Micro-ISV From Vision to Reality
Posted: 24-Feb-2006

Mac Guild Grade

Publisher: Apress


Reviewer: Diane Love $29.99

Micro-ISV From Vision to Reality
By Bob Walsh
Published by Apress, Jan 2006
ISBN: 1-59059-601-3
Price: $29.99

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!