Review: RB Package Maker

In part one of our Mac App Store Utilities review we talked about AppWrapper from Ohanaware.  In this review we’ll review RB Package Maker Studio from blueColin Software.

RB Package Maker does many of the same things that AppWrapper does.  Like any two applications that accomplish the same thing it handles things a little differently.

Start RB Package Maker Studio.  It’s simple interface is designed around getting your app into the Mac App Store.  The first option you have is to select your Certificate used for code signing.  There are four tabs:  Basic, Resource Files, Sandboxing, and Override Info PLIST.

In the Basics tab, start by dragging, or selecting, your Real Studio built application.  RB Package Maker then parses the available information and puts in what information it can.  The other file you have to provide to the utility is the icns file containing your high resolution icons for the Mac App Store. In the info.plist settings are you need to provide the Application Category for the MAS and the version you’re submitting (this might require some clean up and the utility will flag it if it’s wrong).

In the Resources tab you can set up your help folder and have the utility index it for you.  An interesting twist in this is that you can tell the utility to NOT copy files with certain extensions.  This is handy if you are using subversion or other source code management systems that like to include hidden files.  In the Resources tab you can also specify additional files you want to placed in your bundle.

The Sandboxing tab is kind of…odd.  It lets you check off which Entitlements your application is going to be using.  However, you turn all of that on in the area above the tab control.  It seems kind of an odd choice and I guess the other oddity is that the listbox containing the entitlements looks to be enabled.  Anyway, once you’ve click on the Sandbox Main Switch above the tab control all the controls in this tab become active.

If you are unsure what each area does, RB Package Maker has an interesting build in help system.  Select the entitlement in the list and a more detailed description of what that entitlement does is presented to you including any other properties that it might be mutually exclusive to.

In the Override Info PLIST tab you have the ability to add your own information to the applications PLIST file.

To make your package you must be in the Basics Tab and then select the Make & Sign Package at the lower right corner of the window.  A new window is presented where you have a couple of options including Force Code Signing anything else in your bundle that might already be signed (Monkeybread Plugins, for example, are signed by them).  You also have the option to leave it as an application or make a package.

You have the ability to see what the command line commands will be by checking the See Bash Commands button.  This is an interesting option as you might be able to include this in your IDE script later on.

To sign and make your package, click on the Sign Application button.  The utility then creates your application and you get to see the Bash commands happening and the resulting messages from the Apple utilities.  Then it’s up to you close the window when you’re done.

RB Package Maker comes with extensive online help which includes a 25 page PDF file.  In addition they have a number of videos showing you how to use the utility as well as an extensive Q & A area on their website.  The Q & A entries go into some of the reasons why some things are the way they are.  If you like a lot of background information their website is chock full of additional information.

All in all, this utility does what it does very well and I’ve used it extensively for a couple of months.  It’s not without some flaws though.  While it’s not very hard to create an icns file using Apple’s Icon Composer application, this seems a little unnecessary step as you can make an icns file from any image object.

I really wish the utility would remember more of the settings between runs.  I find it annoying that if I’m creating the same package I have to setup the same information, Certificate, icon file, Application Category over and over again.  This is ripe for errors to occur.

As with App Wrapper I would love the ability to add this to my IDE script so I didn’t have to switch applications.  If either utility added this it would rank very high on my recommended apps list.

RB Package Maker Studio is $29.95 and is available at http://www.bluecolin.com/rbpms/

Review: AppWrapper

Ever since Apple opened the Mac App Store (MAS), Real Studio developers have been wanting tools to help them get their apps ready for it. The first step was CodeSigning your application but more recently the MAS requires new applications be sandboxed.

Sandboxing is Apple’s new security requirements that is really good for end users since it promises to keep malicious code from compromising your application and thus your computer and they do this by cutting off access to most parts of the operating system, including the Open and Save dialogs!

That makes most applications quite useless so the developer has to tell the operating system exactly what sorts of access it’s going to do. This includes Open and Save Dialogs, but also includes access to many of the standard folders like Downloads, Pictures, Music, Movies, etc. and even whether or not your application will be using iCloud services and even hardware like the printer or a USB or Bluetooth device. Since you’ve told the operating system what you’re going to be doing, the operating system can then grant your application Temporary Entitlements.

You could do all these settings yourself if you had a strong knowledge of command line programming and, in fact, we did Code Signing from an IDE script for a while. But as things became more complicated with the MAS our script wasn’t good enough any more. So we needed a new solution.

Thankfully a number of third party utilities have arrived to help make your life easier when dealing with the Mac App Store.

In part one, we’ll be reviewing AppWrapper from Ohanaware and in part two, we’ll review RB Package Maker Studio from blueColin Software.

AppWrapper is a simple drag and drop utility that has a number of options that you might find very useful. You start by compiling your application in Real Studio like you normally would. Then you drag the application on to the utility where upon you’ll be presented with a whole host of options that you may, or may not need, for your application.

You start with the basic Property List tab where you set the Mac App Store Category for your application. You set the copyright info, the application version and give it a high resolution icon file. The icon Real Studio creates (at least in Real Studio 2011 R4.3) is too small for use with the MAS so you have to overwrite the Real Studio icon with a higher resolution.

In one of the more interesting options in AppWrapper is that you can use a pre made About Window, with credits in your application. This requires that you add some code to your application and recompile. The About Window is something that people spend little time on so this might be a good, quick, solution for you. However, if you are creating cross-platform applications this will be of little use to you.

If you have a Help files, you can attempt to make them Apple compatible and have them indexed before putting them into the bundle of your application.

Document handling can be kind of a pain with the UTI’s. AppWrapper does a nice job of scanning the application giving you a number of options to properly create your UTI’s.

The Resources tab lets you choose which resource items you want included in your application. I’m a little confused on why you would want this, though, since to get them in the Resources bundle to begin with you’d have to specifically put it there anyway. Though I could see some situations where you need to remove a few things from the MAS build (like eSellerate libraries) that you aren’t controlling via Build Steps or other IDE scripting.

 

Finally, the Package tab is where code signing and sandboxing rules are setup. You’ll need a Certificate from Apple to do these things and, if you’re like us, you are doing this for multiple clients, it’s possible to choose which certificate to use. In the Packages tab you enable the Sandboxing rules and tell the OS all the things that your application will do with it. This is also where you’ll tell the OS what Apple Events you might be using with other applications.

Finally, there are several options when “Wrapping” your application. If you are building for the Mac App Store you have to create an Apple Package (really an installer), but you might want to test your application with all the rules enabled, or you might simply want to create a zip file to send to your beta testers.

 

When you’ve got all that done, you click the Wrap button to start the process. You’re presented with a nice listing of all the things the utility is doing. The green check marks indicate things that went well but the red lines indicate things that you might need to fix before submitting your application to Apple. And that’s it! Your application is wrapped using the rules you setup.

 

All in all AppWrapper is a nice utility and I can recommend it for use. Ohanaware has been using Real Studio for many years and is using it for their own applications.

There are few items that I wish were a little better. For one, I’d love to be able to invoke AppWrapper from an IDE script. The fact that I have to stop working in the IDE and then drag and drop the app onto the utility seems like an unnecessary task though not exceptionally burdensome. What can I say? I’m a lazy programmer, but, to be honest, I’ve submitted to the Mac App Store, for myself and clients, up to 10 applications in a single day.

My other nitpick complaint is that the Ohanaware website doesn’t have a support forum or dedicated help area for AppWrapper. While I think the utility is simple enough to learn, it’s still dealing with a topic that is a bit scary for many Real Studio Developers and some might want to be handheld throughout the process. In that same light, while AppWrapper comes with a help file it’s a little light on details and what the consequences are of each type of selection.

 

AppWrapper costs $50 and is available at http://www.ohanaware.com/appwrapper. It’s also part of the OmegaBundle http://www.omegabundle.com/ where it is part of the overall package of products for $399.