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 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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