Readjusting the sync

Software

I was beginning this piece by writing, If you, like me, use several computers and devices of very different vintages on a regular basis…, but I reckon I’m a bit of an extreme case here. Anyway, I use several computers and devices of very different vintages, and for years I have relied on a syncing solution that truly unified and harmonised my workflow, letting me write notes e.g. on a 2004 12‐inch PowerBook G4 to then resume my work on a 2017 iMac, to then add yet another idea using my iPad 1 (with iOS 5), and so forth.

This solution consisted of three simple ingredients: the Notational Velocity app on my Macs, the Simplenote app on my iOS devices, and the Simplenote sync service.

What made this solution great was that Notational Velocity works on both PowerPC and Intel Macs, going back as far as Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger (but also 10.3 Panther by downloading an earlier version), and that the Simplenote app works even on older iOS versions.

But, as it always happens when using vintage devices and PowerPC machines, you’re constantly wondering when the good things will eventually come to an end. And that’s what happened recently, when something that was updated in Simplenote broke the authentication process in Notational Velocity, which now throws a “Not found” error when it tries to synchronise.

A possible, promising workaround was switching to nvALT, a very nice fork of Notational Velocity with some interesting extra features, but while using nvALT 2.2.8 (the current version at the time of writing) solves the Simplenote syncing issue, it only solves it on my Intel Macs. While the app can be downloaded and installed on PowerPC Macs, it just doesn’t launch. The earlier version 2.0 works well under Tiger and Leopard (PPC), but the Simplenote syncing is broken just like in the original Notational Velocity.

A bit of brainstorming

Yesterday I stopped and thought about finding an alternative solution with the same level of versatility as the previous NV+Simplenote scenario when basically everything worked everywhere. These are the first three options I came up with:

  1. Equally seamless workflow, but more limited in scope — I could switch to nvALT on all my Intel Macs. This would maintain things in sync between the Intel Macs and (hopefully) all my iOS devices, but all PowerPC Macs would be cut off.
  2. Equally extensive in scope, but more cumbersome workflow — I could move the Notational Data folder where all my notes are stored (it is located in ~/Library/Application Support/) to a place like Box.com or even to the storage space for morrick.me, and then switch from using the Simplenote sync service to pointing every instance of Notational Velocity to the new, shared folder location. This would be a rather awkward artisanal syncing solution, because every time I want to use Notational Velocity on a PowerPC Mac I would have to first mount my Box’s ‘cloud drive’ via WebDAV[1], or access my storage space on morrick.me by connecting to the server via the Finder.
  3. The radical approach — This could work as seamlessly and cover an equally wide range of devices and Mac OS and iOS versions, but it would mean a complete change in the tools I use. This solution involves switching to Evernote. I have a basic account since 2008(!) there. I could probably try to import my archived notes in Evernote, and then I could access them and keep them in sync from everywhere. Evernote has maintained an overall decent degree of backward compatibility. Their older PowerPC client still works, and the last time I checked their iOS app it still worked under iOS 4.2.1. But while this would manage to preserve the seamlessness of my workflow, I would dearly miss using Notational Velocity. It is among my very favourite Mac applications of all time (I’ve praised it more than once on my blog, and I talked about it in more detail in Synchronised writing, a post that is now nine years old) and I’ve been using it for so long I’ve become quite fast and productive with it. Further, it works in a way that deeply reflects my mindset — if this makes any sense — and to me Notational Velocity has reached the same indispensable status as Alfred has for many Mac users.

The most reasonable solution

Sometimes we devise complicated workarounds when a simpler solution lies just before our eyes. I’m sure there are sharper — or at least less sleep‐deprived — people than I among my readers, who will already have figured out what I’m getting at. The best, more reasonable course of action is to implement Option №1 above — i.e., to switch to nvALT on all my Intel Macs — and use a browser on my PowerPC Macs to access Simplenote’s web app. This is way less cumbersome than Option №2, it doesn’t involve switching to a whole new service like Option №3, and is overall tolerable enough. I really don’t like not being able to use Notational Velocity on my PowerPC Macs, as it certainly is less resource‐intensive than having to keep a browser tab open in Simplenote’s web app[2], but it’s honestly better and less painful than the alternatives I’ve considered.

I’m sure I had overlooked this solution during my initial brainstorming because I was fixated on finding a solution that would have allowed me to keep using Notational Velocity (or nvALT) on both Intel and PowerPC Macs.

I admit I’m a bit bummed by the progressive disappearance of cloud/sync services that play nice with PowerPC Macs. I realise it’s essentially a matter of older Mac OS versions not supporting current security protocols, and that a browser like TenFourFox is a lifesaver because at least you can authenticate correctly and use a web interface. At the same time, if you offer a Dropbox‐like online storage and sync service via the cloud, consider creating an HTML‐only version of your file browser, so that it can be usable when accessed by older hardware. Navigating through my Dropbox files and folders and doing some basic operations using the web interface is unnecessarily slow and cumbersome even on my Mac mini G4 at 1.42 GHz, the fastest PowerPC Mac in my arsenal.

 


 

The Author

Writer. Translator. Mac consultant. Enthusiast photographer. • If you like what I write, please consider supporting my writing by purchasing my short stories, Minigrooves or by making a donation. Thank you!