Thursday 17 August 2017

What's Coming Next for Omber

Now that Omber has been released for the Mac, I have the time to add more features to Omber again. Currently, I'm working on lots of small bug fixes workflow improvements to the program. I've been working on lots of big, time-consuming features over the past year. While doing those big changes, I've often noticed little things that could be improved. I've always filed them away as things to work on later when I have more time. I recently hired some designers to do some testing on Omber, and they found these minor issues to be a bit problematic too. Like, I'm aware of them. I do use Omber myself. I do encounter these annoyances myself. But I have to trade-off spending time polishing Omber to have a smoother workflow or working on new features that can unlock new domains where Omber can be used. Given that there are vector design apps that have such horrible workflow that they are barely usable yet they are still very popular and widely downloaded, I've usually opted to work on new features. But I think Omber is now sufficiently powerful and useful that I can take a small pause to go in and try to fix a bunch of these minor issues.

After that, I'm still undecided as to what to work on next. There are three major features that I think would be worth exploring:

1. Support for Text and Shapes with Holes

Although Omber is a very powerful vector design tool, it is intended primarily for making drawings with soft shading and advanced gradients. To be useful for general vector design tasks though, Omber would need to have support for text, dashed lines, and shapes with holes in them. Support for these features are needed for making diagrams. Should I spend time on making Omber better at being a jack of all trades, or should I focus more on what makes Omber different from other general purpose drawing programs?

2. New Rendering Engine

Although Omber's gradients are incredibly powerful, when you put several gradients side-by-side, the resulting gradient is sometimes not as smooth as you expect it to be. It's possible for an artist to manually fix this up by adding in some more intermediate shapes to control how the gradient spreads, but it's difficult to explain and a little tricky to do. I'm thinking of creating a new rendering engine called the Wrinkle-Free engine that should fix this problem. It will require a rewrite of how major portions of the internals of how Omber works. It will also require some risky cutting edge research. Currently, Omber rides right on the limit of what scientists know about how to make gradients on computers. The extra-smooth gradients produced by the Wrinkle-Free engine will require the invention of new approaches.

3. Vector Asset Importer

Although Omber can be used to create infinitely scalable vector art, there aren't any file formats for actually storing and displaying the types of vector art that Omber is capable of creating. So if you want to display your Omber drawings on a web page, you either have to convert it to a bitmap like PNG, or you must use an inferior vector file format like SVG or PDF that can't recreate Omber's gradients. I could write some code that people could put on their web pages to allow people to use Omber drawings in them. I could also write similar code for mobile apps, so that instead of needing to include heavy hi-res bitmaps in the app, they could just include some lighter-weight Omber vector files, and then use the Omber code to decode them when the app is run.

Friday 11 August 2017

Where's the Mac Version of Omber?

Short answer:
I will release it to the Mac App Store on Monday, August 14.

Long answer:
I sent the Mac version of Omber off for review on Sunday, and it was accepted on Monday. That was a lot faster than I expected. I thought the review process would take a few days and that I might need a few passes to get it through. In fact, the review process was so fast that it threw off my scheduling. I was expecting to use the time it was in review to work on a backlog of related tasks and to prepare for the release. Instead, I've had to rush the release preparations.

I've delayed the release for a week so that I can update the website and do some PR. This new Mac version is a major new undertaking for Omber, and I want people to know about it. It's weird. Even though I'm the creator of Omber, I still find myself instinctively reaching for CorelDraw when I want to edit some SVG icons. When I catch myself and use Omber instead, even I'm surprised by how well it works. I keep thinking to myself, "this program is so awesome, and it's free. Why aren't more people using it?" So I'm going to make a real effort to spread the word about Omber this time.

I'm really eager to let people get their hands on the Mac version of Omber. I know that Mac people are very picky about their user interfaces, so I put a lot of effort into integrating Omber into the Mac ecosystem. It makes use of Cocoa's document framework, so you get all the proper file menus and edit menus and saving and whatnot. I made an effort to "Macify" the drawing UI by using a Mac-like color scheme and moving all the close buttons to the upper-left of windows. I admit that the UI still exhibits a "house-style" rather than true "Apple-style." I'm a big believer of the old-school UI approach of trying to make interfaces readable and self-describing. As a result, the UI will seem more functional rather than artful. I consider that part of the indie, artisanal charm of using software developed by a single person. The only UI issue that I feel I wasn't able to come through on was support for the advanced features of Apple's peripheral devices. The prices of the Magic Mouse, Trackpad, and TouchBar really add up after a while, and I couldn't really justify buying them. So none of the special gestures and options of those devices are supported. Still, I think Mac users will be really satisfied with the experience of using Omber on macOS.