Running Goldenseal on Macintosh (Feb 7)

For the past 5.5 years, this blog has covered our efforts to update Goldenseal into a 64-bit app. To summarize:

1. We did not finish the 64-bit update (Goldenseal Pro) in time for the release of Mac OS 10.15 Catalina last October.
2. The current Goldenseal 4.96 for Mac is a 32-bit app that will not run on Catalina or future Mac OS versions. It does run on Mac OS 10.14 Mojave and earlier.
3. The current Goldenseal 4.96 for Windows runs OK on Windows 10, and anything back to Win 98. However it has annoying screen drawing problems caused by its reliance on Apple’s QuickTime.
4. Goldenseal Pro for Mac is now on hold, and we are working exclusively on Goldenseal Pro for Windows until it’s done. The update removes QuickTime and its problem, and has many other improvements.
5. Whether we ever finish Goldenseal Pro for Mac depends on Apple’s future plans for Macintosh. Hopefully we will know more after the WWDC in early June.

In the meantime, our Mac users are upgrading to Mac OS 10.16 Catalina, or considering it. Here are some options on how to cope for the next couple years.

For less than $100, an External SSD in an excellent addition to any computer setup. If you have a USB 3 or USB C connection, it will run faster than an internal HD. 500GB is big enough to split into 2 or 3 partitions, so you can install a different OS version on each. Use Startup Disk in System Preferences to switch between OS versions.

Many iMacs and Mac Minis allow you to add an SSD as a second drive internally. It will be faster than an external, but it may be a difficult install. I updated one Mini that way, but will never do another.  It was a tight squeeze near fragile components. Too much risk of failure.

Since storage is so cheap, I think it’s wise to always install new OS versions on a new, empty partition, rather than overwriting your current system. That way you can test it out, and revert painlessly if needed.  Carbon Copy Cloner is a great way to move entire disk contents from one place to another, if you want to update the internal drive later.

In general, a Mac is optimized for the OS version that was out during its release. You can install newer OS versions, but not older ones. So any model from early to mid-2019 or earlier will still run Goldenseal using OS Mojave. Anything newer probably can’t.

If you have a big monitor and a second Mac, consider a KVM switch. It allows you to use just one monitor, mouse and keyboard, and move quickly between multiple machines. I personally use a 4-port ioGear DVI switch, with 3 Macs and 1 Windows attached (sometimes 2 & 2).  Most KVMs are in the $40 to $200 range. Be aware of the cable type (VGA, DVI or HDMI). You may need adapters if the computer age range is wide.

Finally, external hard drives are also cheap these days: e.g. $60 for 2 terabytes. Give them multiple partitions and you can use one for Time Machine, and the rest for backups and older OS versions. It may come in handy if there’s an app you want to run, that capped out at Sierra or earlier.

For the long haul, it’s still too early to predict where the Mac is headed. These days it is less than 10% of sales for Apple. They’ve prioritized accordingly for at least the past 5 or 6 years. On the other hand, Macintosh is still bringing in a steady $25 billion a year (about the same as Tesla sales for 2019).

Dennis Kolva
Programming Director
TurtleSoft.com

 

 

 

 

 

Goldenseal Pro Progress- Windows & Macintosh (Jan 28)

Our staff is still working on code for breakdown tables in Goldenseal Pro for Windows. The starting point was GridCtrl sample code, available online. After removing 2/3 of that, we are now revising the remainder to include the best ideas from our original table classes (plus Cocoa’s NSTableView).

It’s possible we should have just started from scratch. But Windows and MFC have many quirks, and most likely we would have spent many frustrating weeks or months learning those the hard way. Better to use something that actually works at the start.

Meanwhile on the Mac side, it’s not looking good for the future of Objective-C and Cocoa.  All signs point to them being retired soon, and replaced with the new Swift language and SwiftUI framework. Moving to Swift would be much harder than Cocoa, well beyond our abilities.  So, it’s not looking good for the future of Goldenseal Pro for Macintosh either.

Microsoft is working on WinUI 3, which is a grand plan to modernize its developer tools. In theory, WinUI 3 will allow us to gradually replace our GUI code with more modern controls. They’ll look better, work more smoothly, and be more compatible with future OS versions.

Of course, Microsoft is a big corporation that doesn’t always deliver on its promises. Sometimes it produces products that suck. But at least their process is visible so we can plan around it. As turtles living under the feet of elephants, it’s kinda nice to know where they are headed.

Meanwhile, we filed a support incident with Apple Developer Tech Support in November, trying to get better info about their plans for Cocoa and Objective-C. We also emailed tcook@apple.com.

Apple DTS replied in late December that they don’t release future plans.  We then asked if anyone at Apple will talk with small developers like us. Yesterday they just replied again that they don’t release future plans. We didn’t hear from Tim or his assistants at all. We are still trying to find someone else at Apple who actually listens to developers, but it may be a futile task.

Back in TurtleSoft’s first decade, Apple had a dedicated manager for the A/E/C market (architects, engineers and construction).  Besides that, there were several other Apple employees that we could talk with. All that evaporated when Apple almost died in the late 90s, and it wasn’t replaced when they became prosperous again.

Swift and SwiftUI look great for building small phone apps.  They are not good for building large desktop apps such as ours.  We really need easy linkage to C++, and a promise that it won’t require major rewrites every 5 years. Windows delivers all that: if anything they have too much backwards compatibility. Apple has been the opposite, and they are getting worse at it.

It wouldn’t hurt for our die-hard Mac users to contact Apple, and let them know that you still need specialty apps that run on the Mac desktop. Otherwise, the future appears to be a Macintosh that is pretty much a big-screen iPad. Lots of pretty little apps but no software for business.

Dennis Kolva
Programming Director
TurtleSoft.com

 

Goldenseal Pro Progress- Windows Tables (Jan 16)

In December our staff discovered a batch of C++ code online that makes spreadsheet-like tables for Windows. It didn’t take long to add their sample code to Goldenseal, and get it displaying a spreadsheet on the screen. It looked a lot like Excel for Windows 95, without the formulas. Not surprising, since the code was written back then.

Getting their code to be fully usable for our needs has been more challenging. Fortunately, we’re making steady progress on that. It really helps to see all the source files, and be able to change it.

First step was to remove unnecessary features. The ideal way to do that is to remove them one at a time, and test the code to make sure it still works after each removal.  Sadly, everything was too interconnected for that. So we hacked away and deleted everything all at once. Then spent a week fixing hundreds of error messages, until it worked again. Very similar to the demolition phase in a gut/rehab project.

With the raw framing exposed, we are now adapting the code to better suit Goldenseal’s needs. By the time it’s done, I suspect almost all will be rewritten. Some of the work is updating 90s code to modern standards. Some is plain old refactoring and redesign. For example, they store cells in columns then rows, but Goldenseal works better if they are in rows then columns. They use 0 for the first row, and we’d rather start with 1 like normal humans.

When we worked on the Mac version, Apple’s NSTableView class did have better overall design than the original Goldenseal. As we revise the Windows tables, it’s a chance to work in some of those improvements. This is the third batch of table code our staff has created, and each one is slightly better.

20 years ago, we thought Goldenseal would last for decades without big rewrites. Now we are more cynical realistic. The goal now is code that works well for the moment, and isn’t too difficult to adapt in the future.

Dennis Kolva
Programming Director
TurtleSoft.com

 

 

Payroll Withholding Tables- US & Canada (Jan 3)

2020 has been a double whammy year for payroll tax calculations.

IRS changed the W-4 form. Instead of the number of exemptions, it now uses a complex calculation that involves dependents, student loans, multiple jobs and gross income. The only good news is that you won’t have to deal with any of it until the first time you hire someone in 2020. Then it’s just a one-time setup hassle.

We had to add a second set of tax tables to support the new forms: instructions here. Payroll will be more complicated for the next 5 or 10 years, until the day when IRS stops allowing the old forms. Then we can delete the old tables, and it will be simpler again.

Meanwhile, Canada also made a big change, replacing the personal deduction with a step table. We had to create a custom option in 2002 just to calculate Canadian withholding, and this change breaks it.

Revenue Canada has an insanely complex system to calculate withholding. The formulas use almost every letter in the alphabet, plus K1 to K4, T1 to T4, and 20 multi-letter codes. Ten different TurtleSoft employees worked on it and failed, before one finally figured it out. We are still slogging through the instructions to see how to make the new setup work. One of the calculation options for US states looks promising as a substitute.

As math nerds, we get especially frustrated by complexities like this, because it’s totally unnecessary. Tax dudes, you only need a few numbers to make it work!

Six US states have a simple flat tax rate for everyone. Most have a deductible, so taxation starts at some income greater than zero.  If you graph tax withheld vs income, it will be a straight line. Two numbers are enough to define that: one for the zero point, and one for the slope. In algebra, it’s y = a + bx.

Sales tax, gasoline tax and most other taxes are regressive. Poor people pay a higher percentage of their income on them, because rich people spend more on non-taxable stuff like school tuition and tax shelters. To compensate, it’s reasonable to have a progressive income tax. That means higher earners pay a higher percentage. If you graph tax withheld vs income, it will be a curve.

Mathematically, you can define progressive tax curves with three numbers: zero point, slope, and curvature. In algebra, it’s y = a + bx + cx^2 (the ^2 means x squared).

However, using exponents makes it too scary for most people. The easiest alternative is a step table, with different rates for each range of extra income. If you graph payroll tax vs income, it will be a series of straight lines that approximate the desired curve. Data-wise, it only needs two numbers for each step: start point and slope.

For any desired ‘tax curve’, it’s possible to make a series of steps that are accurate enough for tax policy. Most US states do exactly that, using anywhere from 2 to 12 steps.

Unfortunately, a few states add all sorts of weird stuff to make it more complex. Connecticut is an extreme example, with 13 different step tables arranged 6 layers deep. Presumably the tax committee was stoned when they created the Table C 3% Tax Rate Phase-Out Add-Back. Canada has a related problem: they really need some good tech writers to redo the tax guide, so humans can understand it.

Thankfully, we only spend a few days a year on payroll tax tables. Our staff will soon be back to more productive work, programming regular tables for Goldenseal Pro.

Dennis Kolva
Programming Director
TurtleSoft.com

 

 

 

 

2020 Payroll Taxes (Dec 31)

Our staff is busy updating payroll tax tables for 2020. Sadly, US Federal income tax withholding has become much more complicated, due to a fairly small change.

New employees hired in 2020 or after will use a revised W-4 form. Their federal withholding then uses a different calculation method for gross income. Employees hired before 2020 will still use their original, old-style W-4 forms, unless they prefer to update.

To handle the change, we need to add a second US Federal Tax Item for the 2020 method. It also requires 3 new Tax Tables, plus an extra set of Tax Packages. The 2020 payroll import will add them automatically.

For states that use multiple Tax Packages, it’s going to be especially complicated: if there used to be 3 of them, now there will be 6. Users who have set up extra Tax Packages for child support or other complications may also need to revise them, and/or create new ones.

In your Employee accounts, you’ll need to assign different Tax Packages, depending on whether they use the old or new W-4. For employees using the 2020 W-4 forms, you’ll also need to enter a federal adjustment amount from the W-4, rather than the number of federal exemptions.

On top of all that, the IRS booklet uses an annual step table for the new calculation method. We used weekly tables in the past, but switched both versions to annual for 2020.  It’s bigger numbers, but ends up with the same results.

Most states use the W-4 for their own payroll taxes. Presumably they will also need to add a second calculation method. Most have not done that yet, but stay tuned. The chaos will probably reverberate for years.

Dennis Kolva
Programming Director
TurtleSoft.com

 

Goldenseal Pro Progress- Tables for Windows (Dec 20)

To build Goldenseal Pro for Windows, we use MFC (Microsoft Foundation Classes).  It does not include any table classes, but several other developers have written code for spreadsheet-like grids of text. After a few days of review, we chose one of the simplest. It’s basic, but easy to understand. Right now, our staff is gradually adapting it for our breakdown tables.

Step-by-step is the most productive way to get stuff working, when working with a new code library. We add something small, make sure it works, then proceed to the next step. If something goes wrong, just revert and try again. Right now our app shows an empty table, and we’re gradually filling it in.

I must say, that kind of steady, incremental progress is much more satisfying than what we experienced on the Mac version. Their NSTableView class seemed great, with many built-in features. But the charm soon wore off as we bogged down in the process of actually using it. Too many dead ends and baffling errors.

Fortunately, there was one good thing that came from the Mac  work. Some of the table interface never worked correctly, so we had to redesign it entirely. Instead of actions inside the table cells, it now uses buttons to add and delete rows, and pop-up data entry windows instead of editable table cells. That approach is easier to use for beginners, so we probably will use it for the Windows version also.

Dennis Kolva
Programming Director
TurtleSoft.com

 

 

 

 

Goldenseal Pro Progress (Dec 6)

When we first created Goldenseal, about 1/4 of the work was for resources rather than code. That means window layouts, menus, icons, and other cosmetic details that make up a modern GUI (Graphic User Interface).

The original Goldenseal resources were set up in Mac OS 9 format, which is now obsolete. We already converted most resources to newer formats, but a couple of the more difficult types were still undone. So we spent the past couple weeks hacking the current version of Goldenseal, to export the rest.

The hardest were the layouts for the action commands- Reconcile, Pay Bills, Write Payroll and a few others. They were stored in a binary format that the PowerPlant library could read, but not humans. Fortunately, we found a way to cheat. Loading each window also converts the data into text temporarily, with one line for each field, button or table. We then saved it into files for future use.

Both of the platforms we use have their own GUI for setting up window layouts. However, Xcode’s Interface Builder and Visual Studio’s wizards have many quirks, so it takes at least a day or two to set up each window. With 35 windows total, we’ll save time in the long run by reading the existing data from text. It’s a change that we have been meaning to do for a very long time.

The biggest challenges over the past couple weeks were with hardware. Building the current Goldenseal app requires Mac OS 10.5 , which means 10+ year old hardware that is showing its age.

Interestingly, for many years Apple made it relatively easy for us to update our code gradually after each system update. However, that stopped soon after  the iPhone was introduced in 2007.  We tried the usual update process with Snow Leopard in 2009, but it required such a huge code rewrite that we never finished it.  I would say that Apple’s neglect for the Macintosh has only accelerated since then.

Meanwhile, on the Windows side we are still slogging through setup details for fields and tables. It has been slow to get up to speed on the Windows programming, but the onset of gloomy weather will help with that.

Dennis Kolva
Programming Director
TurtleSoft.com

 

Goldenseal Pro Progress (Nov 22)

Microsoft has five or six different platforms for writing Windows software. You might say they are software hoarders, who rarely throw anything out. We looked through the choices a month ago, and got so confusing that we gave up, and decided to stick with MFC (Microsoft Foundation Classes). It’s what we previously used for the current version of Goldenseal. MFC is old, but it works. It will get the job done.

There have been very active discussions on the Apple developer list, the past couple months. Last week someone posted a link to Microsoft’s roadmap for WinUI 3. It looks great. Microsoft must have realized that their developer choices were a mess, and decided to put everything into one box.  It’s due next year, which probably means 2021. The fact that they are so transparent about the whole process is very reassuring.

By their roadmap we can write code in MFC now, and ship Goldenseal Pro for Windows in a year or so. Then gradually update it with their new libraries over the next few years. Because of their transparency, we are very confident about the long term future of Goldenseal Pro for Windows.

On the Macintosh side, it’s Opposite Land. Apple is very secretive about their plans. They have a new SwiftUI in the works, which uses their relatively new Swift programming language. Their goal is to have one set of programming tools that builds apps for iPhone, iPad, Macintosh, Apple Watch, Apple TV and any other hardware they come up with. But details about it are few.

Based on what we do know, it is extremely unlikely that we can move Goldenseal onto SwiftUI. It appears to be designed mostly for small single-window phone apps, not for software as complex as ours. It uses a new language that probably would mean an enormous code rewrite, even worse than what we already have done for their Cocoa library.

Will Apple have a way to connect existing C++ code to it? Or can we finish the Cocoa version in Objective-C, and convert it easily?  Will Apple keep supporting Cocoa, so we don’t have to convert at all?  Maybe.  There is speculation on the list, but nobody knows for sure.

It usually takes us years to write software. Then it takes years to sell enough to pay for the programming time. That makes it just too risky to be working without better knowledge.

Right now the future of our Macintosh software is very much in limbo.  I’ll post details, as we find out more about Apple’s future plans.

Dennis Kolva
Programming Director
TurtleSoft.com

 

 

Goldenseal Pro Progress (Nov 8)

Our staff is making progress on Goldenseal Pro for Windows. However, it will still take some time to get back to full speed. It’s easy to forget stuff after being elsewhere for two years. At least it’s already less frustrating than Cocoa was. We’ll be up the learning curve soon.

Since tables were the hardest thing on Macintosh, it makes sense to start work on them right away. Windows does not have a built-in table class, but we probably can adapt our existing C++ table code. We also are checking out a couple of open source libraries for it.

Goldenseal has 30 or 40 action windows to handle Reconcile, Pay Bills, Write Payroll and a few other commands. We set up one of them for the Mac version, and started a second one. That’s when we realized they would take a week or more apiece to build, or a good fraction of a year total. That was the last straw that convinced us to delay work on the Mac update.

The Windows version has the same issue. Fortunately, we just figured out a way to convert the existing screen layouts from Goldenseal into text files. We can read those and build the windows with generic code, rather than redo each layout individually, twice. It’s the same approach we already use for data entry screens, reports and printed forms.

As for the Macintosh version, Apple likes to burn bridges. Rumors are they will switch from Intel to their own chips next year. When that happens, it’s very possible they will retire the Cocoa library that we used for Goldenseal Pro, and replace it with an entirely new framework called SwiftUI. Right now it only runs on iOS, but Apple wants a single OS for all machines.  If that happens, I don’t know if we will ever be able to write a Goldenseal for SwiftUI. From the specs it seems even less friendly than Cocoa.

I personally have used Macs since 1985, and prefer them to Windows. But the many bridge-burnings are annoying, for users as well as developers. When I bought my current house in the mid-90s I made detailed blueprints in MacDraw, with layers for electrical, plumbing, HVAC etc. It has been handy for permits and planning. Sadly, MacDraw didn’t even make it from OS 9 to OS X, and our last old Mac that can open that file just died.

Dennis Kolva
Programming Director
TurtleSoft.com

Goldenseal Pro Progress- Ribbons & Cocoa (Oct 25)

Our staff has been posting comments to Apple’s developer mailing list, detailing some of the problems we’ve had with the 64-bit update for Macintosh. Some folks there reported similar problems. Some think we are lazy slobs for only starting work on it 5 years ago, instead of 10.

We plan to forward comments to Apple soon. Hopefully it will inspire them to make improvements to Cocoa before we finish the Windows update and move back to Mac. However, as a small company trying to steer a trillion-dollar one, we aren’t very optimistic that it will change anything. We’ll see how things look in a year or so.

The MFC library we use for the Windows version is rather old. Before committing to it fully, we spent a few days exploring other, newer development tools from Microsoft. Most of them are based on C# instead of the C++ that we used for the rest of Goldenseal. Despite the similarity in names, the languages are quite different. C# is more like Java. Its main feature is ‘managed memory’, meaning that programmers have to worry a bit less about crashes and memory leaks.

After some poking, we finally decided that MFC is still the best choice. So we are now programming Goldenseal for Windows in earnest.

Before we switched to Mac-only programming two years ago, we already had many things working in the Windows version. So our staff is off to a running start.

We are now finishing up a top ribbon that is similar to the ones in MS Office. That and the outline view will replace all the current menu commands. Similar to many other Windows apps, Goldenseal Pro won’t need a top menu bar at all.

After banging heads against Cocoa for more than two years, it feels really, really good to make steady progress again.

Dennis Kolva
Programming Director
TurtleSoft.com