PocketBible 1.4.x for macOS Released

This is the original 1.4.0 announcement updated to mention features in 1.4.1 (released on May 26) and 1.4.2 (June 6). Updates are highlighted. If you downloaded 1.4.0 immediately after release, you’ll want to select Check for Updates from the PocketBible menu and follow the instructions to update.

As mentioned a while back, we had to make some changes to our Bible format that required PocketBible on all platforms to be updated. The macOS version is the first of these, mainly since it shares a lot of code with the macOS version of BookBuilder, which also had to be updated, and was the easiest version of PocketBible to test the BookBuilder changes with.

While we were editing the code, we took a look at the to-do list and made a number of other changes. Here’s what’s new.

Bug Fixes

When macOS is updated, there are inevitable little changes to various behaviors that affect apps in unexpected ways. We resolved some unintended horizontal scrolling in Study Panel, Open Book, and Cloud Library lists and adjusted the height of some message windows to accommodate text that was being drawn a little differently and getting cut off. We also made some changes to a toolbar button that wasn’t being drawn correctly. These still may be problematic in macOS 10, but they work a lot better in macOS 13.

When right-clicking on a Bible link, the Autostudy option on the context menu would sometimes do a word autostudy rather than a verse autostudy. We were able to fix that.

The third-party automatic update component we were using to install updates has always been flaky. We took this opportunity to remove it and replace it something simpler. Now you’ll be informed when an update is available and given the opportunity to download it, but you’ll have to exit PocketBible and complete the installation yourself. This amounts to opening the update and dragging an icon about 3 inches into your Applications folder. Much more reliable. It was only working about half the time before.

Enhancements

A few features were enhanced. The toolbar will look a little different due to changes in the way macOS handles toolbars. Because of those changes, 1.4.2 added an option (Settings > General) to control whether you’d like to adopt the new “unified” toolbar or stick with the “expanded” view from earlier versions. If you’re still using macOS X (version 10), you won’t see this option since the unified view isn’t available in that version of macOS.

Link preview pop-ups now use the same text size as your books, which will make them easier for some users to read. In version 1.4.2 we added a small gap to the right of the link, between the link and the pop-up, to make it easier to move off the link and dismiss the pop-up.

We also built this version as a “Universal App” to support both Intel- and Apple Silicon-based Macs. Newer Macs may notice a performance improvement.

New Features

We didn’t tackle anything huge because we have a lot of work to do on all the various versions of PocketBible, but we managed to squeeze in some new features.

Obviously, we implemented book reader engine 1.078 to support newer Bibles. You won’t see any benefit from that for a while, but it’s in there.

We expanded the types of links that will show a preview when hovering in both books and user notes. Previously, you would only see a link preview when hovering over a linked Bible reference. Now more types of links, including footnote links, will show pop-up previews. In 1.4.2 we added a half-second delay before popping up these previews so that you wouldn’t be inundated by pop-ups as you move your mouse across the screen.

Added menu items and toolbar buttons to toggle the “Sync Bibles/Commentaries” feature and to do a one-time sync to the current verse in the active Bible. This allows you to assign a short-cut key to that function and turn off the automatic feature so that you have the flexibility to scroll your Bibles independently but to sync them all up when you want to. We also added that one-time sync feature to the right-click context menu when you click on a verse.

We added the ability to hide the “Note” link that appears at the start of a verse that has a note. You can also turn off your highlights, or only highlight the verse number. This is similar to how the iOS version currently works.

Many users are confused by the way PocketBible applies a light highlight to a verse or passage that is the target of a hyperlink. You now have the option of turning that feature off. (You might find it unnecessary now that the hover feature works on more types of links.)

Links to document fragments were added to notes. If you know what you’re doing, you can add a tag of the form <a href="#name">see name</a> to link to a tag with its id value set to “name”. This is only implemented in the Mac version, so the links won’t do anything in the other versions of PocketBible until/unless it gets implemented there, too.

Controlling Location Sync

This is perhaps the biggest change, and was rolled out in 1.4.2. Users who have an active Advanced Feature Set subscription will have the option to control which of their Bibles and commentaries respond to changes in the active Bible. This will let you keep your commentary on the primary passage while exploring other passages with other Bibles.

Devotionals participate in a slightly different form of location sync. It’s always been the case that when you tell any one devotional to go to today’s reading that you can have all your other devotionals do the same. 1.4.2 added “first unread reading” to “today’s reading” with respect to this behavior. If you ask any one devotional to go to its first unread reading, you can ask other devotionals to follow. This is handy if you’re reading from more than one devotional book or reading plan each day. And if you have an active AFS subscription, you can control this on a pane or book level.

Dictionary sync didn’t change, but 1.4.2 added the option to exclude particular panes or dictionaries from normal dictionary sync. Again, you need an active AFS subscription to take advantage of this feature.

Advanced Feature Set Enhancement

The changes to location sync, described above, apply if you own the AFS subscription. This is the first new feature we’ve added to the AFS since it switched to a subscription, so if you own the “permanent subscription to the legacy AFS” you will not be able to take advantage of this feature. You need a subscription to do that.

How to Upgrade

If you’re running a version before 1.4.0, select Check for Updates in the PocketBible menu and choose the option to install and relaunch. If you have trouble with that, just go here and select the Download button. Download the file, find it in your Downloads folder, open it, and drag PocketBible into your Applications folder.

If you’ve already downloaded 1.4.0 or 1.4.1, select Check for Updates in the PocketBible menu and follow the instructions.

        

PocketBible for Windows Progress Update #14

Seriously, this should have been our first clue, right?

The last 3 months have been interesting. One of our ticking time-bombs exploded and we’re working hard to rebuild. Let me explain…

As we explained in the video that launched this project, when we originally designed PocketBible we put a lot of intelligence about specific Bibles into the program itself. This was done so that PocketBible could handle differences in versification between Bibles. A simple example is 3 John 14-15. These are two separate verses in some Bibles and are combined into verse 14 in other Bibles. As a result, if you highlight 3 John 15 in a Bible that has that verse but are reading a Bible that does not have that verse, we apply the 3 John 15 highlight to 3 John 14 (if it isn’t already highlighted), not because it’s the last verse of the chapter and there isn’t a verse 15, but because, in a 14-verse version of 3 John, verse 14 contains the contents of verse 15 and therefore is verse 15 (and verse 14).

3 John 13-14 (King James Version)3 John 13-15 (New American Standard Bible)
13I had many things to write, but I will not with ink and pen write unto thee:
14But I trust I shall shortly see thee, and we shall speak face to face. Peace be to thee. Our friends salute thee. Greet the friends by name.
13I had many things to write to you, but I do not want to write to you with pen and ink; 14but I hope to see you shortly, and we will speak face to face.
15Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends by name.
Some Bibles split 3 John 14 into two verses (or, if you prefer, some Bibles combine verses 14 and 15 into one verse and call it 14).

Solving issues like this was originally done in the code. So there’d be a whole sequence of steps like, “If this Bible references is in 3 John and the verse number is 15 but the Bible you want to map it to has a version of 3 John that only has 14 verses, then set the verse number to 14.” This was fine when the number of these cases was relatively small. But as we added more and more Bibles, there turned out to be hundreds of these.

The solution was to describe all the mappings in a table containing the “from” book, chapter, and verse, and the “to” book, chapter, and verse for each weird situation. The data tables that describe this mapping are huge and complicated. There are between 1500 and 2000 of these “special cases” in PocketBible. And this is just one of the required data tables. There is another table that tell us which version of each book of the Bible is in each of the Bibles (so we can tell if a particular Bible has the version of 3 John with 14 or 15 verses, for example). Another table maps each of these different versions of the books of the Bible to their names. (So that we can tell that both versions of 3 John should be called “3 John”.) A variety of other data tables help us deal with these issues.

The problem with putting this information into PocketBible (whether directly in the code in a series of “if this then do this” statements or in tables that can be iterated and processed by code) is that anytime we release a new Bible with a new versification scheme for one or more of its books, we have to update every version of PocketBible. Currently that list would include PocketBible for iOS, Android, macOS, Windows Store, Windows Desktop, and the new Windows Version — six different apps would have to be modified. Three of those six share the code that contains these tables. That is, they all use the same code in the same language to process Bible references, and it is written in C++. So once we add a new Bible to the C++ code, the iOS, macOS, and Windows Desktop products are done. But the Android app is in Java, the Windows Store app is in C#, and the new Windows app is in JavaScript. So that means the same changes have to be made in 4 different languages, then 6 different apps have to be rebuilt.

Building the app for every platform is tedious, error-prone, and time-consuming. On top of that, over time it gets to where it can’t be done. We were still supporting PocketBible for Palm OS long after it got to where it was impractical to build a new version of the app. Ditto PocketBible for Windows CE and Pocket PC. And then there was PocketBible for webOS and Blackberry that were created by outside developers. In other words, this was just a bad design.

So in 2015 we decided to redesign our LBK files so that these tasks were not performed in the code, but were all described in tables that could be packaged with each Bible. That way, the app could look at each Bible as it was installed and if it contained a more recent version of these tables than what the app already knew about, it would update its tables with those contained in the LBK file. This would allow a new Bible completely unknown to PocketBible to be released and it would function as if PocketBible knew about it all along.

When we contacted the developer of the Windows Store app about these changes, he wasn’t excited about making them because of the time involved. And when we started digging into the old (old at that time; older still now) Windows Desktop code, we realized it would be all but impossible to update that app to include compatibility with these new Bibles. (Remember also that at this time it was unclear whether the Windows Desktop app was even going to continue to be used because supposedly the world was transitioning to the awful Modern User Interface paradigm of Windows 8. So it was unclear whether or not it would be worth the time to update it.)

We decided to go ahead with the new LBK Bible format anyway. It would just mean that new Bibles wouldn’t work on the Windows platform — at least not until the Windows Store version was updated. What we didn’t know at the time was that it never would be.

As you know, this became one of the primary motivations to re-write PocketBible for Windows. The new version already implements compatibility with the new LBK format for Bibles.

Psalm 68:11-14 NASBPsalm 68:12a-15 NAB
11The Lord gives the command;
The women who proclaim good news are a great army:
12“Kings of armies flee, they flee,
And she who remains at home will divide the spoils!”
13When you lie down among the sheepfolds,
You are like the wings of a dove covered with silver,
And its pinions with glistening gold.
14When the Almighty scattered the kings there,
It was snowing in Zalmon.
12aThe Lord announced the news of victory:
13a“The kings and their armies are in desperate flight.
12bAll you people so numerous,
14awill you stay by the sheepfolds?
13bEvery household will share the booty,
14bperhaps a dove sheathed with silver,
14cits wings covered with yellow gold.”
15When the Almighty routed the kings there, the spoils were scattered like snow on Zalmon.
This is the same passage in two different Bibles. Verse division is completely different and involves the rearranging of the text and suffixes on the verse numbers.

What we didn’t realize is that we had been lying to ourselves about no longer needing to update the code in PocketBible when a new Bible was released. There were conditions under which that lie was definitely true. But there were still small, special cases scattered throughout the code and not handled by a data table in the LBK file. For example, some Bibles contain verses with suffixes, like Isaiah 14:25b and Psalm 68:12a, 12b, 13a, 13b, 14a, 14b, and 14c. In the apocrypha, Sirach has a chapter called “Prologue” that is called “Forward” in some Bibles. Esther has chapters A-F in addition to its numbered chapters. While we could map all of these verses to their corresponding verses in other Bibles using the tables that we had moved into the LBK file, when we wanted to print out the Bible reference “Psalm 68:12b” there was a piece of code that got called to look at the stored verse number (which was 14 in this case — 12a was 12, 13a was 13, and 12b was 14) and return the correct “spelling” of that verse number (the 14th verse in Psalm 68 is “12b”).

This all came to the boiling point with the pending release of several new and updated Bibles. While updating the data tables that would make these new Bibles work on any version of PocketBible including the new Windows app, I realized I would also have to deal with some of the special cases in the code itself. And that meant doing the very thing that we had told ourselves we’d never need to do again — simultaneously updating the iOS, Android, macOS, and new Windows versions of PocketBible.

The only reasonable plan forward is to finish what we started back in 2015. So for the last couple of months I’ve been working in both our BookBuilder app and the macOS version of PocketBible (since its code is easiest to work with while working on BookBuilder) to move special cases out of the code and into data tables, then adding code to write those data tables into the LBK file, then adding code to read them into PocketBible when necessary. For each special case in the code, the code has to be rewritten to use the data tables instead. All of this has to be tested and will have to be tested on each platform into which we roll this new code.

What this means is that once I finish doing this in the macOS version, I need to do the same in the iOS version (should be quick since it’s the same code that is used in both the macOS and iOS versions), then re-write it in Java for Android, then release all those new versions to their respective stores, then update the new Windows version (re-write for a third time, this time in JavaScript) and test it there.

So that’s what I’ve been doing so far this year. How’s your 2023 going?

Meanwhile…

In the meantime, we’re moving on to Advanced Feature Set features in the Windows version.

The ability to create saved layouts has been implemented similar to how it exists in the macOS version. You can create a new layout, give it a name, and it will appear as a tab across the top of the screen. These tabs can be dragged around to re-order them, and they can be renamed. This will get awkward if you have more than a handful of layouts, but should work for most people who would like to dedicate a screen layout to devotional reading and another to study.

Screenshot showing 3 layout tabs: “Default Layout”, “Greek and Hebrew”, and “Today”. When “Today’s Reading” is selected on the toolbar, we’re taken to the “Today” tab and our devotional goes to the reading for today (which was March 17, 2023). Note that the date at the top of the pane (January 1) is incorrect; this is a debug build with some diagnostic code in place.

Related to the above, we’ve added a toolbar button labelled “Today” that will activate a devotional and take you to today’s reading. If you have a layout named “Today”, this button will activate your layout named “Today” and show today’s reading in the active devotional. This is not unlike the same feature in the macOS version of PocketBible.

Setting voice preferences. Note that we’re running on a Mac here, so the available voices are those from macOS. They would be different on Windows.

Quite a bit of progress has been made on implementing a “Speak” feature. The app uses the synthesized speech voices built into Windows to read to you. You can read the selected text, the selected verse(s), or start reading at the top of the page and continue until you tell it to stop. Toolbar buttons have been added to control this feature. You’ll be able to choose your voice and the rate at which it is speaking. Different voices will be available for English, Spanish, and Greek, assuming you have them installed. This will all be similar to the macOS version, which uses the synthesized voices built into macOS.

Some smaller tasks have also been accomplished:

  • Ability to remove an installed book.
  • Solved some very tricky issues related to date calculations in devotionals.
  • More tricky issues related to going to a particular place in a book (say the reading for today in a devotional) and the program getting confused about where it was at.
  • Better detection of AFS subscription changes and how that affects options you may have selected that require an active subscription.

PocketBible for Windows Progress Update #13

It’s been a while since I posted an update. With the madness of Christmas weekend behind us, I thought I’d take a moment while the house was still quiet to go back through the last three months (yes, it’s been that long) and let you know where things stand.

First, let me say that this was a slow quarter for progress. It has gotten to where I (Craig) am usually the only programmer working on this project and the end of the year has required me to turn my attention to other things. Probably the biggest of these was wrapping up my 7-Minute Bible so that we could finally get that out the door. It was the result of several years of work that required reading all the way through the Bible multiple times, including a very interesting final pass (performed mostly in the 3 months prior to release) to add subject headings throughout the text. If you want an exercise in really learning the Bible, I suggest you create an outline of the entire text for the purpose of adding your own subject headings. I speak from experience.

During this same time I negotiated contracts for 2 new Bibles, 2 significant updates (NRSV and NET), and 2 minor updates. In addition I spent quite a bit of time trying to work with a new publisher (new to Laridian, not new to publishing) who refused to tell us whether or not digital files existed for any of the titles we wanted, refused to provide any sample files so we could understand how difficult they might be to tag, and refused to describe (even in the most basic terms) what value they have added to several public domain titles to justify licensing their version of the text vs. just finding a public domain source. We have been unable to work with this publisher, who insists that the other software publishers just sign the contract without asking any questions about what they’re going to get.

On top of this, 2 of the Bible contracts were perhaps the most poorly written I have ever seen. One wanted a fixed dollar amount per unit sold, to be negotiated later (we’re negotiating now — how about we include a discussion of what this is going to cost). They wanted to write the contract as being between Laridian, Inc. and a “nickname” they have for the imprint under which the Bible is published (that is, not a legal entity). In that situation, they would have no legal obligation to uphold their end of the deal.

The other poorly written contract required that we submit every new update to PocketBible to them for review before releasing it for you to use. And if we ever stopped selling their Bible, we’d have to stop distributing PocketBible. In addition, there were very specific guidelines for how they wanted their Bible formatted. Unfortunately, it was worded in a way so that it applied to every Bible we published. It wouldn’t have allowed you to control the widths of the margins, the font, or the font size. And wouldn’t have allowed us to distribute some Bibles at all. Their response to these concerns was, “Everyone else just signs this.”

Finally, this quarter is when we update our PocketBible Library Edition collections. This year we added a new Emerald Edition with a significantly expanded selection of books. This required both a review of available products that weren’t already in the Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum libraries and a review of royalties and other contract restrictions. It also required revisions to the script that creates the comparison chart on our website. You would think this would be easy, and it isn’t bad. The hard part is that it automatically calculates your personal upgrade price, and that has to be carefully updated to include the new resources in the Emerald and other 2023 collections.

OK let’s get into this…

New Features

The active study tab was made to persist between sessions so that you can exit the app and relaunch it later and the screen should look like you never left.

We added a “new note” button for notes. This seems obvious, but on other platforms, you add a note by right-clicking (or long-clicking) on some text then selecting the option to add a note from the context menu that appears as the result of your right/long click. Adding a Journal note is only a little easier — a button appears on the note editor view. For the new Windows version, we expanded the behavior of that button so that it works for Bible and book notes as well as Journal notes. By default, the new note is added to the “current” verse for a Bible (the top verse on the screen), but you can also just type a Bible reference to add the note to any arbitrary verse.

Throughout development, searching has been a background process so that long searches can happen while you’re doing other things in the app. This has presented some problems related to being able to get this work in a production build of the app (that is, a build of the app that can run on your machine and not just one of ours). It works reasonably well in our internal development builds but since Electron apps are not really designed to be able to spawn new threads, it has been challenging to get a production build to work. To get around this, we moved searching into the main thread. This makes the program less responsive during searches, but searches don’t take very long. We’ll have to continue to work on this but at least we’re in a position where the program could be released as-is and it would be acceptable.

Last time I mentioned the ability to attach custom accelerator keys to most program functions. The user interface for this feature was enhanced significantly to make it easier to find the function you’re looking for.

The new app will have a selection of color schemes much like the iOS version of PocketBible. We took a couple days and finalized the full set of color schemes and divided them between standard and advanced feature sets. We made the custom color scheme feature only accessible if you own an Advanced Feature Set subscription.

One of the reasons we haven’t implemented a custom color scheme option on other platforms is that there are too many variables that have to be considered and too many colors that need to be defined. For example, the shade of red you choose for “words of Christ” could be invisible against a dark background. To help both you and us to create color schemes, we added a feature that displays the WCAG contrast level for each text or icon color along with an indication of its acceptability. There are three levels of acceptance: OK, bad, and bad for small text. This doesn’t address issues related to color blindness or other vision impairment, but we figure you can handle that on your own — if you’re able to distinguish the text from the background, then it must be OK. If you are unable to distinguish text from background in one of our built-in schemes and you don’t own the AFS (and therefore can’t customize the theme), you can probably find a different color scheme that will work.

Toward the end of this reporting period, significant progress was made on supporting multiple saved layouts if you own the Advanced Feature Set. Tabs are displayed for each layout, similar to the macOS version. Tabs (layouts) can be created, renamed, deleted, and re-ordered.

Finally, with respect to creating a production build, we made quite a bit of progress. We believe we can build the app in its final format, but we’ve yet to see it packaged into an exe that can be distributed to users. But we’re much closer to doing that than we have been to date.

Little (And Not So Little) Things

  • Many small tweaks were made throughout with respect to font sizes, colors, and wording of the user interface text.
  • Operations on selected verses (such as “copy” and “add bookmark”) were not retrieving the selected verses correctly.
  • The program was crashing while trying to update the title bar when no book was open.
  • Switching from having the study pane on the left to having it on the right resulted in corruption of the user interface. Ditto switching from right to left.
  • There were versification issues in bookmark lists, highlight lists, and note lists. These items could be appear to be attached to the wrong verse.
  • There were problems being able to consistently open “newer” Bibles (the ones that don’t work with the current Windows versions of PocketBible). This was related to the fact that they carry information with them that makes them work on macOS, Android, and iOS. This information was not always being interpreted correctly.
  • Features weren’t getting added correctly when you upgrade from the standard to advanced feature set or when your Advanced Feature Set expires.
  • The screen wasn’t being updated after searches were complete. Search hits that you could see on the screen were not being highlighted, and highlighted results from the previous search remained visible.
  • Interlinear rows and Strong’s numbers weren’t using the right color.

To-Do List

Since I posted this last time, here it is again…

Bugs

  • Thoroughly test back/forward. May be capturing view state for history too often, like after normal scrolling.
  • If book panes get too small, it’s easy to scroll well past the end and confuse the loader.
  • Go To pane doesn’t appear to scroll to the correct location for devotionals. Current reading is correct but may not be scrolled into view.
  • Handle versification issues when following links. Links that begin or end on verses that don’t appear in the active Bible should still get resolved.
  • Font size changes may not be being recognized when switching to the bookmark list.
  • Manage input focus throughout.
  • Not search appears to start a search on mount(); never finishes.

Note editor/viewer

  • (Low Priority) See if we can honor newlines in plaintext and retain those in the rich editor. Right now they are retained in the viewer but not the editor.

Note search

  • (Low Priority) Switch to enable/disable enhanced search (even for book searches where it defaults “on”)

Search

  • (Low Priority) Figure out how to move search back into its own thread; solve problem of syncing SourceManager and other functionality between threads.

User Data

  • Verify we’re tracking the last-synced customer and don’t sync when it changes.
  • Verify we’re always requesting data from the server when we need to and saving when we should.
  • Use the logged-in customer rather than the test customer.

Advanced Feature Set

We will release the standard “free” version before finishing AFS features.

  • Journal (partially implemented)
    • Handle AFS state changes.
    • Handle delete operation better.
    • Solve duplicate Journal notes problem.
  • Navigator
  • Autostudy
  • Listen (may not be possible due to weird Chromium “security” issues)
  • Library Search
  • Saved Desktops (partially implemented)
    • Today button
  • Preview when hovering over links

Prepare for Release

  • Finish resolving issues related to doing a release build
    • Search task
    • Locations of pre-installed books and images
    • Locations of image caches; rendering caches
  • Onboarding
  • Website
    • Add platform landing page and catalog page for the app.
    • Add catalog page for AFS subscription.
    • Remove other Windows platforms (consider leaving the desktop version for Win7 die-hards).

PocketBible 3 for Windows FAQ

This isn’t an update on the new Windows project but rather we’re just moving the project FAQ here instead of having it be invisible as a dedicated page on our website. As we make updates to this FAQ we’ll bump its publication date so it ranks higher in the list of articles on our blog.

I haven’t seen an update for a while… Are you still working on this project?

Yes.

Don’t hesitate to post a question to tech support or in the comments below if you’re concerned about our progress or whether or not your favorite feature is going to be included. We’ve been trying to be very transparent about this project (even though you may not see updates here every day or every week) because you all contributed to it and thus made it possible.

Can I help with testing?

We’ll announce a call for testers once we get to the point where we can use them. Those who supported the project during the fund-raising period will be the first to know.

Will I need to have Internet access while using PocketBible to be able to use my Bibles and reference books?

No. And we apologize on behalf of our friends at other popular Bible software companies who have designed their apps to require full-time Internet access. “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Obviously, you need access to the Internet to initially download the PocketBible app and an of your Bibles and reference books you want on your device. Once you have done that, you don’t need Internet access to use the program. The exception is when you’ve chosen to sync your notes, highlights, and bookmarks to our server for synchronization to other devices you own. Obviously you need Internet access for that. But even then, if the program discovers you’re disconnected it will just wait and sync once you reconnect.

Is PocketBible for Windows going to be a subscription service?

No. As it is on all platforms (Android, iOS, macOS, and Windows), the new PocketBible for Windows will be free.

We will offer an Advanced Feature Set (AFS) containing additional features such as Autostudy. The Advanced Feature Set is a subscription service. It gives us a way to generate revenue from our apps. Despite the fact that developing our apps is our single greatest expense, realities of the marketplace make it impossible to charge anything for software these days. The AFS gives us a way to do that without resorting to more intrusive monetization schemes, like putting ads in the program.

The current version of PocketBible for Windows Store shifts a couple very important and very basic features into its AFS: The ability to install more than 20 books, and the ability to sync notes/highlights/bookmarks with our server. These will be part of the free features in the new version, and the features of the AFS will match those of PocketBible running on other platforms.

Will my current Windows Store Advanced Feature Set subscription apply to the new version?

Your current PocketBible for Windows Store Advanced Feature Set Subscription will apply to the new version. However, if you own the Permanent Subscription to the Legacy Advanced Feature Set, which you purchased before the AFS became a subscription, you will only be entitled to the features of the new version that are in your current Advanced Feature Set. Some of those features will be moved into the standard features in the new version. Here’s a break-down:

Current Legacy Advanced Feature Set features that will become standard features:

  • Install more than 20 books at a time on your device
  • Split the screen up to five times to view multiple books at once
  • Quick access to recent verses
  • Add your own notes to any verse
  • Highlight verses in a variety of colors
  • Synchronize bookmarks, notes and highlights to the Laridian Server and between your other devices

Undecided:

  • Quickly download all the books you own

These will remain AFS features:

  • Save and re-use multiple layouts, enabling you to save the layout (panes and books) exactly as it was and come back to it
  • Listen to Bibles and books

If you own what we call the Permanent Subscription to the Legacy Advanced Feature Set, your existing AFS will only give you access to those features listed under “These will remain AFS features”. Most of the other features that are currently in the subscription will become standard features. Within the new program, we will refer to this as the Advanced Feature Set for PocketBible 2.x for Windows. The new version will be referred to as version 3.

Again, if you have an active Advanced Feature Set Subscription, it will be honored on the new version.

When you say you’ll “start with the Windows desktop version” does that mean you’re going to make it difficult to use on tablets?

We’re not starting with the user interface elements of the Windows desktop version, but rather we’re starting with the internals of that version of the program — the stuff you don’t see that makes PocketBible do things like search, store notes, sync with our server, read our LBK files, etc. The user interface for the new version will borrow from concepts in the macOS and iOS versions to be more usable on both the desktop and mobile devices.

There is no code from the current Windows Store version in this new version, nor is any code in the new version based on code in the current Windows Store version. We think of this as an upgrade to the older Windows Desktop version that takes the latest version of the code for that program and adds to it a new user interface inspired by our more recent editions of PocketBible.

PocketBible for Windows Progress Update #12

Let’s just dive into what’s been done since I last posted an update….

Modal Dialog Component

With this new-to-us technology stack, we continuously discover that a lot of what we expect to be already done for us has to be created ex nihilo. For example, while there is a “context menu” component available to us in Electron, it isn’t very sophisticated and can only handle the simplest tasks. So we had to create context menu functionality for ourselves.

Similarly, there’s a generic “message box” dialog to use for error messages and to ask simple yes/no questions, but we found ourselves frequently needing to get input from the user, such as entering the name of a new bookmark category or choosing whether or not to clear daily reading progress when changing the start date of a devotional book. The built-in message box can’t do that.

We ended up creating a generic modal dialog that could be used to display error messages, ask simple questions, or gather (and validate) input. This is a little harder than you might think, but taking the time to do it allows us to standardize the way input is gathered in the app and gives us control over the appearance of the dialog so it can match the rest of the app. It also makes it very quick and easy to create a fairly complicated data collection dialog when we need it.

This generic dialog can be used for simple messages with OK/Cancel or complex data entry forms.

Once we had that component, we went back and made use of it in several dozen places. Some were easy and some required a little more work. But we’re happy with the results. This is the kind of task that takes a long time in the moment but makes future enhancements to the code significantly easier and faster. And it gives the user a much-better experience.

Bookmarks, Highlights, and other Study Panel Features

Since the last update we rounded out the features of bookmarks in the app by giving you the ability to create new categories and move the bookmarks from one category into another. We added a (somewhat dangerous) feature that allows you to delete all your bookmarks in one operation. We used our new modal dialog component (described above) to ask you 2 or 3 times if you’re sure you want to permanently delete all your carefully created bookmarks.

Reorganized the bookmarks pane and re-implemented the category management functions using the new modal dialog component.

We added the ability to change all the highlights in one color to another color. We changed some existing features to use our new modal dialog, and, like we did in the Bookmarks pane, made sure we were using the user’s global font size preference in the Highlights pane.

With our new modal dialog in-hand, we changed the implementation of some existing features to use it. And we made sure the Study Panel panes were using the global font size we’ve talked about in previous updates.

Accelerator Keys

“Accelerator keys” are the keystrokes displayed next to the application menu items that can be used as shortcuts to that menu item. Many of these you do without thinking about it, like Ctrl+C (Cmd+C on a Mac) to copy and Ctrl+V (Cmd+V) to paste. Others you discover when you realize you’ve been selecting an item from a menu over and over and wish there was an easier way.

Since the last update, we’ve implemented the ability to assign virtually any combination of modifier keys (such as Control and Alt) and a letter or number key to any operation in the program. So if you find it easier to remember Ctrl+S for “search” instead of Ctrl+F for “find”, just reassign Ctrl+S to the “Find” operation in the menu. If you find yourself repeatedly turning verse numbers on and off and get tired of selecting “Hide Verse Numbers” from the “View” menu, just assign Ctrl+Shift+H to that item. Now one key will toggle your verse numbers on and off.

New Accelerator Keys preference page lets you select different keyboard shortcuts for menu items, or assign shortcut keys for menu items that don’t have them.

Part of implementing this feature was making sure that everything you might want to do in PocketBible is present in the menus somewhere so that it can be assigned to a key. We discovered, for example, that we hadn’t yet implemented “Next/Previous Pane” and “Next/Previous Book in Pane”, so we added those to the “View” menu and implemented them in the code.

Not every key can be reassigned. Some are just too well-integrated into the way some of the built-in functionality of the code works to be changed. We manage that for you and warn you if you’re trying to do something that isn’t going to work.

Layouts

We’ve been enduring problems with splitting and resizing panes since the beginning of the project. During this period we attacked these problems.

Let me digress briefly to talk about how programming has changed since I started doing this 40 years ago. Back then we wrote our own code. When we had to, we would purchase a “library” that implemented something hard, like managing a database. These libraries were written by knowledgeable, professional programmers, thoroughly tested, and only updated when necessary to add major new features.

Today, the Internet makes it possible both to distribute and to discover little components that supposedly make programming easier. Yes, there are major components like database managers, but there are also tedious little components that do nothing more than remove leading or trailing spaces from strings. It can be easier to import someone else’s code than write it yourself.

You don’t know the pedigree of the people who write these components. Often they write some complex thing (like the virtual list and context menu components we use in PocketBible) then just vanish into obscurity, leaving you to maintain their code and fix the bugs they left in it (like the virtual list and context menu components we use in PocketBible).

The component we chose very early in the project to manage the splitting and resizing of book panes has been both a blessing and a curse. It definitely saved us some time. At least up until earlier this month.

Example: One of the things it does is notify the app that the user has dragged a splitter between two panes and changed their relative sizes. The sizes are expressed in percentages. So the original size might have been 50/50 and now the new sizes are 30/70. That’s great. PocketBible records the new sizes so that it can restore them the next time you run the app. So far so good.

The problem is that it uses the same notification message to tell you that it has internally changed the size of a pane part-way through an operation. So if you have two panes split 50/50 next to each other, and the left pane is split 30/70 vertically (one above the other), and you close the top left pane, it will notify you that you now have a left pane of size 70 and a right pane of size 50. It doesn’t tell you that the left pane is 70% high and that the right pane is 50% wide. Nor does it tell you that in just a few milliseconds it’s going to reorient and resize the panes, and further, that it’s going to do that incorrectly, leaving your left pane occupying 58.33333% and right pane 41.66667% of the screen where they used to be 50/50 before. (Exercise for the reader: Why those weird sizes?)

One of my tasks recently has been to attack this issue and try to resolve it. I believe it’s mostly conforming to my wishes but it took some doing.

Splitters between panes can be dragged to resize the pane and now have a subtle “handle” to suggest they can be moved.

While messing with the screen layout, I made the splitters between the panes a little thicker to make them easier to find with your mouse (or your finger tip if you’re using a touch screen). I gave them little visual “handles” to make it more obvious that they can be dragged to adjust their size.

Book Panes

Speaking of the screen layout, other changes were made to the book panes.

We discovered that closed panes were still “alive” in some respects and were frantically trying to do things in the background as if they were open. This had no visible impact on the app but made it run terribly slow after a while.

We completely re-implemented the book tabs at the bottom of each book pane. They were trying too hard to look all fancy and clever and as a result they didn’t always work correctly. While we were in there we made sure the tabs adjust their size to your chosen font size so you don’t end up with nice, readable Bible text and tiny, unreadable tabs.

When the text is small (top), the tabs are proportionally smaller. When text is large (bottom), tabs are larger.

The pop-out tooltip that tells you where you are as you drag the scroll bar scroller was getting stuck in the “on” condition. That’s been fixed.

We’ve been ignoring problems with interlinear books like our Greek NT’s and the NIV with Goodrick-Kohlenberger Numbers. Some of the interlinear attributes weren’t being displayed. Now they are.

Interlinear books weren’t working until recently. This is the NIV with Goodrick-Kohlenberger numbers, Strong’s numbers, inflected forms, and lemmas displayed between the lines.

Text Selection

First, the “easy” part: We now automatically calculate a good color to use for text selection (when you drag your mouse to select text). If you think about it, this isn’t straightforward. It needs to be visible against both the background and the text color. Both of those are user-configurable and can be anything. So you can’t just choose a pleasant shade of blue and call it good. The program now finds a color using an appropriate hue from your chosen color scheme that will work for text selection.

The selection color starts with the dominant hue in the color scheme. In this case, this dark color scheme uses a shade of purple for toolbars and buttons, so text selection is indicated by a lighter tint of the same hue that contrasts both with the text color and with the background. This is one of those things that is way more complicated than the average user might think.

The real challenge was handling “select all” in a book pane. It’s simply not realistic to support the ability to hit Ctrl+A (Command+A on a Mac) then Ctrl+C (Command+C) and expect to copy an entire 400 MB commentary to the clipboard (in both plain-text and rich-text HTML). The copyright owners from whom we license texts wouldn’t like it, and it would present some real programming challenges.

On top of this, there’s the fact that PocketBible does not keep the entire book displayed all the time. We just make it look like it is. In fact, it works more like Facebook, where we render additional paragraphs of text as you scroll farther and farther into the book. So when you say “select all”, we actually only select the portion of the text that has already been rendered, which consists of 1 or 2 screen heights above and below what you can see.

A similar problem happens when you start selecting in the middle of the book and drag off to the right of the pane. Selection will extend toward the bottom of the book. (If you drag off to the left, it extends toward the top of the book.) Again, the rest of the book isn’t really there.

The best answer we could come up with was to just make sure we highlight and copy what is rendered. This has the benefit of limiting the amount of text you put on the clipboard, satisfying both our copyright owners and making it so you don’t have to wait while we render an entire Bible into your clipboard.

Miscellaneous New and Updated Features

  • Changed the Journal icon (AFS feature).
  • Adjustments to the way bookmarks are handled in the context menu. It can’t realistically handle the situation where dozens of verses are selected, because it lists options for each selected verse. So if you select 100 verses, you can bookmark them all, but you won’t see each one of the individual verses listed on the context menu.
  • Cloud Library wasn’t showing all owned books. Made changes mostly on the server to deal with this.
  • Fixed user interface misbehavior of icons on buttons when the buttons got smaller.
  • Fixed a database initialization bug that was causing tables to constantly be recreated, which would fail after the first call. This resulted in the database operation also failing.
Bookmarks in the context menu when a large number of verses are selected. In this case 78 verses are selected. Individual controls are provided for the first 15 selected verses.

Schedule

I haven’t talked about this for a while, and a few of you have asked. There’s a very common belief that writing software is like baking a cake. If you break down the tasks and and add the amount of time each takes, you’ll get the total time and can accurately predict when it will be ready to eat.

But it turns out it’s more like writing a college textbook for a subject you know well, but doing it in a language you’ve never learned using publishing tools you may have to create yourself. You can quickly learn bits of the language and maybe write an initial draft that looks pretty good. But as you write, you learn more about the language and have to go back and make corrections to previously written chapters. Then you have to decide on where illustrations are needed, figure out how to create them and how to arrange them in the text. Then there’s choosing paper, fonts, ink colors, cover design, binding style, dust jacket design.

Some parts of our probably ill-considered textbook analogy will be easy; other parts will be hard; and some of the hard parts will have to be re-done 2-3 times until you get them right. You might be able to predict completion dates for portions of it, but it’s pointless to try to predict a completion date for the entire project because you don’t really know what needs to be done until you do it.

People don’t believe me when I say we literally don’t have a planned release date for this product. You’d think after 40 years of writing software for business and pleasure, I’d know how long something is going to take. Instead, what I’ve learned in 40 years is that the “ship date” question is one that has no answer. If you try to answer it along the way, you’ll only disappoint people.

That being said, I felt going into this project that it was going to take 12-18 months. However, the further we got into it, the more we didn’t know.

The good news is that I feel like the to-do list is getting shorter. The bug list grows about as fast as we shrink it by fixing things, but those tend to be small tasks. In the interest of total transparency, I’ve included my list of remaining tasks below.

Interestingly, in the process of capturing screenshots for this article, I had to add items to the to-do list.

As you can see, a lot of these tasks are fairly minor; there’s just a lot of them. Some are harder or more unknown than they look.

Remaining Tasks

Bugs

  • When multiple verses are selected, the reference isn’t formatted correctly in the context menu.
  • When multiple verses are selected, the last verse appears before the first one in the context menu bookmark list.
  • Dragging a book into a new pane results in an infinite render loop.
  • Moving study pane to the right side (or moving it back to left side) causes the resizing controls to be lost.
  • When moving study pane to the right, the book panes are not getting refreshed.
  • Thoroughly test back/forward. May be capturing view state for history too often, like after normal scrolling.
  • Verify that we’re loading the latest book ordering database when we see newer Bibles.
  • Verify scroll by line and scroll by page is working. Not sure of the latter
  • Manage input focus throughout.
  • Implement date-sync for devotionals; save last date sync so we can use it when opening devotionals to the last synced date.
  • Consider an option to make pane splitters narrow for mouse ops or wide for touch ops.
  • If book panes get too small, it’s easy to scroll well past the end and confuse the loader

Go To Pane

  • Consider moving book names to top of Go To pane for all book types.

Note editor/viewer

  • Make it look better when empty.
  • Consider “add note” that adds at current location in active book. There have been serious problems with that on other platforms.
  • Deleting Journal notes doesn’t refresh the list correctly. (AFS)
  • Can sometimes get duplicate Journal notes somehow. (AFS)
  • See if we can honor newlines in plaintext and retain those in the rich editor. Right now they are retained in the viewer but not the editor.

Note search

  • Low priority: Switch to enable/disable enhanced search (even for book searches where it defaults “on”)

Preferences: Color Theme

Settle on color themes for free version and for AFS.

Search

  • Consider moving search back into main process.
  • Verify we’re using global ui styles in the study tab.

User Data

  • Verify we’re tracking the last-synced customer and don’t sync when it changes.
  • Verify we’re always requesting data from the server when we need to and saving when we should.

Preferences

  • Use standard font sizes in preferences.

Accelerator Keys

  • Code review
  • Organize the list of functions

Advanced Feature Set

Consider whether or not to release the base version before finishing AFS features

  • Journal
  • Navigator
  • Autostudy
  • Listen
  • Library Search
  • Saved Desktops
  • Today button
  • Hover Tooltip over Links

Prepare for Release

  • Resolve issues related to doing a release build
    • Search task
    • Locations of pre-installed books and images
    • Locations of image caches; rendering caches
  • Onboarding
  • Website
    • Add platform landing page and catalog page for the app.
    • Add catalog page for AFS subscription.
    • Remove other Windows platforms (consider leaving the desktop version for Win7 die-hards).

PocketBible for Windows Progress Update #11

Surprisingly, we weren’t sure what our Windows app would look like in Windows.

Running the Windows App on a Windows PC

We spent some time this month bringing the program up on a Windows machine to see how it’s working. This may seem odd, since it is a Windows app, after all. But the fact is that we’ve been doing all our development and testing on our Macs. We can do this because even though the app is being developed for a single platform (Windows) it’s being done with tools that support Windows, macOS, and Linux. That works great for us since we’re 100% Mac-based here.

One of the things we wanted to verify was that the application menu was functioning correctly on Windows. As you may know, app menus on macOS are “disconnected” from the application’s window. And every application has a special menu identified by the name of the app. So PocketBible for macOS has a “PocketBible” menu that is where you’ll find “About PocketBible”, “PocketBible Preferences”, “Check for Updates” and other application-level commands. Windows is different. There is no standard place for some of these items. So we spent some time organizing the way the menu appears on Windows.

Windows also handles “keyboard shortcuts” differently. These are the key combinations that are assigned to certain operations of the app, like Ctrl+C to copy and F10 to activate the menu. On the Mac, you define these by associating them with menu items. The operating system allows you to redefine which shortcut keys go with which operations in any of your apps. Not so in Windows. So we spent some time verifying that we could handle keyboard shortcuts correctly and coming up with simple ways to route these commands through the app.

Back-End Server Updates

When we release PocketBible for a new operating system (what we generally refer to as a new “platform”), we have to populate a database on our server with all the books and Bibles that will be available for it. It’s a bit of a milestone to have created those new database records, which has happened since we last met. Prior to this, the new Windows app had been pretending to be the macOS app every time it talked to the server to either shop in the in-app store or view a list of all the books owned by the currently logged-in user. With this database update, the new app can drop the charade and just be itself.

Added the new Windows platform to the back-end database.

Highlights

Basic highlight functionality was already working. We took some time to take a close look at the highlights study panel pane to make sure everything was there that we needed. We added functionality to remove all the highlights of a selected color, and to change highlights in one color to another color. While removing highlights of a selected color, we also added a way to remove all your highlights from the entire Bible. I don’t think we’ve implemented these features on other platforms.

In the right-click or context menu, we added a “most-recently used colors” list to the top of the menu to make it easy to get to the colors you use most often. This is something we implemented first in PocketBible for iOS. Again in keeping with the iOS version of PocketBible, we moved the highlight eraser to the top of the list of colors to make it easier to find and get to.

If you own the Advanced Feature Set, you’ll be able to rename your colors. Even though we’re delaying AFS features to the end of the project, we went ahead and implemented that one while we were working on highlights.

Bookmarks

We also reviewed the status of bookmarks. We implemented “create a bookmark category” from the bookmarks pane in the study panel and will have it implemented from the context menu by the time you read this.

We added a feature to move bookmarks from one category to another. I don’t believe this feature exists in any other version of PocketBible. We also added a feature to remove all your bookmarks. This is something we have had to do for people on the server before; it will be much easier if you can do it yourself.

Menus and Toolbar

While we were looking at menus, we also looked at the toolbar, since toolbar buttons and menu items are handled similarly in the app. We compared the new Windows app to the current macOS app to make sure we had thought of everything and added some menu items and toolbar buttons we hadn’t yet implemented.

Among these were the following. Unless otherwise noted, we added a keyboard shortcut, a toolbar button, and implemented the functionality:

  • About This Book – Shows information about the active book.
  • Toggle Word Attributes (Strong’s Numbers) – Implemented and also added a “toast” — a brief message that is shown to indicate the state of this option (on or off).
  • Sync Bibles/Commentaries to Active Bible – When the global setting is turned off, this menu item/toolbar button will allow you to tell your Bibles and commentaries to sync up to the current verse in the active Bible.
  • Sync Now – Sync your data with the server manually whether automatic sync is on or off at the time. Also added a progress bar on the Account Preferences screen and an indicator on the toolbar to show this activity is happening.
  • About PocketBible — Version, build date, copyright and other info about the app.
  • Help — Show the User’s Guide (either open it or make it active if it’s already open).
  • Help on the Web — Related to opening the User’s Guide, this option takes you to the FAQ on our website.
  • Start Each Verse on New Line
  • Hide Verse Numbers
  • Toggle Sync Bibles/Commentaries
  • Footnote Style — control whether you want to display just asterisks in the place of footnotes, show the entire note, or hide footnotes entirely.
  • Toggle Words of Christ in Color
  • Copy Passage — Added a toolbar button. This was already implemented and connected to the menu and context (right-click) menu.
  • Mark Current Reading as Complete
  • Go To Today’s Reading — This was already implemented as a button on the Go To… pane. In addition to adding the toolbar button and menu item, we implemented the feature that allows you to go to today’s reading in all your open devotionals when you go to today’s reading in the active devotional.

On the subject of the toolbar, we made some adjustments so that right-click on the toolbar allows you to customize it, and turned the Preferences (or Settings) button into a “Close Preferences” button when you are in the Preferences screens.

On the subject of menus, we created a way for menus to be adjusted when your Advanced Feature Set subscription is enabled or disabled. The AFS features themselves haven’t been implemented yet but we need to support the mechanisms you use to activate those features.

Other Miscellaneous Features

  • Implemented a way to choose “preferred books” so that when you select a Bible link with no Bibles visible, we know which Bible to try to use. Similar behavior happens with commentaries and dictionaries.
  • The “expand pane to fullscreen” feature was temporarily removed. I think it’s going to end up being an AFS feature and will be implemented similar to how we do it on the Mac. The way we were planning to do it for Windows just won’t work.
  • Made links to Web pages and email addresses open the appropriate external app.
  • When opening a book in a pane where that book is already open, we just activate the existing tab instead of creating a second one. Similarly, if you drag a tab from one pane to another, if the book is already open in the target pane we remove it and replace it with the dragged tab.

PocketBible for Windows Progress Update #10

Since the last update we wrapped up work on managing bookmark categories (add, rename, delete, etc.).

One of the things we’ve been working on are various display-related settings. “Settings” is not something you implement all at one time as a separate task. We have been doing them as we need them. One of the tasks we’ve undertaken in the last month or so is to make sure we’ve remembered all of them and that we’ve saved them so they can be restored the next time you run the app. This task will continue in the next month or so to make sure we have everything on the toolbar and menus that you’ll need.

In-App Store

One of the background tasks that has been going on here for some time is a revamping of our website. I could write a whole series of blog articles on that task, but suffice to say that the new design separates the data (like all the “catalog text”, screen shots, and book previews for each product) from the way it is presented. We’ve been able to use people who know Web design to do the “front end” development that the user sees, and use database developers to write the “back end” that provides all the data to the front end. It does this through an API (application programming interface) running on the server.

The initial plan for the in-app bookstore in this new version of PocketBible was to do it the way it’s done on Android, iOS, and macOS. On those platforms, the app has an embedded website viewer that opens a mini version of our website inside the app. As we contemplated how to do that in the Windows app, we had a different idea. Instead of making a little website and figuring out how to get it to interact with the app, we could use the existing API for the new website. All the code and user interface would be inside the app. It would use the API to get the data it needs.

The problem with doing it this way comes up when considering how to handle payments. Securely handling your credit card and PayPal transactions is hard to get right. (Unlike most other e-commerce sites that use third-party shopping carts, Laridian has a custom solution that interacts directly with the credit card processor and PayPal.) Doing it from inside the app creates security issues that we didn’t want to take the time to solve. So instead, when it comes time to check out, we securely transfer you to our website through your existing browser. You finish the transaction there then come back to the app to download your purchases. It all works pretty smoothly and it drew a nice boundary around what we had to implement in the app, saving us some time.

Accessibility

As our customer base ages we have heard more and more about the necessity to think about being able to control font sizes throughout the app. That means in menus and dialog boxes — elements normally controlled by the operating system, not PocketBible — in addition to book and Bible text. Each operating system on which we run presents us with different challenges. Most handle accessibility very badly. The way it’s done in iOS, for example, makes it virtually impossible to create any kind of data input form. If we adopt iOS’s way of doing things, we don’t really know how big any text is. They just take over and make it as big as you ask them to. It creates a real mess for every app.

Because of the development environment we’re working in, we have significantly more control. But with great power comes great responsibility. We have to be thinking about accessibility — especially text size — constantly. The problem is that there is a lot of text in a lot of places in the app — window/pane titles, button labels, section labels, instructive text, dialog boxes, and more. Rather than giving you control over the size of text in every context, we’ve decided to tie what we think of as “user interface text” to the sizes of your book text. You have one control that sizes the text in your book window and we base the size of other text in the app on that choice.

To demonstrate both the in-app store and accessibility features, I put this little video together. I don’t normally record video in the office because we get a lot of background noise from the restaurant below us and the street in front of our building. And because our offices are in a 19th century building with brick walls, original wood floors and 14-foot ceilings, there are a lot of echos. But I got here before anyone else this morning and thought I’d give it a try. 🙂

PocketBible for Windows accessibility demo.

One of the fun things about the way we develop here is that it is very iterative and nothing is ever final. While making this video I discovered that the range of font sizes I was allowing both for books and for user interface text was not wide enough so I made some adjustments. I also realized that it was hard to tell which switches on the preference page where you set the font size were on and which were off. I made a couple small changes so now switches turn green when they’re on.

PocketBible for Windows Progress Update #9

Search words highlighted in the note viewer.

Note Editor

We reported extensively on the note editor in progress update #8. We spent a little more time on that task, in particular as it relates to when we save the changes you make to a note. First, we wanted to make sure that your edits get saved when you exit the app, so we provided a notification to the note editor that the app is about to exit so that it can save your work. (You probably think that just “happens” — and it does — but somewhere there’s a programmer who wrote the code to detect the fact that the app was closing and made sure that your work got saved.)

In addition we took more control over exactly when we sync an edited note to the server. When the note is open for editing, our other apps periodically sync to the server to make sure your changes get saved. This is potentially important on a mobile device where you might drift out of Internet coverage or the battery might die at any moment.

On the desktop, we can be a little more patient. We wait until you are done editing the note (say you switch to the viewer or the other editor), then we save all your changes to the server at that time. Of course locally we save your work every few seconds so that you don’t lose anything if the power goes out. But by waiting to sync with the server until you’re done editing, we make certain problems easier to solve when you have the note open on more than one device at a time.

Finally, when linking to a note from search results, we now highlight the searched-for word(s) in the note viewer. This may be a first for PocketBible. I don’t recall doing this in previous releases, though some of you with memories that extend back to the last century more clearly than mine do might remember it differently.

Note Search

Note searching is similar to book searching except there are no indexes and of course the text comes from a completely different place. The overall structure of the code is the same except for when you get down to actually looking for the word or words in the text. Book text comes from an LBK file which has a lot of indices to support searching, but notes come from a database with no indexing. We’re able to use exactly the same code until we get to that last step, where it branches depending on the source of the text being searched. As a result, a lot of the logic of searching was already done.

The display of note search results is similar to displaying book search results. What we didn’t realize going into this was that it is so similar that it can actually share the code. So the Note Search, Book Search, and Journal Search panels are just 3 instances of the same chunk of code (we call it an “object” rather than a “chunk-o-code”). So we spent some time throwing away some work we had done on separate panels for Note and Journal searches and adapted the existing book-searching code to account for notes.

Similarly, the Journal is just a collection of notes, so the work we do for regular note searches and note editing automatically applies to the Journal. So even though the Journal is an Advanced Feature Set feature, we’re doing the implementation now as we work through the general notes feature. (Other AFS features will likely be put of until work on the standard feature set is done.)

Note search showing note excerpts in results list and highlighted search words.

On the other platforms, when you do a search for a word in your notes, the search results will show an excerpt of your note, but it’s just the first couple of lines. You don’t see where the thing you’re searching for actually occurs in the note. In the Windows version, we’ve made it so that search words are highlighted in the note viewer and are also highlighted in the search results. And we’ve added a smart “excerpt” function so that if the word you’re searching for occurs later in your note than the first couple of lines, we’ll show you the portion of the note in which your word occurs.

Since the book search, note search, and journal search all turned out to be the same/similar code, when we added excerpts with highlighted search words for notes and Bibles, we were also able to add them for non-Bible books.

Study Panel

As a result of working on the note editor, we learned more about how to better handle layout of other panels. This is particularly related to the re-layout that happens when you resize the Study Panel or the entire PocketBible window. Previously we had been doing a lot of manual calculations to position buttons and text appropriately. It turns out there were some easy ways to allow that to happen more automatically.

Bookmarks

We’re just wrapping up work on managing (add, rename, and deleting) categories. This gets tricky when you’re syncing all that data to other devices, so we’ve had to do a lot of testing of the entire synchronization path from Windows to the server and from the server to other devices.

Book Display

We happened to notice while doing our own devotional reading that the book pane was not getting refreshed when you change the start date of a devotional. So now it gets refreshed to update the dates you see in the text.

PocketBible for Windows Progress Update #8

Quite a bit of progress since the last report. Some of it (note editor) was re-implementing something we thought was already done, but that has to happen every once in a while.

Copy Passage

One of the major accomplishments of the last month has been what we call the “Copy Passage” feature. It allows you to enter a verse or passage reference and select a number of options for how you would like the text to appear, then press a button to copy it all to the clipboard with all your options.

With this feature in place, you can use Ctrl+C to just copy the selected text, Shift+Ctrl+C to go to the Copy Passage dialog to choose options, or, once you have the options configured the way you like them, Shift+Alt+Ctrl+C to immediately copy the selected verses with all the formatting options you’ve chosen.

Both the current Windows versions have some limited implementation of this feature. The implementation in the new Windows version is based on the macOS and iOS implementations, which have more features.

Note Editor

Writing a rich text editor for notes is not easy. Back when we were at Parsons Technology doing something similar for QuickVerse 5, we paid someone $200,000 just to implement this one feature.

A few years ago, the people who define how the Web works created technology that is present now in every browser that does a lot of this work for us. It’s far from perfect, but it’s pretty good. Since we use HTML (the “language” of the Web) throughout PocketBible and render it with built-in HTML functionality that is part of the underlying operating system, it wasn’t hard to integrate this functionality into PocketBible for Android, iOS, and macOS.

When we originally started looking into re-writing PocketBible for Windows, this was one of our concerns — would we be able to use this built-in feature for editing notes? We discovered that Microsoft’s development environment was sadly deficient in this area and it became one of our main reasons for going with the Electron system I talked about in update #3. Electron includes Chromium, the guts of the Chrome browser, to provide HTML rendering in every Electron app.

The HTML editing that is built into Chromium can be difficult to use. So initially, we implemented the note editor using a free component we found called TipTap. TipTap is endlessly reconfigurable and seemed like it would meet all of our needs. We even reported that note editing was complete back in update #4. But after we got digging into this, I realized that there were little things that weren’t working at all. For example, if you copied Bible text with superscripted verse numbers into a note, TipTap would remove the superscript. If you had a note that included a table, the row and column information about the table would be removed and you’d only see the text, all run together in a blob.

Turns out TipTap was “easily reconfigurable” but required custom programming to support every single HTML feature. So there was a custom plug in required to make text bold, another one for italics, one for superscript, and another one for tables. But on closer inspection it turned out that they were sorely lacking. For example, you could create a table, but you couldn’t put borders around the table cells. And TipTap would intercept all our Bible verse links, launch a browser, and try to direct you to a site like “http://John 3:16”, which of course didn’t work. Further, if you were reading a note that you created on another platform, like PocketBible for Android or iOS, anything that TipTap didn’t recognize would be stripped from your note.

At first it looked like we just needed to update TipTap from version 1 to version 2, but that didn’t fix anything. So we bit the bullet, removed TipTap entirely, and wrote our own HTML editor based on what we’d done for other platforms. This ended up working fairly well. It’s done except for wringing out the bugs at this point.

One of the little things we noticed that turns out is a problem no matter what platform you’re on is that if you use the note editor to change the color of your notes then choose a color scheme that causes the note editor to have a dark background instead of the traditional white background with black text, you may not be able to see your notes. So the new version has an easy way to switch to a light or dark background color in case you need it to accurately view your notes.

Registration

In update #6 I said we had implemented the ability to log into your account, which is true. But we didn’t prompt you to register when you first launched the app. So that’s been implemented. You can now log into an existing account or create a new one. And the account screen in PocketBible settings/preferences will show you your Advanced Feature Set subscription status and give you options for synchronizing your notes, highlights, and bookmarks.

Current Tasks

We’re currently working on some polishing of the bookmark feature. We previously had implemented the ability to set and clear bookmarks, but not create new categories, remove categories, or rename categories. We’re well into that now. We need to do similar work with respect to highlights.

We’re also testing and tweaking the features mentioned above. While doing one thing we often discover better ways to do things that affect other parts of the program. For example, over the last couple of days I’ve revisited the “go to” pane and significantly streamlined the way it works based on work we did while implementing the note editor. This has made it more reliable by removing a couple hundred lines of code that just gave it more places it could go wrong.

We’ll soon move from the note editor to implement note searches. We have the basic user interface in place; we just need to implement the actual searching.

One behind-the-scenes task that is happening is getting us positioned to be able to create what we call a “release build”. When we build the app in its current state, it’s really suitable only for development use. It has additional panes and windows that show our developers the internal workings of the code for debugging purposes. The version you get (the “release build”) won’t have those features, of course. I want to be able to create a release build sooner rather than later so that we have time to work the bugs out of that process and get set up for beta testing.

What PocketBible really looks like during development. The large window in the upper left is the main UI thread with developer tools open in the right half. The smaller window in the lower right is a search worker thread that won’t have any user interface in the release build. Behind all this (and usually on its own monitor) is source code and output from the build process. When I screenshot this for public consumption, I maximize the upper left window and close the developer tools so it looks more like what you will see.

Construction Project

I see it’s been over 3 months since I updated you on the view out our front windows. As you recall the city completely shut down and rebuilt the main street through town, which passes in front of our building. At the same time, the strip mall across the street was torn down and a new combination retail/residential building is going up in its place. Our entertainment for the last 9 months has been watching (and listening to) the construction.

The street re-opened around Thanksgiving. Work on the building continues. The exterior appears to be completely framed. Windows are being installed and bricking has begun. Something is happening on the roof but we can’t see it well enough to tell what it is — perhaps an insulation layer that goes down under what I assume will be a rubber membrane style roof. On the inside we can see electrical work being done and also fiberglass tub/shower inserts in each apartment.

A similar build is being behind this one, which will have parking underneath and 2-3 floors of apartments. We won’t be able to see that one being built

PocketBible for Windows Progress Update #7

Christmas break and some changes in the availability of team members have taken a toll on productivity, but work continues on the app.

A lot of time has been spent implementing what we call the Go To Tab in the Study Panel. It’s where you go to navigate through a Bible or reference book. There are 3 different configurations of this pane. For Bibles, you have the ability to enter a Bible reference or choose book, chapter, and verse from drop-down lists. In addition, a list of your most recently visited verses is displayed.

For devotional books, the main interface is the ability to navigate to the first unread reading, previous and next readings, and to the reading for a specific date. A list of readings that are highlighted to indicate whether or not you have read them is displayed. Functionality is provided to “start over” on a devotional by setting the start date and clearing your existing reading progress data. Related to the implementation of the Go To Tab for devotionals is the ability to click on a heading over the reading for a given date to mark that readings as “read” or “not read”.

For all other books, a hierarchical table of contents is displayed, and your current position in the book is highlighted.

Study Panel and Toolbar Position and Size

While we were working on the Study Panel, we made it so you could have it positioned on either the left or right side of the screen. (You’ve seen it on the left side in every screenshot to date.) We also save the width of the Study Panel and allow you to double-click on its border to rotate between its minimum width, the width you’ve set it to, and its maximum width. This is in addition to being able to either show or hide the panel.

Related to the position of the Study Panel, we also made it so you can display the toolbar either at the top or at the bottom of the screen. We think this might be handy when using PocketBible on a Windows tablet. While doing that, we made both the toolbar position and contents persistent (saved in your user preferences).

Showing the Study Panel on the right and the toolbar on the bottom

We spent some time on a rough implementation of what we call “navigation history”. This is the data that lies behind the “back” and “forward” buttons on the toolbar. This is significantly more difficult in PocketBible than in something like a browser. In a browser, your back/forward buttons take you through the history of the current browser pane or window. PocketBible can have multiple panes and multiple books open in each pane. The history database needs to keep track of all of that.

We call this a “rough” implementation because there are a lot of places in the code where we need to “capture” history because the position is about to change. Further, there are a lot of places where we don’t need to actually capture history but we need to somehow mark the book or pane as “dirty” and in need of being saved. We believe we have identified most if not all of these places. Further testing is required.

A Few Smaller Things…

The ability to highlight a word and right-click to look up its definition is implemented.

The search field now displays a list of recent searches.

You can specify a range of verses to search when searching a Bible.

The range of font sizes you can select has been expanded.

We spent a lot of time (and continue to spend a lot of time) working on internal, non-user-facing elements of the code. Some of these are to accommodate updates to third-party libraries used by the app. Others are to flesh out implementations that were started with the idea we’d finish when we knew more about what they needed to do. Some are tweaks to the user interface that we’re getting around to as we pay attention to different aspects of the program.

Schedule

I have a hard time coming up with different ways of saying “we’ll be done when we’re done”. We go through periods where we make a lot of progress and others where we have a problem we just can’t figure out and get past. As I’ve said before, we don’t work with a specific release date in mind. We just keep working our way through the list.

A few of you have offered suggestions. We appreciate but can’t always implement those. That being said, the reason the toolbar can be moved to the bottom of the screen is because a PocketBible user asked us if we could do it. We had one false start that led us to believe we couldn’t, but then we backed up and took another run at it and the result is what you see above. So if you have suggestions, feel free to pass them along either here in the comments or to tech support. We are locked into some decisions but will always think and talk about good ideas, regardless of the implications.