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Joined: 25 Sep 2000
Posts: 23379
Location: Colorado, USA

PostPosted: Mon Jan 12, 2004 6:00 am   

New Year's Letter from Zugg (plans for 2004)
A New Year's Letter from Zugg
What's in store for 2004?

Happy New Year!

It's become a tradition for me to review the past year and to then give you a peek at what is coming in the next year. This is going to be a big year for Zugg Software. First, a look back:

Zugg Software in 2003

Let's revisit the goals announced in last year's letter and see how we did:

Full Simutronics game support in zMUD:
I certainly met this deadline last February. Support for Simutronics not only improved zMUD sales during the year, but features such as image viewing improved zMUD for all users. The ability to add "premier" MUD icons to the zMUD start screen was also added and is being tested in the current 6.66 Beta version of zMUD. Support for Gemstone 4 was added in the Fall.
Yep, this got done as mentioned above. Adding image support also allowed me to add basic Pueblo emulation to zMUD, making zMUD the only MUD client that supports all of the major MUD protocols (Pueblo, GSL, MXP, MCP, MSP, MCCP, ANSI, VT100).
Other zMUD features
Once again, everything promised was delivered, and more. In fact, a lot more work got done on zMUD than I ever promised or dreamed of last year. In addition to the promised support for MCP text editing and FTP, in the Fall I added full Perl Regular Expressions to zMUD thanks to a link to PCRE sent by Cuttlefish. The PCRE library was so fast that I modified zMUD to use it for *all* triggers giving zMUD users a huge speed improvement. In addition, the new database-driven zMUD mapper was finally made stable and fast. In fact, v6.66 is so much faster in all areas that anyone using an older version of zMUD is really missing out on a lot. With the v7.0 Public release on the horizon, zMUD is looking stronger than ever!
I cut down on the list of games to be supported by zExplorer and focused just on Star Wars Galaxies, and then Horizons. I released the public-domain server code in PHP and MySQL which allow users to set up their own map database servers as promised during the Summer. Other features, such as terrain-sensitive path finding and real-time tracking are currently on hold as the legal ramifications are being investigated.
zMapper improved considerably during the year. The latest version works great for creating zExplorer and zMUD maps. A better user interface makes creating maps easier than ever before. Support for creating D&D dungeon maps was added in the Fall.
For the second year in a row...Wow! All of last year's goals were accomplished. Some products and features took a bit longer than expected, but there were new surprises in zMUD to make up for the delays. Based upon the email that I'm getting, most people are pretty happy with what we have done over the past year.

In terms of sales, as of today, there are now over 48,700 registered zMUD users, 7,800 registered AC Explorer/zExplorer users, and 400 registered zMapper users!! Thanks to everyone who has continued to support Zugg Software products!

What's coming in 2004?

If you compare the sales figures given above with last year's numbers, you'll see that while zMUD continues to be a strong seller, sales of zExplorer and zMapper were very disappointing. With the new support for Star Wars Galaxies and Horizons, zExplorer is doing much better right now. But zMapper has honestly been a huge disappointment.

Over the past several years, I have received many email messages from zMUD users who wanted to be able to customize their MUD maps in various ways. zMapper allows a huge amount of map customization, and does it using a standard database format that allows 3rd parties to develop additional tools. A whole new set of scripting objects was added to zMapper to allow zMUD users to script their maps in ways that were never possible before. But for whatever set of reasons, few people have been willing to buy zMapper. I don't know whether it's just the continued trend towards MUD players wanting stuff for free, whether zMapper hasn't been marketed properly (something I admit I'm terrible at), or whether people just found zMapper hard to use or too unstable. No matter how I look at it, only 100 sales over the past year is a complete failure.

However, even though zMapper was a business failure, I did learn many important skills in writing it. First, it standardized the map engine between all three products: zMUD, zExplorer, and zMapper. So, as bugs were found in one product, I was able to fix the bugs in all three products at once, resulting in a much more stable mapping engine. Also, as features were added to one product, they became available in other products, such as the new Portal commands in the zMUD mapper that came from the zExplorer code base (even though the interface isn't enabled in zExplorer yet). Finally, I learned a lot about how to best use the Microsoft ADO/MDAC engine (answer: use it as little as possible and just read the entire database into memory and use internal caches instead). This knowledge will help with future programming projects.

My original intent was to focus on zMapper and move into the D&D market. The existing mapping tools available for D&D are of poor quality and high cost. Since the D&D market is larger than the MUD market, I had hoped zMapper would bring in new sales and help diversify the business. But with only 100 sales over the past year, I certainly can't count on zMapper, nor can I count on being able to move into the D&D market very easily.

The ZuggMail Project

As many people who frequent the site know, I have recently changed my plans regarding the future of Zugg Software. This past fall I became very frustrated with Microsoft Outlook. I spend several hours each day using Outlook to answer support emails. My wife, Chiara, spends even more time using Outlook to answer emails from customers. We have both become frustrated with Outlook's inability to work the way we want it to. But Outlook is currently the only email client that has full IMAP support and allows you to add plugins, and we use several plugins I have written to integrate our email with our customer service database.

During one of my many posts in the Discussion Forums ranting about my email frustrations, someone made the offhand suggestion that it sounded like an opportunity to write "zMail." I don't know how serious the poster was, and my initial reaction was just to laugh. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how much I really wanted to do this. And from what I have seen in the ZuggMail Discussion Forum, there are a lot of other people who are also excited by the idea of a new modern email client written from the ground up to work the way end-users want to work, and not the way Microsoft thinks you should work.

In the past, I would have never been able to take on such a large project. But a lot has changed since I started writing zMUD. The first version of zMUD was written in 1995 using Delphi 1.0 for Windows 3.1. It was 16-bit code, with all of the limitations that came with it, using a brand new development environment. Since then, many very good 3rd party components have been written for Delphi, and over time, some of those have been used in zMUD and the other projects. But zMUD was never designed from the beginning to be a set of scriptable ADO objects. Nor was it designed from the beginning to have dockable windows or a customizable interface. The Microsoft ADO/MDAC software didn't exist then, so there was no thought of using real database formats for files. A lot has changed since 1995, and I have learned a lot about Windows programming that I didn't know back then.

So, this year, the focus of Zugg Software will be this new email client. It will target power users and small businesses and workgroups. I'm not writing a big system for large companies, nor am I writing something for the typical AOL user. This will be a completely customizable email client with full scripting and modern spam blocking for multiple accounts and multiple users and workgroups. And as with zMUD, it will be driven by customer suggestions and feedback, making it an email client by users for users.

While ZuggMail (or whatever it gets called) will be the major focus of the year, I still have some loose ends to finish up first. zExplorer and zMapper will both be updated in January to fix some remaining rough edges, but no major new features will be added. The main focus for January will be the next Public version of zMUD. While the 6.66 beta version is pretty stable (more so than the 6.62 public version in a lot of areas), it still has a number of bugs that need to be fixed. A new 6.67 beta will be released towards the end of January, with the intent to release the v7.0 Public version of zMUD in early February. I will also be spending quite a bit of time and effort marketing this new public version of zMUD, and will be resetting the 30-day trial so that people who have tried zMUD in the past can experience this new version.

Once zMUD 7.0 has been released, I'll then start work on the ZuggMail project. As with past software, I will be taking an iterative approach to this project, producing many updates over short periods of time. This will be like the old days in zMUD where you will probably see a new version of ZuggMail each month, starting in March. I still plan to support zExplorer as new major online games are released, but I don't expect to add any new major features for a while. I think zMUD has gotten plenty of attention recently and do not plan any major work on it for several months after the 7.0 public version is released. After ZuggMail has reached a public release status, then I'll see about adding some of the new things that I learn from the email client into zMUD, such as spellchecking. The v7.0 version of zMUD certainly will not be the last. zMapper, however, will be put on hold. With the poor sales and the lack of time to work on more than one major product at a time, I must give my full attention to ZuggMail. zMapper works fine for what it was originally intended...a mapper enhancement for zMUD. Plans beyond this, such as D&D map support, better Internet integration for shared maps, or making it into a MUD building tool, will have to wait. I apologize to any zMapper user who was really looking forward to these features, but anyone can look at the sales and see the problem supporting it as a business. And who knows what the future holds...making maps is still one of my favorite hobbies, so I'm sure zMapper will reappear someday in some form.

I'd like to thank my wife, Chiara, for her continued help and support. We will both be using the new email client on a daily basis, and with Chiara's background in technical writing, you can look forward to a better manual and help file than you have seen in the past. I'd also like to thank the Gurus on the Forums who continue to support Zugg Software and volunteer their time to help other users. Not only have they saved me countless hours in support time, but their ideas for the new email client have been extremely useful. I'm lucky to have such a loyal and helpful set of customers. Finally, I'd like to thank all of the customers who have supported Zugg Software over the years. Even though upgrades are free, there are many people who continue to buy additional registration codes just to support my efforts. This kind of positive support and feedback is a pleasure to see in a world that seems to be getting worse every day.

As Zugg Software expands its horizons beyond MUD gaming and into the more mainstream market of email, I hope that we can continue to improve your life through the software that we provide.



New Year's letter from 2003
New Year's letter from 2002
New Year's letter from 2001
New Year's letter from 1999
New Year's letter from 1998
Survey results from 1999
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