OL Connect 2023.1 is here and oh boy! are we ever excited about this one! As usual, there are a slew of improvements and fixes, and we had a hard time picking the ones that would be showcased in this summary. There are a lot of goodies in this release, so let’s get to it!

New Welcome Screen

A completely redesigned Welcome screen allows you to perform the most common tasks from a single place. The new Learn section shows our most recent blog posts and lists the most popular hands-on tutorials and how-to’s. This brings OL Connect related knowledge right at your doorstep. The content is fetched dynamically from our rebranded resources and learn platform, whose URL will be made public shortly.

The overhauled New section not only lets you create new documents but also download online resources. The goal of these resources is to show best practices and to inspire users. Selecting an online resource shows a short description explaining its use case and detailing the techniques it uses. That information may even include links to how-to’s, blog posts or pages in the online Help.

Downloading a resource opens it in the application. Often, the resource is a combination of a template and a data mapping configuration, so you have everything at hand to preview, output and most importantly, discover!

Designer

Over 40 smaller fixes and improvements have been implemented in the Designer alone. Several of those are small adjustments suggested by users to make their life easier when using the application, while other more important ones greatly expand the functionality of the module.

Handlebar expression changes

The following enhancements were made to the expression implementation in OL Connect Designer:

  • Introducing the @first, @last, @index data variables in detail tables, which can be used to conditionally show information based on the position in the row iteration.
  • Support was added for Handlebars partials in the main (HTML) content editor. For technical reasons the implementation slightly differs from the partials in Handlebars snippets and uses the plus (+) sign instead of the greater than (>) sign ({{+snippets/officelocation.hbs}} or {{+officelocation}})

Missing images in templates

Missing images can be handled in various ways, depending on your use case. The following options are added:

  • Provide Alternative text (<img src="" alt="">) via the Attributes panel: when specified, this text will be rendered in the output in case the image cannot be found.
  • The data-broken-image attribute is added to the <img> element to specify that the image could not be found. This can be used in the selectors in scripts and CSS to apply custom styling or to insert a fallback image.

Switch data files

Sometimes you need to work with several sample data files, each file containing a particular set of data that allows you to test for specific conditions in your template. But in order to use a different data file, you had to switch over to the DataMapper, select a different file and make it the active one, then switch back to the Designer to see how the template reacts to that data file.

You can now switch data files directly from the Data Model pane, using a drop-down that lists all the sample data files that are available for that data mapping config. It’s that easy!

Miscellaneous

  • In Text Script wizard/helpers, a line-break icon column is added so it is no longer needed to enter that pesky <br> element in the suffix field.
  • The state of the Resources panel is stored with the template and the default for new document is changed so only the relevant context is opened.
  • Issues related to the selection range for absolute positioned boxes are fixed.
  • Set properties for a Barcode upon adding the object to the document.
  • Use expressions in Barcode objects or simply add static text (handy for QR codes).
  • New email templates, and templates created from MS Word documents now use expressions for placeholders
  • Widows and orphans settings for tables in new documents is set to 1 so that tables with page size rows are properly split across pages and no longer show the red shaded area.
  • Script profiling times are more accurate.
  • Define the data scope for Text Helpers so it can be used to create helpers for fields in detail tables.
  • Fixed several display issues for High PPI/DPI monitors.

DataMapper

Performance metrics

The Validate all records option has been enhanced to display a table of all operations performed and the time spent in each step. This allows you to identify the steps that consume the most time and that could therefore be candidates for optimization.

The metrics are gathered for all the records that have been validated and are displayed in descending order of time spent percentage. Clicking on any item in the table automatically selects the corresponding step in the flow.

A second tab also lists potential issues with the configuration. For instance when a very large number of fields is being extracted (several thousands), the Detected problems list might warn you that such a large number of fields may take a long time to process and offers potential solutions for mitigating the problem.

Step timeout value

Some steps can take a while to execute and it was previously difficult to determine whether a step was actually doing something, if it was stuck, or if it was caught in an endless loop (a mistake in a Script step could do that!). A new Timeout preference now allows you to control the maximum amount of time the DataMapper will spend in any step before timing out and aborting the process. By default, that value is set to 15 seconds.

So even if you purposely write a JavaScript step that loops forever, the DataMapper will eventually stop the step, abort the process and allow you to correct your script without having to kill the application.

PDF input with missing fonts

Fonts that are not embedded in PDF input files can now be made available to OL Connect by storing them in a folder on the system, and registering them in a font map file. This improves quality because the content is rendered as intended, and it can improve data mapping of PDFs in certain cases where character information was missing.

AFP input with external resources

PReS Connect only

With AFP data streams, it is not uncommon to have resources such as fonts, images, overlays, etc. separate from the print file, in order to reduce the size of print files. Until now, OL Connect could not process AFP input files with external resources unless these resources were first embedded in the print file. To do so, we would provide an unofficial tool to customers who needed it. Such an unofficial tool can raise questions regarding support, etc. Both these issues have been resolved:

  • External AFP resources can be provided in a folder on the system, and will then automatically be used by AFP input if needed.
  • The unofficial tool for embedding external resources has been tidied up, improved with the ability to concatenate AFP files, and has been added to the PReS Connect installation.

Miscellaneous

  • The data model pane’s filter option has been enhanced to look for the provided text in both the field names and their values. This allows you to quickly find a specific field name or display only the fields whose value contains a specific string of text.
  • The Projects pane has been enhanced to allow you to open a template or a data mapping configuration by simply double clicking on it. In addition, the context menu allows you to open the Properties dialog for each of these resources. The tooltip has also been improved to provide more relevant information about each resource.

Print presets as regular files

Both job and output presets are no longer hidden away in a folder in the Connect Designer’s workspace, but treated like regular files that can be managed alongside your templates and data mappers. This makes it a lot easier to let these presets be part of your OL Connect projects (whether you use project versioning or not). You can now:

  • double-click a preset in the Windows file explorer and it will open in the appropriate wizard in Connect Designer;
  • double-click a preset in Designer’s project view to edit it;
  • save a preset in any location when you press Finish in the wizard;
  • create a new preset from the File/New... menu, or the new Welcome screen;
  • open a preset for editing from File/Open menu, or the new Welcome screen;
  • select presets from any location in the print dialog, the dialog’s layout has also been updated while we were at it.

Because of this, the File/Print Presets... menu item is no longer needed, and neither are the special buttons for picking presets in the Send to Workflow..., Send to Server..., and Package... dialogs.

Job Creation

Use document sheet count in external sorting

External sorting in job creation now provides a document sheet count field to the external sorting application. This is useful when using third party postal sorting applications from within job creation, because postal sorting typically requires the mailpiece size to be known.

Output Creation

Banner pages

Output creation can now add banner pages to the output it’s creating. The existing additional content functionality can be used to add content to these banner pages. To add content to a banner page, a very simple condition is sufficient to ensure the content is only added on the banner: page.banner

MICR support in AFP output

PReS Connect only

Certain AFP printers require a specific flag on a font to enable printing of magnetic ink for MICR applications. We now support enabling this MICR font flag for both AFP and IPDS output.

Workflow

JS Includes

You can now specify a list of JS modules that are automatically loaded by the Enhanced JavaScript engine prior to running any scripting task. This allows you to create your own set of reusable objects and methods without having to redefine them in each individual task. You could, for instance, define your own logger module that acts as a wrapper around the Watch.Log() method and automatically concatenates all parameters together. Then, in any of your scripts, you could use something like:

logger.warn('The current data file [', Watch.GetOriginalFileName(), '] is not a valid PDF');
logger.info('Task done');

instead of

Watch.Log('The current data file [ ' + Watch.GetOriginalFileName() + ' ] is not a valid PDF',2);
Watch.log('Task done',3);

to output the messages

The current data file [ MyTest.csv ] is not a valid PDF
Task done

Dynamic Office 365 connection parameters

The Office 365 tasks now accept variable values in their connection parameters. This allows the tasks to dynamically switch accounts in a process without having to create numerous branches to handle each individual account. For instance, given a list of OneDrive users and folders, you could create a loop that drops the same file (or different files) in each account in the list.

Miscellaneous

  • The File Store – Upload File task now allows you to specify which kind of OL Connect resource is being uploaded to the File Store
  • The PDF file viewer allows you to navigate from page to page using the keyboard arrow keys
  • Support for TLS 1.3 has been added to various tasks, as well as support for OpenSSL 1.1.1
  • Several memory leaks linked to the use of the AlambicEdit library have been fixed, which translates to improved stability. This improvement impacts native tasks that perform PDF operations as well as any Scripting task that uses the Watch.GetPDFEditObject() method.

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