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User Feedback - Client features

  • March 7th, 2022

In January, after the last server update, we asked for feedback from our community on a whole range of different aspects of SheepIt, from the user experience to the community as a whole. With this short article, we would like to start responding, beginning with your suggestions to possible client features.

The most commonly requested feature was support for multiple sessions with a single client instance so let’s start with that!
We can certainly see why this feature is so sought after, as the setup required for multiple sessions is admittedly not trivial. We definitely want to make that easier and plans to incorporate such a feature into the client already exist. This will also require changes to the UI to reflect that new feature.
This, together with the current architecture of the client, make this one of the most involved changes, as the client was never designed to run multiple sessions at once. A significant rewrite of more than 50% of the client code will be required. So while we definitely have it on our Todo it will take a while until it arrives, even though possible sketches for the new UI already exist.

Another often requested feature was to incorporate the project submission process into the client itself. While this would solve some of the issues we currently have to work around, it comes with a few drawbacks that make it a no-go from our perspective:
It would make the UI of the client even more complex, which is the opposite of what we strive for. And it would open us up to possible issues on our servers. Given the open-source nature of the client (The code can be found here: https://gitlab.com/sheepitrenderfarm/client/ ) allowing it to send such crucial data to the servers for further processing is always a risk that we would like to keep as minimal as possible. So for the time being the website will remain the only way to upload new projects.

Displaying more info in the client however will likely be a feature for the more immediate future. The info requested ranged from Load Graphs for CPU and GPU to the power percentage. In the past, we have refrained from including that info into the UI out of fear that it might confuse new users who would not know how to read their power percentage value. Your feedback however made it very clear that a lot of you would like to see that so we will try to find a good compromise and a place in the UI.

As you can see, the UI is something that repeatedly comes up when considering the addition of new functionality and is admittedly in need of some love. While its goal has always been to allow a new user to add their machine within a few seconds, over time the new features, settings and checkboxes have made it more and more complex, something that is also reflected in the underlying code. Just to give an example, the Settings window alone is nearing 1000 lines of code. While none of us is a UI designer by trait we received some proposals over time from people far more talented than us in that regard and one of the next big projects we want to tackle is the jump from the old Java Swing Framework to the more modern JavaFX, which will also open us up to a redesign and will also make it easier for non-programmers to create new designs.

Leaving the future for a moment and coming to the present to address the next point, if you downloaded the latest Windows client recently you will have noticed that it already came with an auto-updater! A Linux/Mac version will follow, to everyones (including ours) satisfaction!
We also still want to bring the SheepIt client to the Windows Store. If you can help with that please contact us, we would love to hear from you.

Coming back to the future, another request we saw often was to include more tests to detect broken machines right from the start.
For those wondering about this request: If you have rendered a lot of large projects on SheepIt you may find that some of the frames coming back to you expose some issues. The exact nature of those can vary from being black over the occasional strange artifact to undenoised frames. Often these broken frames all come from the same few machines, usually, older ones, that lack the required hardware features to (for example) properly perform the Open Image Denoise algorithm.
The good news: The code to detect such hardware already exists.
The not-so-good news: It is biding its time until we can update the Blender test frames to Blender 3.x (currently they are rendered using the 2.9x series). That in turn can only happen once Blender added support for both Mac and AMD GPUs and any bugs these new versions might introduce for us are fixed.

Wrapping this up, naturally, we can’t comment on any plans for easter eggs in the client, otherwise, it wouldn’t be easter eggs anymore :) For now, let’s say any bug you might find is an easter egg and is definitely handcrafted for your enjoyment!

We really want to thank you all again for taking the time to help us improve SheepIt and for all the kind words of gratitude and encouragement we received in your answers, as well as the valid critique.

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