Vision to Reality
By Bob Walsh
Published by Apress, Jan 2006
- What the Book is About
- This book is intended for
anyone who wants to quit their day job and form a small, perhaps one-person micro
independent software vendor (micro-isv). According to the foreword, this is a term
Microsoft coined for any company they haven't yet bought or eliminated.
Although the book is intended for people who have a product and are actively trying
to make money from it, it could also be an eye opener for people who have computer
based hobbies. With some focus on a business plan and marketing and some education
about web technology and the legal aspects of staring a business, there are many
people who could take their current skills and interests to the next level.
- Target Audience
- The book assumes you have
the skill you need to write software, but that you are a complete novice at starting
your own company.
- What to Expect
- Although the book is for people
who already have a great idea or perhaps a great piece of software already written,
it starts out by examining how you might originate that great idea or verify that
your idea is worth working on. This is a bit like trying to teach someone how to
compose a hit song, take an award-winning photo or write a bestselling novel. There
are some principles to share but in the end the idea has to be your own idea.
Chapter 2 describes how the software engineering process ought to be conducted for
a micro-isv. To begin with you are taught to write use cases first and then design
the user interface using paper prototyping and storyboarding. This is best practice
for any software with a user interface. However the author's approach is something
we don't all get to try at work:
"I take three or four 5x8 inch legal pads, a large cup of strong coffee, and
a cat and then go sit away from all the computers and start sketching the user interface....
I can whip out five or six [paper prototypes] in the time it takes for the cat to
get fidgety and decide he has better things to do." It looks like it would also
work for non-cat owners.
This chapter goes on to discuss prioritizing and scheduling, development environment,
testing, quality control and setting up a beta test program. When testing it's important
to have a controlled test environment. There's no point getting a product to work
on your own computer if it won't work on all your customers' computers. A surprising
point concerns Microsoft Virtual PC, which Mac users know as an application which
sets up a virtual Windows machine on a Mac and runs Windows applications. The surprise
is that Windows developers also use Virtual PC running on Windows to create virtual
Windows machines as test platforms inside a real Windows machine.
The third chapter covers many aspects of doing business on the web, including branding,
domain names, icons, sources of royalty-free stock photos, distributing your software
and getting money safely from your customers via the web. Chapter 5 returns to this
area with a tutorial on marketing, acceptable use of email and customer support alternatives.
Both chapters stress the importance of two-way communication with your customer base
via blogs and discussion boards.
After suggesting some web-based quizzes to discover whether you are an entrepreneur,
Chapter 4 focuses on the legal options and tax aspects of setting up a company, which
are highly dependent on your country and state of residence. For example there are
different ways you can form a company, each with its own costs, risks and benefits.
In the USA, state taxes may be applicable depending on both your and your customer's
state of residence. USA state taxes are all rather lower than the 17.5% VAT which
applies in the UK. I enjoyed discovering that this part of the book covers the ground
whether I remain in the USA, return to the UK or emigrate to Australia.
After a digression into time management and a long interview with David Allen, the
author of Getting Things Done, this chapter concludes with a discussion of licensing
agreements and legal protection for your company.
Chapter 6, "Welcome to your Industry'" concerns dealing with competition,
working with Microsoft's developer support and joining industry associations. The
section about Microsoft is the only part of the book that is highly specific to Windows
developers and has nothing to say about the equivalents for Apple or Linux.
The final chapter, "What Happens Next?" comprises interviews with 25 people
who are all running micro-isvs, some of which have "graduated to full-blown
companies". Reading these real-life stories is informative and compelling.
The appendix contains a useful one-stop-shop summary of every book and URL mentioned
in the text.
- The first highlight of the
book is the foreword by Joel Spolsky, a software industry personality whose writing
is both fact-filled and hilarious. Despite its entertainment factor, Joel's demand
that you business goal demonstrates *a way to eliminate pain* for your potential
customer is both memorable and intriguing.
Another highlight is the use of interviews with people who either succeeded as micro-isvs
or provide support to micro-isvs in some way. Including interviews is quite unusual
in software books but a natural technique for the author, who spent many years as
a reporter before joining the software industry. The interviewees include people
from large companies like Microsoft and Google, smaller companies such as Fog Creek
and Moveable Type and various other professionals including journalists and an attorney.
The value of this approach is the personal connection it provides to real-life experience
rather than theory.
- Mac Guild Grade
- A (Outstanding)
- Final Words
- Anyone who sets out to run
a micro-isv will find this book an unswerving companion with a wealth of information
on every relevant topic, a warning for every pitfall and a solution for any problem
they could encounter. The only caveat for people developing for the Mac platform
is the absence of any information about Apple developer support.
For those of us who don't have a product to sell, but are still spending a lot of
spare time in front of a computer, this book is an eye-opener. If you can find a
topic on which to focus that spare-time activity, the sky's the limit!