Monday, 30 August 2010

Creating plugins in IronPython for Blaze, an application launcher.

Everyone loves the start menu from Windows Vista/7, but compared to Launchy, Quicksilver or any other application launchers it’s a bit anemic. No wonder, since it’s just a search over your start menu and indexed locations.

But even any one of those is a bit lacking in support for runtime extensibility. You can create plugins, but it involves C (or Objective-C in the case of Quicksilver) and restarting the app. Not very friendly for those cases where you just want to pick up the currently selected object and throw it over an scp connection autocompleted from your favorites.

Enter Blaze + IronPythonPlugins. Blaze is a .Net application launcher for Windows that includes a learning facility that tries to complete repetitive tasks for you. IronPythonPlugins is a plugin itself for Blaze that hosts simple plugins written in IronPython.

If you want to try it just download the latest version from here. It includes a version all ready to use. Start the app, call it with Ctrl+Alt+Space and try a couple of plugins:

  • Open windows explorer, select a text file, call blaze and type “edit with notepad2”. If you have notepad2 in your path, it will be launched with the selected file opened.
  • If you use putty (the ssh terminal), “putty <name of session>” will launch putty with that session. Here session is autocompleted, so if you have a session called “my.home.box”, typing “putty home<tab>” will autocomplete to “putty my.home.box”.
  • Type “random-text <number>” and your clipboard will have up to <number> random letters. Useful to generate test data.

There are a couple more plugins in the “Plugins\IronPythonPlugins” directory, so if you’re interested in how it’s done, open them in your editor of choice. In the next few days I’ll do a couple of posts on how you can create your own plugins without having to guess from the already existing ones.

If you want to change anything edit the file, save it and Blaze will automatically pick it up, together with any other .ipy file in that directory that has changed. If you open Blaze’s configuration page for the plugin, you can add other directories to search for .ipy files. Useful to keep your personal plugins separated from the “official” ones.

Sadly errors are still only sent to a System.Diagnostics.Debug, so if you edit a file and can no longer use it, open DbgView, edit the file again to force blaze to reload it and be on the lookout for output starting with “Error with file”. There will be a stacktrace telling you what you did wrong.

So, try it, have fun and comment on it. I’d love to hear what other people think of it.

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