Archives / 2004 / November
  • The Power of First Impression

    After months of ZIPping up the GhostDoc source files every now and then, I finally have a source code management solution running (better late than never ;-). I've built and set up a server from spare parts, mainly to be used for storing files (e.g. backups and VMWare images), on which I installed SourceGear Vault. Using SourceSafe at work, this was an obvious choice for me. Usually I don't shy away from learning new things, but this time I didn't want to invest time to learn to use a system with a different philosophy (like e.g. SubVersion).

    Now I have to admit a few things: While there are quite a few things I'm really good at, I have no or only superficial knowledge when it comes to administering/configuring

    • databases
    • IIS
    • applications

    So this is me, not wanting to invest a lot of time, and I want to install a product that

    • uses a database (MSDE in my case, which I have never installed before)
    • is running on IIS
    • is an application

    And you know what? I got things running without any problems worth mentioning. The combination of a good installer (e.g. no editing of configuration files required) and an installation guide on the product's website with lots of screenshots enabled me to install this product. Creating a repository was also pretty easy and just a matter of minutes.

    So I'm happy to report that GhostDoc is now under source control.

    Maybe it turns out that I just installed the worst product imaginable. Maybe things go wrong from now on in every imaginable way. But right now I trust this product. It just feels right. From the splash screen (nice, but not too fancy) up to the help file (not really spectacular, but it was able to answer the few questions I had). Everything made good first impression.

    Now there's another application I installed on the server (I will not mention the name here, as it would be pretty unfair). When I start it, I get a "SqlException: SQL Server does not exist or access denied" error message. I couldn't find what to do in the documentation, the product's website does not have a FAQ, there's no forum, only a email address I can write to. This is what I'll to, because I'm pretty sure that once things are running, the application will be what I was looking for. But I guess you agree that the first impression is spoiled.

    As a developer I know that I'm completely unfair here, but as a customer (even though in both cases I don't have to pay as a single user) I don't care about being fair. Whether you like it or not, the first impression plays a vital role how users view your software.

    So do yourself a favor: When you release software (even if it's just a small tool), invest enough time in what could be called "the most important minutes" of your program. After a couple of months since the release of GhostDoc, I'm happy to notice people praise the "out of the box experience". Let me tell you it didn't come easy. Things weren't  perfect from a start and a lot of time and testing went into getting things right. I actually bought VMWare Workstation especially for testing GhostDoc on different system configurations (virtual machines simply rock, period). Did all the effort pay of? After all, I could have implemented lots and lots of features, so GhostDoc would produce less funny results in certain situations and would be as useful as I know it could be. But all I can say is yes, it was worth the effort. GhostDoc was downloaded a bit more than 1000 times (all versions combined) and while this may not be too impressive, I'm proud that I didn't receive a single question about the first steps. I receive bugs and feature requests regarding the text generation, people wanting to tweak things, people wanting to code their own rules, but not a single of those "I can't get it to run, what now?" questions that quickly eat away lots of time from actually developing software.


  • GhostDoc News

    While work on GhostDoc has slowed down a bit, I still haven't lost my enthusiasm for this project. It has proven to be useful for me in my daily work and feedback from users has been really positive so far. Most of the feature requests I receive are already on my TODO list, which I regard as a good thing as it shows that I'm on the right track with my plans. And it helps me to prioritize the items on the list -- so don't hesitate to drop me an email with your suggestion.

    Plans for 1.3.0

    The most wanted feature is proper handling of "On..." methods.... Oh yeah, this will be the next rule to be implemented and I plan to include it in 1.3.0. Interestingly, every person who wrote me about the funny mess the current version of GhostDoc is producing of e.g. "OnClosing" had a different idea of what the generated text should look like. Which leads to another problem: The more text GhostDoc actually adds to a simple processing of identifier names, the more people wish to change these additional texts to their liking (quite understandably).

    That's why version 1.3.0 will allow users to customize generated texts by editing template texts containing macros for dynamic content. The macros are similar to those for the pre-build and post-build steps in the Visual Studio IDE. For example, the template text for the summary of a constructor is "Creates a new $(DeclaringTypeName.ShortNameAsSee) instance". As in Visual Studio, you don't have to type out the macro name, but can select it from a list (or, to be more exact, from a tree).

    Here's what selecting a macro for e.g. the summary of a property will look like this (more or less, the screen shot is from a dialog in a GUI test, not the actual addin):

    As usual I won't talk about a release date; when I feel comfortable releasing 1.3.0, I'll release it ;-)