Developers' Blog

There are times I refer to Minder Softworks as “we”, and in reality, that fits. No man is an island, and neither am I: my wife is an essential part of Minder Softworks. Among her many contributions, she helps me make important decisions, helps me stay focused when I want to go racing off chasing something shiny, and on occasion she helps me think through a perplexing code problem. (She’s a coder too, by trade, though she codes for “that other platform.”) So while she’s not involved in the day-to-day operations, she’s very much a part of Minder Softworks. That said, the only person working on code is me. I’m also the only person answering tech support emails, maintaining the website, doing all the accounting work, and doing everything else that needs done to keep the business running.

What does this have to do with anything? Well, it has to do with resources, and the proper utilization thereof.

As any dedicated businessman, I make it a point to do three things:

  1. Listen to my customers
  2. Evaluate my competition
  3. Work hard to deliver an exceptional product

In the almost-three-years we’ve been in business, I’ve never once had someone email me asking me to make my applications better looking. Not once. They always email asking for features. And in that same time period I’ve seen lots and lots of applications rise up in the Mac market (some competitors, some not) that put the sizzle before the steak.

Imagine you go to a steakhouse and order a 12oz New York strip, cooked medium. After about half a beer, the waitress comes over with one of those cast-iron plates with wood bottoms, a sizzling steak on top of it, and a caution to “be careful, the plate is hot.” The steak looks beautiful, a nice brown with a perfect char. The sizzle sounds wonderful. And with a huge grin you grab your steak knife and cut into it… and it’s bleeding. It’s so rare you can hear it moo. The waitress looks busy, so you decide to take a bite and see if you can suffer through it… and it’s way over salted. After 15 minutes you finally flag down the waitress, who rudely takes your steak to the back. Twenty minutes later, you get a new steak that’s well done. You suffer through it (after all, you’re hungry), pay $35 for having a crappy meal, and swear to never go back.

Was the sizzle worth it? In my book, no. I want a hassle-free and enjoyable steak-eating experience. I want my steak the way I ordered it, and I want it to taste good. And I could care less if it comes on a sizzling plate if it’s not cooked to my expectations.

The same situation is happening in the Mac software market: many applications look nice. Until you try to use them and you find them lacking in features, or incorporating some sort of weird “workflow” model that you have to learn how to use. Many of these applications are part of what’s become known as The Delicious Generation.

With the limited resources I have, I have to choose how best to spend my time. If I’m going to spend two days on something, I can choose:

  • to implement a much-requested feature, or
  • to make it look pretty

Is it possible to do both? Yes. But it takes twice as long, or twice as many people.

There’s nothing wrong with making something look good, and I want my applications to be visually appealing and easy-to-use, but unless my customers want it, I’ll focus my efforts on putting the steak before the sizzle. Why? Because companies that put the sizzle first don’t last very long, and eventually their applications wind up like this. We’d much prefer to establish a long-term relationship with our customers, rather than disappear after a short-lived flash in the pan.

So, I’m here today making my customers a promise: I will always strive to deliver applications that are simple to use and feature rich before I spend time making something look good only for the sake of it looking good. I will never put meaningless aesthetics over usability or features. Ever. You have my word.

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When developing software, there’s lots of things you have to do to make it ready for public consumption. Every aspect of every interaction must be reviewed, and testing every possible thing a person could do that would result in breaking your program. So in addition to using the software myself in my daily work, I deploy it to a team of beta testers who beat on it too, and catch things I never would because everyone uses a program a little differently.

So when you think it’s perfect, when you think you have all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed, you ship it.

And you misplace a decimal point or some other mundane detail that winds up not being so mundane.

(Yes, I just made an Office Space reference. I think fully 65.3% of my daily dialog is made up of movie, TV show, or lyrical references. And the more arcane the better.)

Two “mundane details” marred an otherwise perfect launch of Stock Keeper, forcing us to quickly release Stock Keeper 1.0.1. Looks like I just had my glitch for this mission. (See, there I go again with the movie references. This time to Apollo 13.)

So if Stock Keeper is giving you the “the 30-day demo has expired” dialog, be sure to update to the 1.0.1 release. You may have to download it manually from here and replace the 1.0 version, but regardless how you do it, download the update and it will cure all your ills. (Three references in one post… a new record!)

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