TweetFollow Us on Twitter

May 93 Editorial
Volume Number:9
Issue Number:5
Column Tag:The Editor's Page

Making Software a Viable Business Again

By Neil Ticktin, Editor-in-Chief

Before we get into this topic, I would like to announce that MacTech Magazine is now online on America Online, AppleLink and CompuServe. Now, you can download information about the magazine, order things, renew your subscription, and most importantly, download the source files that accompany issues. See Mag Online for more information.

To the pulpit

For some time now it has been more difficult for small (and large) companies to make a healthy profit in the software business. There are many reasons for this - competitiveness, saturation of market, difficulty in finding talent, under-captilization, dealer and distributor channels, etc

Many of these are business problems that would require a whole magazine to themself. But, there is a fundamental technical issue that we as the ‘mavens’ of the computer industry can address - revising (or should I say, revolutionizing) the development process.

The Problem

Plainly stated: today’s computer technology has become so complex that it has completely overwhelmed the conventional development processes that originated in the 1960’s and 70’s. We’ve brought the hardware into the 90’s, but we’ve neglected the development process.

In software alone, graphical user interfaces, extensive operating system feature sets and changing standards in OS’s have created the incredible task of ‘keeping up’. Application developers can spend as much as half of their development effort conforming to system-software requirements.

The industry’s upgrade approach has turned into feature wars. Innovative ideas just aren’t coming to market anymore. The end result is that 10% of the software packages make up 90% of the sales. The average user only uses 20% of the features that are in a specific piece of software. It’s interesting that there are feature wars when users don’t even use the additional features!

Corporate ‘in-house’ developers have similar problems. They are making custom solutions that always need to be done yesterday. Furthermore, the average MIS department uses 85% of its resources to just maintain software.

From an economic viewpoint, the computer industry is entering the mature phase of its life cycle. If this is the case, there are two options we can take: let the industry decline, or better yet, give it a kick in the butt (technically known as revitalization)!

Everyone's got the problem

Some people will tell you that if you don’t have the resources to play with the big boys, don’t play. It’s true; not everyone has the marketing muscle and cash flow to talk vaporware the way Claris did with MacWrite Pro (although it did start shipping as I’m writing this). There are plenty of examples of small companies that ran into one major problem and as a result, lost their cash flow projections and went under. Yet, software shouldn’t require luck and excellent programmers and timing.

The big boys in the marketplace are in better, but still unacceptable shape. They sell so many units that even with an incredibly innefficent process, they have enough slack to deal with large programming, technical support and quality assurance staffs. They too would benefit significantly if they could produce products faster and with less resources.

Imagine a company being able to produce more products, and with more reliable time schedules. Innovation instead of constant refinement. Software could truly find its way to solving a much greater number of problems. Even with few resources, developers could attack problems that they normally wouldn’t.

But all of that is just a dream given today’s methodologies.

Is there any hope Obi-Wan?

Obi-Wan Kenobi I’m not, but there are players in the market who may be. Today, we already have a number of vendors - Apple, Symantec, Component Workshop, and many, many more - who provide class libraries that help.

Object-oriented programming brings a lot of benefits to the table. The problem with object-oriented programming today is that it is not integrated into the operating system and it has a steep learning curve - especially with those libraries that are particularly rich. Reusability of code is also lower than originally expected. The reason for this seems to be that the tools are not well integrated enough with the development environment. Furthermore, because the objects are based at the operating system level, there is less commonality between tasks (and therefore objects).

Taligent, on the other hand, is approaching the problem by creating an object-oriented operating system from the ground up. Their stated goals are: reduce software development cycles from years to months; foster innovative customization; level the industry playing field; better align information technology with business needs; be open and extensible at all levels; offer extensive native functionality; be portable, adaptable and scalable; deliver integrated development tools; provide backward compatibility and investment protection; and ensure a breakthrough in software development productivity and innovation.

They are definitely biting off a lot here. If you ask them, they don’t plan on shipping anything until the “mid-1990’s” (whatever that means). What can we do? Hold them to their promises - particularly in the area of revolutionizing (instead of just enhancing) the development process. If Taligent comes through just as complex as a class library, forget it. But if they somehow come up with a way to be complete without having the steep learning curve, and if they provide the tools to make it so that development can be done fast - now, we’ve got something! Good luck, Taligent - we’re cheering for you.

Neil Ticktin

Editor-in-Chief

footnote: My thanks to the folks at Taligent for some of the background information.

The Publisher's Column

Changing Concepts - Economics
and System Documentation

By David Williams, Publisher

Recently, two completely divergent things have Neil and I thinking about policies and change. The first, and most far-reaching, is Mr. Clinton’s new economic plan. The second, and more immediate, is the expansion of our “Documentation Services” division, in which our staff writes documentation for our client’s programs. The reason I came to connect the two is that before making or changing any policy in our company, we first try to get a good grip on the causal forces at work, and thus avoid addressing only symptoms. As Mr. Clinton attempts to push his economic approach through Congress, it seems to me that like every President since FDR, he's attacking the symptoms, and ignoring the actual problems.

It is easily arguable that the problems of software documentation are simpler than those of the economy. So, lets take a simplified look at the documentation environment with an eye to developing documentation policy, and then analogize to the development of economic policy.

The central problem of software documentation is that users insist that programs should be intuitive, and shouldn’t need very much documentation to begin with. What is needed should be simple to understand, yet technical enough to answer any possible question directly, and without much thought on the reader’s part. In other words, users want to be “rich” in program-using ability without having to “work” to learn or think about the program. They want instant access to great detail without having to sift through any voluminous information.

At the same time, developers want to avoid every user calling them with questions, and they want their documentation to encourage users to buy the program rather than pirate just the software. As Caroline Rose pointed out in develop, if the documentation is really good, users will read it, learn more about the product, and be happier and less likely to switch to a competing product that advertises a function that they already have but don’t know how to use. In other words, if the developer fails to educate the user, it is the developer’s fault. The user has little or no obligation to work at a problem. The risk, as it were, is on the developer.

Most documentation today falls into one of two categories: too much, or too little. In order to avoid questions from novice users, the documentation frequently provides a click by click explanation of each function involved, followed by some more technical stuff designed to avoid questions from experienced power-users.

This approach addresses the symptoms, but not the true problems. The real problems are that every user needs to fully understand the overall concept behind the program before addressing the “how to” aspects of it. Power users only need to fully understand the concept before they will be able to intuit all but the most technical aspects, while novices need to understand the concept that the clicks are working on before the clicks themselves will make sense.

The moral of this part of the story is that all documentation should start with a presentation, in as non-technical a manner as possible, of what the program does and how. Further, each succeeding chapter should refer to those concepts so the reader can jump quickly to the detail required. While I have encountered very few manuals that contain such a format, we have nevertheless made it a policy to design all documentation we write around these rules. Thus, we attempt to attack the problem directly, rather than the symptom.

As to Mr. Clinton, he’s using the same strategy as most developers. Create policy to stop the loudest complaints without starting any louder new ones. This won’t work any better than most developer’s documentation does. Reforming the health care system is impossible without a complete restructuring of the tort system. As long as a health-care provider can be sued for hundreds of millions for an error in judgement, the cost of treatment must remain high. The tort system also cripples our industry. As long as the law looks to whatever deep pocket it can find to “compensate” an individual for injuries relating to the unavoidable risks of life, our industries will never be able to compete with foreign companies. As long as the poor of this country are treated as welfare problems rather than potential work trainees, there will never be enough money to go around. As long as the tax system is so complex that all but a few highly trained lawyers and accountants can’t understand it, people will continue to perceive it as unfair, and will try to avoid paying.

This is indeed a time of many changes. I hope the administration of both our government and of our development firms will seek to address the real problems, and avoid attacking only the symptoms.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Soft Drummer (Music)
Soft Drummer 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Music Price: $14.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Soft Drummer is the closest thing to a pro session subtle drummer in your pocket. Easy to use and fast, it's much more than a... | Read more »
Is GO Gear the Pokemon GO map app you...
Now that we've settled into something of a Pokemon GO status quo, the number one desire of most players can best be summed out by modifying a quote from Rod Tidwell of Jerry Maguire: "Show me the Pokemon!" [Read more] | Read more »
Rodeo Stampede update: Mountains, new an...
The Savannah and Jungle were just the beginning in Rodeo Stampede. Get ready to head for the Mountains. I think I heard that in a beer ad once. [Read more] | Read more »
COSMOS RINGS (Games)
COSMOS RINGS 1.0.0 Device: iOS iPhone Category: Games Price: $5.99, Version: 1.0.0 (iTunes) Description: This game cannot be played without the Apple Watch.Released anniversary sale until August 31,2016 PST! A tragic tale of time's... | Read more »
How to get started selling on Mercari
As far as ecommerce has come over the last decade or so, there's still a tremendous opportunity to make it easier for people to buy and sell goods. That's especially true when it comes to shopping apps, which should only continue to increase in... | Read more »
Human Anatomy Atlas 2017 Edition - Compl...
Human Anatomy Atlas 2017 Edition - Complete 3D Human Body 1.0.24 Device: iOS iPhone Category: Medical Price: $24.99, Version: 1.0.24 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »
Heroes of Normandie (Games)
Heroes of Normandie 1.5 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $14.99, Version: 1.5 (iTunes) Description: The game does not support iPhone 4s and below | Read more »
Why you should never power up Pokemon in...
There's no question that candy is dandy in Pokemon GO. You need big quantities of it to evolve your Pokemon, and when combined with stardust, it can be used to power up your favorite pocket monsters as well, making them more formidable for the gym... | Read more »
Webzen launches 3D MMORPG MU Origin on i...
Mu Origin is featured time and time again at the very top of App Stores in China, and within the top five worldwide top-grossing charts on Google Play.Its popularity in Korea and China, featuring more than 120 registered players in China and 6... | Read more »
Severed (Games)
Severed 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $5.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: LAUNCH DISCOUNT ON NOW!! ENDS AUGUST 4! ==== Take control of a one-armed warrior named Sasha, wielding a living sword on her journey... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

9-inch 32GB Space Gray iPad Pro on sale for $...
B&H Photo has the 9″ 32GB WiFi Space Gray Apple iPad Pro on sale for $50 off MSRP including free shipping. B&H charges sales tax in NY only: - 9″ Space Gray 32GB WiFi iPad Pro: $549 $50 off... Read more
15-inch Retina MacBook Pros on sale for up to...
B&H Photo has 15″ Retina MacBook Pros on sale for up to $200 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY tax only: - 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro: $1849 $150 off MSRP - 15″ 2.5GHz Retina... Read more
Second-Quarter Tablet Shipments Fell 4.8% –...
The latest report from the global market research firm TrendForce finds that worldwide tablet shipments for this second quarter totaled 33.54 million units, representing a quarterly drop of 4.8% and... Read more
Global Smartphone Sales Volumes Mark Second S...
According to preliminary results from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, vendors shipped a total of 343.3 million smartphones worldwide in the second... Read more
Apple TVs on sale for $20-$40 off MSRP
Best Buy has 32GB and 64GB Apple TVs on sale for $20-$40 off MSRP on their online store. Choose free shipping or free local store pickup (if available). Sale prices for online orders only, in-store... Read more
Mac minis on sale for $50-$100 off MSRP
B&H Photo has Mac minis on sale for $50 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 1.4GHz Mac mini: $449 $50 off MSRP - 2.6GHz Mac mini: $649 $50 off MSRP - 2.8GHz Mac mini: $949... Read more
Clearance 2015 13-inch MacBook Airs available...
B&H Photo has clearance 2015 13″ MacBook Airs available for $300 off original MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 13″ 1.6GHz/4GB/128GB MacBook Air (MJVE2LL/A): $799... Read more
Apple certified refurbished iPad mini 4s avai...
Apple has certified refurbished iPad mini 4s now available for up to $120 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each iPad, and shipping is free. The following models... Read more
Notebook Makers In No Rush To Adopt USB-C – R...
Digitimes’ Cage Chao and Joseph Tsai note that while the USB Type-C interface is enjoying growing popularity among smartphones and tablet makers, notebook and all-in-one (AIO) PC vendors (other than... Read more
iMacs on sale for up to $250 off MSRP
B&H Photo has 21″ and 27″ Apple iMacs on sale for up to $250 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 27″ 3.3GHz iMac 5K: $2049 $250 off MSRP - 27″ 3.2GHz/1TB Fusion iMac 5K: $... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Bilingual - Multiple Positi...
…speaking a plus Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the Read more
Simply Mac *Apple* Specialist- Repair Techn...
…The Technician is a master at working with our customers to diagnose and repair Apple devices in a manner that exceeds the expectations set forth by Apple Read more
*Apple* Mobile Master - Best Buy (United Sta...
What does a Best Buy Apple Mobile Master do? At Best Buy, our mission is to leverage the unique talents and passions of our employees to inspire, delight, and enrich Read more
Best Buy *Apple* Computing Master - Best Bu...
What does a Best Buy Apple Computing Master do? At Best Buy our mission is to leverage the unique talents and passions of our employees to inspire, delight, and Read more
*Apple* Valley, CA School Speech Therapy Ope...
Apple Valley, CA School Speech Therapy Openings + Job Location: Apple Valley, CA + Category: Schools - SLP - CFY + Apply Now! + Back to Results Speech Language Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.