Bob Walsh's blog

Why Open Source <> Micro-ISV.

Every so often since my Micro-ISV book came out, I get an email like this:

I'm currently reading your book "Micro-ISV" and am learning a lot from it. However, I have one question about something you said. On page 23 you said, "Open Source may just be the greatest way to create anything, but it's a lousy way to start a small profit-making business..." Could you explain what you meant by this?

I've tried to explain why I believe this to be true, but there's a better real-life example: the Death of NDoc. Kevin Downs, head of the Open Source project is pulling the plug on going to 2.0 and killing it off in a couple of weeks at SourceForge after freeloaders bitched he wasn't working on it enough.

How to develop Micro-ISV software.

If you’re going to successfully fire up your micro-ISV, you need to fire your old ideas about software development, be they UML, RUP, agile, SCRUM, extreme or none: they fit like shoes on fish.

Every single methodology for developing software I’ve heard of in over 20 years in this business assumes you’re part of some vast team of programmers, never a programmer working alone. What’s more, each and every existing software development process assumes someone is going to hand you a nice gift-wrapped definition of the problem you’re going to solve via code. That is exactly what won’t happen when it comes to developing a micro-ISV app or web site.

Today’s software design theories are like using a power drill as an ear cleaner - they can be used, but it’s not a good idea. We need a better approach, one based in the reality of one or maybe two programmers who must also define the problem and its solution and who want to do so before their savings run out.

Don’t underestimate just how hard defining the problem domain is, or just how difficult it is to nail down in the absence of actual customers who will tell you what they want. Unless you plan to take a few years unpaid leave from your life to do intensive market research, endless focus groups and surveys, at best you are only going to have a very approximate idea of who is going to be using your software how to solve exactly which problem in what precise way at least all the way through to your public beta.

Planning your virtual future

If you've not been bitten by the Virtual Machine bug yet, it's time to give virtualization, and especially VMware your attention. VMware is out to change a few things in this world, one being how servers serve and the other how developers develop.

Open Source Beer and more

It seems this summer the whole world is moving towards Open Source: from the Our Beer gang to Microsoft providing a tool to easily embed CC licenses in Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents, opening Codeplex and giving in to OpenDocument, to the whole Web 2.0 use our API’s movement. What’s going on here? More importantly, what opportunities might there be for micro-ISVs?

If you missed that first reference, a group of students at IT-University in Copenhagen have created Our Beer, the world’s first beer brand with a Creative Commons recipe. Geeks being a thirsty lot, this Open Source beer has generated a nice buzz above and beyond the alcohol. And a lot of intriguing ideas: will open source shake up the tangible world as it has the intangible world of software and micro-ISVs? Is Open Source the antidote to brain-dead call centers, crappy products that fall apart in a couple years and advertising on every flat surface your eyeballs happen to rest on? Maybe.

Crowdsourcing for Micro-ISVs

One of the things a micro-ISV has to be on the lookout for are emerging trends they can get on top of and ride like the Devil. Crowdsourcing is one of those trends. There’s a great article, The Rise of Crowdsourcing, in the June Wired Magazine that any micro-ISV casting about for a product/service idea should read.

Bill Bows Out

In case you've been in a zen-like coding state for the past couple of days, Bill Gates is checking out the building. In hindsight, it's clear Bill has been edging closer and closer these last few years: first handing over the day to day to Steve Ballmer, then elevating Ray Ozzie to sit one step down from the throne.
Since everyone else with a heartbeat and a laptop have opined what this means for Microsoft, the software industry and the WBM (World Bill Made), I thought I’d weigh in with what a few predictions of what this means for micro-ISVs:

  • Go Live Go – Ray Ozzie gets the Net in ways Gates only reluctantly ever did. Now that Ozzie is The Man, expect to see the Live vision of the world get significantly more resources and prestige internally in Microsoft at all levels. On a practical level for developers, expect to see Microsoft build a true online ISV distribution channel – one that micro-ISVs will be able to get in on.
  • Big Ships Turn Slow – At the same time, Microsoft is a huge company nowadays, and huge companies at the top of their game turn very slowly. Office 12/Vista will unroll pretty much as planned over the next several years. After that though, I would not be surprised to see the next big Office/OS become a low cost core endpoint for consumers, business and enterprise pulling down from the MicrosoftNet added functionality tailoring the one size fits all to the era of customized everything.

Finding your Blue Ocean

One of the hardest problems starting a micro-ISV is defining your product, and one of the best ways to frame this question comes from a very unlikely source: the Harvard Business School press.

MBA stuff is usually about as useful to developers and feathers on a fish; MBA’s tend to be the people who wander from corporate cubicle to meeting, muttering in incomprehensible management-talk. Yet, here’s a book by two highly prominent MBA academicians that nails how micro-ISVs can find the right application or web service to create.

Now Chan Kim and Bruce Henderson didn’t set out in Blue Ocean Strategy to find out how startups can define what they are starting up – they wanted to find the key secret sauce of why when big businesses start new businesses some take off, most putter along a few crash and burn spectacularly. But hey, I’ll take it.

Back to the Future

"Have you been crammified by too much screensucking in your pilatorium lately? Are you frozoned and multifailing because your work environment’s gemmelsmerch is too high? Worry no more! Reverse that enjambleness, stop that whizilling! Acme Micro-ISV’s got the product for you!"

No, I’ve not lost my mind, nor am I channeling A Clockwork Orange, and no, this is not Word 12’s spelling checker running amok. The above is a host of new words recently minted by Dr. Edward Hallowell, a leading expert on Attention Deficit Disorder to describe the host of new information-related afflictions, maladies and crippling diseases starting to spread throughout the Information Society. Pay attention now – what you don’t know can hurt you.

80/20 Your information feeds

A few weeks ago I promised to start exploring here the 47 non-coding things you as a programmer have to do to build a successful micro-ISV. I will get to those, but before I do, we need to do some information feed swamp-draining.

Years (many) ago when I started programming, technical information came in the form of things called technical books. If you were lucky, one or maybe two of these items would be produced, published and make it to a bookshelf at Computer Literacy Bookstore in Silicon Valley about the programming language you worked with and flailed at day in and day out.

That was then, this is now.

Now, no matter how obscure the computational subject, API usage, OS bug there's a gazillion web sites, blogs, and especially RSS feeds pumping out info 24/7 on it. Like drinking from a fire hose? Nah. Try like being at the bottom of Niagara Falls, looking up.

Signs of Plague

Have you noticed more and more online people are feeling burned out and unproductive? I am. So are Gavin Bowman and Keith Casey. So is Ryan Carson. So are a lot of people.

One case is one thing. Two are a coincidence. Four? Four hundred thousand? This is no coincidence.

I see two possibilities: brain sucking aliens are draining our minds through the Internet – the ultimate killer app. Or, something else is going on. I’m hoping its something else – better odds.