Apple recently released MacOS 10.15, known as Catalina, and made major changes to the way MacOS works “under the hood.” While there was plenty of advanced notice about the changes, the scale of the changes needed means that many smaller software developers, including Transana, have had to rearrange a lot of our production schedules to get it all done on Apple’s timeframe.  This post is intended to describe the progress we have made and the challenges we still face in getting Transana to run on MacOS Catalina.

One of the major changes in Catalina is that Apple dropped support for 32-bit software, so Catalina only runs 64-bit software. Transana was originally written as a 32-bit program because that was the standard, and we have not converted our software to 64 bits before now because the program would not benefit from the greater mathematical precision that 64-bit infrastructure provides. We chose to add new features rather than to devote our limited resources to “fixing” something that was not broken.  But of course, Catalina changes that.

In anticipation of the release of Catalina, we have been working on converting Transana’s code from 32-bit to add 64-bit compatibility. The process has proven to be significantly more involved than we anticipated, and we have made literally tens of thousands of changes to Transana’s code as part of this process.

First, we converted the database code, as well as the Data window.  We then turned to the Document window and DOCx, RTF, and TXT import and export.  The Visualization window was unexpectedly failing, and we’ve solved that.  We knew that Audio Extraction and Media Conversion would require a lot of work, but that went better than expected.  We have mostly completed the changes needed to support non-English language use for both Transana’s prompts and for the language used in data. We discovered early on that we will have to completely re-write our word frequency code, especially the Word Cloud routines, but have not done that yet. Transana’s other reports still need work, but should go smoothly.  Data Export and Import will need a surprising level of attention to preserve compatibility with existing data from Transana’s older versions.  We’ve also had to completely re-write the media window, which is large and complex.  That’s what we’re working on now.

Evidently, the changes Apple made in how video works deep within MacOS Catalina were considerably more profound than many in the software development community anticipated.  As a result, one of the major programming tools we use to write Transana needs to be altered significantly to re-enable support for presenting and playing video. The main developer of that tool says he hopes a new version will be initially available by the end of the year.  That is obviously a show-stopper.

So with some luck, we’ll get the upgraded programming tools we need by the end of 2019. We will continue working on non-video issues while we are waiting.  If things go well, we hope to be able to have the coding changes we need to make done in a couple of weeks. But then we have to do extensive testing to make sure that all parts of Transana work as expected, given tens of thousands of changes to the code. That can take three months, but sometimes takes longer if we discover major issues.

So our best guess at this point is that Transana for MacOS Catalina will be available in the second quarter of 2020, but that assumes that everything goes pretty smoothly. That’s not always a good assumption in the world of complex computer coding.

Here’s some current advice on deciding whether to upgrade to MacOS Catalina yet:

“Those who are reliant on 32-bit apps or specific apps that are not yet updated should avoid Catalina until they have a workable solution for Apple’s brave new world. You can check which of your existing apps are 32-bit by clicking on Apple Menu > About This Mac > System Report > Software > Application and check if they are 64-bit or 32-bit.”  Ewan Spence, Apple MacOS Catalina 10.15.1 Release: Should You Upgrade Your Macbook Pro?  Forbes, Nov 5, 2019

““You probably depend on your Mac or PC for ‘real work,’ and so updating on day one could threaten that real work — literally threaten your livelihood,” [the Verge’s Dieter] Bohn writes. “It’s better to wait and see how things shake out, to let other people experience the problems and report them.”

In the event you do end up holding out, there is one thing you’ll want to do: head over to Settings, click Software Update, and uncheck the box for “Automatically keep my Mac up to date.” That will ensure that your Mac doesn’t try to sneakily install the update on your behalf. Most Mac users have this box checked by default, so you’ll have to manually turn off the setting to avoid a forced Catalina install.”  Nick Statt, Why MacOS Catalina is Breaking So Many Apps and What to Do About It. The Verge, Oct 12, 2019

“. . . on Tuesday night (Oct. 15), I followed the steps in my own how to find your 32-bit Mac apps article to see how bad the damage was. It turns out my years of older apps had stacked up a lot of pain, with a list of apps that spilled from the top of my 15-inch MacBook Pro’s screen past the bottom — in a tiny font. 

“While I see the overall, big-picture value for macOS Catalina for many — especially Apple, as the update does a better job of integrating the platform with iOS, iPadOS and tvOS — getting it on my Mac is just not a pressing concern for me yet. I’m probably going to get to it, and I’m guessing that others will also be waiting.”  Henry T. Casey, Why I Haven’t Upgraded to macOS Catalina. Laptop, Oct 20, 2019.