Brad Wardell's views about technology, politics, religion, world affairs, and all sorts of politically incorrect topics.
Published on October 30, 2010 By Draginol In OS Customization

I’m slowly putting together the 2011 business plan for Stardock. Where to budget what.  It’s a difficult challenge this year because the Windows market isn’t just fragmented but the tech market is fragmented (iOS has become a serious venue for development).

Our business model for skinning has slowly broken down over the years. Years ago, we would come up with app ideas and then look out on the net to find someone who has made something similar and work with them on a royalty basis. 

Nowadays, the expectation of quality is such that you can’t really get away with having some college student making this stuff in his spare time for some extra money and our seasoned developers have moved on to other things or are juggling many different programs at once.

For example, I’d love to do a full blown WPF DesktopX successor.  But we’re having a devil of a time getting DesktopX 4 out the door as-is.  A WPF desktop creator might be a big hit or…it might be a huge amount of work that amounts to very little.

As Windows itself has gotten nicer looking by default, the demand for software fix the Windows experience has naturally declined. I use IconPackager, WindowBlinds, ObjectDock, Fences, and DeskScapes.

I think there’s a lot more that could be done with DeskScapes going forward.  IconPackager is a lot tougher because the time versus pay off ratio doesn’t work out.  WindowBlinds still has a lot of good stuff we can do for that.  ObjectDock 2 just came out and there’s a lot that can still be done there.

We already have a couple of new things in store for next year but increasingly, our focus is on things that improve the experience of Windows less via eye candy and more by modernizing the experience.  Anyone who has used an iPad (or Windows 7 mobile) can really see how rickety Windows (and MacOS for that matter) have really become.  Not because they’re overly complicated but rather because their user experience was designed during a different era. 

The whole Windows experience needs a serious overhaul but such an overhaul wouldn’t be cheap and it might amount to nothing if users didn’t like it.

I know I’m more than a little annoyed that Microsoft has taken their eye off the Windows ball. WPF and Silverlight are awesome – on Windows.  Microsoft needs to quit putting mindless suits in charge of things and get some people with common sense running the show.  Windows need not to a legacy platform, it just needs a revisit from a 2010 perspective.

And so that’s what I’m looking at.  The challenge is finding developers who are willing to work on a royalty basis rather than a salary basis.  People to share the risk in creating cool new things.


Comments (Page 2)
on Nov 02, 2010

I see what you mean Harley, and that is real nice, but I was thinking about a way to update IconPackager rather than involve DX technology. To put it a simpler way..... animated icons within IconPackager.

on Nov 02, 2010

IconPackager is a lot tougher because the time versus pay off ratio doesn’t work out.

Does this mean that IP will receive little or no further development?  If so that's sad!  There are several tweaks that would make it more useful, user friendly and attractive to non=believers.  The addition of in-app skinning to user defined desktop and other shortcuts would be phenomenal and make IP almost complete as an icon packaging tool.

Sure, animations and the like would be nice, but I'd rather see IconPackager skinning user defined icons before new stuff is even considered.  I mean, how hard could it be when the primary skinning engine is already there?

As for saying that skinning is taking a back seat because Windows these days is nice enough by default, it sounds almost defeatist and like we don't have a great deal to look forward to in 2011. I mean, really, is this the way you'd like to see a company you are a customer of presenting the upcoming year?

I know if it were me, and I developed software for Windows, I'd be thinking more positively than that... and I wouldn't be telling my customers that it's all getting too hard.  Nope, I'd be looking for new and improved ways to make my products look more attractive to as big an audience as I possibly could.

For the past few years Stardock has been the only company producing any kind of skinning software that's worth a cracker, but that has gone into decline over the last couple of years (with updates far and few between on some apps, others disappearing and some, like DX 4, plain broke) and that is more likely the cause of downward spiraling sales. 

It isn't Windows, because Stardock's hardcore customers still want the customisation apps, regardless of how pretty you say Windows has become.  We just aren't prepared to accept the mediocrity Microsoft dishes up in the way of a GUI.

Satisfied customers hang around, pass on their experiences to others, but if there's nothing to write home about (an old expression referring to lacklustre, etc), sales will suffer.  I know people who like what they see when I show them my customised desktop, and all that I can do with it, but their interest in getting it for themselves completely evaporates when I tell them how much ObjectDesktop, ObjectDock Plus and CFX Plus cost me.

So for mine, I'd be thinking perhaps a few dollars from a lot of people rather than alot of dollars from a few people... discount coupons for word of mouth referrals, perhaps, loyal customer benefits, even, and maximising customer satisfaction to boost customer loyalty.

I guess what I'm trying to say, is that I am a loyal customer and wish to remain so, but I honestly don't know for how long if things continue along this trend where custiomisation has played second fiddle to gaming.  Sure, gaming is where the money is, but if you're not big enough to successfully diversify into both customisation AND gaming, you have to decide to be one or the other.  You owe that to your customers, because both markets will suffer unacceptable (to the customer) corner cutting until you do.   So which is it to be?

So who am I?  I'm the dipshit nobody who plays court jester in the (increasingly dying) WC forums, with the hope of keeping them alive.  Am I a businessman with years of experience running my own show?  Nope, I'm just a customer who has had experience in retail, promoting the products my employers wished most to sell. And they ignored me at their own peril. It was all well and good being up there high in the loft balancing the books and doing the figures, but when they ignored the down to earth knowledge, considering what ordinary people think/want/need, it was game over.

Anyhow, have a nice day.

on Nov 02, 2010

I see what you mean Harley, and that is real nice, but I was thinking about a way to update IconPackager rather than involve DX technology. To put it a simpler way..... animated icons within IconPackager.
IconX anyone?  

on Nov 02, 2010

starkers
It isn't Windows, because Stardock's hardcore customers still want the customisation apps, regardless of how pretty you say Windows has become.  We just aren't prepared to accept the mediocrity Microsoft dishes up in the way of a GUI.

Satisfied customers hang around, pass on their experiences to others, but if there's nothing to write home about (an old expression referring to lacklustre, etc), sales will suffer.  I know people who like what they see when I show them my customised desktop, and all that I can do with it, but their interest in getting it for themselves completely evaporates when I tell them how much ObjectDesktop, ObjectDock Plus and CFX Plus cost me.

Hardcore customers cannot be the sole source of income.  New people must always be buying the service and unless they are unhappy with what they have (think Luna) then they won't buy.  This is especially true as the economy continues to contract.  

Lowering prices any more for core apps may actually devalue them more than anything and not generate sales.  It's a thin line.

By focusing on productivity enhancements (of which WindowFX is a good example [with a smattering of eye candy]) Stardock can reposition themselves in the market they started out in (OS/2) and market to a wider audience.

on Nov 02, 2010

Hardcore customers cannot be the sole source of income. New people must always be buying the service

I understand that hardcore customers cannot be the sole source of income, which is why I suggested discounts for word of mouth referrals/sales... and to get word of mouth product praise to generate 'new' sales, hard core customers must be kept satisfied with the products on offer. Like I said, manufacturers/developers/retailers need to keep a finger on the pulse of the man in the street to succeed.  If they don't and ignore the majority of consumers they're doomed to fail. 

Advertising and marketing strategies account for a percentage of sales, but word of mouth is the best advertising/promotion a company can get, so yes, it comes down to businesses getting in touch with their human selves and leaving profit take care of itself.  That's the trouble with many businesses, they worry too much about books and figures while forgetting and/or neglecting the human element of trade... their customers.  Sadly, too many businesses put their customers last... and suffer for it when they could be doing so much better with some plain courtesy and consideration.

Business is a symbiotic relationship (customers/clients and the developer/manufacturer) and many businesses would be better served to remember it.... for when customers feel disenchanted, disheartened, disenfranchised, they are no longer loyal and spend elsewhere., and given various comment in the WC forums, diminished sales (and let's not entirely blame the GFC), it would seem quite a few Stardock customers have done just that.

Just saying... we're important, too.

on Nov 02, 2010

IconX anyone?

Exactly!  Describes in a nutshell what I'm saying... loyal customer satisfaction, too many old timers missing a key app that fulfilled a need/want/desire.  And IconPackager, how it could be the best icon management app, and how it has become lacking/mediocre because it got left on the back burner too long.  Had it been given he love it was promised 2 or 3 years ago, maybe it would be the financially viable app Brad needs it to be to invest in its further development.  Sadly, however, I feel it will die an obscure and lonely death, as things stand/how it has been described as a "time versus pay off ratio" funeral waiting to happen.

Put bluntly, the described roadmap to 2011 doesn't sound too positive or promising.  Hopefully, we'll get a revised edition with some grunt, like Stardock taking the future of customisation by the horns and showing us some balls.

on Nov 02, 2010

IconX anyone?

Just tried to install IconX...... "This program is not compatible with your operating system".

A lot of use THAT is then...........

on Nov 02, 2010

Boxxi: IconX was discontinued years ago.

Starkers: IconPackager does what it does pretty well.  There were still a few bugs when I left Stardock but it changes icons.  When I asked what new features it needed was wanted it got pretty quiet.    Further, with the amount of effort it takes to create full icon sets . . . there weren't as many skinners doing anything for it (15 in the gallery in 2010).

 

What we really need is an insider at MS to convince someone that they should bring Luna back for Windows8.  

on Nov 02, 2010

I see what you mean Harley, and that is real nice, but I was thinking about a way to update IconPackager rather than involve DX technology. To put it a simpler way..... animated icons within IconPackager.

Brian I understand just seeiing your post reminded me and after reading Brads thread just got my juices going on it ,

Some good points to note:

(1) It could be done as a set (obviously we would not want to animate all icons )that comes when you Dload Icon Packager

(2) The platform is already available,stable and could help DX and IP at the same time! Very little development time which after reading the thread , thats a good point

(3) memory usage check out the image below I set TaskManager to real time these are the results

(4) While I understand it isnt exactly an Icon,But for a consumer they dont know if it is powered by DX, IP, IconX etc... so with short development time,skinnable, packageable,From a buisiness aspect it has all the key components

*little to no R&D

*low cost

*platform existing

*breath new life into 2 programs at once

*easilly marketable

Brian I think it is a great suggestion either way.

Brad I would be happy to devote some time anyway I can!!!

on Nov 02, 2010

Starkers: IconPackager does what it does pretty well. There were still a few bugs when I left Stardock but it changes icons. When I asked what new features it needed was wanted it got pretty quiet. Further, with the amount of effort it takes to create full icon sets . . . there weren't as many skinners doing anything for it (15 in the gallery in 2010).

The issue is not that we need it to add extra work for skinners, but rather, adding the ability for users to skin desktop shortcuts within IP.   And I did mention this several times in one of the dedicated IP threads, and again in the general ObjectDesktop feedback thread.  So rather than frilly new features right now, I think most users would appreciate the complete skinning of icons somewhat more. 

I do recall a few others agreeing with the idea of skinning desktop shortcuts within IP, but I do not recall getting an answer from Stardock to its implementation, one way or the other... hence my raising it here.

on Nov 02, 2010

little to no R&D

Hey!    Oh, R&D not RND....sorry.....

on Nov 02, 2010

Reading through the material, may I give another perspective?

I subscribe to ODesktop, but haven't been using any skins in months.  Aero Glass is just too nice, clean, and useful and the skins on offer from Wincustomize aren't good enough for me to try out.  If you can't wow me by creating something usable and at least as clean as glass, I'm less inclined to try it.  I tried gussing up my GUI with Christmas stuff last year and half the skins are pretty lacking.  Some are too busy-looking, some are unfinished, and some just too garish.  I ended up using the nicest icon set I could find, using a snowing animated wallpaper, and re-tinting Aero Glass.  Good 'nuff.

I've looked at the master skins too.  They're mostly really good, but they've got to wow me and be *better* than Aero Glass for me to shell out money.  I'd just as soon part with my treasure for food, music, books, on-sale video games than one skin.  I don't, as they say, get enough utility out of it.

That might actually be a better way of framing the discussion: utility.  What utility am I getting out of ODesktop?  Am I just so wowed by the eye candy that I switch from default?  Nope.  Not lately.  Well what do I really get utility out of?  Fences and Objectdock...

Ahhhh.

Something that actually changes the functionality of the interface and makes workflow more convenient.  More importantly it hits right in Microsoft's weak spot: the usability of their bar/start-menu interface.  It works, but it kind of still sucks.  IMO this is the "Luna" of Windows 7, the thing that people can build on or replace to create a better computing environment.  If there were a way for Desktop X or some other program to change the interface functionality easily, I think that would become the must-have app on offer from Stardock.  Not prettifying the windows or the icons, but changing wholesale how you get to the stuff on which you do your work.  Objectdock is the closest to doing this right now.  If there were ways to change the interactive paradigm, wow.  For instance can I make my gui operate like next-step?  Can I create animated "drawers" of icons?  Can I create a new program bar that drapes itself around the corner of the top *and* sides of the screen?  Can I create status indicators that mesh cleanly with program icons?  Can I rip and tear pieces of the interface and rearrange them to my taste?  And above all will my maximized windows behave well with all these changes?  Basically, looking at extending the operation of OD... making an OD^10 if you will.  Skinning's not going to go away, but imo functionality of my interface is the new skinning.

on Nov 02, 2010

SirBedwyr
That might actually be a better way of framing the discussion: utility.  What utility am I getting out of ODesktop?  Am I just so wowed by the eye candy that I switch from default?  Nope.  Not lately.  Well what do I really get utility out of?  Fences and Objectdock...

Ahhhh.

Something that actually changes the functionality of the interface and makes workflow more convenient.  More importantly it hits right in Microsoft's weak spot: the usability of their bar/start-menu interface.  It works, but it kind of still sucks.  IMO this is the "Luna" of Windows 7, the thing that people can build on or replace to create a better computing environment.  If there were a way for Desktop X or some other program to change the interface functionality easily, I think that would become the must-have app on offer from Stardock.  Not prettifying the windows or the icons, but changing wholesale how you get to the stuff on which you do your work.  Objectdock is the closest to doing this right now.  If there were ways to change the interactive paradigm, wow.  For instance can I make my gui operate like next-step?  Can I create animated "drawers" of icons?  Can I create a new program bar that drapes itself around the corner of the top *and* sides of the screen?  Can I create status indicators that mesh cleanly with program icons?  Can I rip and tear pieces of the interface and rearrange them to my taste?  And above all will my maximized windows behave well with all these changes?  Basically, looking at extending the operation of OD... making an OD^10 if you will.  Skinning's not going to go away, but imo functionality of my interface is the new skinning.

Like Objectbar? [See (bad) video here]

 

on Nov 02, 2010

Yup, ObjectBar was a nice program, right along there with RightClick.

on Nov 02, 2010

Yes, actually.  I think that's exactly what I'm talking about.  The design of the "themes" available with Objectbar would have to have a decent jump in consistency and quality and SD should promote and develop its feature-set, but yeah.  Exactly what I'm talking about.

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