Mar 05

Several patent reform organizations have joined forces to abolish software patents.  The End Software Patents (ESP) coalition aims to eliminate patents that do not specify a physically innovative step, which would likely include many of the software patents granted today.  The coalition was founded by the Free Software Foundation, Public Patent Foundation, and Software Freedom Law Center

The ESP coalition will fight software patents on two fronts:

  1. Assist companies that challenge software patents in the courts and at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)
  2. Educate the public about the severe problems with software patents, with the ultimate goal of eliminating many software patents

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Nov 27

For the disabled PC user, every mouse click and keystroke can be a major effort or literal pain.  So disabled users will often go to great lengths to automate repetitive tasks and minimize the steps required to perform each task.  This includes the use of macros, voice recognition, mouse and keyboard utilities, and special hardware such as head-controlled mice and programmable button boards.

But in spite of these efforts, disabled PC users are often confounded by all-too-common problems found in today’s Windows and Web applications. 

Following are 20 problems with PC software that may be minor nits for many users but can be a huge problem for the disabled.  These are presented in no particular order, as each problem’s severity depends on the situation and individual.
 

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Oct 31

Though by profession I am a software developer, like most developers I am also a voracious software consumer.  My job requires me to use many different software tools, and I also use software to automate and manage many aspects of my personal life.

So naturally when it came time to produce a photo book for my parents’ joint 75th birthdays, I jumped on the new wave of “Print-On-Demand” (POD) book publishing.  With POD, you create your own book in a word processor or desktop publishing program, and then you can publish one or many professionally-bound copies of your new hardcover masterpiece for a very reasonable fee.
 

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Oct 04

Great empires often fall from within. 

The death knell for Visual Basic is premature, but it’s true that VB has deviated from its original vision as an “Application Construction Kit” for the masses and has lost significant market share as a result.  

Tim Anderson summed it up best:

It sounds like perfection.  Microsoft had perhaps the largest number of developers in the world hooked on a language which in turn was hooked to Windows.  Yet Microsoft took this asset of incalculable value and apparently tossed it aside.  Back in 2002, Microsoft announced that the language was to be replaced by something new, different and incompatible.  That caused rumblings that continue today.  Developers expressed emotions ranging from frustration to anger.  They felt betrayed.

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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 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 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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