Image Capture Workflow Updated for A Better Finder Rename 9

Back in 2009, we published a couple of blog posts describing how to
use OS X’s Image Capture.app with A Better Finder Rename 8:

The second post linked to an Automator workflow to use with this process, but the release of A Better Finder Rename 9 “broke” this workflow; it works only with A Better Finder Rename 8.

We have updated this workflow for A Better Finder Rename 9, so you no longer have to settle for the default import location. Instead, you may choose your import destination at run-time. Grab a copy of the workflow here:

Vitamin-R 2.0 Upgrades & Mac App Store

It’s been almost 3 years since Vitamin-R was first released into the public eye.

Those who experienced version 0.01 beta 1 (!) can testify to how much the product changed between then and the 1.0 release and of course Vitamin-R has never since stood still for more than a few weeks. In total, we have up to this point released no fewer than 109 updates and I think you would agree that it’s now nearly time for the big 2.0 release.

If you own any of our software, you will have noticed that we release features as soon as they’re ready. This helps us create better product as we get feedback earlier and it also gets new features into your hands quicker.

The price we pay for this practice is that we don’t get to do the “big reveal” when the time comes to ask you for an upgrade fee.. but rest assured that we are making an extra special effort to make 2.0 more than just another point update!

Many people hate upgrade fees and we accommodate these people by providing “forever upgrades” both with your initial purchase and at any point after.

While upgrade fees may be a little painful, they are instrumental in ensuring that a product meets the requirements of experienced users. Without them there is little economic incentive to develop a product beyond what is necessary for its immediate appeal. It is no coincidence that most iPhone apps get used only a couple of times before they are forgotten forever.

Without upgrade fees there’s no economic incentive for developers to look past the moment of the sale, leading to software that is optimized for immediate appeal but fails to live up to its promise shortly thereafter. We want none of that. With Vitamin-R we want to introduce you to a more productive and enjoyable way of working and support you at every stage of your journey. In order to do so we want to furnish you with the tools to evolve your own style. This means making Vitamin-R highly customizable and leveraging your usage information to provide you with insights into your own work patterns; neither of which does much to increase the immediate appeal of the product to prospective new clients.

Please note that none of this means that we are intend on making Vitamin-R more complicated. On the contrary, streamlined operation is even more important for experienced than for novice users.

In the past, we have always given customers very generous “grace periods”, meaning that if you bought the product shortly before a major upgrade, we would grant you a free upgrade.

Unfortunately in the changing world of Mac software development this is no longer so easily done.

As you may know the Mac App Store, through which many of copies of Vitamin-R are bought, does not offer any support for paid upgrades. Instead Apple is charging full price for major new versions of its software such as “Pages”, “Numbers”, “Keynote”, “Final Cut Pro”, “Aperture”, etc.

This makes a lot of sense for Apple who operate on the “big reveal” model more than perhaps any other company in history and who of course make money on the software sale, their 30% App Store processing fee and on hardware sales.

This puts software developers like us into an awkward position.

We are masters of our own web stores and can continue to offer discounted upgrade pricing, forever upgrades and “grace periods” and we will.

On the Mac App Store, however, it’s Apple’s rules all the way. There are no discounted upgrades, no grace periods and we do not even know the identities of the people who buy our software.

All third party software developers are facing the same problems. Some decide to go Mac App Store only. Some decide to stay off the Mac App Store altogether. Most, like us are trying to mitigate the problem as much as we can.

We realize that not everybody will be happy with our solution, but what we have decided to do is the following.

To Get A Discounted Upgrade to Vitamin-R From Our Web Site / To Take Advantage of the “Grace Period”

1. Direct and Mac App Store customers alike will be able to buy a discounted upgrade from our web store via http://www.publicspace.net/Vitamin-R/upgrade.html

2. Direct customers who have purchased Vitamin-R after the 1st of January 2013 will be able to obtain a free upgrade code to version 2 from http://www.publicspace.net/unlockCodeDB/index.html

3. Mac App Store customers who have bought Vitamin-R after the 1st of January 2013 will be able to obtain a free upgrade by mailing their iTunes Store receipt to support@publicspace.net

This is much the same retrofitted solution that OmniGroup are going to apply to OmniFocus 2 upgrades.

Vitamin-R on the Mac App Store

As many of you know, Apple has decreed that all new Mac App Store submissions must comply with their new requirement for using the Mac OS X Lion “Sandbox”.

This is a security mechanism that restricts what applications can do. By default applications can do almost nothing other than bring up a window and respond to mouse clicks; there’s no access to your files, the internet, etc. This limits the damage that a crashing or virus-infected application can do. If the application, for instance, cannot access the internet or the file system, it can’t steal your data and it can’t transfer it anywhere.

It is then up to the developer to define which “entitlements” their application requires (e.g. I need access to user files, I need to be able to open a web browser on the product homepage, etc.) and up to Apple to grant or reject such entitlements. Obviously the fewer entitlements Apple grants the higher the security.

This is how iPhone and iPad apps have always worked: can’t do much, Apple decides what they can do.

It’s also the exact opposite of how Mac or PC or any other applications have traditionally worked. Mac applications by default have access to everything on your machine and the internet. The only restrictions are based on the file system permissions, so you can’t look at or change the files of another user unless you are a system administrator.

In principle, sandboxing does increase security and that is a good thing.

Unfortunately in practice, Apple have made a dog’s breakfast of both the technical implementation and the policies around the sandboxing.

While it is possible to define “entitlements” to cover almost every aspect of what an application could possibly want to do, Apple have not allowed third party developers access to these entitlements. For many things there are no “third party accessible” entitlements and for many other things, Apple is unlikely to grant those entitlements anyway. The mechanisms that are available do not allow for all existing features of existing applications to be preserved when that application is sandboxed.

I have spent considerable time adopting the Lion sandbox for the Mac App Store versions of my products, as I want to continue to update them in order to bring you the latest (and hopefully greatest) features.

Vitamin-R is the first of these sandboxed versions that I have submitted and now after two rejections it seems that it will finally be accepted.

In order to comply with the Sandboxing rules and Apple’s rejection of my request for several entitlements, the following features had to be removed:

  • Support for the Neurosky Mindwave headset was removed
  • The ability to quit applications in the “eliminate distractions” screen was removed.
  • The ability to automatically close Finder windows in the “eliminate distractions” screen was removed
  • Growl support was removed

Other changes include:

  • If you use the Dropbox integration on Mac OS X 10.7.0, 10.7.1 and 10.7.2, you will be prompted to locate your dropbox folder every time you launch the application. (Upgrading to the latest Mac OS X Lion version will fix this).
  • The download now includes the Noise Machine soundscapes files and is therefore much larger
  • Many other minor and hopefully invisible changes

I understand that many of you will be upset to lose these features and all I can say is that “it wasn’t my idea”.

When I mentioned that these features had to be removed because of the sandbox requirement in the “What’s new” section of the Vitamin-R Mac App Store page, my “meta-data” was promptly rejected and I was asked to remove any mention of Apple policies.

In other words, I’m not allowed to use Apple’s Mac App Store to inform Mac App Store customers of what is going on, because that would make Apple look bad. Apple prefers its customers to be mad at me for complying with their rules rather than to put up their hand and say “it was us and we’re not sorry because we think we are right”.

Well, I’m gutted about the whole thing.

If accepted in its current form, Vitamin-R will have survived its migration to the sandbox relatively intact. Many of the features that had to be cut were minor and won’t be missed too much by most users.

In any event, if you have bought Vitamin-R on the Mac App Store and you are missing a feature you need, please just contact us at support@publicspace.net and we’ll issue you with an unlock code for the “full” version.

Please don’t vent on the Mac App Store because this penalizes developers for something that they have absolutely no choice about. It also does not allow developers to respond to criticism as they cannot post replies and do not have any idea of who you are and how to contact you to resolve the problem.

Unfortunately, the new Mac App Store sandbox requirement means that henceforward there will be two versions of most Mac applications: a sandboxed one that misses features and a full one that is only available directly from the developer. You can basically choose between greater convenience and greater freedom. Usually it is convenience that wins out.

Vitamin-R & the Mac App Store Sandbox

It is finally happening. Apple have made good on their promise/ threat of requiring all applications on the Mac App Store to adopt the Lion Sandbox technology by June 1st.

You may already have heard many Mac developers moan about this, while others are trying to see the bright side or are at least putting on a brave face. It’s all true and it’s all a lie.

First off, sandboxing does improve security. The idea is that every application that is launched by the operating system works in its own “sandbox”. It can do anything it wants within its sandbox, but when it tries to interact with the rest of your system by accessing files, connecting to the internet, talk to other applications, etc.. it is restricted by its “entitlements”. All this so that even if your application is infected by a virus or is deliberately “naughty” (aka malware), it can only do so much damage.

The kinds of entitlements that exist are defined by Apple and while it is the developers who decide which entitlements they believe their application needs, it is Apple that grants or rejects each entitlement.

The basic equation is this: the less your application is allowed to do, the less damage it can do. So if Apple is serious about the security aspect of the sandbox, it will grant what it deems to be the minimal entitlements required by the application.

Even though it means more work for developers, the sandbox in itself is not a bad idea. Security is good, right?

The rub lies in the fact that unlike iPad and iPhone applications which effectively take over your whole device, most Mac applications live in an eco-system together with other applications. They share files, they interact with other applications and the system to deliver an integrated user experience.

The sandbox gets into the way of all this. Sandboxed applications can only access files on your disk after you have opened them in the “Open…” or “Save…” dialog. They can only interact with other application via AppleScript if they have a specific entitlement for that specific application and that means that Apple has to grant that specific entitlement during the review process. Worse yet, there are no entitlements for a whole range of things that a powerful app could potentially want to do.

For many applications, this will mean that existing application features that have existed for a long time will need to be removed in order to comply with Sandboxing rules.

I have finished sandboxing Vitamin-R and I have managed to keep most of its features alive and well.

Some features, however, did not make the cut. So I have removed the following features from the Mac App Store version of Vitamin-R:

  • the ability to quit other applications from the “Eliminate Distractions” screen
  • the integration with NeuroSky’s MindWave brain computer interface

(There are entitlements for either of these things).

Other features require “temporary entitlements” that Apple may or may not grant.

The features “at risk” are:

  • Things integration
  • Things beta integration (new if accepted)
  • OmniFocus integration
  • Growl integration
  • The Hit List Integration

There is no rational reason for doubting that Apple will grant these entitlements, but the MAS review process is notoriously capricious. The term “temporary” also does not fill one with great confidence, so these features may well disappear somewhere down the line even if accepted now.

I will be submitting Vitamin-R 1.81 to the Mac App Store as soon as version 1.80 is released next week and if everything goes smoothly and Apple isn’t backlogged, it should be available within a fortnight.

On a personal note: I do not want to remove a single feature from any of my applications. Apple is forcing my hand and I’m doing what I can to preserve functionality. The versions of my software distributed via my own website will remain outside of the sandbox and thus unaffected.

I’m also looking into ways of allowing users who have purchased via the Mac App Store to download and use the “full” version of Vitamin-R from my website for free. This is made more difficult by the fact that Apple does not share customer data with third party developers and I thus have no idea of who buys my software on the Mac App Store.

I hope to have a simple solution ready sometime in June, but this again depends on whether the Mac App Store review team accept the solution.

If you are upset about losing features, the best idea is to let Apple know about it. We developers have already done all we can. There’s a “Support” link in the “Quick Links” section of the Mac App Store front page and of course there are Apple Stores all over the world.

Vitamin-R receives 4.5 out of 5 mice review from MacWorld

It’s always nice for an indie developer to get a good review, but doubly so if it’s MacWorld:

http://www.macworld.com/reviews/product/573630/review/vitaminr_118.html?expand=true

I like the conclusion:

“Overall I found Vitamin-R to be one of the few get-thing-done applications that actually works for me—in my book, that’s a huge task accomplished.”

so much that I had to plaster it over all the product pages 🙂

twitter..

I’ll admit it, I’m not a great Twitter fan. Perhaps at 30 something, I’m already well past it.

I find myself agreeing at least partially with notorious software pundit, Joel Spolsky who announces his retirement from blogging with this little tidbit:

l appreciate that many people find Twitter to be valuable, I find it a truly awful way to exchange thoughts and ideas. It creates a mentally stunted world in which the most complicated thought you can think is one sentence long. It’s a cacophony of people shouting their thoughts into the abyss without listening to what anyone else is saying. Logging on gives you a page full of little hand grenades: impossible-to-understand, context-free sentences that take five minutes of research to unravel and which then turn out to be stupid, irrelevant, or pertaining to the television series Battlestar Galactica. I would write an essay describing why Twitter gives me a headache and makes me fear for the future of humanity, but it doesn’t deserve more than 140 characters of explanation, and I’ve already spent 820. [Joel on Software Blog]

Nonetheless, despite the fact that I have never advertised the existence of a twitter feed in my name (you’ve got to see what all the fuss is about after all), I do seem to have acquired a very small following anyway, so I feel honour bound to make an effort.

So henceforward, at least until I completely forget about it again, here’s a link to my official twitter feed.

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

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 to 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:

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.

(You may have to click the Devices triangle to see your camera):

You can do pretty much everything in Image Capture that you could do in iPhoto as far as importing your images is concerned. “Import All” will simply get all the pictures off your camera, while “Import” 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, but be sure to sure to stretch your Image Capture window so you can see the “Import To:” drop down list.:

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:

Voila.

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

The next step requires A Better Finder Rename version 8.31 or better, released October 1, 2009. Remember the “Import To:” drop down list? Not only does it allow you to select the folder Image Capture should import images to, but it also allow you to select a program that should be run just after files 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 “Import To:” drop down list
  • navigating to the “A Better Finder Rename” application in the “Applications” folder.

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

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:

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

One final note. You may have noticed that Image Capture in Snow Leopard does not allow you to specify what folder you would like your images downloaded to when you select a program to run afterwards. Instead, images are always downloaded to your Pictures folder before a program, such as A Better Finder Rename is run. If you’d like to be able to specify what folder your images are sent to before running A Better Finder Rename, take a look at this post. We’ve prepared an Automator action for Image Capture that does this.

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