January 2010 Archives

Sente on the iPad

Well, Apple has now made the iPad official.  We think it looks like a wonderful device and one that will be very useful in the academic world.  Now many people want to know what our plans are for supporting the iPad.

The bottom line is that we are excited about the new platform and we will release a version of Sente for the iPad as soon as we can.

We are not yet prepared to commit to any particular functionality, but we think some of the key characteristics of iPad Sente are rather obvious, so there is little advantage to keeping them secret.  Here are some of the key features that we expect the application to include:

Mobile libraries synchronized with desktop Sente.  Frankly, many of the design decisions that went into synchronized libraries in Sente 6.0 were made with the rumored tablet in mind and we think Sente's synchronization mechanism is well-suited to the task.  One library, multiple devices.  New references and edits show up everywhere almost immediately.  And "download on demand" for attachments means that you can have as many or as few PDFs on your iPad as you want, and quickly obtain any others as needed with a single click.

On-the-go PDF reading, markup, tagging and note-taking.  The iPad is clearly much better suited to reading PDFs than the iPhone.  To make this most useful, it is essential that users be able to do markup, note taking and tagging as they read.  And, of course, all markup, notes and tags will be quickly and automatically synchronized.

We would not normally make such public statements this early in the development cycle -- one never knows exactly what kinds of unexpected hurdles will be found as we work on the software --  but in this case we think our users should know where we are headed.  We have been hoping for and planning for the iPad for some time, and we are very excited to be able to begin serious development.  

Anticipating the next question... we do not yet know when this application will be released.  When we know more, we will tell everyone, but right now we simply do not have a schedule.

Now we want to hear from you.  Would you like to see Sente on the iPad?  How would you use it?  What do you think the must-have features are?


Sente 6.1: Attachment Filing Enhancements

Since the release of Sente 6.0 we have had a lot of useful feedback from users.  Early on we recognized that one of the most important messages we were getting from users was that the way that Sente 6.0 filed and named attachments in the library bundle was a problem.  We made a commitment to address this issue, and we have begun testing a new approach that I would like to describe here.

First, some background. In 6.0, if you asked Sente to store attachments within the library bundle (which is required if you want attachments synced) they were given a name based on an internal identifier.  This was great for us because it let us sync attachments with confidence that we were not going to accidentally overwrite files on any of the machines on which a synchronized library was installed.  However, it caused a number of problems for users, including:

  • Sending one of these files to a colleague gave them a file with a long, incomprehensible filename
  • Requiring the attachments to be held within the bundle made them less accessible to other programs, like DEVONthink

This is changing in Sente 6.1, due out in a few weeks.  In this new release, you will be able to specify how attachments will be filed and named, much like in Sente 5.  For example, you can have your files organized by journal, year, author and then named with the title of the paper.  Or organized by year and named with the author's name + year + title.

Also, you will be able to have attachments filed outside the library bundle and still synchronized.  So you can place your PDFs in ~/Documents/Sente instead of the bundle and still have them synchronized across multiple computers.  Further, the location can be different on each synced computer.  It can even be in the bundle on some computers and outside the bundle on others.  The folder hierarchy has to be the same on all computers, but the starting location can be different on each.

There is a catch to this, however.  We have to know that the file 2007/Smith/My Paper.pdf is intended to be the same on all computers because when it is updated on one computer, it will be copied to all others, and we have to be confident that we can simply replace the similarly filed/named file on each machine.  For this reason, the folders in which Sente attachments are filed must not be used for any other files.  That is, you cannot intermingle other PDF files with your Sente PDF files, for example.  For this reason, when filing outside the bundle, Sente will always insert a folder with the library name in the path.  For example, if you specify ~/Document/Sente as the root folder for filing attachments for "My Library" Sente will start the filing in ~/Documents/Sente/My Library.

There are some other limitations on the new approach.  For example, the file naming patterns are hard-coded into Sente (as opposed to being bibliography formats, as in Sente 5).  This is done because we have to know that the naming scheme is supported on all synchronized copies.  We will add new options based on user requests, but you will not be able to create your own formats using bibliography formats.

Sente 6.1 also includes the ability to refile all existing attachments based on a new scheme.  For example, you can convert from having PDFs organized by journal and year, to being organized by author and year.  Sente will automatically move and rename all attachments for you.  However, this cannot be done once synchronization has been turned on for a library.  If you need to do this, you will need to make a new copy of the library, set up attachment filing the way you want it, and then turn sync on for the new library.  You can move the entire attachment hierarchy on any copy of a synced library (e.g., you can move it from within the bundle to somewhere outside the bundle, or from Documents/Sente to Documents/PDFs); you just cannot change the organization or naming below that level once sync is turned on.

Here is a shot of the attachment configuration screen:

Screen shot 2010-01-14 at 4.07.27 PM.png

One other change we have introduced since 6.0 was released is that we no longer support "mixed state" for attachments.  That is, if you have told Sente to file all attachments inside the bundle with a particular filing/naming scheme, all attachments in that library must be filed in that way.  You cannot have any attachments in that library stored anywhere else.

We are still encouraging users to store attachments within the library bundle because it is much easier to make many common changes (e.g., just move the entire library from one location to another and everything will still work).  But we are also making it easier to handle changes like the migration from one computer to another even when the attachments are filed outside the bundle.

We are currently testing these changes internally and expect to make them available to a few outside testers in the next week or two.  Not long after that, we will make the official release of Sente 6.1 with these changes.