Sibelius 7.5: My predictions

It is looking increasingly likely that the new version of Sibelius will be launched at the NAMM show in January.  It is a favourite launch venue for many Avid’s products (the new versions of Media Composer and Pro Tools were announced there last year), and it ties in with a launch for the new product taking place ‘soon’.  We already know that it will be named Sibelius 7.5 and will not run on any version of Windows older than Windows 7.

This is a notable release of the software, as it is the first since the events of summer 2012, when the original development team were all laid off and the development relocated from London to Avid’s audio headquarters in Daly City and also Ukraine.  There were many, many people who were vocal against this move and it is comforting that there is at least some development continuing, as the most pessimistic of commentators believed that this was Avid’s way of shutting down Sibelius development completely.  However, it remains to be seen how well the new team manage to start afresh, as it still looks an extraordinarily stupid move to fire en masse the entire ‘knowledge body’ of coders and product managers in order to cut costs.  Sibelius is a very, very complex piece of software and an entirely new development team starting completely from a blank slate presents them with a very difficult task.

The recent interview with Michael Ost, the new technical lead of Sibelius, on the Sibelius Blog is well worth a read, however I do not agree with some of the criticism given to him in the comments regarding his lack of knowledge of certain features of the product.  He is not the new Daniel Spreadbury – that task appears to have fallen jointly to Bobby Lombardi (the new product manager) and Sam Butler (head of customer service, who has also taken on Daniel’s role of the ‘public face’ of Sibelius) – he is (I believe I’m right in saying) the new Ben Timms.  Therefore, devising new features and workflows is not on his agenda.  Instead, he needs to get to grips with the codebase of the product and look at the best way of developing things in that respect.  It is very promising to see that he has a pedigree of notation software, what with his work on Encore, and it will be very interesting to see where Sibelius heads in the future.

However, it will take time for the new team to get to grips with the product and move things on, picking up from the exemplary work that the London development team gave the product for so many years.  And I highly doubt that they are ready for a release yet.  That is why, in my mind, version 7.5 is releasing now.  Avid missed the usual update window of 2 years, with no new version forthcoming last summer – which was hardly surprising.  The new team have been established long enough (just over a year) in order to polish up the work that the old team did on Sibelius 8 before they were let go and turn it into a finished product – hence the version number 7.5.  I think that it will take some more time for a full version update to come from the new team (possibly another two years) and thus they are putting the new version out as an intermediary measure.  Partly, I suspect, to keep the money coming in, but also to show that Sibelius development has not halted since version 7.1.3 and prove that the product is still important to Avid.

With all that in mind, this is what I can foresee coming as part of the new version:

New sounds

Given that the sounds package was always produced outwith the London team, it would be very straightforward for a new, enhanced, set of sounds to be recorded and packaged with the software.  Also, given Sam Butler’s expertise in this area, and his continued employment from Avid, it seems almost certain that an updated sounds package will be one of the new features in 7.5.

Export options

When Sibelius First 7 launched in 2012, there were a plethora of new export options that were not present in the full Sibelius product.  These included export to Facebook, SoundCloud, YouTube and the Avid Scorch app.  It is a safe bet to assume that these export options will now be part of the full product.

Interface enhancements

In my opinion, one of the most unfortunate aspects of the events of last summer was that the London team’s departing version was version 7.  In some ways it would have been better for them to depart with version 6 having been their last, as that demonstrated perfectly the inventiveness and flair of their features and the elegance of the programme.  It was, in some ways, the end of a journey that sought graphical perfection – something that Magnetic Layout supported in droves.  In comparison, Version 7 was a more intermediary version, with an attempt to modernise the software for the 2010s, with new UI idioms and approaches.  Therefore, it was not perfect – especially considering the fact that development team had dramatically shrunk already by this point.  A version 8 from the London team would surely have ironed out some of the flaws and criticisms that befell the new ‘Ribbon’ interface.  (For the record, I am a tremendous fan of the ribbon and think that it makes Sibelius a far more approachable and intuitive software.)

I would not be surprised if some of these small enhancements had already been worked on by the London team, and thus will appear in 7.5.  For example, I expect a degree of customisation to come in: on Windows, a customised Quick Access toolbar seems a certainty, and there may even be the option to create a personalised tab on the ribbon to put together your favourite features on just the one tab.  The option to ‘undock’ the ribbon to another display would also prove very popular, but I’m not sure whether that is permissible under Microsoft’s UI guidelines.  In any case, I would expect there to be the option to customise the Quick Access toolbar, along with other interface tidy-ups – possibly some kind of improvement to the new printing mechanism which can still be a bit hit-and-miss, in my experience.

Operating system compatibility

One would hope that 7.5 will be fully compatible with OS X Mavericks (at present Sibelius 7.1.3 runs slowly and there are some font issues), certainly in terms of a performance perspective.  It would also be very welcome if the full-screen mode becomes native and if there is some way for the versioning to tie in with the OS versioning.  I appreciate that the latter would be very difficult to pull off, however.

7.1.3 is fully compatible with Windows 8, and obviously that would continue – I doubt that there are any plans to turn Sibelius into a Metro app!!

The next ‘big’ feature?

Above are three types of features that I certainly expect to see in 7.5.  That still, however, is very slim pickings for an upgrade, even if that upgrade is just a .5 update.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the next ‘big’ feature that the London team were working on was a way to split one stave with two voices in a score into two separate parts – properly flexible dynamic parts.  Whether this makes it into 7.5, I don’t know – I would doubt it myself, however, as such a big feature might be enough for it to be called Sibelius 8!

Another oft-requested feature is for an update to the programme’s tuplet logic.  Again, although it does have to be looked at in the future, I doubt that the new team could have coded that change in such a short timescale, so it may well be an improvement further along the line.

Other popular requests on the Sibelius IdeaScale crowdsourcing community include:

  • Magnetic layout capabilities extending to notes/rest collisions in voices
  • Custom staff sizes for different instruments
  • Change of staff size per page
  • Tweaks to slurs/ties over page breaks and barlines
  • Tweaks to the length of various lines (most notably first and second-time bars)
  • MP3 export

Who knows – some of the above may well be fixed in 7.5.  The latter is just a case of Avid stumping up enough money to licence an encoder as part of the software.  And who knows – if they are short of features, they could do that in order to add something else to the feature-list, albeit at a financial cost!

We will find out in, I suspect, less than a month what the new version will bring.  Of course the feature list is just the beginning of the product’s success – the knives will be out for the new team, and people will want to see the same stability that previous versions of Sibelius have shown, with few (if any) bugs and the new features working well.

Time will tell as to Sibelius’ long-term future, but we will be able to see many interesting things from version 7.5 when it does finally launch.