Tuesday, October 25, 2005

SQLGrinder 2 Beta 6 now available

The sixth beta version of SQLGrinder 2, the completely-rewritten version of our database development tool was posted today.

Please see the release notes page for the full list of changes.

Some highlights: This update moves keyword fetching to a background thread, fixes schema refresh problems that were hanging the application, and handles connections that are terminated by the server in a more robust manor.

There are still some outstanding issues with Microsoft SQL Server. I still don't have access to my test server, but once I get something back, I should be able to resolve those issues.

Also, just a reminder that beta builds are full debug builds and aren't optimized for speed, size, etc. yet, and carry the usual "use at your own risk" warnings.

Finally, you can subscribe to the release notes page, which now has an RSS feed, to stay up-to-date on what's changed and what known issues there might be.
Pricing and availability for SQLGrinder 2

Pricing for the new version has been set at $59. During the beta period however, SQLGrinder 2 can be purchased for the current price of $49.95 with purchasers receiving a free upgrade to the final version once available. Owners of the current version can purchase an upgrade for only $19 by sending their current registration information to upgrades@sqlgrinder.com. Beta coupons will be sent out to users near the end of the beta.

SQLGrinder 2 for Mac OS X is currently available for a limited time as an unlimited beta version.

The beta of SQLGrinder 2 can be downloaded from the Advenio web site at: http://www.advenio.com/sqlgrinder/download.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Apple Keeps On Rolling

Today, a mere matter of days after the release of new iPods and a new iMac, Apple released updated Pro machines and Aperture, a new application aimed at photographers. Let me just say that Aperture looks HOT. Billed as a "Final Cut Pro for photography" it doesn't look like so much a Photoshop competitor as it does a photographer's workbench. Looking over the features, let me tell you, as an advanced amateur photographer, there are features in it that I'd kill for. The advanced, non-destuctive RAW workflow, the "virtual light table," the advanced project management, the printing and publishing, they are all amazing.

Priced at $500, it's not cheap, but Aperture is one of those applications you buy to help you make yourself money, so I think the cost is justified.

One thing of note though, it looks like Apple has introduced yet ANOTHER look and feel. At least this is confined to Aperture, much like the GUIs of the other "Pro" apps. Still, it makes you wonder how easily you'll be able to move from application to application when they all have different look and feels. Granted so long as the basics are the same, and only the "skin" is different, it won't be so bad, but I still think it's all getting a little out of hand.

Apple also showed off their new Pro machines including QUAD CPU POWER MAC G5s! Oh mama! I love having a dual CPU Power Mac, but I can't even imagine what 4 cores must be like.
With two dual-core processors, at speeds up to 2.5GHz per core, the Power Mac G5 Quad doubles the punch of its dual-processor predecessor. Do the math: Quad-core processing means four Velocity Engines and eight double-precision floating-point units for blistering performance of up to 76.6 gigaflops. That means you can manipulate mountains of images or miles of footage. Crunch enormous data sets. Encode HD video or high-bit-rate audio. All at speeds you never imagined possible.

Yeah! That's what I'M talking about!

A less impressive update, at least in my eyes, were the new PowerBook G4s. They received higher resolution screens, and longer battery life, both of which are indeed nice, but I still wish for something G5, dual core, and slimmer. This was a minimal refresh compared to what many people have been waiting and longing for.

All told, Apple has really set itself up for the holidays. With new iPods, including the new nano, new iMacs, and now new Pro Power Mac G5s, PowerBooks and Aperture, Apple looks set to keep the good times rolling.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

MacGourmet 1.1.6 Now Available

MacGourmet 1.1.6 is now available.

You can find a full list of the changes here.

This free update is available from the MacGourmet download page.

This release primarily resolves a few timing issues related to making web clippings that cropped up. The problems had existed for a while (even though I rolled back a clipping fix made for 1.1.5, the problems still occurred), but were hard to track down, as they weren't happening frequently enough for me to get a good fix on where they actually were. Well, for some reason, 1.1.5 made these issues surface more often, which was good because I was able to nail down the problems and fix them. Problems launching MacGourmet when a clipping is made should now be solved.

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Hardest Part of Being a "Indie" Mac Developer

On Software DesignJohn Gruber of Daring Fireball posted an interesting piece on the difficulties of being an Indie Mac software developer versus working for "The Man" at a larger company, called "The Life." As always, his stuff is a great read.

I guess you could say that I'm also living "The Life" as defined by Gruber. I'm doing Mac software development full time rather than working full time for someone else or doing work on a contract basis.

I think his "economics" of being an "Indie" are most or less correct:
The basic idea is that a developer comes up with an idea for an app, implements it, ships it, and starts selling software licenses for, typically, around $20-40 a pop. If he can sell 1,000 licenses in a year, that’s a nice hobby. Sell 2,000, and he’s getting close; at around 3,000 licenses per year, revenue is probably in the ballpark range of a full-time salary.

One thing he misses, however, is the cost of living. His numbers work for say, Boston, or Seattle, or possibly San Francisco and New York City. The numbers don't necessarily apply if the developer lives in or can move to a cheaper area. I recently did this myself. I moved from Boston, one the most expensive areas of the country to work, live and do business in, to Maine, which in many ways is far, far cheaper. This move allowed me to do Mac software development at a lower revenue number than would have been needed in Boston, and at a lower "salary." So I think the needed "full-time salary" will vary from place to place and from person to person. I don't think you need to make a 1 to 1 conversion from "working world" salary to "Indie" salary to make things work. Some people will be willing to give up some of what they made before, if need be, to have the lifestyle that goes with being your own boss, and creating your own products. It's hard to put a price tag on that.

He gets this point right on:
The hardest part about selling software is just getting noticed; if your app is only known by the sort of people who check VersionTracker and MacUpdate a few times a day, or even just the sort of people who know what VersionTracker and MacUpdate are, it’s unlikely that you’ll sell enough software to earn a living.

But once you get over that initial hump, subsequent sales become much easier. You start getting media coverage, and most importantly, assuming most of your users are happy, word-of-mouth advertising really starts to bloom.

Marketing is the hardest part of being an Indie. Getting the word out, getting noticed, getting coverage by magazines and Mac news sites, all of these are necessary to move the the next level, and all can be difficult. Media coverage for most of us though, isn't nearly as simple as he makes it sound. Getting media coverage is HARD, at least in my personal experience. While some developers and products get showered with news and magazine coverage, Delicious Library comes to mind, for the rest of us, coverage can be very hit or miss, and hard to come by. I think one thing that definitely helps is having a product that appeals to the internet savvy. They read the Mac news sites, they visit the download sites, and they are comfortable buying software. The way to reach the masses though, I have yet to figure out. Apple is currently selling over 1 million Macs a quarter. Reaching even 1% of those Mac users can be very, very difficult right now, if it's even possible.

One thing I wonder about is Gruber's claim that Brent Simmons of NetNewsWire fame is "selling out" because of the burden of supporting the software he's written.
But NewsWire’s continuing boom pushed things to the point where even with Sheila’s full-time help, Brent wasn’t getting to spend nearly as much time as he wanted writing code. Instead, he was spending time helping customers make use of the code he’d already written.

He's talked to Simmons, so maybe he knows something I don't, but based on my own experience, support isn't the worst or most time consuming thing that we have to do. If supporting your software becomes more work than developing it, something is really wrong. We get support email of course, but honestly, it doesn't usually include questions about using the software. The most common questions and comments are related to retrieving a lost serial number, and to bug reports. Questions, in general, are the same ones over and over, which is why we have product FAQ sections on our support discussion board. Over time we've also built a set of "canned" responses to common questions.

To me, the much, much bigger deterrent to staying "Indie" is the sales and marketing it requires. This includes press releases, updating VersionTracker, MacUpdate, Apple's download site and any other Mac download sites, developing and updating the website, writing documentation... I could go on. I've used NetNewsWire, and really, it's very well designed and not hard to use. I find it hard to believe that Ranchero's support burden was so heavy that it's too much for both Simmons AND his wife to handle. Granted, it sounds like he has a lot more users than we currently do, but even taking the percentage of time we spend on support and extrapolating it to a larger user base, it shouldn't be that bad.

Finally, he mentions what I consider the "critical mass" of indie development. The point where what you have going on becomes too much for one or two people. He suggests two solutions:
When a solo developer reaches the point where an app becomes so popular he needs help, there are only several options. One is to hire help, to build a company around the products.

This is probably the most risky, as he mentions. One thing that might help would be having a large enough cash pile to handle salaries for a while. With additional people can often come more products, more effective development and more revenue, so a cash pile might get you over the hump. This assumes that you were able to build one up while there was only one or two people though. Difficult, to say the least.
Another option is just not to worry about keeping up with the flow of support issues. Tempting, for sure, but certainly not a good way to build up a reserve of goodwill from your users.

Yeah, he's got this right, not getting back to your users is suicide. We try to respond to EVERY issue personally, and sometimes surprise the user by our response speed. Sometimes things will slip through the cracks, but we try very hard to not let that happen.

One other possibility his misses though, is contract work. I think a lot of small developers have done what we've done from time to time: hire out for help, on a limited basis. Our icons have been done that way. We've taken advantage of icon packs from The Iconfactory. We've also paid for some web development. Things can be done without hiring a full time person. The Mac world is filled with enthusiastic people who are willing to help, and at a reasonable price.

To me the single biggest reason I'd go back to working for someone else is if I got tired of being the one in charge of running the business. Developing software isn't running the business. The business exists because of the development, but they aren't the same thing. My guess is that Simmons got tired of running a business and wanted to go back to just developing software, which all things considered, is a lot easier than doing everything yourself.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Apple Shows Competitors How Things Should Done

Today Apple released not one, not two, but three new products.

First up was the new iMac. The new iMac is pretty sweet. Apple made it thinner, and faster, added a built-in iSight, remote control and SuperDrive, bundled Front Row and PhotoBooth software and priced it at about the same as before. Amazing. This is one incredible package.

Front Row is nothing short of really, really cool. Microsoft, are you taking notes? Front Row is how this stuff should be done. With it you can easily play your music, movies, video, DVDs and picture slideshows. It also serves up movie trailers right from Apple's QuickTime site. Ok, maybe not the most useful thing, but it ranks right up there on the "oh wow" scale. As cool as the new iMac and Front Row are, I'd KILL for a wireless box that I could connect to the TV, one that served up content off of my Mac and played it through my stereo and TV. KILL I TELL YOU. Apple is so close to this, you can almost taste it.

Next Jobs introduced the long rumored iPods with video. Now these are a couple of trick devices. They added a bigger, 2.5" color screen, video support for both MPEG-4 and H.264 AND made both the 20GB and the 60GB thinner than before. The way the new iPods look in the pictures must be an illusion, because supposedly they are the same width as the models they replace.
Finally Jobs showed off both iTunes 6 (6? Didn't 5 come out a month ago?) and the new video store functionality. You can now buy music videos, episodes of some of your favorite ABC and Disney TV shows, and some of the Pixar shorts, all for $1.99 each. Not bad, but honestly, the quality just isn't there. The 320 x 240 res isn't much to write home about. It seems that like music downloads, Apple is shooting towards the lower end of the quality scale. While buying episodes of your favorite TV shows for $1.99 to play on your iPod is kind of novel, it's not the best quality for your home entertainment center with that Plasma TV. I think video podcasting is far more intriguing. But really, Apple has hit a couple of home runs with the new iPod and the iPod nano. It makes you wonder how their competitors can even hope to compete. It's nice to see a company dominate based on innovation and design rather than monopoly.

MacGourmet 1.1.5 Released

MacGourmet 1.1.5 is now available: "Today Advenio updated MacGourmet, its recipe, wine and cooking note organizer, to version 1.1.5. This free update includes support for .Mac's Backup 3 application, adding a QuickPick for easily backing up your MacGourmet database. Also included are many fixes for problems users have found. MacGourmet is priced at US$24.95."

You can find a full list of the changes here.

This free update is available from the MacGourmet download page.

For those wondering when new features will be available, development is continuing, but in another branch, which allows for things to be fixed in the 1.1.x version which is available now, while work continues on the next major update. This allows small problems in the 1.1.x version to be fixed sooner rather than later. The next major update looks like it will be a bigger update than originally intended, which is why there has been no recent 1.2 or 2.0 releases. The plan is to continue providing fixes and small enhancements to 1.1.x, while working on bigger changes for the next major release.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Further Proof that Most Stock "Analysts" are Idiots

Apple posted it's best quarter, ever, again. And what happens? The stock drops over 10% in after-market trading...

Why? Because of idiotic unrealistic estimates and "whisper numbers" from "analysts" who have proven time and time again that they don't understand Apple, and hell, don't understand much beyond that.
"In the quarter, Apple shipped 6.45 million iPods. In contrast, analysts were expecting the company to ship in the neighborhood of 7 million units, and some whisper numbers were reaching as high as 9 million units."

"Whisper numbers of 9 million?" Based on WHAT? The number someone pulled out of their butt?
"Apple reported a profit of $1.34 billion for the year, compared with a profit of $276 million last year."

You read that correctly. $1.34 billion vs. $276 million.

They shipped over 1 million iPod nanos in 17 days... SEVENTEEN DAYS, and didn't even come close to meeting demand.
"During the fourth quarter, when Apple earned $430 million on sales of $3.68 billion, the company sold 6.45 million iPods and 1.24 million Macintosh units."

iPod shipments might not have been as high as some were hoping, but they still rose 5% from the company's third quarter and 220% year-over-year.

Meanwhile, the company's line of Macintosh computers posted strong sales as well, with unit shipments up 5% sequentially and 48% from the fourth quarter a year earlier.

And thanks to strong sales from its retail stores, overall revenue rose 4% sequentially from its third quarter and 48% year over year.

Apple, quite simply, is kicking ASS, and I'm quite comfortable developing software for the platform. I don't care what the lemmings do.

Read more: Top Line Topples Apple

Saturday, October 08, 2005

NewsGator Acquires NetNewsWire

NetNewsWire, a Mac application, was recently acquired by NewsGator for an undisclosed amount, as was the primary developer, Brent Simmons. Congratulations go out to Brent of course. Unlike one of the last major Mac app acquisitions, Watson, from Karelia, it doesn't look like the end of NNW. The acquisition of NNW clearly fits into the business plans of NewsGator (unlike the purchase of Watson by Sun, which wanted, of all things, a Mac application to boost their Java technology business. The project they were working on has evidently been canceled, and Dan Wood is now working on Sandvox, a new Mac OS X app).

So, while the Mac software world doesn't lose a well known developer, Brent will continue to work on NNW full time, it does loose another small, independent development company. I can certainly relate to some of Brent's comments:
"When a software product becomes as popular as NetNewsWire you end up spending less and less time actually programming. But programming is what I love to do, it’s what I’m good at—and the only way to keep making NetNewsWire better is to write code."


"NetNewsWire users deserve a product with more resources behind it. If my time can be freed up so I can spend lots more time working on new features (and bug fixes!) then that’s good all around."

One thing some users need to understand about small development houses is that in most case the developers are also the support, sales and marketing people too. This all takes away from the time you can spend developing the product, and all of these "jobs" are necessary to survive and hopefully thrive. I can certainly understand Brent's desire to JUST write code now, though. With his user base, even with help from his wife, I'll bet he was getting less and less time to devote JUST to development, and I think it's safe to say that the joy of software development and creating something from nothing is why most of us are doing this to begin with.