Welcome to our first Sneak Peek post. Sneak Peek will show features that we're working on for the next version of Coppice. These features will often still be in development so are subject to change before release. In this post we'll look at the new Paragraph Styling options we're adding to Coppice.
Coppice 2020.1 already has support for text styling, allowing you to change the font, size, and colour of some text. However, the options for styling paragraphs is limited to just the alignment. Given the importance of text pages in Coppice, we wanted to focus our first update on giving you more flexibility.
When you edit a text page in the new version of Coppice, you will see a new Paragraph inspector on the right. It allows you to change 4 attributes of a paragraph.
The first is the alignment, which has been moved from the Font inspector (previously called the Text inspector). This has gained support for aligning text as justified, and has fixed a few issues with the previous implementation
Next are controls for line height and paragraph spacing. These let you adjust how much space is between lines of text or below each paragraph
Finally is full support for lists, from a simple bullet or numbered list, to nested lists with support for custom list markers.
We had actually hoped to ship these changes today as version 2020.2, but unfortunately we hit a few snags during development. So rather than rush the feature out we've decided to delay the release until next year (where it will appear as 2021.1). Giving you a quality update is more important than an arbitrary deadline
However, we were able to fix some bugs in Coppice so we've packaged those up as 2020.1.2, which you can download now using Coppice's built in software update, or from the Coppice website.
Tech Talk is a series of posts that will reveal some of the inner workings of Coppice. We couldn't have built Coppice without the amazing community of developers and designers on Apple's platforms who share their knowledge with others. Tech Talk is our contribution to that pool of knowledge.
In an earlier blog post we talked about how we designed Coppice to respect your privacy. One part of this was regarding the usage statistics we collect, which are handled by an open-source framework called Sparkle.
Sparkle is a framework for performing software updates. If you've ever installed 3rd party software from outside of the Mac App Store you have likely used Sparkle. It's so widely used as a developer can pretty much drop it into their app and it will handle checking for updates and then downloading, verifying, and installing those updates.
Another thing Sparkle allows for is collecting anonymous information about a user's system. If the user has opted in, it will send the following information to a developer's server when checking for updates:
The app name & version
The CPU type & subtype (e.g. Intel, Apple Silicon, PowerPC)
The number of CPU Cores
The CPU frequency
Whether the CPU is 64 bit
The amount of RAM in the system
The model of Mac
The OS version
The system language
This is all potentially useful information for a developer. For example, if an app is particularly memory intensive then knowing how much RAM your users have in their systems can help a lot in knowing how and when to optimise. And knowing the languages people use can help you know what localisations to provide for your app.
As we talked about in our blog post on privacy, two of the most important principles are minimising the amount of data you collect and being transparent about it. We care a lot about privacy at M Cubed Software so we wanted to go above and beyond with Coppice. Unfortunately, when it came to Sparkle, this presented a few challenges.
The first challenge was transparency. Sparkle shows the information that will be collected when you first opt in to automatic updates, which is excellent for transparency. However, there wasn't a way to view this information again later.
Data minimisation was a different challenge. We don't care about certain aspects of the data Sparkle sends. The only information we really care about for Coppice are the OS version, the CPU type, the system language, the app version, and the model of Mac. Now, we could have said "that's all we'll store in our database and we'll ignore the rest" and call it a day. But that unnecessary data would still be sent, it would appear in server logs, and Sparkle would still show we collect it. So we wanted to correct that.
One of the benefits of open-source software is if something doesn't work how you want you can always change it. So we opted to make some additions to the Sparkle framework (specifically the 2.x branch). So what changes did we make?
The first is the -[SPUUpdaterDelegate allowedSystemProfileKeysForUpdater:] method. Developers can implement this delegate method and return just those keys they want to collect. That way the keys they don't care about will never be sent to their server.
The second is adding the SPUUpdater.systemProfileArray property. This allows developers to get the same data that is displayed in the initial prompt (filtered by the -allowedSystemProfileKeysForUpdater: method) so they can present it to the user themselves at a later date.
These changes have now been merged back into the Sparkle 2.x branch so are now available to all developers. These features are what allowed us to create our "Learn More" sheet, which explains in detail what we collect in Coppice and why.
(As an added bonus, we also fixed a bug when reporting CPU Type on Apple Silicon. Sparkle will now provide the correct value when running on Apple Silicon)
We hope you enjoyed this first Tech Talk. We hope to add more updates over time to show more of the tools, technologies, and processes we use to develop Coppice. If you want to stay up to date with all Coppice-related news then be sure to subscribe to the Coppice Blog, follow @coppiceapp on Twitter, and sign up to the Coppice Newsletter.