May 30

Debate over the most popular programming language can become an emotional, almost religious battle.  And sometimes there’s no debate at all, such as when a developer is assigned to repair legacy software.  “It was written in COBOL?” is a popular refrain.

A programming language is just one tool in a developer’s expansive collection of specialty software and hardware.  So does it really matter which programming language a developer uses, as long as he or she is meeting customer requirements on time and within budget?

Yes, yes it does.  Ford or Chevy.  Stihl or Husky.  Coke or Pepsi.  Let’s face it, we all get passionate about our tools.

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May 29

The promise of end-user programming has been a fleeting one. 

First there was Hypercard for the Macintosh.  Hypercard was powerful enough to produce commercial applications but simple enough for a child to use.  Unfortunately, Hypercard proved too difficult for Apple to market properly, and besides, most developers don’t care about the Mac anyway.

Microsoft followed in 1991 with Visual Basic, which retained the simplicity of the BASIC programming language while upgrading it for use on the new graphical Windows platform.  VB was such a smash success with both novice and professional programmers that at one time, over 60% of software developers reported using Visual Basic for some of their projects.  But along the way, Visual Basic matured into a real (read: complex) object-oriented programming language, leaving behind its simple roots and unfortunately many of its fans.  As a result, VB use has plummeted 35% in just the past year.

There are also new efforts by IBM and smaller companies such as DabbleDB and Zoho to turn novices into programmers.  But none have the excitement or momentum of Microsoft’s new programming tool for the masses: Popfly.

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May 24

Microsoft offers a generous program to help new independent software vendors (ISVs) develop and launch their products faster and cheaper. 

The Microsoft “Empower for ISVs” program offers software, support, and additional resources designed to help ISVs reduce development costs, test their software on multiple Windows platforms, and improve time-to-market.  Empower is a one-year membership for $375, with an opportunity to renew for a second year, and it’s available only once per company.

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May 23

Upgrading to Windows Vista takes time, money and patience.  And after much sweat and a few tears, it was all for naught, and I ultimately retreated back to Windows XP.

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May 21

How much time and money should a software company invest to ensure that its products do not infringe on registered software patents?

The question comes to mind after Microsoft accused the open-source industry of violating 235 Microsoft patents.  Microsoft released the total but did not specify the infringed-upon patents.  Some accuse Microsoft of using this strong-arm tactic to force open source companies to negotiate an intellectual property agreement similar to the Microsoft/Novell Linux agreement in 2006.

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May 16

Developers for the Microsoft .NET platform are blessed to have three high-quality .NET magazines available to them:  CoDe Component Developer Magazine, MSDN Magazine, and Visual Studio Magazine.

Why would a tech savvy software developer want to read a paper magazine when so much information is available online?  Well, some of us “old timers” still appreciate the fresh smell and slick feel of a high-gloss monthly.  Also, magazine articles are often produced by professional writers who explain subjects in greater clarity and detail than one may find on the Web. And there are times when a developer may not be connected, such as when riding the train, sitting in a meeting, or eating lunch. 

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May 08

I started my professional programming career over 20 years ago on the Commodore Amiga.  The Amiga was a state-of-the-art personal computer, with a proprietary operating system, windowed GUI, and dedicated sound and graphics chips when the IBM PC was still saying, “C:DOS RUN.”

The Amiga computer was fast for its time, but maddeningly slow in hindsight: 5-10 minutes to compile a typical development project.  Hard drives were still external, bulky and expensive at $500 for 30MB.  The Amiga system APIs were plentiful, massive and complex, like the Win32 APIs that followed.  I wrote software in C, using a programmable text editor and the “Make” tool to build projects.

A lot has changed in two decades.  As with most things in this business, software development tools and systems are now better, faster, and sometimes cheaper.  But what are the most important changes?

In the spirit of David Letterman, following are my “Top 10 Advances in Software Development.”  These are the things–from my perspective, in increasing order of importance–that have most improved software development and entrepreneurship over the past 20 years.  I encourage you to reply with your own Top 10 list.

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May 08

Silverlight is Microsoft’s answer to Adobe Flash. 

Officially, “Silverlight is a cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in for delivering the next generation of .NET based media experiences and rich interactive applications for the Web.  Silverlight offers a flexible programming model that supports AJAX, VB, C#, Python, and Ruby, and integrates with existing Web applications. Silverlight supports fast, cost-effective delivery of high-quality video to all major browsers running on the Mac OS or Windows.”

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May 03

During my 25 years as a software entrepreneur, I’ve had the pleasure and challenge of selling PC software to three major markets: large enterprises, general consumers, and software developers. 

Of course, each target market has its own advantages and disadvantages, which I summarize below.  Note this list is from the perspective of a small software company (2-50 employees) with limited funds.  Microsoft and Google may hold a different view.

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May 01

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday loosened a legal test that many feel has resulted in a boom of obvious patents that have threatened the software industry.

Federal law states that a patent cannot be granted for an invention that a person of “ordinary skill” in the same field could have created.  But since many things become obvious in hindsight, in 1982 the Federal Court of Appeals added a legal test stating that “teaching, suggestion or motivation” must also exist that could lead an ordinary person to develop the invention.  This requires prior written documentation that is often difficult or impossible to find, and as a result, no obviousness case has ever been brought before the Supreme Court

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