With spring and a sense of renewal in the air, last week I had the pleasure of seeing Sibelius do something new for the first time. It’s a small pleasure, often repeated throughout the course of each development cycle, but you never forget the first time you see an idea you had brought to life in the software some time later.
Unfortunately I can’t share with you the nature of this most recent advancement in Sibelius, although it is a very small thing. But I thought I would share some of the previous “first times” that I remember over the past several years. More after the jump!
Magnetic Layout is one of the most remarkable bits of programming that has ever gone into Sibelius. It was seven years ago that I first sat down with Jonathan Finn and outlined my idea for a possible approach to automatic collision avoidance, based around two simple principles: firstly, that the closer an object lies naturally to the staff, the higher its precedence should be and therefore the less likely it should be to move; and secondly, that simply avoiding collisions wouldn’t be good enough – Sibelius would have to be able to align some objects as well as preventing them from bumping them into other things.
It took some five years before that germ of an idea was transformed through the skill and dedication of our developers into functioning code, and when finally objects in Sibelius began repelling each other, it was truly a great moment. Admittedly, there were some kinks in the code: at that point, everything was repulsive, so notes and clefs were being repelled away from the staff lines on and between which they were supposed to sit, but it was a start! It didn’t take too long after that for the program to start doing more useful kinds of collision avoidance, and pretty soon we could tell that Magnetic Layout was going to be a truly killer feature.
A few years before that, when we were working on dynamic parts for Sibelius 4, two of our developers had sat down and figured out in detail all the parts of Sibelius they were going to have to change in order to accommodate the concept of the same staff, the notes on that staff, and the objects attached to that staff, appearing in more than one view, and with independent spacing, layout, positioning information in each one. This was in itself a Herculean task, Sibelius already being a large and complex application. Away they went, and they beavered away at the innards of Sibelius for what seemed like months, until one day, one of those two developers called me over to his desk.
On his monitor he had two windows arranged side by side: one was the full score, and the other was something that looked like a regular extracted part. He selected the first note in the full score, and dragged it upwards with the mouse: as if by magic, the corresponding note in the part became selected, and moved at the same time.
Believe it or not, the very first feature that was developed for Sibelius 5 was making ManuScript plug-ins undoable. We had barely finished working on Sibelius 4 when two of our developers (the same two who worked on refactoring Sibelius to accommodate dynamic parts, as it happens) set to work on overcoming the design limitations that had hitherto prevented plug-ins from being undone.
Whenever you would run a plug-in in Sibelius, a scary warning would appear, telling you that the operation you were about to perform wasn’t undoable, and to save your score before proceeding. It was completely out of character with the unlimited levels of undo offered by the rest of the application.
So the developers disappeared for just a couple of weeks, and completely refactored the way ManuScript interacted with the score and the undo system. They invited me to run a plug-in, and then hit Ctrl+Z afterwards. Lo and behold, the note names that had been added above the staff by the plug-in just moments before duly disappeared.
We took out that warning message with great pleasure, knowing that these couple of weeks of work would play an important part in making plug-ins a truly useful part of Sibelius’s toolset. And since the release of Sibelius 5, we have seen literally hundreds of plug-ins developed for the program to do all sorts of things.
Seeing Sibelius do something new for the first time is truly one of the great delights of my job. I hope that you, dear Sibelius user, feel something of that delight when you run a new version of Sibelius for the first time, and see all of the new things that we have built for you – but secretly I am glad that the many little joys to be had in watching Sibelius evolve day by day, behind closed doors, are things that only a few of us get to share.
Are there any moments of discovery in your own use of Sibelius that brought a smile to your face? Tell me about them by leaving a comment below.