After a bit of a false start last week, the first release of OL Connect for 2022 is now officially available! It comes packed with over 100 improvements, bug fixes and new features such as a new OL Connect installer, basic version control, handlebar snippets, and MS Word import.
We’ve already published a few posts on upcoming features of OL Connect, and more of those are on the way. So don’t worry if you feel like some of the following information already sounds familiar, there’s plenty more to regale yourself with!
OL Connect installer
A sneak peek article on this topic was recently published. But in case you missed it: the main installer for OL Connect has been completely rebuilt. It now supports rollback in case something goes wrong during installation, and it is based on a more standard architecture. With this, we also address a number of long-standing issues with the previous installer that led to increased support calls and had a negative impact on customer experience. This new installer is used for all OL Connect editions: PReS Connect, PlanetPress Connect, and PrintShop Mail Connect. Note that the installer for OL Connect Workflow has not changed.
Note also that the rollback feature does not allow to roll back to a version of OL Connect installed with the previous installer. Still, those upgrade processes will now be far more reliable.
Versioning – First stage
The Designer and the DataMapper are now using Git integration to maintain a history of files inside named projects. This feature allows you to keep a record of all changes made to any template or data mapping configuration file. Each time you commit a resource (i.e., when you create an updated version of it), the additional information you provide gets recorded alongside the file. At any time, you can browse through the history of all changes as you now have a complete record of who did what, on which date, and for which reason. You can elect to restore any version in the history so that if something turns out to be flawed with your most current version, you can always go back to a version that you knew for sure was working.
This is only the first stage in the Versioning feature, but it is already a game changer in the way you develop your templates and data mapping configurations! Future stages of the feature will allow you to store your versioned resources on remote repositories (like Github or BitBucket) and to create tags and branches inside your projects to identify, for instance, the various stages of development of that project (e.g. development, test, or production).
Get a grip on snippets with Handlebars
This feature was also covered in a recent sneak peek. If you’ve ever created OL Connect Designer templates for long documents like contracts and insurance policies, you’re undoubtedly familiar with snippets. Snippet-heavy templates can become hard to maintain when each snippet requires multiple scripts to apply personalization and conditions. It requires the snippets and scripts to be thoughtfully organized (grouping, naming conventions, search optimizations). But even then, things can become cluttered and may even impact the overall performance of your template.
Users with a background in web design may be familiar with the Handlebars library. It is a popular templating library that provides a simple way to merge HTML snippets with data. This library has now been added to OL Connect Designer.
The Handlebars template snippets in OL Connect Designer will vastly reduce the number of scripts for the mentioned document types and help keep templates lean by creating semantic snippets.
Create templates from a MS Word document
Oh this one is a doozy! Create new templates by using a Word file as your starting point. The Word based Print template wizards lets the user select a .docx file on disk after which the application determines the page size and margins for the new template. The contents of the Word file are added to the first section in the document. Possible images are written to the Images folder and a base stylesheet is added to the Stylesheets panel.
The end result may not perfectly match the original Word document but it will definitely kickstart the creation of your new template. Designers familiar with Word content will be delighted with clean HTML content, which can be verified in the Source view.
In case of a Word mail merge document the placeholders are translated to their equivalent in OL Connect. The data model and scripts are automatically created based on the markers in the Word file.
Additionally one can import the contents of a Word file at the cursor position (File > Import > Word…).
JSON field type
Another topic we already previewed in this blog, the DataMapper now has a JSON field type that allows you to store JSON objects in your data model. The DataMapper and the Designer automatically parse the contents of these fields and allow you to address each individual property as if it were a field of its own. The Script Editors in both modules even offer code completion as you type :
This feature makes processing JSON values much easier than before and is particularly handy when used with the Designer’s new Handlebars feature.
OL Connect database
The database packaged with OL Connect has switched from MySQL to MariaDB. This was necessary in order to comply with Oracle licensing restrictions. MariaDB is an open source fork of MySQL that has high compatibility with MySQL. MySQL is still supported, so we have effectively increased the databases we support.
Along with the packaged database, the MySQL database driver in the software has been replaced with the MariaDB connector. This connector is fully compatible with MySQL, it is therefore used when accessing either MariaDB or MySQL.
Installations that use the packaged MySQL will be migrated to MariaDB at installation time. This migration is automatic, and the only thing customers would notice is the time it takes to migrate. Customers who are using their own MySQL instance can keep using it, and will not see any noticeable difference.
Runtime parameters galore
The DataMapper now lets you specify runtime parameters directly inside condition and repeat steps so that you no longer have to write scripts. Customizing your data mapping configuration with those runtime parameters has never been easier! But as a bonus, we have also added Runtime parameters when calling Workflow subprocesses. The Gosub task now lets you specify which values to pass on to the sub-process without having to go through intermediate steps (by first storing them inside JobInfos, for instance).
This feature not only allows you to design your subprocesses faster, it also eliminates potential mistakes caused by improper values being passed to them.
Search across Resources
The Resources panel of the Designer has been expanded with a filter option. This allows template designers to search across master pages, sections, stylesheets and snippets. The search results are grouped into the files containing the search term showing a preview and indicator of the term in each file.
Swiss QR code
From June 2020, the Swiss QR-bill started to gradually replace payment slips in Switzerland. Template designers can now add the Swiss QR Code required by these documents to their OL Connect templates.
The OL Connect Designer already supported web fonts via CSS Stylesheets. An option was added to the Fonts folder to simplify adding remote fonts. Note: Always check terms of usage/service for these resources as license restrictions may apply.
Tweak PostScript headers
Certain printers require very specific information in their header comments to work correctly. Although this could already be handled through custom printer definitions, it can now also be done directly through Dynamic PPD mode.
Technical Preview – use system fonts as a fallback for missing input fonts
When fonts are missing in input files (PDF, PostScript, etc.), it is now possible to let OL Connect use system fonts if the same fonts happen to be installed. Being a technical preview feature, this requires manually editing an output preset.