overhaul will justify your forbearance a while longer.

The PatroNet Development Team