Saturday, November 25, 2006
Emails to the FeedJournal Domain
I just had a large backlog of e-mails delivered to me. They were all addressed to any of the e-mail addresses in my feedjournal.com domain. There were e-mails all the way back from the end of August until today. Of course, this is an extremely costly thing to have happen to an µ-ISV and especially at a time around a product launch.
I have been speaking to both my domain name registrar and my hosting provider and problem is now solved once and for all. You should all feel free to safely use the feedjournal.com addresses for contacting me in the future.
I am terribly sorry for everyone who tried to contact me during this time (31st Aug - today) and never received a reply. I am now starting to process the e-mail backlog and reply to each and everyone of you.
Sunday, November 19, 2006
FeedJournal v2.0 is Available
After a few sabbatical months in the aftermath of the Made In Express Contest, it is finally time for FeedJournal v2.0 to see the light of day. Functionality-wise there are no major differences between v1.0 and v2.0 - all the changes have occurred behind the scenes. The database is now using on a much leaner engine, considerably speeding up the download size and installation process. On top of this, the new version is going shareware, with a 30-day trial version without any limitations. The price for a single computer license is $39.95, but during 2006 there is an introductory offer of $29.95.
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Microsoft Resolves Controversy (WTG!)
Shortly after I published my previous blog post regarding the Made In Express Contest controversy, Microsoft contacted me. They said that they had conducted a review of the final results and had decided to award the amount of the Grand Prize to both of the First Place winners!
So what swayed Microsoft into changing their attitude? I am not saying that my blog post did it, but I like to think that it played a part in their decision. Another huge contributor to this decision was Channel9 user Minh (thank you!), who called up Mark Jewett at Microsoft to get some answers. The phone conversation was recorded and you can download the mp3 from here.
Way to go, Mark Jewett and Microsoft! I know that you took a a lot of abuse in the C9 forums but the way that you resolved the situation impresses me. Thank you!
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
FeedJournal is Awarded First Place in Microsoft Contest
Yesterday, Microsoft announced that my newspaper project FeedJournal had been awarded First Place in their Made In Express Contest. As regular readers of my blog know, my brainchild FeedJournal is the .NET application I am writing to revolutionize the way you read newspapers.
The judges (Chris Pirillo, LockerGnome; Phillip Torrone, MAKE Magazine; Robert Scoble, Scobleizer) motivation read:
Jonas helped us all take a step closer to publishing our own newspaper based on the news we care about. FeedJournal is actually a little glimpse of the future…it will likely be a common way for readers to ‘roll their own’ magazines in the near future.
This is probably my finest moment ever in my long software development career and I want to thank Microsoft for arranging the contest and everyone who has supported the project by dropping emails or blog comments. And I want to send a special thank you to my wife and baby daughter for having patience with my late evening development sessions during this time.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
FeedJournal Voting - Last Chance
Thank you for your support.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
FeedJournal Database Decisions
Pirillo has something to say about the Made
In Express Contest. Considering he is one of the judges in the
contest, I am definitely listening. This is his verdict about my own
Considering his overall harsh judgment of the projects I consider this
pretty favorable, and indeed he goes on to mention FeedJournal as one of
his four favorite entries. However, let's consider his criticism for a
moment. The SQL Server 2005 Express Edition is a required component in
the contest as long as you want to have a database. FeedJournal
definitely needs one. Here is a section from the contest rules:
Of course Mr Pirillo is spot on in his criticism, and the database issue does not come as any surprise to me. The fact is that the required runtime for SQL Server Express Edition is 55MB, 10 times larger than the setup files for the actual FeedJournal application! I already touched upon this in a previous blog entry where I considered using SQL Server Everywhere Edition.
The good news is that there is already a solution to the problem! FeedJournal is using a database wrapper class, making it trivial to switch database engines. Since the start of the development I have been secretly working on a separate configuration using the open-source System.Data.SQLite database. Compared with SQL Server's 55MB runtime, SQLite weighs in at a mere 400kb using a single DLL file. w00t!! Sure, SQLite offers less design time support from inside Visual Studio, but it is a small price to pay in comparison.
FeedJournal versions using SQLite are fully functional and has been running in my personal test environment all the time. These will be released for beta testing in a few weeks time, most likely after the contest ends in order to abide by the rules.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
FeedJournal v1.0 and Contest Voting
This also implies that you can finally download FeedJournal v1.0 from the the Made In Express link above. Despite the name it is a beta test version, while I am continuing to work on v2.0. Visit feedjournal.com for more information.
Sunday, August 06, 2006
Contest Deadline for FeedJournal
The time has come to let go of FeedJournal v1.0. I have been working on it for months and thinking about it for even longer. Without the definite contest deadline hanging over me, I think it would have been difficult for me to resist adding more features before publicizing it. But, in the end it's for the better. FeedJournal needs to get out there and get some real-world testing before it can mature into higher versions with a larger feature set.
I definitely don't see this contest submission as the end of the line for FeedJournal, more like a baby's first steps. I choose to look at this version as a public beta test. Although v1.0 has been thoroughly tested I have decided to let it expire on October 1st, forcing users to upgrade to a higher version. Much like a beta or release candidate would work.
The time has also come for me to sum up the experience of having competed in Made In Express Contest.
Sometimes I have felt isolated, that I don't have any cubicle neighbors or managers to discuss design choices or feature priorities with. Then I realize that there are huge numbers of other single developers out there doing the same thing, 12 of us happen to be in this contest. And if we want to break our isolation we can, help is always just a forum post, instant message or email away. And I choose to see it as a challenge, that we have responsibility for all the implementation choices, design decisions and even marketing options. A challenge which is there to empower us as providers of a service or application.
Sometimes I have been feeling that time was not enough. Who are these people at Microsoft letting us run like crazy implementing these projects in just a couple of months? Do they get a kick out of seeing us burning the midnight oil? Well, even though I am sure it has been a hectic summer for the whole dozen of us finalists, seeing it coming to an end now I just want to keep on running. To keep pushing out more features and squashing bugs. The contest deadline has forced me to set up an infrastructure for publishing an installation program, finishing the help text and generally smoothing the rough edges. All of this means that I can take v1.0 and start pushing out upgrades if there is an interest out there. And from what I have seen in the blogosphere, there is.
No matter how tough it has been for the last months, one thing is for sure: it has been a blast! Good luck to all of us in the contest! Both regarding the judges' verdict and the future life of our projects.
The deadline for the contest is tonight (6th) at midnight, and the submissions should become available on Microsoft's contest site shortly thereafter. I will post a link on this blog as soon as I have more information.
Friday, August 04, 2006
SQL Server Everywhere Edition Requirements
The Community Technology Preview (CTP) of Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Everywhere Edition requires Windows XP SP2 or Windows Vista. If Windows 2000 is unsupported I will have to look at other solutions instead for the future. I tried to convert my database from Express's MDF format into Everywhere's SDF format, but ran into problems. With the short time remaining to the version 1.0 deadline (contest submission) the database optimization is something that will have to wait. Now is not the time to introduce more risk in the project.
I also decided to go with the ClickOnce system of deploying the application, which is helping out. It comes especially in handy with the installation of the runtime environments for .NET 2.0 and SQL Server Express. ClickOnce automatically figures out if the user needs to get these installed without me having to write a single line of code/script, which is really neat.
Thursday, August 03, 2006
Help Format Confusion
As I previously blogged about I was using Shalom Help Maker to generate my help file. After spending some time with this and finally completing the user documentation, I was ready to insert it into FeedJournal. The it suddenly hit me: this is not the right help format! The Danish Shalom Help Maker is generating help files in the old Windows .HLP format, which has been obsolete for some years now. What I need is CHM format, which I had up till now deluded myself into believing I was working with. Ouch!
OK, there must be some way of converting my HLP file into CHM, right? Nope, at least nothing free, and all of the programs I tried generated an error during the conversion. Finally, after much hunting I found a link to a freeware application on the excellent forums at Joel on Software. The program was called HelpMaker, and sure enough its conversion feature also choked on my HLP file, but I was able to copy/paste the content to generate a CHM file. HelpMaker also offer to possibility to compile to many different formats: CHM, HLP, MSDN format, RTF, and HTML. All in all, the process using HelpMaker was much easier than that of HTML Help Workshop, the free and official vanilla solution.
I took the opportunity to compile an output for the web at the same time as I compiled the CHM file. The web based help files are available here.
Now, if I only had realized my mistake earlier, I would have saved many hours that I now spent working on the wrong format. Doh!
Two days left for FeedJournal's contest submission and I am trying to prioritize which items have higher priority than others to complete. Right now I am working on the text of the CHM help file and I hope to finish it soon. After that (if there will be enough time) I want to see if I can easily switch to SQL Server Everywhere Edition, which should boost performance on low-end PCs quite a bit.
Before submission I also want to make sure that the install scripts are completed. I haven't decided between ClickOnce and InnoSetup yet. I have previous positive experiences with InnoSetup, but Microsoft's ClickOnce also seems nice in that it can support transparent upgrades and it integrates the .NET 2.0 framework installation automatically.
I will also need to write an build instructions document, which should be straightforward in my case. One item which is not obvious to me is if I should deliver the third-party open-source libraries I use in source code format or as precompiled assemblies. I fired away an email to the contest coordinator, to get an answer to that one.
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
Small software businesses, or µ-ISVs, are cropping up everywhere nowadays. A big challenge for them is to get a foothold in the industry and claim a piece of the market. Then they need to keep that attention.
In Bob Walsh's excellent " Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality", I learned that a blog can be an excellent vehicle for spreading the word about your product. It can also help to make sure you are keeping your customer's attention focused, by having them subscribe to your blog's RSS feed. The Blogosphere is a fast-moving media where the attention span sometimes lasts shorter than it takes to read a headline. The cross-pollination in the blogosphere is an interesting phenomenon which I hope to be able to leverage some more in the future.
For now, I decided to add a new section to FeedJournal's web site. The new section is called "In Blogs", with the obvious allusion to "In the Press", and will contain interesting mentions about my application from the blogosphere. I know, FeedJournal is not even out for beta testing yet, but it is never too early to start marketing, right? And besides, I can't resist the kick I get out of seeing my name mentioned in other people's blogs!
As a side note, after months of owning the domain feedjournal.com, I finally figured out how to configure the DNS so that I can use my hosting service with the domain. Until now I was using GoDaddy's forwarding functionality together with a masking technique. Now the hosting is set up like it should.
Sunday, July 30, 2006
Writing software documentation is probably the most boring part of a project for a developer. However, having blogged during the development process makes it easier. I am able to take some blog entries and paste them into the help files with very little editing. Also, by continuously writing blog articles during the past months, it is easier to fight writer's block.
I am using the free Shalom Help Maker to generate a standard CHM-file, easily accessible from within FeedJournal. Writing the help files is instructive because it places you in the user's shoes, and any design flaw becomes much more apparent. However, I have been working hard to keep the application design simple, and I hope that it is intuitive enough for users, so that they will not need to resort to the help system.
Saturday, July 29, 2006
Deep Linking from RSS
One of the more unique and perhaps controversial features of FeedJournal is that it can filter out the meat of an article published on the web.
How does it accomplish this? FeedJournal has four ways of retrieving the actual content for the next issue.
By applying these functions it is possible to scoop, or extract, the meat of almost any web published article. Of course it is only necessary to do this once for every feed. To my knowledge, FeedJournal is the only aggregator who has the functionality described in the last three sections.
Is this legal, you ask? Wouldn’t a site owner require each user to actually visit the web site to read the content and click on all those fancy ads sprinkled all over? Well, my stance is that if the content is freely available on the web, I am free to do whatever I want with it for my own purposes. Keep in mind that we are not actually republishing the site’s content, we are only filtering it for our own use. Essentially, I think of this as a pop-up or ad blocker running in your browser.
What is interesting to note is that some web sites have tried to include in their copyright notice a paragraph limiting the usage of their content. Digg.com, for example, initially had a clause in the their copyright effectively prohibiting RSS aggregators from using their RSS feeds! Today, it is removed.
As long as FeedJournal is used for personal use, and the issues are not sold or made available publicly, I do not see any legal problems with the deep linking.
Friday, July 28, 2006
Time for Code Freeze
Time, quality, resources and scope. Those are the four variables in software project management. As the deadline closes in I only have the luxury to change scope. Sure, there are more features I planned to get into this version, but the scope will be cut in order to make the release stable and have a timely delivery. Time is a rare resource for me these days with being a new father , having a full-time job, following the latest news about the regional conflict, and blogging/developing FeedJournal . Despite that, I am proud of what I have accomplished so far with my project in Visual C# 2005 Express Edition.
One week remains until release, and the time has come for Code Freeze: no more new features. Until August 6th I will work on finalizing documentation, web site, and of course testing.
FeedJournal will become a commercial project in version 2.0. Until then the fully functional version 1.0 will be the one submitted for the Made In Express Contest under a shared source license. That basically means that the source is available but there are no rights to use this source code in your own projects. I plan to add plenty of cool features before a commercial release plus some optimizations under the hood. I would like to thank everyone who contacted me with feature requests or comments. What you should expect to see in future versions are:
There are also some ideas I had envisioned early on in the project, prior to starting implementation, that have been moved to the recycle bin. Nothing strange with this, it is a normal reality check once you get down to the fine points of how things are supposed to work. For example, I had planned to rank articles according to web popularity (Technorati, Digg, delicious, Google, Yahoo, etc.). After much research of the various service APIs it is clear to me that this is simply not possible. Having x articles would mean sending x web requests to the various services. Until they support a technique for bundling together multiple requests into one, this feature will not be a part of FeedJournal.
In the meantime, I am looking for serious beta testers for future FeedJournal versions who will be rewarded for constructive feedback and testing.
Friday, July 21, 2006
FeedJournal Sample Issue
Yes folks, we have a world premiere, the first sample of a FeedJournal issue is available for your viewing pleasure! Let me remind you that the purpose of the FeedJournal project is to generate a PDF newspaper based on RSS feeds, intended for printing. The PDF file is available for download here. In order to open it you will need Adobe Reader or Foxit Reader.
The content spans a selection of last week’s blog entries from the Made In Express Contest finalists. I chose these feeds, not because I want to plug the contest, but because I want to avoid breeching copyright law for republishing other blogs’ articles.
So what can you see in this sample issue? The following settings are in use: A4 paper size (a European standard), 4 columns, 0 points line spacing, 8 points column spacing, 30 points page margin and 10 points margin between headline and article text. Furthermore, the headline is Times New Roman (22 pt bold), article text is Times New Roman (8pt), publishing date is Lucida Console (5pt) and news source is Arial (9pt italic). All of these settings, and others, can be customized from the application’s Options dialog.
But there are also things that you cannot see in the sample. Like for example images. Beside the masthead (newspaper lingo for the first page logo), there are no images. Future versions of FeedJournal will include support for images contained in blog entries. Another thing not visible in the sample issue is the already implemented support for long articles to jump between pages if they do not fit. The reason is simply that there weren’t any long articles available in the selected time span.
And let me finally take the opportunity to congratulate my fellow finalists for getting published in the newspaper! ;-)
I would appreciate any feedback regarding the sample issue, don’t hesitate to contact me by using blog comments or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monday, July 17, 2006
Rockets and Progress
In an instant the situation here has deteriorated. Rockets explode closer and closer to our home (so far a safe distance away), and it will surely take time before we will see and end to it all. Native Israelis are more relaxed about the situation, more adapted, or perhaps it's just an image they are putting up. Having recently become a father makes me worry about my family's security. Between closely monitoring the latest headlines, spending time with our 1.5 month old daughter Noa and working my butt off at my day-job, the contest deadline is slowly closing in.
I started to write the FeedJournal help file but I haven't decided on a format yet. HTML is attractive because I can easily host an online version of the help files, while keeping them up to date with minimal maintenance. CHM files are more standard and look more professional though. The jury is still out...
The application itself is starting to be finalized and I haven't forgotten my promise to submit a sample PDF newspaper issue here. Patience! For now here is a screenshot of the main window.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
SQL Server 2005 - Everywhere Edition
Microsoft recently announced a new edition in their SQL Server 2005 family of products: Everywhere Edition. This is a free and lightweight version of SQL Server 2005.
So what is different from the Express Editions that is required for us Made In Express Finalists? I can only talk for myself but the Everywhere Edition would be more suitable than the Express Edition for my Windows Forms application for a number of reasons (source: Steel Price's blog):
In short, Everywhere Edition is more system resource friendly! Of course, there are some limitations in Everywhere, compared with Express, for example it cannot run as a service and lacks multiuser support. These issues are not relevant for my project FeedJournal though.
So what do you say Microsoft: can we use the Everywhere Edition in Made In Express Contest?
Wednesday, July 05, 2006
Why FeedJournal? (or why the information age matters)
The idea of an RSS syndicated newspaper came to me when I was subscribing to a morning newspaper last year. I hadn't had a morning paper for years then, so it was all a bit new to me. I really enjoyed to have access to news hot off the press, which I could read without having to stare into the computer monitor; for example in the comfort of my bed, sofa, or while traveling. But there were two things I strongly disliked about it: the monthly subscription was fairly expensive and I didn't really care for a majority of the content in the newspaper. The competing newspaper had a few sections that I would much rather read, but I couldn't afford to spend my time reading more than one morning newspaper. I knew that there were better ways out there for accessing relevant news in a comfortable way. I just needed to find them.
Content is king. There are no two ways about it. When people were talking about the information age ten-fifteen years ago I didn't get it. I didn't see how the management and distribution of content could become so central in a society that it would name a whole time period. But I am starting to see it now, how a low signal-to-noise ratio can kill the greatest endeavor; how the delivery of timely and to the point information can be of extreme value; and how the production of high quality content in itself can form an outstanding business plan.
I’ll say it again, the "production of high quality content in itself can form an outstanding business plan". Traditionally and historically the great content producers also had to be great content deliverers in order to survive. They had to make sure that the newspapers or books were printed and delivered to make any kind of business. Today, all of this has changed. Today, we have electronic delivery of the same content that used to make up newspapers and books, through for example the World Wide Web.
But along with the change of delivery method we as customers are losing out on some of the great and time-proven ways of accessing the content. We need to make a compromise between reading a newspaper online with all the latest events, or in paper format using news that in our fast-paced life are already old (just by a few hours but still old). This is where FeedJournal comes into play. FeedJournal serves as a content deliverer and presents information from whichever sources you want in a traditional format that was the default way of reading news for a very, very long time.
Of course, this is just one out of many of FeedJournal’s benefits over a traditional newspaper. It also empowers the user with the option of collecting multiple feeds to create a newspaper that is tailored for her own needs: with the local team’s results, the stock portfolio’s development or even personal e-mail. It gives the user the possibility to choose the deadline to be the exact moment she wants, not six hours before it will actually be read. And of course the paper size can be decided: A4, A3, letter size or why not an index card version that you can put in your Hipster-PDA? Gone are the monthly subscription fees for delivery, you only need to pay for the actual content in case your favorite news source doesn’t provide it for free on the web already.
Saturday, July 01, 2006
A few days ago Microsoft officially launched their open-source project hosting web site CodePlex. It is great to see Microsoft finally embracing and supporting the open-source community with an initiative like this. Like all web launches these days CodePlex is a work in progress, and even though the functionality is still a little thin, I see great projects coming out of it very soon. What makes CodePlex stand out compared to the established player, Sourceforge, is the user interface and user friendliness. Sure, it is limited to .NET projects but isn't that what we all are passionate about?
FeedJournal will not be hosted on CodePlex, but I will definitely consider submitting other projects of mine there, or joining something interesting. The reason I will keep FeedJournal off CodePlex is that I plan to take FeedJournal commercial after the publication of the free 1.0 version, which I will submit to Made In Express Contest.