litchie.com
Nov 13, 2017

On TeX Writer 4.0 (iOS)

We are finishing up the next TeX Writer major update and hope to deliver it as soon as possible. We have many feature requests, but unfortunately many of them have to wait for another update, because we simply don't have enough time to implement everything in this release. We have to focus on the file syncing part, as we have explained before that TeX Writer's current dropbox syncing will stop working near the end of November.

New TeX Writer 4.0 supports two general purpose cloud storage: Dropbox and OneDrive. It will have full access to your cloud files. Instead of syncing everything down to your device, you can now select a single folder to sync. This will make syncing a lot faster. Although the syncing engine has been totally rewritten, our existing users should not find the changes surprising. Everything is still familiar and more explicit. Of course you will need to relink.

An unexpected outcome of this redesign is that now online XeLaTeX compiler is also supported. If the following fragment is detected in your tex file, TeX Writer will treat it as XeLaTeX file and try to compile it with our online compiler.

\usepackage{fontspec}

You still compile a file as you have always been doing, everything is handled automatically, as long as the source files are kept in sync with a cloud folder. The cloud compiler doesn't keep a copy of all your files. It only downloads required files from the cloud. Downloaded files are purged after use. To have a quick turn around, files are cached for 1 hour before deletion. In order to use our compilation server, you must have a Pro subscription.

There are also a lot of small improvements to make TeX Writer easier to use. For example:

What's Next

There are a lot of things that we want to do in future TeX Writer updates. For example, a new editor. The current one was developed long ago and many users prefer iOS standard behaviors. People also want better integration with files app. And we want to make the pro subscription more worthwhile.

However, in the next few weeks, the Android version will be our new focus. Its file syncing is facing the same outage problem. The worst problem is that it relies on a package server which is outdated and unavailable. We really need to fix these issues as soon as possible.

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Oct 26, 2017

Improving File Syncing for TeX Writer

We are undertaking the second rewrite of file syncing engine in TeX Writer. The first rewrite was when Dropbox introduced its sync SDK. This time is because the sync SDK has been abandoned by Dropbox, and TeX Writer has been living on an extension period before syncing stops working eventually.

I don't want to blame Dropbox for the termination of sync SDK. It actually got me thinking how we can redesign a better syncing engine. Previously it's difficult to integrate another cloud storage provider, because the code has been structured around Dropbox sync SDK, and we have been reluctant to change code that is not broken. Now change is inevitable, and we have a chance to start from scratch.

We have been thinking and working on the new file syncing in the recent weeks. Many ideas come and go, and the following list is what we end up with.

Full cloud access

Currently only a small portion of Dropbox is visible to TeX Writer, that is files and folders under /Apps/TeX Writer. We wanted to play safe but that is extremely inconvenient for people who collaborate on folders outside the sandbox area. So this time we really want to make people's life easier by asking for full access to entire Dropbox folder.

The way TeX Writer compiler works requires the presence of all referenced files, especially when we need to work in offline mode, like on an airplane. We used to sync entire /Apps/TeX Writer folder down, but now it doesn't make sense to sync entire Dropbox. So we will let users to link a local folder on device to a remote folder on Dropbox (or any other storage provider). Only linked folders will be kept in sync. This is like the selective sync feature on desktop Dropbox client.

Auto merge

Currently if a file is changed locally and also has changes remotely, TeX Writer will require manual conflict resolution. You have to choose either local or remote copy, and it's painful. Most of the time, the changes happen on different portion of the same file and we should be able to merge automatically. We are not going to implement a version control system inside TeX Writer, but this kind of basic feature is useful when we are working on a shared folder with other collaborators.

OneDrive

Dropbox is still the best out there in my opinion, but people have been asking for alternatives. Many ask for iCloud. However, iCloud has a lower priority on our road map, because it is not a general purpose cloud storage. OneDrive is actually the better option. OneDrive provides web API, and its sdk is available on both iOS and android. Its SDK may not be as clean as Dropbox's, but is surely better than either iCloud or GoogleDrive.

Other things

TeX Writer has introduced Pro subscription so that subscribed users can use advanced features. Currently Pro subscription is not cross-platform, but eventually we will associate Pro subscription to one's Dropbox or OneDrive account, so that if one subscribes Pro on iOS, pro features should be avaiable on both texwriter.net and the Android version of TeX Writer, provided that the same Dropbox or OneDrive account is used. Likewise, if one have already purchased web app pro subscription, Pro features should be avaiable in apps too. This is on our list, but may take some time to implement because we need to think it through.

So far, progress has been slow, because file syncing requires extensive testing, and we want to be very careful with user files. The sync engine is implemented and tested separately and we need to integrate into the app in the next few weeks. We hope to deliver the new file syncing before the end of next month.

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Sep 21, 2017

Back to Apps

For about two years, I take some time off and adventure into a different world of PHP, Node JS, Spring Boot, and Vue. With only a handful of updates to my apps from time to time, I keep an eye on the iOS ecosystem with a little bit of distance.

The recent iOS 11 update has been a wake up call. Some of my apps don't work any more after the update. Should we just let them turn into zoombies before they are deleted and forgotten? As long as we have some faithful users out there, it's hard to abandon them. So I think it's time to get back to the apps. There is nothing cool about app development these days, but it's always given me great satisfaction to serve power users. This time, I hope we can find a sustainable way to stay on it.

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Oct 27, 2015

A Not-That-Great Update of iDOS

As you may know, iDOS has been crashing on iOS9. We tried to submit a fix one month ago, but then we had a hard time getting it through the time-consuming review process. In the end, we had to turn off every possible way to access the file system inside this app, specifically, both iTunes file sharing and file import are prohibited. If you are a long time user, you know that these features are badly needed since the release of iOS 8.4. Unfortunately this is the only choice we have if we want to have a usable iDOS release in appstore.

For every user who has already installed one copy before, don't update until you upload everything you need to this app. It's recommended that you save the IPA package in iTunes to somewhere.

To compensate for the loss, we also offer beta versions to paid users. These releases may include beta features that are unavailable in the official app store release. Please send your request to idos@litchie.com, preferably with a receipt of your purchase. Slots are limited, therefore first come first served.

App Store Link: iDOS 2

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Sep 25, 2015

TeX Writer Update for iOS 9

Today TeX Writer update with the bluetooth keyboard fix is available. We have to apologize for the delay. Last time we tried, Apple wasn't ready to accept iOS 9 builds. Then we sort of took a nap, and when we woke up, it's already very late in the game. Thanks for bearing with the inconvenience during the wait.

A quick fix of iDOS2 is also on the way. But a more thorough fix will have to wait because the incompatibility issue is so tough that we have to spend more time on it.

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