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Zugg
MASTER


Joined: 25 Sep 2000
Posts: 23377
Location: Colorado, USA

PostPosted: Tue Jan 05, 2010 6:42 pm   

New Year's Letter for 2010
 
A look back at 2009 and a roadmap for 2010
---
Happy New Year!

It's traditional for me to review the past year at Zugg Software and give you a preview of what's coming for the next year. So, let's first look back on 2009:

Zugg Software in 2009 - Ouch!

Good news: We are still here!

Last year (2009) was a tough year for everyone, and Zugg Software was no exception. I had a lot of plans for last year, but wasn't really able to accomplish any of them as I spent most of my time trying to keep the business alive during the horrible economy. As with most businesses around the nation (and around the world), sales plummeted last year. I started doing some local freelance web-design/programming work to supplement our income. Chiara started teaching classes on Social Media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc) to local businesses. Between the two of us, we were able to keep our mortgage paid. But that took up most of our time, leaving little time for programming.

I apologize for the lack of progress and the minimal number of updates last year, but we did what we needed to keep Zugg Software alive during the worst part of the year.

Even with all of the distractions of 2009, I was still able to accomplish some goals in CMUD and TeSSH. I was able to fix more bugs and continue to improve the stability of the 3.x version. I was also able to add the SFTP support that TeSSH needed, and the FTP support in CMUDPro. Recently, some new SQL database commands and functions were added. I also added free-floating buttons that can be placed anywhere over your main MUD window, as well as a drag-drop interface to make it easier to move buttons around the screen and on toolbars. More features were added for TeSSH, such as XTerm mouse support and 256-color XTerm modes. So 2009 wasn't a complete loss.

Towards the end of 2009 I have seen some improving sales that indicate the start of a slow economic recovery. Our freelance work has given us a buffer for 2010 to allow me to get back to the software programming that I want to be doing. So let's all cross our fingers and pray that 2010 is a better year than 2009 was.

The Future of Zugg Software in 2010

The list of plans for 2010 is going to sound a lot like the original list of plans for 2009. But I have made some changes in priority of a few items.

My main goal for 2010 is to get back into the core programming business of Zugg Software. This will partially depend upon how our sales go during the year. If we end up with another bad summer, then I'll need to do more freelance work. But until then, I should have at least six good months of solid programming work on CMUD and TeSSH. Here are my goals for the year in order of priority and release date:

Public release of TeSSH and CMUD 3.x
TeSSH represents a new income stream and getting the public version released will continue to be my top priority. What is stopping TeSSH from being released? The web site. Even though there remains a few bugs to be fixed over the next two months (Beta in January, Public in February), the main work in releasing TeSSH is getting the Help System converted from CMUD and getting the new TeSSH.com web site operational. The TeSSH.com web site will eventually become the new Zuggsoft.com web site, so there is a lot of work involved in porting over the existing Forum and Store user accounts and setting up the more complex licensing system needed by TeSSH (for site licenses, etc).

I have chosen Drupal as the CMS to be used for the new TeSSH.com and Zuggsoft.com web sites. I have developed a lot of expertise in Drupal over the past few months with my freelance web programming work. Drupal is a solid CMS that has all of the features I need for these web sites, but it will still take a while to get all of the details working. Even though the existing zuggsoft.com site has it's limits, it has also worked pretty well for many years and I want to be sure that any new web site is a real improvement over our current site.

Most of the actual time getting TeSSH ready for public release is converting the Help files, both online and within the software itself. There are so many references to MUDs in the help files that I will really need to manually examine each help topic. With hundreds and hundreds of help topics, that is going to be a long and tedious job. I am working on some tools to automate some of this. One side effect of this work should be improved help files for both TeSSH and CMUD users.

Delphi 2010 and Unicode for CMUD/TeSSH
CMUD/TeSSH is currently compiled using the Delphi 2007 IDE. I don't like to get too many years behind the upgrade curve, so I have already purchased the upgrade to Delphi 2010. In Delphi 2009, full Unicode support was finally added. Now that it has been more than a year since the Delphi 2009 release, most companies have upgraded their 3rd-party components to be Unicode compliant. The big effort in upgrading CMUD/TeSSH to use Delphi 2010 will be getting my own home-grown components to be Unicode compliant. Especially those components that deal with external libraries, such as the PCRE library for regular expressions, and the Scintilla library used for the syntax-highlighting script editor.

The way Unicode was handled in Delphi 2009 was to change the basic String datatype to become "WideString" Unicode-compliant strings. This means that any code that loops through a string expecting one byte per character will break when compiled in Delphi 2009/2010. While the compiler will catch many of the problems, I'll really need to examine most every function and method within CMUD. Some core utility libraries, such as the old TurboPower string library, are no longer supported and I'll need to see if the community has submitted Unicode-compliant versions or if I need to do this myself. Same for the ZeosLib database library.

While there is a lot of work involved in getting CMUD/TeSSH Unicode compliant so that I can fully switch to Delphi 2010, there will be a lot of benefits. The most important benefit is the larger market available to CMUD and TeSSH. No other AAA Telnet/SSH client is Unicode compliant. Certainly none that have the scripting and other features of CMUD and TeSSH. While I'm still skeptical about how many people in these new markets will actually pay for quality software, any increase in market share should be an improvement.

Delphi 2010 also has full support for Windows 7. While most improvements in Windows 7 don't have any impact on CMUD/TeSSH, the new Direct2D API might provide an improvement in performance. Delphi 2010 has built-in support for the new Direct2D library and I'll be doing many tests to see if this can improve the text rendering and scrolling needed for 2D applications like CMUD/TeSSH.

Finally, the fact that I'll be switching my own development system from Vista to Windows 7 soon should help even more with the continued Windows 7 support in CMUD and TeSSH. Very few developers of MUD or Telnet/SSH clients are still actively improving and supporting their products to embrace new features of Windows, and that is another area where Zugg Software can improve it's market share.

Database Module or Chat or Mapper?
Once the switch to Delphi 2010 and Windows 7 is complete, that leaves us with all of the other projects and improvements that have been on the table for many years now:

Mapper
While the 3.x Public Version will have a stable new mapper format, there is still much work on the mapper that I would like to do. From storing mapper configurations in the Public Library to improving the mapper graphics to building support for a new tile-based graphical MUD mapping protocol. There is a lot of work still to be done with the mapper, especially now that there is a new and more extensible mapper architecture built into CMUD 3.x.
Database Module
The Database Module ported from zMUD is really showing it's age. It's not even a real database. New SQL commands have been added to the recent CMUD 3.x Beta, but the entire Database Module needs to be rewritten to take advantage of a real SQL database. This could even result in a new separate product as a standalone database manager program. The Database module also benefits both CMUD and TeSSH since it isn't necessarily as MUD specific as the mapper is.
Chat System
Integrated Chat functions is also something that CMUD is still missing. The zChat plugin for zMUD was rather crud and really only intended as a plugin demo, but many people still use it. Many other MUD clients already have chat features. Players who come from MMOs are expecting more integrated chat features. While I never intend to get into voice chat (Ventrillo and TeamSpeak handle that just fine in my opinion), some improved client-to-client chat features in CMUD would still be nice to have. Porting the existing zChat and MUD Master chat protocols into CMUD probably isn't as large of a project as either the mapper or the database module.

The schedule and priority of the above features is still to be decided. I'll continue to solicit feedback from players on what they want the most. But I will also factor in business decisions about which features will have the biggest impact on improving our sales and market share.

Conclusion
Thanks to everyone who supported CMUD last year...it was a tough year. But we are still here and I'm still committed to the MUD community. Not many of us are left these days. But MUDs are still out there and people are still playing them. And the MUD community deserves to have a solid player who continues to support MUDs and built solid clients with the features that players want the most. Expanding into the business marketplace with TeSSH will benefit CMUD users with improved stability and support, along with providing the sales income needed.

I am optimistic that the world economy will slowly continue to improve during 2010. But it's going to depend a lot on our customers, both past and future. I understand that money is tight for everyone these days, which is one of the reasons I have refused to raise any of my prices. But I hope people will also take a good look at the value they are getting for their money with anything you buy. In tough economic times, MUDs still provide a real value. Maybe you still love to play your big graphical MMO. But MUDs still provide some fun gameplay, even without the graphics.

When it costs more than $10 for a 2-hour movie ticket, or more than $10 for a pizza, think about the value of $30 for a MUD client that you will use for years and years. Buying CMUD is showing your support for the MUD community. You will be helping a small family business that is focused on quality, support, and customer satisfaction. There is so much crap being sold on the Internet these days, and so much false and misleading marketing and hype. How much money have people wasted these past years on new hyped graphical MMOs that just delivered the same-old-thing?

Zugg Software has been around since 1996. What I learned this past year is that Zugg Software is like a child to me...a member of my family. And the Gurus and community in these forums are an extension to that family. Losing Zugg Software would be like losing a family member. So I'm not going to quit. Writing software is what I want to do with my life, and I'd much rather write software the brings some fun and enjoyment to others, rather than writing yet another business database system. If you do your part and continue to support Zugg Software and tell your friends to try playing MUDs, then I'll do my part to deliver the new features that you want the most and continue to provide the customer support that we have built our long reputation on.

Let's have a great 2010, shall we? Happy MUDding!

Zugg
5-January-2010

Links:

New Year's letter from 2009
New Year's letter from 2008
New Year's letter from 2007
New Year's letter from 2006
New Year's letter from 2005
New Year's letter from 2004
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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