Update on XBList 4

In August, 2011, a major change to how Xbox.com works broke XBList. This sort of occurrence isn’t uncommon since XBList simply screenscrapes Xbox.com, leaving it vulnerable to even minor changes in how friend data is displayed on the site. The changes in August were more major, preventing me from just making a quick fix, though. I added fixing XBList to my pile of pending projects, and expected to get to it in the next few weeks. That didn’t happen.

What has happened?

I haven’t really had the will to work on XBList very much in the last few years. For starters, XBList isn’t a very interesting project - it’s a constant game of keeping up with Xbox.com, it’s a pretty boring app, and it sees the least usage of any of my software projects. I’ve also moved to using Mac OS X and Linux almost exclusively, meaning I wasn’t even running XBList myself. Not that it’d matter to me much, since I also haven’t been playing Xbox games. In the last few years I’ve shifted my interests away from sitting on a couch to going outside and enjoying the Pacific Northwest through parkour, scuba diving, biking, etc. My indoors time has been spent more on other projects and other creative endeavors than gaming. I’m no longer playing nightly matches of Halo with my East Coast friends who also have less time than they used to. Thus, my drive to devote time to XBList has dropped sharply.

I’ve also become increasingly embarrassed by XBList. It was my first desktop application, built in college as my first C#/.NET project as well. I barely knew how to program, let alone build anything wonderful (or maintainable). Combined with the ugly inflexibility of Windows Forms, XBList could never be something I was proud of as it was.

All this is to explain why, when XBList broke last August, I decided to throw away everything I had and start over. I chose to develop a new XBList 4 using Titanium Desktop, a cross-platform application framework that uses web technologies like HTML and JavaScript. In theory, this would allow me to build a new XBList that looked better, borrowing heavily from Microsoft’s new Metro styling and their iPhone Xbox Live app. It would allow me to ship versions of XBList for OS X and Linux, which is especially important since I predicted, correctly, that Microsoft would ship their own Xbox Live integration with Windows 8. As an aside, when I built XBList originally I thought it’d be a temporary solution until Microsoft made their own Windows Xbox Live app. It’s amazing that it’s taken them 11 years, and that they even launched on iOS before Windows. Anyway, working in Titanium would let me develop on OS X, play around with CoffeeScript and Knockout, and use my CSS (er, SASS/Compass) skills to do what I never could with Windows Forms.

However, after getting the basics working, the project stalled out. I didn’t have the interest to finish up all the little pieces that turned XBList into a finished project. Xbox.com continued to change, rendering one weekends' work null by the time I picked it up again the next week. Bugs in Titanium and frustration with CoffeeScript slowed down my progress. And most recently, Titanium Desktop was abandoned by Appcelerator to focus on their more-popular mobile framework. They didn’t even finish releasing the beta version I was having to use. I had suspected this would happen even when I started using it, but it was still disappointing to have the rug pulled out from under me.

What happens now?

I haven’t decided. Right now, I’m pretty much on the fence between trying to finish what I’ve got and put it out there, warts and all, and just discontinuing XBList entirely. Even if I do finish it, I’m not sure it’ll be up to my standards, I’ll have to support it for three platforms, and with Titanium Desktop’s future looking bad, I don’t know what the experience of installing and running XBList would be. I’m almost certain that Titanium Desktop won’t be kept working with developments like Apple’s Gatekeeper or Windows 8. Perhaps XBList 4 will be released someday, but I can’t say when that’ll be or even if it’ll happen. And just to head off the inevitable question, no, I will not be open-sourcing XBList or giving it over to another developer. If you’d like to make your own friends list viewer, it’s probably easier to just start from scratch.

I'm Benjamin Hollis, a software developer in Seattle. Check out my website.