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Updates are Coming

  • Within the next week or so, new updates to OLLY will be released. This release will fix some of the most significant issues that users are currently experiencing, or will soon experience with OLLY.
  • Some issues with OLLY running on the latest versions of OS X will be fixed.
  • Dropbox will soon be shutting down some old developer APIs that previous versions of OLLY have been using to sync their data between devices. An update for the new replacement APIs is in the works.
  • For users who purchased OLLY from our website, you will be receiving updates very soon. For those who ordered from the App Store, you will receive updates as soon as Apple gets OLLY’s App Store account reconfigured properly and approves the new update.

The Journey

This part of my post is rather lengthy, and is for anyone who is curious what has been involved in the transfer and update of OLLY. Feel free to skip to the last section if you just want to know a little bit about me, the new owner.

OLLY was purchased by me at the end of December 2016 from a homeschooling mother and son team who originally created and marketed the software. Because the son went off to college and later landed a nice job at Facebook, OLLY had not been updated in over 3 years.

After the purchase, all of the assets had to be transferred over to me. This meant that new servers had to be setup to run the website, and the website, forum and file hosting all had to be installed and configured on the new servers. A few of the early challenges were related to getting the forum and the file hosting transferred.

The update and installation files for OLLY are hosted on an Amazon Web Service account for users who purchased a license through the www.ollyhomeschool.com website. Because the Amazon account couldn’t be transferred to the new owner, we had to find a way to transfer the existing files to a new account, while keeping the URL to those files exactly the same. Had we not been able to keep the same URLs, then immediately every copy of OLLY would have been prevented from checking for and receiving updates in the future. There is a good chance that OLLY would have simply crashed whenever it checked for updates in the background. After a few days of looking for a possible solution, we found one we thought should work. The previous owner would send me all of the files, and then he would delete the container they were originally stored in. Then, after a few minutes, the name of that container would become available for anyone to grab, and if I grabbed it before anyone else did, I could use the same URLs that were previously used for the files. We attempted the move early one morning, and to my relief, the plan worked as expected, no one grabbed the old container name before I was able to grab it, and no hiccups were observed during the few minutes that the files were offline. Had the attempt failed, at best it would have been difficult to notify users of new updates, and at worst, I would have had hundreds of angry OLLY users who couldn’t open their software any more.

Moving the forum over to the new server was my second tough challenge. Soon after switching over the domain name, I realized that the forum tab on the website was no longer working. It turns out that the forum was being hosted on a different domain that was going to be retained by the original owner. While the forum was not being used as much as it once was, I still wanted to keep it around for the future, and hated to see any of the old conversations get lost. However, I could not get my hands on an installer for the original version of the Forum software that was used by the former owners. They were renting a shared hosting account that automatically came with the hosting software installed, which meant that there really wasn’t an old installer lying around that I could use to install the forum software. That software was now unsupported and out of date, and I struggled to find a way to upgrade it. It took me a few weeks of researching, but I finally found a way to export the contents from the old forum software, and convert it between a few different products before I was finally able to get all of the discussions into the current forum software that is being used on the http://forum.ollyhomeschool.com website today.

Remember when I said OLLY hadn’t been updated in three years? Three years may not sound like a long time, but in the computer software world, it is an extremely long time. In that span of time, Apple has released 4 major updates to the XCode programming environment and tools that OLLY was created with, not to mention updates to the Mac OS and App Stores. Several of the features in OLLY were implemented with third party software from the likes of Dropbox and other companies, of which almost all have released significant changes and have stopped supporting the older versions that were still running inside OLLY. I somehow discovered an online post from Dropbox where they were telling developers that they were going to stop supporting their version 1 developer API in June. This is the same API that OLLY was currently using! This meant that I had a fixed deadline of the end of June to get a replacement for the sync technology being used by OLLY. Part of me was so glad I had seen this post in January, but another part of me was wishing I had known this in December, prior to purchasing OLLY.

In a nutshell, when I purchased OLLY, I was not able to build a new signed release from the source code, and would not have been allowed to release an update to the App Store even if I could have built a new release with the old code. Currently, Apple’s App Store will only allow publishing updates to software that was built with tools that are no more than two versions old. OLLY was last published with a version 4.x of Apple’s XCode, and the current version of XCode is now 8.x (and they currently have version 9 in beta)! Many changes needed to be made to just get the source code up to date enough so that Apple would allow me to publish to the App Store.

Had the product been maintained during those three years, a developer would have upgraded from version 4 to version 5 of Apple’s XCode and then fixed any code that needed to change in order to match Apple’s new requirements that came with XCode 5 and its programming frameworks. Then, several months later when the next new version of XCode was released, the process would have been repeated. (This upgrade of dev tools and the re-learning /re-coding cycle is a never-ending journey for developers, by the way). There is always a learning curve when a programming tool vendor like Apple releases a new major version, but it is usually not too painful all at once.

However, the problem I was running into, was that I had trouble finding a computer old enough to get XCode 4.x installed on. The computers that I had access to were either too old to run XCode 4, or had newer versions of OS X that would not allow me to install XCode 4.x because it was considered too old. I had just purchased a new Mac computer to do my development on, not to mention a new MacBook Pro laptop for my son, so I wasn’t too keen on purchasing an OLD mac computer just to do this upgrade. I did manage to find a company that would rent a remote Mac computer to me (that had XCode 6.x, not 4.x), but that didn’t work out for multiple reasons. I finally abandoned my attempts at doing a version by version upgrade of XCode, and just dove right in to trying to manage the jump from 4.x directly to 8.x, without the intermediate upgrades. Oh, and did I mention that while I have multiple decades of experience in programming for Windows computers, this would be my first experience in programming in the Objective-C language, and my first real experience with Apple’s XCode development tools? Let’s just say there was a LOT to learn for me to get OLLY built and signed with XCode 8.x. I would also like to mention that Apple’s XCode environment and Objective-C language are, in my opinion, way inferior to what I use 8-10 hours a day in my day job. I would have expected better from a company like Apple.

So here we are today, in the middle of June, 2017. A little over five months after taking ownership, I now am able to build and sign an up-to date copy of OLLY using the latest and greatest XCode environment. The third-party frameworks have all been updated with the exception of the Dropbox framework. I’ll be working hard over the next week to get that one updated. I will be able to push out the next maintenance release of OLLY to my file servers whenever I feel like it is ready. That is a great feeling, after working so hard on it over the last few months.

There is one final hurdle that I’ll mention in this post. I am still waiting on Apple to finalize all my paperwork, contracts, and whatever it is they do to get my Apple Developer account ready so that I can publish updates of OLLY to the App Store. I have the updates ready to test, but I can’t even get them tested until they get their act together and get my account running properly. There is an apparent bug in their system that is preventing it from just automatically working for me. Hopefully that will get resolved in the next few business days. Yet another thing that I would have expected to be better from Apple.

The Future

Besides trying to update the original code for OLLY for some maintenance releases, I have also been working on a complete rewrite of OLLY. This new major release will work on any computer (Mac or Windows, and even Linux if anyone is interested enough), as well as most iOS and Android phones and tablets. It will also simplify the way OLLY works, and will be able to seamlessly synchronize the data between all computers and devices. I am only about half way done with the coding of this new major release, so I don’t have a timeline for release just yet.

Final Thoughts

Some have commented that they thought I should stop selling OLLY until it has been updated. I wanted to give my perspective on this.

OLLY is still a supported product, even if it hasn’t had an update in over three years. I have provided free support to every user who has emailed me questions. The support email address is listed on the website, and any user having trouble using OLLY can send in a request for help.

OLLY still works for most users. Yes, there are many ideas for improvements, and yes as with any software, it has some issues. However, for most people who try out the software for the first time in 2017, the software still works like it did for those users who tried it out for the first time in 2014.

I have a full-time job and a family plus other obligations (see the About Me section below), but have still spent nearly every hour I had left in 2017 working on OLLY. So yes, I am in the process of updating OLLY, but I also realize that it is not being updated as fast as most would like. If Apple hurries up, we might just have our first OLLY update in over three years this coming week.

Year to date, the sales of OLLY have been $445 after the stores get their fees. With this money, I have been able to keep the website running, and paid for the server, hosting and helpdesk fees that allow me to continue to support existing OLLY users (most of these users paid the former owners and not me for their current software license). So yes, I am continuing to sell an old version of OLLY to new users, but there is a free trial version available, so if they buy it, it’s because they like it and want to use it even if it is an older version. And with their license fees, I’m able to continue to keep the lights on for all of the existing users.

There were many times when I wanted to spend some time on the OLLY’s social media pages, commenting and giving frequent updates, but every minute I would spend doing that would mean less time getting the software updated. From my perspective, there were several fires burning at once, and I selected the highest priority ones while neglecting others. I have responded to every support request that came through the helpdesk, but outside of that, my free time has been spent getting a new release out before the looming Dropbox shutdown. I will post more frequent posts and updates in the future, once the time critical fixes have been successfully installed on customer devices and machines. I was finally able to write this post now because I have done all the work I can on the updates until Apple gets their issues resolved.

About Me

My name is Chris Cox, and I am the new owner and developer of OLLY. I purchased the assets of the OLLY software business at the end of 2016 for $5,000. I have owned and/or worked for both online and offline businesses, and have been an entrepreneur since Kindergarten, when I sold paper weights made out of rocks, and a programmer since Fourth grade, when my father purchased his first computer. My wife and I have been married for over 20 years. We are parents of two home-schooled children. Our son just graduated from High School last month, and our daughter will be entering her Junior year of High School this coming Fall. I have been a computer programmer for more than 30 years, and have worked full-time in the software field for the last 20 or so years. Besides my responsibilities of being a husband and father, I am active in our church (song leader, Deacon and Bible class teacher), volunteer at a local Christian Camp (Board member, Treasurer, teacher, handyman and visionary), manage rental property that I own, work full time as a software engineer, and now, work on improving OLLY in my “free” time. If you can’t tell, I tend to stay busy!