Snow Leopard Update

Right, Snow Leopard has officially been released, so we can start talking about it..

Like many  in the Macintosh community, I thought that “sometime in September” would mean.. sometime in September, so I felt that it was safe to go on holiday until the second of September and that would leave me plenty of time for a nice orderly rollout of Mac OS X 10.6… silly old me, of course it meant the 28th of August!? I’m not really sure what Apple stands to gain from this kind of exercise, but it sure doesn’t make it easy for third party developers.

The good news is that I have tested all current products including A Better Finder RenameA Better Finder Attributes, “The Big Mean Folder Machine” and MacBreakZ with the latest beta release, which rumor has it is the gold master of what appears on the shelves today and it’s all running just fine.

A Better Finder Attributes displays some odd behaviors on certain file date changes which I’m fairly certain are  due to actual bugs in Snow Leopard. I’ll report them to Apple when I get back to the office next week. The workaround is simple: click on the “OK” button twice and everything is fine.

Snow Leopard also appears to no longer allow the creator part of the creator & type legacy codes to be set!? This isn’t a great loss since creator & type codes have been on their way out ever since 10.1 came out and the creator part is arguably of less relevance than the type part. I’ll investigate.

A Better Finder Rename runs just fine with no problems at all, so assuming that the beta I had was indeed the Gold Master, it should be smooth rollout.

The Big Mean Folder Machine” and MacBreakZ have displayed no problems at all.

Of course, once you put a new operating system into the hands of a couple of million actual users, inevitably quirks are discovered, so please let me know immediately if you find something. I can only fix problems that I know about..

One more thing..

How to get the Finder context menu on Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard finally does away with contextual menu item plug-ins, which is definitely a good thing. This ancient technology is replaced with “Services”.. you know that weird menu that appears in every application’s menu bar and you have no idea of what it does.

The gotcha here is that you need to activate the A Better Finder Rename and A Better Finder Attributes services to actually see them in the Finder context menu or the new streamlined Services menu.

  1. A Better Finder Rename and A Better Finder Attributes now definitely need to reside in your Applications because that is where Snow Leopard looks for “Service Providers”.. so if you have them installed somewhere else you need to drag them into the proper folder now.
  2. go to the Finder, open the “Finder” menu and select “Services Preferences…” from the “Services” menu
  3. in the Services Preferences tick the A Better Finder Rename 8 and A Better Finder Attributes 4 items

Voila.

If the items don’t appear in the Services Preferences, you might need to

  1. launch A Better Finder Rename 8 once
  2. and if that doesn’t work, log out and back into your account/ reboot

The reason for this complication is that the Finder only finds new services when it starts up. A Better Finder Rename 8 nicely asks the Finder to update its services list when it starts up , but it’s only a request..

I wish you all a good transition..

Frank

Snow Leopard Compatibility

One question that is certain to be on everybody’s mind at the moment is “Will it work on Snow Leopard?”.

I couldn’t possibly comment.. as I’m under NDA.. but surely it’s okay to just say: “Yes.”

There’ll be more info posted here on the 28th of August, the official Mac OS X 10.6 release date.

I’m on holiday right now and normal service will be resumed on the 2nd of September, so expect a few minor updates to iron out some minor issues that are sure to occur when tens of thousands of users simultaneously get their hands on a new operation system.

Manual Auto-Updating.. Sorry guys.

I’ve recently spent a lot of time doing behind the scenes stuff to get my development practices up to the state of the art.

I’ve migrated from svn to git version control, I’ve started automating builds and release management. I’m synching my home office with my office machine, etc.. all in the name of working more efficiently and thus getting more stuff done..

The problem comes when things start going wrong.. they kind of spiral out of control.. as they did yesterday.

My first TNG (the next generation) release yesterday just went very slightly wrong.. nothing catastrophic.. A Better Finder Rename 8.15 has a very slight bug that means that the contextual menu item in the Finder only opens the application but does not add the selected files to the preview.. you’ll have to drag and drop them there anyway.. oops.

It took me a while to track down the reason for this and it’s quite simply that the 64-bit APIs in Leopard are not 100% backwards compatible and this caused the problem. I solved it and thought, wow! now I can really use that fully automated build process and do another release in less than a minute.. haha (evil laughter)..

And I did and it went wonderfully smoothly and fully validated why this was a good idea in the first place. I tested everything and it just worked first time over. No problem.. until I tried to update A Better Finder Rename 8.15 to the fixed 8.16 release using the auto-update feature.

I was greeted with an “Application is incorrectly signed” message.. oops.. especially since I have never signed the application updates.. how can it be incorrectly signed when it’s not even signed?

As it turns out when migrating A Better Finder Rename to 64-bit I included a new 64 bit friendly version of “Sparkle”, Andy Matuschak’s free auto-update framework that powers half the auto-updating applications on the Mac (Thanks Andy!).

Fortunately (or in this case not so fortunately) Andy is very concerned about security.. so much so that he has removed the ability to update without using digital signatures from the latest release of Sparkle that I’ve included in A Better Finder Rename 8.15.. which means that 8.15 needs my public key to verify any update that it downloads is valid; otherwise it just refuses to install the update.. only 8.15 does not have my public key.. which kind of means it can’t auto-update.. which means you have to manually update it.

I’m really sorry about this.. you’ll have to click on the link below:

http://www.publicspace.net/download/ABFRX8.dmg

and drag the application icon from the left to the right onto the Applications folder and confirm the overwrite.

It’s little consolation, but I seem to be far from the only developer who has fallen into this trap. So there’s a bunch of applications out there using Sparkle that will/ have already required a manual update after all.. it’s a bit unfortunate because Andy’s done more than anybody else to bring auto-update features to Mac applications.. security is important, but then again so is backwards compatibility.

It’s not really what an auto-update feature is supposed to do.. but at least now you get securely signed updates delivered.. and I’ve learned a lot more about version control, automated builds, 64-bit APIs and code signing than I had bargained for this early in the morning 🙂

As a small aside.. I’ve spent yesterday working on the promised speed and scalability improvements on A Better Finder Rename and it’s coming along very nicely. The preview is now between 3 and 5 times quicker and the new version only uses 320MB of real memory to preview 180,000 files.. I think you’re going to like it.

Looking for Web Design Partner

Our website is due a re-fresh and there’s lots of design work to be done on the product side as well.

We are looking for a talented and motivated designer or small design outfit for a long term partnership.

Now most of the users of our software happen to be designers and I’d love to welcome somebody on board who already has a genuine interest in the Mac community and would love to see his/her work featured on a leading Indie Software site.

If you are interested, drop me a line at reiff@publicspace.net

New Support Forums added

I have long been sitting on the fence when it comes to providing a discussion forum for supporting customers.

I like the direct personal contact of the one-on-one email exchanges and I hate the organized chaos of most discussion forums.

When you open one of those things, you suddenly become a moderator for community rather than just the guy sitting at home behind his monitor helping people sort out problems his software and trying to figure out what needs improving.

Sounds good, but what about the spammers, the trolls, the flaming wars and all of that? Oh, yes and what if you call “forum” and no one comes? Oh well, we’ll see..

I’ll be running the forums on a “wait and see what happens” basis until further notice.

Please feel free to use and abuse it and don’t hesitate to talk amongst yourselves. I’ll be trying to check in as often as possible and keep it as spam free as at all possible.

Hope you enjoy it!

Frank

Quick! Looking for alpha testers for A Better Finder Rename v8!

After over a year of intense development, I’m quickly approaching the stage where version 8 of A Better Finder Rename is ready to be unleashed on the unsuspecting masses.

I’ve finally got something approaching a first public beta, but since I ripped out the entire back end and quite a bit of the front end (new UI!) in the process, there’s still a few weeks of alpha testing left..

If you’re interested in becoming an alpha tester, please drop me a line at reiff@publicspace.net.

What’s ahead in 2008

It’s been a long time since I last wrote anything on this blog.. it’s been a busy few months and not all of it related to publicspace.net

I became a dad (hurray!) for the first time a very long 18 months ago. Since then everything has been a bit topsy-turvy. I quit my day job to be able to concentrate on my software business, but working from home with a little baby turns out not be the most productive environment to “get things done”..

Anyway, I did get quite a lot done over the past year or so, especially considering the many distractions and 2008 is going to be full of new improved goodness.

First in line will be the long awaited A Better Finder Rename v8.

Version numbering is always a problem. Whether you charge for upgrades or not, a “full digit” release is supposed to be an event. If you do charge for upgrades then it’d better be! If you don’t charge for upgrades then you’ll probably rather stay with version 1.1.2 anyway 🙂

Version 8 thus needs to needs to be chock full of new features and improvements, e.g.

  • A new GUI?
  • File filtering?
  • Saveable presets?
  • A new industrial strength renaming engine that make short shrift of a million renames?
  • Automatic file name conflict resolution?
  • Pairing up jpeg thumbnails and RAW picture files?
  • Sparkle-support?

It’s all in the provisional feature set.

I bet you must have scratched your head when you saw version 7.9.6.1 recently? or 7.9.1 for that matter.

Well another problem with version numbering is that it is has an implicit message, e.g. version 7.9 means that 8.0 is just around the corner. Well it isn’t really.. my policy has always been to make lots of smaller updates. This gets lots of new features and improvements out to you guys quickly and makes sure that the program remains reliable over time (if something’s broken it must be the last thing you changed).

Now the temptation would be to take all these small improvements and instead of releasing them piecemeal, bundle them all up into major new release. I don’t want to name any particular company or product (“Apple”, “Mac OS X”). Looking at A Better Finder Rename’s version history, there’s 42 updates since version 7 came out. Now that would justify a whole new “full digit” upgrade, wouldn’t it?

Only of course, that’s not what I’ve chosen to do. So I basically start from version 7.9.9.9 (just joking) and everything that comes after that is “new in version 8”. Doing something heroic for each major release isn’t easy however. Last time over, I completely rewrote the program from scratch using Cocoa. Now that was a good effort!

This time over, I have lots of new features and improvements, all of which take a lot of effort to implement.. which means it takes a lot of time.. and I haven’t started properly yet. I really don’t want to do this, but I think I might have to go for Apple’s new trendy “7.9.10” numbering strategy.. I wonder whether versiontracker and macupdate can handle this?

There’s another major factor that affects the release date of version 8. When I initially started coding on version 8, I quickly realised that I can do a much better job if I leverage all the new Leopard features. Lots of stuff that I was going to hand-code are already in there and frankly they are better than what I could come up with on my own. Then I quickly realized that “it’s in there, but it doesn’t work (yet)”. In Mac OS X 10.5.1 things are already a lot better and I expect that by 10.5.2 most things will work without a hitch.

So here’s the bombsheel: A Better Finder Rename 8 is going to be Leopard-only. This pretty much means that it will only be released once a significant share of Mac users have made the migration. I wouldn’t want to release something that only a few people can actually use. Right now it looks like about 30% of Mac users have made the switch, but by the summer I suspect it will be most of the people who download software from the internet anyway. Besides, v7 is still perfectly functional.

You might have noticed the “file filtering” on the new feature list. Yes, it’s time to say bye, bye to A Better Finder Select.

This originally was the file filtering component of the A Better Finder Attributes. This is another product that has long lived in the shadow of the mighty A Better Finder Rename, but has recently found a new lease of life after I included the ability to adjust the EXIF timestamps of digital camera pictures. It turns out that lots of people have lots of photos with screwy shooting dates.. the more the merrier. I have also finally found a way of changing the timestamps on the majority of RAW formats including NEF and CR2. I might even include this before the 5.0 release.

Then of course there’s our latest bad boy application, “The Big Mean Folder Machine“. It’s initial releases went fairly well and there’s a lot more in the pipeline for 2008. On top of that, I learnt a lot about Core Data which comes in handy for that new renaming engine. It’s hard to tell with a 1.x release, but I think I might have another hit application on my hands. Now that would be nice!

Last but not least, MacBreakZ, after its 4.0 rejuvenation efforts is once again doing fairly well and I can thus justify spending time on it. Since its release in late 2006, it has been updated regularly on a bimonthly schedule and I have some new illustrations and artwork stacked up as well. The dreaded 4.9 release is going to come up far too quickly again.. oh no! another “full digit” release!

This brings me to another priority for this year: documentation. I keep getting the same emails about documentation: “Where is the PDF manual?”, “Where is the download-able documentation”, “Where is the e-book?”, “Where are the screencasts?”, “Where are the tutorials?”, “Where is the major feature movie?”. You get the idea..

The thing is that no two people can seem to agree on what kind of documentation they would like to have. “Just do everything” is a nice idea, but it just isn’t possible. I’ve spent a lot of time recently finding out how other people deal with the situation and my web logs show that few people actually ever use the documentation anyway. Plus of course, it’s a bore 🙁

The Windoze guys all seem to solve this problem by using “Help & Manual“, the ueber-technical documenation tool. Unfortunately the only reference to the Mac that you can find on their site is an explanation of why it doesn’t work in Safari (it’s not made by Microsoft).

There are various tools available for the Mac, but they really aren’t any good.. I would plug my newly purchased Apple Help tool here, but it doesn’t do images (!) and I’ve been waiting for 6 week for a reply to my support request.. aarrgh.. at long last I have found something that’s better on Windows!

Nonetheless, 2008 is going to be the year of improved documentation on publicspace.net. Period.

I’m hoping to package an Apple Help documentation set with MacBreakZ soon and the other products will probably need to wait for their upcoming big releases. I’m also considering PDF versions of the manuals, which should satisfy most people..

Anyway, that’s all from me from now.

Take care,

Frank

A Better Finder Rename and Leopard

A while back the 7.7.6 release of A Better Finder Rename introduced the “ultra-fast, ultra-safe” renaming mode.

Renaming files on Mac OS 9/X has always been a tricky affair because of file comments. In earlier releases of Mac OS 9/X these were called “Finder comments” and starting with Mac OS X 10.4 “Spotlight comments”.

The thing about them has always been: they keep disappearing for no reason.

The reason is actually all too clear: they are not properly linked into the file system programming interfaces. Every time to you save a file under a new name, move it off a Mac HFS+ file system, send it via email, move or copy it under Unix, etc the file comment stays behind because the Finder doesn’t know about the operation.

Generations of Macintosh users have stored crucial data in those comments, only to find that when they need them, they have disappeared.

Now renaming files outside of the Finder is one of those things that make file comments disappear, precisely because the Finder doesn’t know anything about the renaming having happened.

A Better Finder Rename to my knowledge is the only file renaming utility for the Mac that actually preserve file comments. It does so by telling the Finder about each rename. Unfortunately this is hardly the fastest way of doing things. Usually this does not matter too much because renaming 500 files in under 5 seconds isn’t really all that slow.

Unfortunately, this method does not work on FileVault encrypted home folders. The reason for this is that AppleScript does not work on FileVault files. This is a problem that I (and many others) reported to Apple when 10.3 came out, but that has not been solved yet. Perhaps because it can’t be solved?

This is why A Better Finder Rename in the “Advanced Options” sections lets you choose your own renaming mechanism. A full description of the different mechanisms available is in the manual.

Which brings us back to the “ulta-fast, ultra-safe” renaming mode. For a short while Apple managed to fix their renaming programming interface in the Cocoa APIs, so that file comments did not disappear, as long as you used a brand-new system level call to do so. If memory serves this was between Mac OS X 10.4.7 and 10.4.8. In Mac OS X 10.4.9 they promptly broke this again and file comments started disappearing again..

So in between the implementation and the release of version 7.7.6 the new feature stopped working and then had to be “removed” from version 7.7.7 as a bug fix. I did report the problem to Apple again..

Now it seems that in Leopard things are fine again. The renaming mode was never actually removed, but simply renamed. It is still available as “ultra-fast move mode (potential file comment loss)” and appears to work flawlessly and very fast under Leopard. So if you are under Leopard, by all means use it!

Getting ready for Leopard

After yesterday’s release of “The Big Mean Folder Machine” 1.0, my attention is now shifting towards the imminent release of Mac OS X Leopard.

The rumor mill has it that it will be released the last weekend of October and as always we’ll be ready.. there are only minor visual glitches to take care of.

I’m not sure what your thoughts on the new and much darker “space” theme are, but I think it will take some getting used to. I’m still not convinced that the new “darker” Apple site looks anything as good as the old “aqua” one.. it’s the first time that I’m wondering whether Apple is actually taking a step backwards rather forwards at least in visual style..

As soon as Leopard is officially released, work on A Better Finder Rename v8 will start in earnest.. no rest for the wicked.

Tutorial: Using A Better Finder Rename to import image files from your camera

Photographers, both professionals and ambitious amateurs make up a large fraction of A Better Finder Rename users.

All-in-one photo management and manipulation software like iPhoto assumes that file names are of little consequence and you’ll want to organize your images according to a project structure or meta data. This is fine as long as you never leave the photo management software, but of course you do so for all kinds of reasons: export the files to send to a third party, manipulate your files in a third party application, publish them to a non .Mac gallery, etc., etc.

In all these situations, you’d rather give your image files more meaningful names than IMG_66387.jpg. But how can you do this when all the files are managed by iPhoto software?

There are essentially two solutions: You can give your files meaningful names before importing them into your photo management software or after exporting them out of your photo management software.

Don’t ever try to rename files within the photo management software’s folder hierarchy! Applications, such as iPhoto, keep a lot of information outside of the actual image files and if you rename these files without the program knowing anything about it, you will lose valuable meta-data such as your albums, galleries, etc..

Using A Better Finder Rename to rename your image files after exporting them is trivial: simply drag & drop the files into A Better Finder Rename and let it do its magic.

Renaming the files before you import them is a little trickier.

Many Mac users do not know that you don’t need import your pictures directly into iPhoto. For the true professionals, Mac OS X offers a specialized application that does nothing but import images from your camera (and other image devices): Image Capture.

Image Capture lives in your “Applications” folder. Simply double click to launch it:

Image-CaptureScreenSnapz001.png

Now it’s time to connect your camera and switch it on. iPhoto will probably launch and ask you whether you want to import your pictures. Politely tell it that you don’t need it and quit it for now.

The Image Capture window will now show your camera:

Image-CaptureScreenSnapz002.png

You can do pretty much everything in Image Capture that you could do in iPhoto as far as importing your images is concerned. “Download All” will simply get all the pictures off your camera, while “Download Some…” will let you choose from the thumbnails which ones you want to import. Note that you can also choose which folder you want to import your pictures to. The “Options…” dialog also contains some useful features.

Once the photos are imported to the folder of your choice, you can use A Better Finder Rename to rename them and then import them using iPhoto’s import feature:

iPhoto_import.png

Voila.

But that’s still 3 steps and a little too complicated for you?

Careful examination of the Image Capture window reveals the solution: the “Automatic Task” popup menu. This specifies which program should be run just after file have finished importing.

For now let’s simply choose the “A Better Finder Rename” application as the automatic task by:

  • selecting the “Other…” item in the “Automatic Task” popup menu
  • navigating to the “A Better Finder Rename” application in the “Applications” folder

Pressing the “Download All…” button will now first download all the images from your camera and then start up A Better Finder Rename:

abfr_interactive.png

You can now use the full power of the tool to give your pictures more meaningful file names.

You can, however, still go one step further.

It is for instance often convenient to encode the shooting time and date in the file name; that way you always know at a glance when the original picture was taken. If you use this type of naming convention you can take advantage of A Better Finder Rename’s droplet feature.

Droplets are small, independent, applications that automate common tasks. You save a rename action and the correct parameters into such a droplet application and every time you drag some files on the droplet the files are automatically renamed according to these settings.

Instead of defining A Better Finder Rename as the “automatic task”, we can use a droplet that we have prepared earlier. In this case, I have encoded our naming convention into a droplet called “Image Capture Automation” and defined it as the automatic task in Image Capture:

droplet.png

Now as soon as I push the “Download All” button, the pictures are imported to the hard disk and once this is finished they are automatically renamed with our naming convention.