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Oct 92 Editorial
Volume Number:8
Issue Number:6
Column Tag:The Editor's Page

Do Developers Have Ears?

By Neil Ticktin, Editor-in-Chief

Because we are a magazine, software companies regularly send us copies of their software to review. As a result, we see a lot of software. (Its good to be the editor). We actually try to use each product a bit. What we find is surprising - most software doesn’t do what we want.

Some Good, Some Bad, Some Ugly

First, let me say that I am not bitching and moaning - there are good products. Take a look at Global Village’s GlobalFax software. The idea of just holding down your Option key (while selecting Print ) to fax is simple and effective - in other words, perfect.

The problem lies in those products not being developed by people who will use them. Take Quark XPress. I would find it hard to believe that its developers actually use the program on a day-to-day basis. The product has so many rough edges that it really slows work flow. For example, every time you move a file to a different parent folder, it can’t find the pictures it refers to - even if the relative position has not changed. Xpress's drawing and layout speed is so slow that you have to have a Quadra to run at an acceptable speed. (I think that the Quark people should start working on our “Programmer’s Challenge” problems to practice their efficient code writing. Either that or they should call Mike Scanlin to come to their rescue).

But it’s not my fault

Some developers run into problems because they are using someone else’s tool. Take CE Software’s QuickMail. Ever since version 2.5, QuickMail has used Apple’s Comm Toolbox. And, ever since then, communications have been relatively unstable. Many of the problems have been caused by the Apple Modem Tool and the Comm Toolbox (according to CE at least). CE wants to support the standard, but Apple has neglected a tool they pushed.

Version 2.5.1 of QuickMail has helped to solve many of the problems caused by the Comm Toolbox. Version 2.6 (which is reportedly slated to ship by November) is supposed to solve even more. But one thing is evident, CE seems to be working hard to overcome the limitations of the Comm Toolbox.

How do you solve the problem?

Bluntly - look for patterns and then look for easy solutions. One of the business practices that we’ve enacted at the new MacTutor is pattern recognition. For example, when Stephanie (our Marketing Director and one of my favorite employees) first started out, she accidently stuffed outgoing invoices in the wrong envelopes. Consequently, many of our advertisers got someone else’s invoice. An easy mistake, but an embarrassing one.

The solution was easy - window envelopes. Now, it is not possible for envelopes to be misaddressed and they don’t have to be hand addressed. An easy solution to an easy problem.

So how does this apply to software development? Listen to your customers. Use the applications you develop yourself. See what features you would like to have. What makes things run faster? What makes life easier?

Developer tools - the answer?

Most of the time, developer tools are a great way to get ahead on your project. You should always investigate existing tools before embarking on writing something from scratch.

The key with tools is to make sure that they are going to save you time and effort. If there is something lacking in a tool that you are already using, tell the vendor. Most vendors, except Quark, listen to their customers. And keep banging on those companies until they do what you want or give you a reasonable answer.

Warning to all naughty companies

As I’ve looked through the software from many companies, one thing has become evident. The companies like Quark who don’t even return tech support calls (even when you’ve already paid for them - just ask our Art Director, Judith) continue to sell product. Why? Because they have no competition. Quark survives because they are the only product in the marketplace that answers some of their users’ needs. So, here is a call to all developers identify companies like Quark and write a competing piece of software.

Where do we go from here?

It’s simple. Listen. Learn. Think about solutions then implement them! It is not as hard as it may seem. Try it you’ll like it.

We Need Tips and Letters

Remember, articles like “Dialog Box” (letters) and “Tips and Tidbits” are driven by you, the reader. To keep them alive, you have to write in so do it now!

Neil Ticktin



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