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Portfolio: Consumer Projects
 
Jump To:  Overview |  PicHunter |  ThumbCuffs |  Miscellaneous Projects
 
 

Our products are typically created for another software company or a specific user. The projects described below, however, were conceived for mass-market consumption, in answer to perceived needs.

This is the area of our business with the most revenue-generating potential. Unfortunately, it's also the area that's receives the fewest resources. The fact is, every minute and dollar expended on these products is an investment that produces zero short-term gain, and zero guaranteed gain in any time frame. Therefore, as a small business, opportunities attached to a hard pay-date often divert our attention. As you'll see below, this isn't the only reason these projects languish in development, but it's certainly the most predominant.

 
 
PicHunter
 
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I N T R O D U C T I O N

For nearly as long as the Internet has been used to trade photographs, there have been bulk image downloaders (BIDs). With the rise of social media and image search services, the reasons for these utilities have both multiplied and grown.

Unfortunately, the overall quality of the crop of BIDs we sampled was nothing short of dismal. Horrifying, actually. Incomprehensible interfaces, limited service-sets, lack of service-specific options, lack of state-controlled projects, and general pokiness characterized these offerings.

Worst of all, it appears that not a one of these developers is familiar with the concept of a handled error — a single unexpected character in an HTML response, and fireworks engulf the screen! Pretty explosions!


D E V E L O P M E N T

Enter PicHunter. Although intended to address all the shortcomings of similarly-purposed software enumerated above, PicHunter is designed first-and-foremost to be simple enough for all but the most pedestrian end-user to grasp. As such, it required a rather unusual-to-us approach to the GUI, as you can see from the screenshots.

After the basic GUI (an advanced UI option is planned), the first order of business was to get the core functionality working, and we started with Google, Bing, and Yahoo image searches. Though, some aspects of these APIs proved needlessly convoluted, we got things working well-enough . . .

. . . until one of the APIs was replaced by an object-model-incompatible version. Then another. It's never fun to restructure and rewrite non-trivial chunks of code, but when in the early stages of application development and with a hundred other tasks waiting in the wings, it's particularly disheartening.

We began to wonder how often other services make such changes, so we ran some searches and made some inquiries on a few developer forums. It seems that any image-related web service is prone to a lot of monkeying-around at this time in history. This partially explains at least some of the issues from which the entire field of competitors seems to suffer.


P R O G R E S S    R E P O R T

Regardless, the tides of "certain uncertainty" we were facing ultimately persuaded us to shelve this product until either APIs stabilized or we had more resources to devote to development.

Until we finish our attempt at this utility, we suggest the aptly (if lazily) named Bulk Image Downloader. It handles most of the big services very well (and many niche ones, and some it knows nothing about), deals with errors better than most, offers some degree of configurability, etc. It's certainly not everything we think a BID could be (or else we wouldn't have started work on our own), but at least these guys managed to finish and market their incarnation. It's by far the best we've seen, and bargain-priced, as well. Consider giving them your money if you're in the market for such a product. We did.

Our own efforts developing a BID — along with all the unfathomably miserable entries in this product category — convince us that Antibody Software has put tremendous effort into their product. In fact, they continue to do so — program updates are frequent, much-due to the ever-changing API landscape we've lamented above. This is not fire-and-forget software. These guys take care of it. We hope they are rewarded for their diligence.

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ThumbCuffs
 
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I N T R O D U C T I O N

From Blade Technologies proprietor Jason Purcell:

ThumbCuffs was a stand-alone program that managed and encrypted ThumbsPlus databases and application settings.

I became aware of the need for ThumbCuffs via my frequent lurking in Cerious Software's Usenet groups. Over time, I took note of a few omplaints regarding distinct symptomatic problems that appeared to me would disappear with a common solution. Mostly, these problems boiled-down to a single fact: Although ThumbsPlus maintained a separate "database settings" file per database that was distinct from the application/user settings file, these distraught Usenet posters firmly believed that a number of items in the latter belonged in the former.

Additionally, a couple of people were unhappy that both database and user settings were stored in plain text, so that anyone (or any program) could easily see a list of most-recently used databases, files, folders, file masks (filters), searches, and — at the time — keywords (though I believe keywords have since been migrated to database storage).

ThumbCuffs fixed these problems by maintaining separate user settings files per database, or even per database/per user. I called these separate settings profiles. Profiles could be created from scratch, based on the user's current ThumbsPlus settings, or copied from another profile.

Instead of launching ThumbsPlus, the user would launch ThumbCuffs, select the desired profile, enter a cipher key if they chose to have the database and settings encrypted when not in-use, and click the "Launch" button. ThumbCuffs would decrypt the archived database and settings files, move them to the place that ThumbsPlus expected to find them, and launch ThumbsPlus.

ThumbCuffs would detect when ThumbsPlus was shut down or had crashed, re-encrypt the database and settings files, and move them back to the archive directory. When ThumbsPlus wasn't running — or when it was running but hadn't been launched via ThumbCuffs — absolutely no unencrypted Thumbsplus data remained on disk. While hardly a perfect solution, it was more than tenable under the circumstances, and seemed to make people happy.


D E V E L O P M E N T

Though I'd been working in .NET since its 2001 betas and had used it for a considerable number of personal projects and experiments, 2004's ThumbCuffs marked the first time I counted on it to make money. I didn't expect much — I knew the number of people who considered inadequate the ThumbsPlus way of handling databases and settings was limited.

In fact, this was one of the reasons I targeted this need for my first commercial .NET project: I had just became a full-time, self-employed engineer again for the first time in nine years, was working alone, and had other jobs, so I didn't want the potential of big support problems on a newborn programming platform. This project was limited both in functional scope and negative repercussions.

As I remember it, the primary development hassle was identifying which installation track the user chose during ThumbsPlus installation: "Shared database / shared user settings," "shared database/separate user settings," or "separate database / separate user settings," compounded by the knowledge that multiple databases were often utilized in each case.


L E G A C Y   A N D   P O S T - M O R T E M

Contrary to my fears, ThumbCuffs was the lowest-maintenance application I've ever distributed. Outside of a machine-specific problem installing .NET, there were no issues whatsoever until Windows Vista with its User Account Control and other security enhancements debuted years later. I made some modifications to deal with those changes, and since that time haven't heard from a single user.

I never actively marketed the product, only offering it to affected users I found on Usenet. I intended to speak with Cerious in hopes of either convincing them to work the functionality into ThumbsPlus or else offering ThumbsCuffs as a companion product on their web site, but   as has happened so often   I became so busy with other projects that this one fell by the wayside.

Lastly, a plug: I've been a ThumbsPlus user since 1997, V3. I've periodically evaluated ACDSee and other image managers, and though the best of them have their merits, I've never been compelled to abandon ThumbsPlus. Sure, they are much better image editors, and I have a running list of feature requests and wished-for bug fixes I'd love to see implemented, and V8 was a veritable dumpster fire (I and many other users stuck to V7 for years due to this calamity), but it's simply the best image manager around, and probably always has been. If you need to annotate/categorize/search/de-duplicate/catalog an image collection of any substantial size, do yourself a favor and give ThumbsPlus a spin.

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Miscellaneous Projects
 
Jump To:  Overview |  PicHunter |  ThumbCuffs |  Miscellaneous Projects
 
 

T R U S T E D   P I P E L I N E

In 2006, Brent McKinney began to envision a highly-ambitious consumer-shopping web site. He believed that a well-planned, privacy-centric site could enable consumers to share verified product and company reviews; serve as a clearinghouse for up-to-date coupons, rebates, and other deals; be "matched" to companies and products conforming to their exact interests and specifications; co-op to obtain bulk-pricing; and provide many more valuable, buyer-based functions. He called this site Trusted Pipeline.

Although given near carte blanche to develop these ideas into a viable service, the extensive, sustained resources that were required were eventually depleted, and the project was suspended after two full years of blood, sweat, and tears. Still, the effort wasn't without its returns, and hope for its revival remains. Perhaps Trusted Pipeline will yet be a household name, e.g. Amazon!


N E W S E D G E

When MicroPlanet ceased development of its unparalleled Gravity Usenet newsreader in 2001, I looked long, hard, and deep for a suitable alternative — at the time, there were literally dozens of 'em. But as I said, Gravity was — and is — unparalleled. Eventually, I began developing my own newsreader when I wasn't working on paid projects.

In 2004, Gravity became open-source. Although by this time I was well into development, it hardly made sense for me to continue when the code for the Best. Newsreader. Ever. was now in the public and who-knows-how-many manic, old-school hackers who revered it as much as I were already working to make it even better. I know when I'm beaten. All [nerds] hail Gravity!


P R I V A T E   B I T S

After returning from Microsoft's Windows Phone-centric MIX developers' conference in 2010, I immediately started building Windows Phone software with Visual Studio, Blend, and an emulator. Not long after receiving my first Windows Phone, I discovered there was not way to really protect personal information. So I created Private Bits, which reliably encrypted/decrypted selected documents, pictures, and videos. It also securely managed financial data, web credentials, and other critical personal information.

Private Bits was originally intended to be a commercial offering. However, Microsoft's unpalatable store policies and counter-productive procedures — as well as the belief that an unsophisticated user-base would translate to few sales and a disproportionate support burden — caused me to keep this one just for personal use. Can't say I regret it.

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