Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Final Draft 8

For all those scriptwriters out there, and for all those who don’t already know, Final Draft 8 was finally released not long ago. Final Draft is, of course, the industry standard of scriptwriting programs, and version 8 brings with it a raft of new features and an overhaul to the interface that makes it feel much more like a native Mac app than previous versions. I won’t go into the various new features - navigator, improved index card navigation, new interface, and so on - here; instead, I just thought I’d say a few words about Final Draft’s relationship with Scrivener.

When Scrivener was in the early beta stages a few years ago, there were a number of frustrated Final Draft users who, wanting more organisational tools than Final Draft provided (and to be able to use something more “Mac-like”), asked me to provide scriptwriting features in Scrivener so that scriptwriters, too - along with writers of other types of prose - could draft and structure in Scrivener and then export to Final Draft for the - er - final draft (and production and so on). Because of those early pleas, Scrivener now has a scriptwriting mode, and I’m glad it does, as I like using it for playing around with dialogue and other formats myself (not to mention that my most recent endeavour in my never ending quest not to finish a work of fiction is a graphic novel, or comic, or something). But Scrivener isn’t a dedicated scriptwriting program and most scriptwriters will still need such software for preparing their script for submission or production, so it’s great to see a much anticipated Final Draft update prove worth the wait.

With the help of the nice people at Final Draft, a recent update to Scrivener introduced .fcf (Final Draft File Converter Format) export, making it relatively straightforward for users to export to previous versions of Final Draft, but the most recent updates - 1.5x onwards - also include .fdx import and export; FDX (Final Draft XML) is Final Draft’s new default format, replacing FDR. Scrivener 2.0’s support for FDX will be even more advanced, allowing users to keep synopses (summaries in Final Draft) and structure intact when transferring files between the programs, but for now, Scrivener 1.5x’s FDX support is already great for getting your work out to Final Draft. (The FDX format is something I’m not used to - a good XML format. You can open it up in any text editor and it is easily readable. I’m going to blog on the woes of the .pages format a little later, but for now, suffice to say that I wish Microsoft and Apple had come up with a format as nice as .fdx when designing their .docx or .pages formats; and yes, I know that’s unrealistic for many, many reasons, but I can still wish, can’t I?)

At this stage, lest this comes across as an advert for Final Draft, I should say that we are in partnership with Final Draft Inc. (you can see as much on their partners page - I suppose we ought to have one of those, except we’d only have one company to put on there!). But all that means is that I e-mailed them a year or so ago, explained what Scrivener did, and asked if there was any way they would be willing to let me have access to one of their formats so that I could provide an importer and exporter. I expected that to be that, and that I would never hear back from them; instead I received a very helpful e-mail, followed by a phone call. They gave me access to the .fcf format and later suggested I support .fdx too; they’ve kept in touch ever since and even made time to meet with us on a couple of occasions. They didn’t need to do any of that; we are small fry (for now - obviously the long-term plan is world domination), but they just seemed to have a very open attitude towards other programs, and that’s something I really appreciate.

Anyway, now that Final Draft 8 is out, a few users have asked, do I really need both programs now? Can’t I do it all in Final Draft? And inevitably, in a couple of Mac reviews of Final Draft, Scrivener has come up as a competitor. Scrivener is, of course, in no way direct competition to Final Draft (or Movie Magic Screenwriter or Montage for that matter), any more than it is in direct competition to Word or Pages. Scrivener is still very firmly about the first draft stages of a writing project. It is - I hope - great for organising ideas, structuring the project, and then hammering out that first draft of a script or novel (or legal document or thesis). But just as for the majority of cases you would take a thesis written in Scrivener to a word processor for final formatting, you are equally likely to take a screenplay written in Scrivener to a dedicated program such as Final Draft for the last stages of its development (the only reason I didn’t say stage play there as I am aware the requirements for stage plays vary).

So: Final Draft 8. More Mac-like, easier to use, looks better, developed by a friendly company, and now it’s simpler than ever to get scripts developed in Scrivener out to it.

I’ll leave the final words to Sean, one of the L&L forum users (I hope he doesn’t mind me quoting him), as I think he hit the nail on the head:

One of the biggest complaints about [Final Draft] 7 was that it felt like a Windows app ported to the Mac. [With Final Draft 8] hey remedied this in a very smart, very professional way: not content to merely look like Mac software, they actually acted like Mac software. They recognized their place in the world, and they made that place as great as they could. There's no Microsoft "resistance is futile" thing here -- they didn't try to crush the Scriveners of the world by bloating their own software with their own crappy version of the binder. Instead, they literally encourage you to keep using the tools you love, and they made it easier for you to come home to Final Draft for your final draft… I say well done. I am now officially a Final Draft fan again. Well worth the $79 upgrade.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Creating TIF files with multiple images

So, in overhauling Scrivener's toolbar graphics and other graphic elements for 2.0, I noticed that a lot of OS X apps handle toolbar images a little more elegantly than Scrivener 1.x. Scrivener's toolbar looks fine when the icon size is set to normal, but if you set the it to use the small image size, the images get rescaled and don't look so hot. A lot of apps - look at Pages for instance - look great at both sizes, because they provide custom images for each rather than just allowing the toolbar to scale the larger images down when the small size option is selected. with Scrivener 1.x, though, I only created images for the larger size.

I was waiting on overhauling images such as these to see if Snow Leopard introduced resolution independence - when that comes just about every image in every OS X app is going to need recreating at a much larger scale by professional artists. But seeing as that doesn't seem to be on the agenda for 10.6 (which makes me sigh with relief as a developer even if the end-user part of me would like to see it), I have started in on overhauling the icon set.

The way OS X toolbars handle selecting the small or large image for a particular toolbar icon is to look in the one image file for both images; that is, it expects both images to be bundled into the same .tif or .icns file (the larger one at 32x32 pixels and the smaller one at 24x24). OS X comes with a tool that will create .icns files easily enough, but being obtuse I decided I wanted to keep the toolbar icons as .tif files (which is how most Apple apps do it). The trouble is, Photoshop doesn't support .tif files containing multiple images. So I Googled around to find a tool which would, but either my search terms were rubbish or the only tools that really do this sort of thing are paid-for, fully-featured apps, and I realised I could write my own tool to do this much more quickly than I could find one from searching through Google results - after all, all it needs to do is take two image files already created in Photoshop, one for the small size and one for the larger size, and bundle them both into the one .tif file.

So, here is my ten-minute app that does exactly this:


It's pretty self-explanatory - you just drag a 32x32 image into the 32x32 image well and a 24x24 image into the 24x24 well, and then hit Save to create a .tif file that combines the two, suitable for use in toolbars.

EDIT: I've updated it so that you can open existing multi-page .tif files and export the small or large icons out as separate files.

Who knows, maybe it will come in useful for somebody else putting their toolbar images together. Probably not; given that a lot of developers do this already, presumably there is already an abundance of tools out there that do this that I just missed, but it was a diverting ten-minute break from the intense coding I'm doing on Scrivener 2.0 at the moment. Which rocks, by the way.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Apple: friendlier

A couple of years ago I got all huffy about how Apple had withheld the Leopard beta released at WWDC '07 from developers who had paid for access to Leopard betas but could not attend WWDC, only finally releasing it to other Apple Developer Connection Select and Premier members about a month later - meaning a lot of developers who had paid up for early access to Leopard were unnecessarily left a month behind WWDC attendees in getting their apps Leopard-ready.

I was not a happy bunny, as many panicked Scrivener users noted in their e-mails to me asking if my beta-rage meant I was likely to abandon Scrivener and the Mac platform (which was never in question). I like to think I have grown and calmed with age in the past couple of years (although my shouting at an ancient Cornish driver the other day may provide evidence to the contrary), so this year, with the coming of WWDC and the announcement that there would be a "near final" build of Snow Leopard available to attendees, I just accepted that I would have to wait another month or so to get access once more. (Despite my vow never to pay for ADC again, it would be a little irresponsible not to do so, as I have to ensure that Scrivener is Snow Leopard-ready for the day of its release... so I reluctantly handed over the cash again this year for the Snow Leopard betas.) Indeed, unlike two years ago, the Apple developer website didn't even claim that ADC Premier and Select members would get the "latest builds", so the signs weren’t exactly auspicious.

So imagine my surprise when I logged into my ADC account the other day to find that the latest, WWDC, build of Snow Leopard was there, ready and waiting for download - and had been there since the 8th June, the very day it was made available to WWDC attendees. I nearly fell out of my chair. Or at least I swivelled in it a bit. I don’t know if there were a glut of other developers such as myself who complained bitterly at Apple two years ago - I certainly didn’t see much complaining about it anywhere else online - or if Apple just decided they should give all paid-up developers equal opportunity to get their apps Snow Leopard-ready, but whatever the reason, given the loudness of my lamentations and weilaways two years ago, I figured I should at least give credit where credit’s due this time around. Okay, it should have been like this in the first place, but at least Apple have got it together now and that makes me (for once) a happy bunny. So, thank you Apple for sorting this out.

So Snow Leopard is now ready on my other system and waiting for me to make sure Scrivener works fine on it (early tests are good), which I will be doing in earnest very shortly, in the midst of the full-on development on 2.0 in which I’m currently immersed. (And to those waiting for news on 2.0... Sorry, but I’m holding back on further announcements or feature peeks until nearer the time. 2.0 is still slated for an end-of-2009 release, and suffice to say that I think a lot of Scrivener users are going to be very happy...)