Category Archives: software

Long Time No See

Yes, that’s me – long time no see, but I am finally back. Two vacations and some life-changing experience as well as four months are through – and this blog is back online.

Since my last post was about iPhone, I will start with iPhone again now. So far it has proven to be a wonderful device, although it still has that toy feeling. Throughout all these four months I couldn’t help but think that I can’t wait to put this toy aside as soon as something more suitable comes along.

By being exposed to AppStore and the multitude of iPhone Apps, I kind of got an idea of the market, the possibilities and the progress one can make. What happens on iPhone market is very much similar to PC shareware scene back in the eighties. Lots of free programs with limited functionality with bunch of nagging screens asking for money in exchange for a full version. Lots of small software teams of few people (sometimes it’s just one person).

If current state of PC software market is any indication, in just a few years we’ll see the next generation productivity tools, massively multiplayer online games of all kinds, collaboration and communication suites.

And speaking of communications – recently I had a chance to try out Google Wave. My first impression – imagine Microsoft Work stuck in review revisions mode when a lot of people are making changes and you’re looking at them in real time. And instead of that annoying (at least to me) “copy column” you get to have instant messenger right inside the very document you’re editing. And you can play it as a movie to see who said what and when. And you can use it to blog (I am looking into that!). And share pictures. And create automated “bots” that will annoy people who try to talk to you when you’re away.

At some point during the I/O presentation (which I had to watch just to get an idea how to use the Wave) I got this funny feeling that Google is a self-improving artificial intelligence network that keeps googlers as ambassadors to humanity. Come to think of it – when you have a project (and you can call a project either building a web site or a vacation) and you communicate among a number of people, it’s hard to keep everything in order – meeting minutes, e-mails, instant messages, phone calls, to-do lists and so on. Google Wave takes care of all that. In fact, it does it so good that you don’t even need to come back to your old e-mail anymore. Each wave – is a task, an e-mail thread, a repository of documents and a to-do list. Once you start thinking in waves – I haven’t seen anyone using this expression, but it’s pretty obvious – you just can’t go back to old-style technology.

Spa Software – What Makes One A Leader?

This Sunday (i.e. yesterday) I went to a International Esthetics, Cosmetics & Spa Conference. The word International in the title means that there was a lot of Asian vendors (in fact – I had a strong feeling they have dominated the scene). However, since I was more interested in a technology perspective of the conference – I was dealing primarily with homeland vendors.

What attracted my attention was a spa management software. Before looking at it closely I was under impression that a simple MS Outlook set up would pretty much solve 90% of the problems. I wasn’t that far away, however, certain things have been showcased a lot better.

The three vendors that I had a chance to talk to were SpaBooker.com, Millenium (from Harms Software) and Spaware Salonware. Every software suit had their own advantages over the competition, however, since I am not even remotely the user of the software I wouldn’t go too deep into reviewing it. What I will do instead is concentrate on how each company was selling their software product.

SpaBooker had three average-looking ladies (nothing to see here, move along) and one loud-speaking boss-guy. The gentleman turned out to be very friendly and pretty much showcased all the advantages of the product in a bliss. For some reason when I asked directly if this is a hosted solution (it was obvious that it is to anyone who can read off the browser’s address bar) presenters went too shy and I sensed an attempt to hide some sort of guilt. Not sure why that’s a problem, but I guess since pretty much all other spa management software comes as a standalone package – there might be some doubts. On the other hand – they might have sold it as an advantage point (if your PC crashes – your data is safe, and so on), but they didn’t. The actual web service is developed using .NET technology and looks very bright and friendly. Definitely a plus from my point of view, since it doesn’t look as boring and as DOS-like as other packages. A little better marketing can just give this service a needed boost, since these guys are pretty new to the market.

The Millenium package, developed by Harms Software, had a stand right across from SpaBooker, so it was very natural that I approached them with the question “How’s your software is better than software of the guys right across from you?”. Unfortunately, the lady who was answering my questions was talking in somewhat low voice, so I simply could not hear some of the answers. She was much better looking (which is always a plus), but she wasn’t definitely confident in the software package she was selling, defaulting every now and then to a defensive stance. It may work in a single’s bar scene, but not when you have people asking you about the product you are selling. Since the company is in business for over 20 years (or so I heard), they might have come up with someone more proficient or more proactive. The marketing materials looked a lot better than those from SpaBooker, but when I heard that the version of the software they’re showcasing is dated 2007 – that was a definite Oops moment. Don’t know if they will improve their presentation for Monday and Tuesday, but that’s what they had on Sunday.

The last stand I was able to browse was the Spaware Salonware. Aside from hard-to-pronounce name and totally horrible-looking web site, the company showcased a pretty decent product. In fact, despite the program’s interface looking like 90’s are a-calling, the ease of use was amazing. The package is tailored to be used with touch-screen monitors (or heavy use of mouse, if you don’t want to invest in touch screen LCD), with additional modules, like Marketing (that’s just an automated discount tracker and e-mail management piece) and payment processor (which – from the presenter’s words – is custom tailored to your merchant provider). There were two people at the stand – the gentleman who was trying to pitch me that their company is using MS SQL server while all others are using Access (don’t know how true is that), therefore you can book millions of appointments (like that’s a possibility), and a very friendly nice-looking lady. The presentation was conducted in a very friendly fashion, although the overall stance was “we’re so much better than the others because we use Windows interface and SQL server” which was a bit surprising. In any case, the whole concept of a software with touch-screen friendly interface beats any other thing by leaps and bounds. From my perspective, the only two things this company needs to do is get a better-looking web site and default to touch-screen interface altogether.

To sum it all up, it was a nice experience looking at software products for totally unfamiliar market and seeing how problems are solved there. Even though I haven’t seen much of fresh ideas floating around (probably because management software isn’t considered a top-technology market), but there were a few things that got me thinking.

Now, if you ask me – after seeing all these products what do I personally think on how such a suite should look like, I would say it has to have the following:

  • touch screen friendly interface (a must!)
  • bright-colored calendar for ease of reading (spas use darker corners to hide their PC equipment, so it might come in handy to have easy to look at colors)
  • interchangeable web and standalone pieces (so that one can manage his/her spa from the PC in the office with installed piece of software and from home laptop without installing anything on the it)
  • data backup capabilities with encryption
  • client-tracking capabilities (which client purchased what and when, do they need a refill, a reminder of ongoing appointment, etc)
  • inventory-tracking capabilities (what product is in stock, what supplies are needed to be ordered), preferably with hookups to vendors
  • money-tracking capabilities (i.e. who got what service, how much was paid, what’s the commissions, etc.) or total payroll management
  • reporting on anything you can imagine

Anyone is in the mood to invest in a spa software startup?

Version or Revision Control Software

It has just occured to me that I don’t know any single small web development suite (from UltraEdit all the way to Dreamweaver) that would have a simple version or revision control. Of course, there are SVN, CVS, Visual SourceSafe and that monstrous Team Foundation Server, but they are not the solution.

But what a small business owner to do? Or a freelancer? Or a team of less then ten-twelve people? All these creatures seem a bit… overpowered. It’s like purchasing a freight truck instead of a van. For a team of ten hardcore programmers – it’s a great tool. For web designer, couple of coders, technical writer and their project manager – it’s the common pain in their individual necks.

So what I want to see is the tool that can:

  • integrate into popular HTML editors, like Dreamweaver, UltraEdit or others
  • act as a standalone application
  • take “snapshots” of selected folders
  • produce list of new/altered/deleted files between any two snapshots or current files
  • export full or partial set of files based on selected snapshot and provided criteria
  • produce delta between various file revisions (at least plain text files and documents)
  • produce various simple reports based on criteria selected
  • work on both Windows and Mac OS X platforms
  • be integrated into client-server environment

This, the way I see it, is a huge potential niche for someone who can throw such software into it. Traditionally, small businesses or freelancers relied either on multiple copies of files or backups. Another culprit is that most of version control systems designed by programmers and for programmers, so average person would have a hard time figuring things out (which is why it isn’t worth it).