Lovely Charts iPad Edition now available on the App Store!



Export enhancements: faster, safer & better.

11 June 2009

Yet another minorbutcool update today, focusing on export related issues:

  • JPG export is now up to 4 times faster, thanks to Thibault’s fantastic work on optimizing the class responsible for encoding JPEGs for export. If you are into Flash/Flex development and don’t know Thibault’s website, you are missing on something, bookmark it quickly, this guy rocks !
    The cool thing with that speed upgrade, besides an obviously better user experience thanks to the faster response, is that it will allow me to consider supporting higher resolution exports, meaning higher quality output, lovely!
  • I fixed a nasty bug that had insidiously slept in when I solved the infamous “orphan symbol issue“: edges of diagrams containing connections reaching outside symbols got cut off during export… Well, it’ no longer the case :)
  • Rounded edges now look a lot nicer in exported images, check out the difference below
  • PNG is now the default export format. If you don’t know what this means, essentially it means your images will be by default exported with a transparent background, implying you can use them on coloured, gradient and drawn backgrounds.
  • Last but not least, a quick note to let you know Lovely Charts now requires Flash Player 10. This was essentially motivated by the perspective of offering the (much) faster JPG export mentioned above. It makes me slightly nervous to impose this, but my stats show that cc 80% of all my users have FP10 already anyway, the player installation is a pretty easy process, so I believe this shouldn’t be much of an issue anymay, but please let me know if this is an issue for you for whatever reason!

stroke_hinting.jpg

Jérôme

Little update: dashed borders & 3D Cube

19 May 2009

A quick post to let you now I’ve just released a “relatively minor yet cool” update to Lovely Charts, adding the following:

  • Dashed border support for rectangular symbols. A lot of people missed that, and so did I:)… Rectangles with dashed borders notably come in pretty handy when you need to group a bunch of items visually.
  • A 3D “cube” symbol will now show up in the “Basics” library. This is maybe slightly more futile, but I still for one certainly see use cases for it. If you like it, dislike it, want more 3D symbols, don’t care, let me know!

Lovely 3D

Updates are a bit slow lately, as I’ve been pretty intensely preparing my trip to San Francisco next week, it will be fun! Again, if you’re around the Bay Area next week and think we should meet, please drop me an email (jerome at lovelycharts)

Jérôme

Tip: Prism rocks :)

12 May 2009

Wow, that was easy.
Most readers of this blog or the newsletter already know this, but I’m working on an AIR version of Lovely Charts that will allow you to use Lovely Charts offline, save and open local files, etc etc. This is not a huuuuge effort, but it nevertheless requires some time to make sure it’s done properly, so unfortunately it’s not available yet :).
But meanwhile, if you are a regular Lovely Charts user, you may enjoy what Mozilla Prism has to offer, as it allows you to run any web applications (including Lovely Charts of course) directly from your desktop, without having to open your browser, type any url and s on. Just click on the desktop/launch bar/ start menu shortcut and the app will launch directly without all the browser chrome (that means more screen real estate!).

To turn Lovely Charts into a Prism app, follow these simple steps:

  1. Install the Prism extension for Firefox, available here: http://prism.mozilla.com/started/
  2. Navigate to Lovely Charts: http://my.lovelycharts.com
  3. In Firefox’s Tools menu, pick “Convert website to application…”
  4. Pick the options you want (shortcuts etc), Hit OK, and you are done!

I told you that was easy! Performances are awesome, keyboard shortcuts (copy, paste, undo etc) work perfectly, it’s not yet a full desktop app, but it sure does feel nice !

Prism is Windows only, but Mac users can use Fluid (http://fluidapp.com/) to achieve the same results. The good news I have for you guys is that I finally uploaded an icon to use with Fluid on the official Flickr group (thanks Peter for the tip) : http://www.flickr.com/photos/21383998@N07/3525448000/in/pool-fluid_icons

Jérôme

Release 1.1.1: search diagrams and bug fixes

16 April 2009

Sorry I’m not pushing updates as often as I’d like to, but I’ve actually spent quite some time last week away from coding, to think a bit about where I’d like to take Lovely Charts and most importantly, how to get there (read “search for money or not?” ;)).
I will try to publish a little note soon with some more details on my current thinking on this, but meanwhile, since I’ve finally found some time this week to work on a couple of things, it’s my pleasure to announce today the immediate availability of release 1.1.1, bringing you the following improvements:

  • New feature: progressive search. This is obviously only relevant to premium users, who sometimes create and maintain quite a lot of diagrams. A “progressive” search field now exists below the diagrams list, which you can use to filter down the diagrams list to only show the diagrams you want to see.
    Simply start typing some letters contained in the name of the diagram(s) you are looking for, and watch the results in real-time as you type. It’s only a first step towards a much better, powerful diagram management interface, but it’s already quite a big improvement imho :)

    Progressive search

  • Fixed a couple of bugs related to selection not properly updating properties controls (such as strokes color, style or width), making it sometimes a bit tedious to apply settings repeatedly to different symbols.
  • I also think (hope^^) I finally fixed a pretty serious (even if it only happened given a very specific scenario) bug that caused some diagrams to overwrite each other when working on multiple tabs. Crossing fingers here, but I really think this shouldn’t happen anymore !
Jérôme

In the press today :)

6 April 2009

So, there’s already been a couple of lovely articles written on Lovely Charts on the web and I’ve even had the honor of being interviewed a couple of times, so really, there shouldn’t be any big fuss to make out of this, but honestly, despite the growing aura of web publications, seeing your name on glossy paper still has this little special dimension… And when it’s completely unexpected and you’re just reading a magazine you bought 15 minutes earlier because you enjoy reading it, without knowing anything about its content, it really becomes one hell of a nice surprise ! :)

Bizz Magazine

Thanks to the Bizz Magazine team for the lovely mention !

Jérôme

Image import is in !

1 April 2009

So, today is probably not the best day for such an important announcement, but I swear this is not a bad April 1st joke, it’s for real !
Since about 15 minutes, premium users can now take advantage of “Lovely Charts’ n°1 most wanted feature of all times” AKA the ability to import images (JPG, PNG, GIF) into Lovely Charts and use those like any other symbol.

You need the Flash Player to view this video.

I’m so excited by this feature I can barely write this post up, this is only a first step towards making Lovely Charts an extensible platform, but it’s a GREAT step, as it really opens a whole new level of possibilities!
I quickly made the little diagram below to give some idea of the immense potential of this new feature (please ignore the diagram’s content, it’s not meant to be 100% complete or correct):

Social Media for your company

Even if our own tests show that it’s already quite robust and usable, I consider the feature to be in Beta status for now, please let me know if you encounter any issues of any kind with it, by dropping me an email at beta at lovelycharts.com.

At the moment, the following limitations apply:

  • This feature is accessible to Premium account holders only.
  • Libraries are limited to a total of 10Mb
  • Individual uploaded files are limited to 2Mb per file
  • Import is limited to JPG, PNG, and GIF files

These limitations are not carved in stone by anyway, so also don’t hesitate to let me know how you feel about these limitations, either via email, or via a comment on this blog.

Now, it’s time for some serious diagramming fun! :)

Jérôme

Importing images, anyone?

16 March 2009

Image import

So, besides architecting Lovely Charts 2.0, I have this biiiiiiiig list of things I want/need to work on: new features to add, existing stuff to improve or change… Thanks to your incredible feedback, I’ve been able over the last weeks/months to gain a pretty good understanding of what was most desired or criticized; but now, how do I take actions on this and concretely decide on what to work on next?

Well, I did two things last week to help me out with this prioritization process:

  • Classical “Risk/Reward” evaluations: looking at the entire feature/enhancement requests list, A.) what would be the reward(s) if I added/improved feature XYZ? Would it improve the user experience, global quality, the free > premium conversion rate, …? Then, B.) what are the assoicated risks? Is it highly complex or is it easy to do? Does it have “strings attached” in terms of infrastructure costs or requirements, how heavily could it impact the existing code base, etc?
  • Spiking. A spike is a technique often used in Agile processes when a story can’t be properly estimated because of its technical complexity or novelty. It’s about exploring options, prototyping, builidng POCs, (in-)validating ideas, in short doing what’s necessary in order to figure out appropriate solutions to complex and/or little-known problems, and consequently make informed decisions.

Spiking in particular, has been of tremendous value, as it really helped prioritizing features and assessing attached risks based on a early, thorough understanding of the issues at hand, I can’t recommend strongly enough you give it a try if you’ve never done it.

What have I spiked this week? Well, I notably investigated SVG export, and realized it wasn’t going to be difficult to implement per se but that it would nevertheless require some serious testing to get it right across the entire library set and accompanying options, which lead me to give a high Risk threshold to this feature.
But I also started seriously considering options for Lovely Charts’ most desired feature of all times: Importing custom symbols (images, vector flash files…), and definitely established the architecture was flexible enough to accomodate it with very minimal effort! The picture above is a screenshot of my spike’s result showing an image of Lovely Charts’ home page being imported and used in a diagram.

Realizing this definitely allowed me to reduce the risk level I had previously perceived as attached to this, so given the fact that this feature has maximal reward value, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to decide to implement it now, and even announce it!
So that’s what’s coming up next: the ability to upload your own symbols and thereby extend the library and tune it to your specific needs.
That being said, even if my spike validated the fact that it was feasible at a reasonable cost, it’s still a significant piece of work, so you won’t see it immediately, but I believe you can reasonably expect it (ie, a beta version) by the end of the month!

Jérôme

Updated library, fixes, and a surprise :)

9 March 2009

As promised last time, let’s welcome with this week’s release a couple of additions to the various symbols libraries:

  • There is now a scrollbar symbol in the Wireframes library.
  • Vertical & Horizontal annotations symbols were added to the Basics library
  • But most of the additions have been made to the Flowcharting library, notably including most-wanted swimlanes symbols (vertical & horizontal), an Activity symbol, and a couple of various miscalleneous process-related symbols such as External Entity, Loop, and External Reference.
  • I just made a little diagram using the new vertical swimlane symbol and the activities symbol, let me know what you think of it:

    Customer Support Flow

    Besides, I’ve also fixed a couple of things in the app itself, notably restoring the proper functioning of keyboard shortcuts (on a limited set of browsers unfortunately) that broke with a silly typo I made in last week’s patch.

    Please continue to let me know of issues you encounter or features you desperately need, it really plays in the prioritization process!

    That being said, let me conclude this post with some insider information on what’s going on at the Lovely Charts headquarters (note to self, post a picture of home office, including canine co-worker^^): the last weeks have just been absolutely crazy! Besides working on regular updates, patches and additions to the current Lovely Charts version, I’m also dedicating quite a significant portion of my time to the architecture and development of version 2, which will notably include a complete revision of the editor component. Progress has been pretty awesome lately, so I can’t resist the temptation of showing you this sneak screenshot revealing quite a bit on what’s coming (automated layouts amongst other things):

    Riviso Preview

    “Looking” cool, no?

    Jérôme

1.0.3 Release: multiline connection labels, and a better UX!

3 March 2009

Even if the updates list is not huge, I’m pretty happy with today’s release as it fixes a lot of relatively minor (and well, let’s face it, some major ones as well ^^) issues that could have lead to a frustrating user experience… So this is really a nice step in the right direction.
Here is what has been added/fixed in this release:

  • Proper controls updates when updating the selection: There used to be an issue where property controls, such as fill or stroke colour for example, did not properly update when you selected different objects. Not a huge deal on its own, except it came with the side effect that if you had picked the red colour, selected a green item and wanted to make it red, you had to pick first a different colour before being able to assign the red colour to that item. This is now FIXED.
  • Allowed the connection labels to be multiline.
  • Fixed a bug with the Alt Gr key that was particularly annoying for users using that key a lot to enter special characters, such as Polish characters for example.
  • Finally added support of the BACKSPACE key for deleting objects on Apple computers. Sorry guys, I used to ignore you don’t have a DELETE key :)
  • Enforced the file name validator I mentionned last time to prevent you from ignoring it
  • Fixed a couple of copywriting errors on the homepage (Thanks Michael!), and changed the “Try it” button to a “Login” button, as some users reportedly found it confusing
  • Fixed some bugs with some connection drawing corner cases
  • I want to be very careful with this one, as I’ve already thought so many times I had fixed it, but I think the infamous “orphan symbol causing strange export results” has finally been eliminated ! (Crossing fingers)

In the next days, I’ll focus on adding some “most-wanted” symbols to the library, so if you have some specific symbols you desperately want to see in here, now is the best moment to let me know !

Jérôme

Update 1.0.2: PDF Export, enhanced snapping, and some more bug fixes !

22 February 2009

So, the last couple of weeks have been pretty wild, with tons of emails flowing in, user feedback to digest and customers to support (thank you all!), all that while still trying to deliver on a running consulting engagement, crazy times!
The good news however is that, starting tomorrow, I’ll have a lot more time to work on Lovely Charts’ future and polish up this lovely experience, so you should normally get to see more and more frequent and important updates in the upcoming weeks!
Nevertheless, with the intention of adhering to the agile motto of “Release Early, Release Often”, I’m happy to bring you today the following small improvements:

  • PDF Export (premium accounts only): Premium account holders now can export their diagrams directly in the PDF format, for quick and easy distribution and printing. This is a quick, temporary solution where diagrams are simply embedded as PNG bitmaps into PDF documents, it’s not yet the full-blown vector PDF export I know some people expect, but obviously this requires a lot more work. Bear with me, my intention is still to have vector export in (PDF, SVG, maybe EPS?) at some point.
  • Enhanced connection snapping: “high quality output” being a core driver to the project, we need to make it easy for you to create diagrams where items are properly aligned, where connections “snap” to the center or corners of symbols etc etc… Therefore, one thing that was missing previously was an easy and proper way of creating straight connections that were perfectly horizontal or vertical when not connecting remarkable points such as centers or corners. This is now a shortcoming of the past, connections that used to be almost horizontal or vertical will now be perfectly horizontal or vertical !
  • Diagrams are now ordered by creation date, in descending order, so the most recent ones always show on top.
  • Fixed a couple of bugs with some symbols, such as the Horizontal Arrow which used to expand on its own when editing its label, or the Text symbols that did not allow for horizontal text alignment!
  • Fixed a bug that caused saved diagrams to appear as empty when opened back.
  • Fixed a bug with UI controls focus that could occasionaly lead to strange UI behaviours, given some very specific scenarios.
  • Added a validator to the export form to prevent users from specifying invalid file names, which previously failed silently
  • Fixed a bug with connections Z-layer ordering which resulted in some strange results from time to time

Please continue to let me know if you encounter any issues with Lovely Charts, or think of a feature you need, I love it!

Jérôme