A Better Finder Rename 7.2.5 Performance Beta

There can be little doubt that version 7 of A Better Finder Rename was a giant step ahead for the product in almost every respect.

The major area where that was perhaps not the case was in performance terms. As long as you are renaming only a couple of hundred files, performance is more than adequate, but for people dealing with many thousands of files the performance of version 7 was a step backwards. This came as a late and unpleasant surprise, because version 7's code base is just so much cleaner and more streamlined than that of version 6, which was beginning to show its age.

This is why I have taken some time out from developing new features to get to the bottom of this performance problem. This investigation has detected a couple of facts:

  • sorting is a real killer, especially when mp3 or exif tags are involved
  • feedback is just as important as raw speed
  • there is no way around the fact that doing the same thing one thousand times takes one thousand times longer than only doing it once

In this first iteration of getting a faster, nimbler renamer, I have concentrated on these points: 

  1. the program now only does the bare minimum processing while you're honing your settings. This makes for a fast and responsive preview even with tens of thousands of files. The preview only displays the first 250 items (that's around 10-15 screenfulls), enough to give you a real good impression of what the end result is going to be, not enough to bring the preview to a grinding halt. The heavy duty processing starts only once you hit the "OK" button.
  2. everything that can possibly be cached is cached. EXIF dates and the like are only read once and the system remembers them without re-reading them every time. This can result in a factor 10-100 performance improvement on large sorts.
  3. provide feedback on what's happening. Previous versions just went off to do their thing, leaving you to wonder what, if anything was going on. The new version provides a progress dialog that shows you how much work is actually going on behind the scenes and how much longer is going to be required to do it.
  4. I have found and eliminated a couple of bottlenecks in the program that result in improved overall performance

As a result of those changes, version 7.2.5b1 feels and behaves completely differently when confronted with huge renames. Yes, doing 2000 files will still take twice as long as renaming 1000, but the preview remains responsive and it's fun to see your Mac race through ten thousand name computations, sorting, validation, etc.

The downside of these improvements is that I've had to make fairly hefty changes to the structure of the program, including multi-threading its execution. Multi-threading, in particular, makes the complexity of a program explode because it causes all kinds of potential error conditions: deadlocks, racing conditions, etc.

This is why I've decided to release a beta version first to validate that my changes haven't broken anything that used to work just fine.

You can download the beta from the product download page . I trust you will find it a big improvement with large file sets.

Please do report any problems you may find; it's tempting to think "somebody else will or has already alerted the developer", but all too often nobody does. I can only fix bugs I know about and the best way of getting rid of them is to report them directly to me at: reiff@publicspace.net

MacBreakZ 4: Looking for alpha testers

It has finally happened: We have time to develop version 4 of MacBreakZ , our Personal Ergonomic Assistant.

MacBreakZ is what is commonly known as an "Ergonomic Rest Break Timer".

It is common knowledge that spending long, uninterrupted periods of time in front of your computer is the cause of many of our modern day occupational health disorders:

  • tension in neck, shoulders, upper and lower back
  • headaches
  • tendinitis of the fingers, hands, wrists and elbows
  • carpal tunnel syndrome
  • writers' cramp
  • and many other cumulative trauma diseases, occupational overuse syndromes and repetitive strain injuries

MacBreakZ combats these problems in a number of ways:

  1. reminds you to take breaks based on your health profile and your actual computer usage
  2. provides ergonomic advice and tips
  3. demonstrates and times stretching exercises that you can do in front of your computer

This type of software requires a high degree of adaptability and a particular sensitivity to the social factor influencing your work.

If you work in a home office and you are already suffering from one or more of the problems mentioned above, you will be looking for something that can help you recover and you won't care about much else. If you are, however, only looking to prevent injury and perhaps want to go home without a headache every day, you may be much more sensitive to what your co-workers think. You will not want to look silly doing strange stretches in an open plan office and you might be afraid that using a rest break timer might make you look less efficient or "injured".

Many of these things depend on your work setting and environment, the presence or absence of injury and your own mind set.

This is why, it is important for me as a product designer to be in touch with you, the end users of the product.

The development of A Better Finder Rename 7 was the first time, I developed a new product version in tight cooperation with a small number of alpha testers. This experience resulted in an end product that was far superior to what I could have achieved without the active help of this dedicated group of people.

This is why I want to attempt to replicate this approach with MacBreakZ 4.

I am looking for people who have time and effort to expend, who are interested in technology and have the desire to contribute to this project. Being accustomed to using MacBreakZ , ergonomix or any other break timer program will be an advantage.

If you feel like you might want to take part in shaping this new product and following it through its various development stages, please drop me a line at reiff@publicspace.net

Version 2: Even fewer features..

A Better Finder Launcher 2
It is not every day that a software developer removes features to make a better product, surely “more = better”. Yet, that is exactly what I have done with A Better Finder Launcher 2. Sometimes, I think, “less = better”.

Unlike all my other Mac software, my little launcher utility was written entirely for myself and it was never intended as a commercial product. It was born out of a desire to have a simple and clean little utility that would launch my frequently used programs and documents with just a few keystrokes.

Sure there were lots of great launchers out there already. Things such as LaunchBar (the blue print for Apple’s “revolutionary” SpotLight) and Quicksilver, but both those applications did such a lot more than what I wanted.

I didn’t want a program that manages my bookmarks, does a full-index search of my PDF files, is also a pasteboard and a coffee maker. Don’t get me wrong. They are great apps, they may be just what you are looking for, but they aren’t for me..

After tinkering around with my fun little utility for a while, I decided to share my little launcher with the growing community of A Better Finder users and it was released on an (unsuspecting) public as “A Better Finder Launcher”. It became a de-facto free addition to the A Better Finder Series package deal and has gone through ten point releases in its short life.

Version 2 brings the utility in line with A Better Finder Rename 7 and A Better Finder Attributes 4 in making the program both more of a stand-alone application and an easy drag & drop installation.

The adaptive ranking algorithm, however, is hands down my favorite new feature. It learns what your favorite applications and documents are and ranks them higher than less-frequently used items. This algorithm uses a combination of heuristics (e.g. “applications are more important than documents”), recency (e.g. “this program was last launched 5 minutes ago and is thus a better choice than that other program that was launched 3 weeks ago) and frequency (e.g. “Safari was launcher 3000 times, Firefox was only launcher 3 times. I think I’ll put my money on Safari”) to make guesses about which item is the best match. The greatest thing about it is that it works uncannily well!

I have enjoyed using version 2 for the past 2 months. I hope you’ll like it as much as me 🙂

Backwards Compatibility v. Support for the Latest Features

One of the dilemmas facing all software developers at one stage or another, is whether they should support the latest operating system capabilities or whether they should forgo those enhancements for the sake of backwards compatibility.

So far it has always been my policy to support the latest Mac OS X versions right from their release date, but always maintain backwards compatibility with the previous operating system version. At this point in time, this translates to all my products supporting both Mac OS X 10.3 and 10.4.

Apple’s release in quick succession of 4 major OS revisions has brought us a host of new features, but also a real upgrading headache. The vast majority of current publicspace.net customers seem to quickly upgrade to the latest versions of the OS and pretty much everybody seems to be on Mac OS X 10.4.5 right now.

Or at least, that’s what it looks like from here. In reality, it is difficult to gauge exactly what percentage of users have migrated to the latest version and how many people are lagging one, two or even three major system upgrades behind.

Precise information about how many Mac OS X users are still using Mac OS X 10.3 is hard to come by. OmniGroup are publishing the OS version data collected on a strict opt-in basis by their Software Update online service and this suggests that 94.5% of all Mac users are running some version or other of Mac OS X 10.4. Of these almost 40% have the latest point update and almost 70% one of the two latest point updates.

This data is, however, perhaps not really representative, as it only includes OmniGroup customers that have decided to opt into this scheme and are happy to download the latest updates via the internet. Are these people particularly tech-savvy? Are they the ones that have the fastest internet connections?

It seems certain that this type of automatic update service will be used substantially more by those who always want the latest version of everything and that the data will be significantly biased against those who update infrequently.

Right now, there are several features of Mac OS X 10.4 that would allow me to build “a better” version of both A Better Finder Rename and A Better Finder Attributes. Moreover, testing that each release still works correctly on Mac OS X 10.3 is time-consuming and that time would perhaps be better spent on adding new features and enhancing existing ones.

This is why, I am very tempted to discontinue support for Mac OS X 10.3 for the next versions of A Better Finder Rename and A Better Finder Attributes. Surely users who have not yet upgraded to 10.4 can still download and use the 7.2.1 or 4.0.2 versions of the tools? But is that really good enough?

Why don’t you help me decide by voting in the attached poll, adding a comment to this post or contacting me privately via email?