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Working out Volo

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User offline. Last seen 12 years 2 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 2006-03-10
I hope you F/OSS devs out

I hope you F/OSS devs out there use me as a guinea pig. I'm learning the ropes as I go and am gladly sharing what I discover because, hey, at least I have a day job while my F/OSS tries to get traction.

This week...

I've discovered something funny. If you design something really simple but elegant, which runs fairly fast, and uses a lightweight database like SQLite and very few dependencies, then grow it organically with the input of your users, it seems to get a little traction of comments back. Sure, you may create a fairly simple PostgreSQL app with few dependencies, but it may be still fairly complex and not grown organically, perhaps, and those may suffer a little compared to the SQLite version. You really need to build both because either one could take off for completely different reasons. Right now, simple is white hot for some reason. So far, I've gotten more buzz for Fixer than Milestone, although Milestone is geared for someone who wants a bit more features and is an Issue Tracker, whereas Fixer is a simplistic Bug Tracker that I threw together with scraps from a forked Milestone in about two weeks.

I'm getting zero hits right now on the site. It seems that web marketing is a constant battle at first, where you have to keep trying another venue every two or three days, even perhaps visiting a Japanese blog with English phrases on it, just to spread your wings a little. I thought that being F/OSS alone would generate tremendous buzz, especially if the software was easy to install, fast, capable, and has few dependencies. However, I'm finding this is not the case.

I'm seeing an uptick in SaaS apps on the Internet these days, but I don't necessarily think this is a good idea. Let's say hosts your CRM and you have your own company group, and you login to it from a secure web connection like https. Now let's say some angry employee is fired. What's to keep that employee from publishing the URL and any usernames and passwords to try out? How can you risk your company confidential data, and the mountain of customer "spin" you might have in your tracking tickets, from being exposed on the Internet for all too see? And what about the fact that many major companies have had security problems with their sites -- what's to keep yours from having the same? SaaS has its place, but there are some places where I think is a bad idea. But managers don't want to hear that kind of common sense.

I added a phone number on the site. I did that using NetZero's because, as Paul Graham says, startups need to think "cheap". All they ask is that you visit their website every so many days to read their ads in your inbox, then log out. So far, I like it. I hardly had to wait one minute for it. My vmail says something to the effect, "This is Mike in Sales. I'm on another call with a customer right now, or away from my desk, but your business is important to me." That's all you need to say because a lady recording pops on and says, "If you'd like to leave a message, wait for the tone."

I'm considering other landing pages for the same product, and perhaps using different web design approaches on each. That way, I can see which theme gets more traction or feedback, and I can try to see what the reaction is when I use the most popular theme on the main site after all the research is done. I can create the landing pages under subdomains like a word before, such as

User offline. Last seen 11 years 31 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 2004-08-23
The time of F/OSS being a

The time of F/OSS being a hot buzzword seems to be over already.

I agree with you about SaaS, it's about as secure as proprietary software with a known backdoor. It might be possible to work around that lack of security by using some cryptography here and there, but that would kill the ease of setup.

I've got one hint for promoting your software: speak about it at conferences / developer meetings. It makes much more of an impression on your audience than any website can.

User offline. Last seen 7 years 26 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 2007-02-26
As per another thread you

As per another thread you could sell it on eBay with a photo of the kit (a0 sheet of white paper under and behind with daylight?).

SEO is always tricky, getting big sites to link to your site and infer importance.
Have you everyone you know periodically searching google and clicking the link to your site etc (I've just done it for support).

I'm not surprised fixer is flying, the three ticked points say simple, install, get in get out, job done, whereas milestones mentions multiple departments and sounds like something big which will require meetings and cetera with all affected people before it's decided to roll it out, the install on a machine is the easy part, changing office policy can be the big chore. How about an endorsement from the teamsters, lol.

On the one hand attention spans are down, and also there are a lot more small outfits with simple needs than big ones with feature-rich requirements, so I wouldn't fret the difference, it sounds right. Now that I think of it, has fixer got an easy upgrade to milestone feature or link? I remember zonealarm used to tempt me every time I upgraded.

Would testimonials work I wonder?
"Milestone helped us get to the next level in competing with the Atlantic"
Bob Gently, Waterworld & Co. Inc.

User offline. Last seen 12 years 2 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 2006-03-10
More on the SaaS

More on the SaaS argument...

What's to keep a disgruntled employee from giving out usernames and passwords and URLs to your company's rented SaaS app from another vendor? Well, the vendor could restrict by a range of IP addresses particular to your company, but then that's only a partial help because IP spoofing exists. So then comes client-side certificates, which is a fairly strong but still crackable method, although it would take an immensely sophisticated hacker to break these, especially if you go with 1024bit encryption (although that makes the app fairly slow). Another problem with client-side certificates is that not all SaaS vendors support these, and then there's the administrative headache of rolling this out to several hundred workstations in an office for every app.

Probably the easiest and strongest way is to give out RSA SecureID keyfobs and make the password be a PIN number + whatever's on the keyfob. That's the method I would choose because it's brainless. There's no client-side setup, just a small programming change in the app to support it. Next, SOX and SAS-70 principles need to be applied to the application so that password lockouts prevent hackers from just hammering your password until they get the right sequence of digits.

And why do I care so much about this? Well, it's more than about thinking of it in the context of my own application. It's about my an issue in my day job, as well. We're about to go with Oracle CRM and Oracle's asking us by what IP addresses we'll be coming to them from. And that's the only way they'll secure us instead of client certs or keyfobs. It doesn't sound too safe with the Oracle route.


Surprise surprise. I'm starting to see an uptick in page viewers and downloaders again on my website. The referrers show me that most people are coming to it from a comparison table I updated on Wikipedia.


On the topic of being available for speaking. Between my hectic IT operations day job, and my family and kids, and my destress time, I rarely get time for speaking enagagements and club meetings, unfortunately. My political party hates me right now (and I seem to hate them too!).


What is it with Windows? Or, are people setting their Firefox to look like it's on a PC with Windows? I'm getting 67% of my visitors with Windows, 26% with Linux, and 7% with Macs. I'm also getting 68% of my visitors with Firefox and a mere 22% with IE. Yet most of the visitors are coming via the comparison table in Wikipedia. The high number of Windows connections is very odd -- either it's an error or people see a Linux-based web app listed in a Wikipedia table from their Windows workstation and they're deciding to click it even though they use Windows. I guess I have to feel very sad for these visitors. They must prefer self-abuse by sticking with Windows. At least they're switched to Firefox.

Another stat shows me that 25% of the visitors are sticking around for at least 2 minutes although at least half decide they're not interested within the first 30 seconds. I guess I can't please everyone. Sad This is where more landing pages, different content, and themes, with a series of tests, can help.

User offline. Last seen 12 years 2 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 2006-03-10
Another great idea. I got

Another great idea. I got thinking again about the "simple is white hot" thing again. People love this SQLite3 database a tremendous amount, and it can handle many small- and medium-sized jobs. PostgreSQL is still a bear for some people to setup, and MySQL has those dang licensing issues and is such a funky non-standard SQL language implementation. Plus, on many web hosting sites, they often give you unlimited SQLite3 databases, but only like one or two PostgreSQL or MySQL databases, unless you pay more. And I seem to have piqued some interest with Fixer because of its simplicity but yet reasonable functionality. So I got to thinking that perhaps I can fork Fixer towards the direction of the old Milestone a little. I mean, not a lot, but take the "memes" from Milestone that make the product stand out, decide what's the simple stuff that is worthy of being included, fork Fixer, make it so that yeah, it can be a bug tracker, but it can also be an Issue Tracker as well, and add in some of the Milestone-ish features like a slick admin interface, a calendar for tickets that have project start and due dates, the ability to do things with multiple tickets at once, a solutions system (KB), and a similar tickets feature.

Of course, I'm going to see what the actual capacity is of SQLite3, and think about how it can be backed up while in use (if you'd even want to), indexed, cleaned/packed, and so on.

My wife isn't going to like this, but it looks like I might have a third product-line that I might be releasing in half a year based on this concept. I'm going to need a name for it. Hmmmm....think, think, think. Must come up with a name.


AJAX. (And now for something completely different.) My feeling about AJAX is that one should build the app first, then look for opportunities to introduce AJAX into it later. And then there's the security concerns where AJAX can be hacked if some safeguards are not put in place. I also don't think that one needs to go with AJAX. It can be like Gmail -- just a smidgen of AJAX just enough to be cool but yet not break on certain web browsers (especially after browser upgrades).

User offline. Last seen 12 years 2 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 2006-03-10
The name for the new, forked

The name for the new, forked Fixer project can be called Volo Stat. It's short and appropriate. By prefixing with the company name, it makes it unique.

Unlike Milestone, Stat will lack linkage to time, customers, and billing. (I have to shave something off to keep it simple -- might as well be that.) Stat will also not have the concept of workgroups, but projects. People are assigned to multiple public or private projects, either as a simple user or a power user per each project. Simple users can start tickets and comment on them. Power users can do all that as well as edit them, resolve them, and void them. Unlike Milestone, Stat will have no way to route tickets between projects. Last, if I play my cards right, Stat can replace Fixer eventually.

User offline. Last seen 11 years 31 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 2004-08-23
ff on windows
supermike wrote:

What is it with Windows? Or, are people setting their Firefox to look like it's on a PC with Windows? I'm getting 67% of my visitors with Windows, 26% with Linux, and 7% with Macs. I'm also getting 68% of my visitors with Firefox and a mere 22% with IE. Yet most of the visitors are coming via the comparison table in Wikipedia. The high number of Windows connections is very odd -- either it's an error or people see a Linux-based web app listed in a Wikipedia table from their Windows workstation and they're deciding to click it even though they use Windows. I guess I have to feel very sad for these visitors. They must prefer self-abuse by sticking with Windows. At least they're switched to Firefox.

That kind of statistics are normal, I've seen such before. I think lots of companies use windows on workstations and linux on servers. Linux is much easier (not to mention more secure) for things like CVS and databases and whatnot, while windows is the OS of choice if you're developing software for windows or happen to be stuck with some windows app. And then there are the geeks who are bored at work, who will kill time reading about F/OSS.


Just a thought: I think you should try to make Fixer, Stat and Milestone share as much code as possible. Soon you will see a fourth application of issue tracking, worthy of its own product, and then a fifth... You don't want to maintain all that separately.

User offline. Last seen 7 years 26 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 2007-02-26
Volo Stat. The clinics in

Volo Stat. The clinics in particular will lap that up, everyone loves ER doctors saying "stat!". Brilliant.
Give that bear some honey :-)

User offline. Last seen 12 years 2 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 2006-03-10
Odd Stuff in Inbox

Perhaps you might be interested in my mailbag on a F/OSS project, and how I responded to it. I welcome your comments on my reactions.

After not receiving much feedback at all on Milestone and Fixer at Volo, I updated a blog on it and now I've gotten some results back:

  • Swedish student working on Bachelor Degree, wanting me to answer survey on F/OSS businesses.
  • Hey, liked Fixer a lot, am showing to a client tomorrow, would you be amenable to a VAR contract if this worked out?
  • Hey, liked Milestone a lot, am showing to a client tomorrow, but I have trouble with it because I can't find the docs and wonder why you didn't hook up any mail service to it. Meanwhile [and cuss words were used as he described the situation], I'm stuck in a situation where my current PHP programmer left and I need some help on building a sales campaign and effectiveness tracking system. I've only got $1000 to spare [and then listed all the very detailed requirements] and need some help -- you interested?
  • Where's the docs, and how come my MySQL server won't work with it?
  • Hey, liked Fixer a lot. I forked a copy for a customer and here it is. Here's some code advice [and listed some great advice].
  • Hey, liked Milestone a lot. Fantastic work. Keep a chin up. If my team makes money with it, we'll donate back to your cause.

So, I thought you'd all be interested in my perspective on that.

Hey, I like these. It's worthwhile to get the truth out about F/OSS, especially ones in their infancy.

VAR Contracts
Sounds great, but there in lies the problem. When you have a decent-paying day job (although with a long commute and a lot of aggravation), how does one serve the Valued-Added Reseller contract very well, meeting their consulting deadlines and rapid tech support needs? It all depends on the agreement. At first, doing a VAR while you moonlight a startup could be considerably tough unless the contract is flexible or permits a longer turnaround time. Eventually, if you get enough of these under your belt, things turn around and you don't need that day job anymore.

In the end, I've had two people speak to me about VAR agreements very casually and never heard back.

Showing To Clients
Fantastic. Keep it up. If you donate back, that would be nice. If you don't, at least you've given me free marketing. Marketing is expensive, so free marketing is like money in my pocket too.

Mail Service & Other Missing Features
Okay, I didn't hook up email into the web app. There's a reason. It increases the dependencies, and it has to account for the various kinds of mail servers out there. Knowing that, I decided not to implement that. Can it be added easily? Heck yes -- been there, done that already. So, the side effect is that I can use it as a way to get extra income -- by someone paying me for extra services around the F/OSS. Good thing my prices are extremely low for that tech support and consulting.

However, when I relayed this information, I got an answer back that was not very nice. Evidently he's cheaper than I thought. Okay, that's what F/OSS is all about -- you don't like it, change it. No one's stopping you.

Where's the Docs?
I've downloaded countless F/OSS projects. They tend to be shy on docs except for the ones that are huge and already have an established base of customers. So, on most projects, all I ever got was an INSTALL and a README text file, and they've usually been well-written. Sure, some INSTALL/README docs have been poor, but most I've used have been adequate. If I wanted something more, I went to the bookstore and actually *paid* (gasp!) for a book.

Therefore, that's what I did with Fixer and Milestone. I spent a lot of time pairing down my INSTALL and README files to just what they would need to get up and running very fast. I even took a brand new PC, stuck Ubuntu on it, and then improved my INSTALL and README file as I explained all that I had to do to get it to run my apps.

Like most PHP web apps, you usually decompress the web directory into the server web directory, chmod and chown things per what you know about the web server and also by special notes in the INSTALL file, fire up a database server, and then import the SQL file. Then, you connect to the web service. And, in my case, my first page does a bunch of error detection and will tell you what's wrong at each step.

Moreover, I poured over the code with a fine-toothed comb -- I made it very logical, clear to read, and commented it well.

Also, I spent 5 years writing and rewriting it, beta testing it on my own and now in the real world. What a great guy I am. And you didn't have to lift a finger while I did all that for you for free.

So, at that, I think I've already been a really swell guy. Again, how great a guy I am! However, did I write a book? You bet I did! I wrote an awesome, fantastic one, chock full of details on how the thing works, some of the design problems and how they were worked out, and how to extend it. I spent about 4 months working it out and editing it. And, for a mere few dollars, you can have one. In fact, if you're from another country besides the USA (and, according to my web stats, most of you are), then you're probably going to have the exchange rate in your favor and it's probably mere pocket change for you.

Sadly, though, no one is interested in this great offer so far. This perplexes me.

And one person, who seemed quite young, kind of retaliated against that answer with some rude comments, and then claimed that someone will build the docs and a wiki, instead. Well, more power to him. That's just another set of links that help spread my marketing.

Will You Build Something Completely Separate Than Your Project For Me?
Sure I will. I'll consider anything because I'm a business and I tell you that I will do such things from my website. But please don't be upset with me if I got a little resistant to your foul language, your frustration, the fact that one PHP programmer walked out on you, and I assumed that the project was toxic. Also, and I hate to say this, a very picky and exotic project and $1000 isn't going to cut it in today's market. Now, $2500 and up, we might have something there, depending on the project. Sure, building a content website and adding a forum can be done quite well for a mere $200-$300 + hosting costs, and I love building those, but for exotic stuff that's picky and off the map (you don't often hear about sales campaign/effectiveness tracking sites), I just can't do it for $1000.

I use X Database. I Can't Find Your Docs On Using Your Product With That.
Yeah, I wrote Milestone with one database in mind. It wasn't your database choice, so I'm sorry if your feelings are terribly hurt. But I didn't wander too far off the reservation -- I stuck with the standards right now for F/OSS projects -- MySQL, PostgreSQL, and SQLite. I may have chosen PostgreSQL for this project, and I don't apologize why it's not MySQL. However, with some changes mostly in two files -- milestone.conf and DB.php -- you can be up and running on MySQL. However, in my time constraints, I need a database that could give me the functions I needed. Also, at the time I started writing Milestone, MySQL would only permit up to 2GB databases on Linux and only had that fixed about 2-3 years ago, not 5 years ago when I started Milestone. Meanwhile, PostgreSQL has always supported very large database sizes because it uses database extents (multiple files).

Meanwhile, if it's docs you want, I cover this topic in my book, which you can purchase rather cheaply from my website.

Product Forks
Hey, that's great, actually. It all comes down to who has the best stuff -- that's where customers will flock. And concepts are not patentable, usually, so thanks for giving me something to admire. Allow me to check your fork out conceptually so that I can reimplement it in my own logic and work it into the application, making it better.

Code Advice
Fantastic, keep it coming. The side effect is that you worked so much harder with the project than others that you ended up being a good beta tester for me, and then shared some new programming logic advice that was well-suited. Made my day.

You said, when you make money, I make money. That's a nice thing to say. You are not obligated to do that, but that's how I can continue to bring this good stuff to market because time is money and I've surely spent an amazing amount of time on it and gotten very little in return.

Liked Your Product -- Keep A Chin Up
Thanks, that's nice and all. However, every once in awhile, a donation, physical media purchase, VAR contract, paid tech support, or, even sweeter, a few consulting contracts -- that's what could make this all worthwhile. You have to think, I blew off my wife and children about 50% of my free time I had with them for five years while working on this project. Never in my life will I ever do that to my family again. I love their sweet little faces too much. I look back over photos with them over the past 5 years and wonder how the photos would look if my face was in them. But instead, they went to the beach while I stayed home working on code. This year, it dawned on me that my daughter is going to start college in two years. Sure, I knew that, but it didn't really settle with me into a kind of shock until last weekend. It seems only yesterday she was riding her tricycle around and using her imagination.

To date, I haven't earned $1 on the F/OSS project. Meanwhile, I get 40-50 downloads a day, on average, even on weekends.

I've read recently that the exchange rate of British Pounds to USA Dollars is like 1:2. So, if I charge $20 for the CD + manual (PDF format), that's just a mere $10 to the British. Wow, what kind of deal is that?

User offline. Last seen 7 years 26 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 2007-02-26
God you're like boxer the

God you're like boxer the workhorse from animal farm, that sorry tale makes my blood boil and my heart goes out to you and yours.

My advice: Set up an online version and sell it as a service.

The customers are businesses making a profit, but in the supply chain you've set yourself up as a business welfare charity.
Don't give it away to wealth concentrators, charge them. That's a proven model, slam dunk.

The model must support your family and reward your effort and that family sacrifice. As the business grows and the bottom line allows for it, then you can offer reduced rates or even free accounts to registered charities, educational institutions, and other social enterprises such as co-operatives, maybe an ad-driven version.

Look what Mark Shuttleworth was able to give back. Good people have to start connecting to the money pipes and diverting money from the corporates to social enterprises. Even if the market isn't so big as to make some cheap/free accounts viable, by being self-employed you're one less cog in the big bad corporate machine.

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