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April 2007 - Posts

  • DX suffers from sudden rash. Of releases, that is. Treatment? Get them now!

    Bang, just like that we've released updates to our VCL component suites to support Delphi 2007 for Win32. to deliver ExpressBars 6 (including the new Ribbon control), and to preview a beta of ExpressSkins. Well, bang in a slow-mo sense since this release has been anticipated for a while, but at least it's here now.

    The Delphi 2007 for Win32 support is most welcome since, although our existing packages could be loaded into the new Delphi IDE, some of our controls exhibited various painting problems when used there. Anyway, no longer: all those painting issues been fixed and you can also now directly install our components into Delphi 2007 for Win32.

    It's also great to have the new Ribbon control available. Now you can bring that new Office 2007 UI look to your Delphi applications. Note though that, before doing so, you must review and license Microsoft's Office 2007 UI Guidelines. (The release of the VCL Ribbon also gives our VCL team bragging rights over our .NET WinForms team. I wonder how long that will last though, since both teams have some important new features in the pipeline for the near future.)

    And, a little earlier than I expected, we've released the first beta of ExpressSkins, the new skinning product for our components, to our VCL subscribers. This product will enable you to re-skin your whole application simply and easily. If you're interested in this kind of functionality, I'd recommend that you download it and try it out: we need feedback to find bugs and make it better and easier to use.

    So, don't delay: log into the client center on our website using your customer id and download the updates today.
  • Telling stories

    Oliver Sturm sent me an email chiding me for forgetting another reason for appearing at conferences: meeting our customers and hearing what they're doing with our products.

    I slapped my forehead a couple of times to try and reboot my reasoning module. He's right: it's always interesting to hear what our customers are doing with our products and how they use them to solve their particular problems. We sell thousands upon thousands of subscriptions and, in the large majority of cases, we don't hear form those customers again (unless they order something else or refresh the subscription at the end of the year or, horror, have a support issue).

    Indeed these days, when you buy a retail product it's hard to say whether it uses our components or not, unless you browse the install folder, perhaps with a hex viewer at hand. And undoubtedly a lot of the subscriptions we sell get used in internal applications that never see the light of day in the outside world. So, in a lot of cases, we just don't know what customers are doing with our products.

    Of course, we don't have to be in an exhibit hall to be able to chat with our customers: it's just an easier conversation to have face-to-face. Nevertheless I do chat via email with customers daily about what they're doing and about suggestions they have for features that we could do to make their lives easier.

    And that reminds me of something else. I met with Jonathan Erickson, the editor-in-chief of Dr. Dobbs, at SD West a few weeks back. We chatted for a quarter of an hour or so about the third-party component market. He then revealed that Dr Dobbs is going to be publishing a few articles about said component market and components in general in the near future and that they'd like some stories about people using third-party components like ours to help solve intriguing and unique problems. The more captivating the story, the more likely it will get used.

    So, are you using our components in applications that could not be called run-of-the-mill under any circumstances? In other words, not your usual payroll application (which is undoubtedly fascinating in its own right), but, say, monitoring volcano seismic activity by using our charting and reporting components for the display of information. If you are, and are willing to be interviewed for the magazine for inclusion in one of these articles, email me at julianb@devexpress.com and I'll put you in touch with Jonathan should he think your story interesting enough.

    Of course, if you'd just like to chat about how you're using our suites and about any suggestions you have, drop me a line at any time.
  • Screencast news: now, the near future, and if-I-get-it-to-work-properly

    At the end of last week I recorded the audio for another set of introductory tutorials, this time for the XtraTreeList. There are three in all:

    1. Data Handling: where we bind a tree list control to a database.
    2. Embedding Editors: where we assign editor controls from the XtraEditors suite to columns in the tree list control
    3. Unbound Mode: where we do the opposite of Lesson 1 and populate a tree without using a database.

    You can find them here. Taken all together, these three tutorials show how easy it is to treat a tree list as a kind of nifty hierarchical editable grid.

    Oh, and apologies if you hear a slight Irish accent in there. I'm not taking the mickey, but instead I'm rehearsing for a role where I play W.B. Yeats, the Irish poet, and I'm finding that I'm saying things with a Anglo-Irish accent every now and then.

    Meanwhile, Nathan, our tech writer who's writing and editing these screencasts (he has much the harder job of the two of us, I can tell you), has recorded the video for another series of screencasts, this time about XtraVerticalGrid. I will be recording these tomorrow and Wednesday, so hang in there if you want to see some intro videos on how to use that popular component: they could be available by the weekend.

    Also I'm trying to record both the video and audio for a set of screencasts on XAF. You wouldn't believe the number of times I've started the first one of these and tossed the results. There's more to recording screencasts than meets the eye. let me tell you (and probably will in another blog post). Stay tuned on this one.

    By the way, if you have any requests for screencasts, especially those of an intermediate nature, do please let me know. We're doing quite well on the introductory ones, but would certainly like to expand the list of intermediate ones.

  • Being an exhibitor at mid-level conferences

    We're reeling a bit here at DX Towers: we've just exhibited at five conferences in a month. I've been jokingly calling it "conference season" but this was more like "conference blitz". Nobody had to do more than three conferences, since there were a couple of times when we simultaneously did two conferences at once, but even so. Despite the fact that exhibiting can be exhilarating and you feel pumped up meeting people and showing off the good stuff we have, when it's over you crash for a couple of days.

    After this set of "mid-level" conferences (I'm going to define this as between 500 and 1500 attendees), we're taking a good look at what they're doing for us. After all, it costs us time (say, four days) and money (several thousand dollars) and resources (two, maybe three, people) to attend one of these mid-level conferences: what are we getting for all this outlay?

    1. Goodwill. This is the biggest benefit for which we can provide no dollar value whatsoever. Meeting people on the exhibitor floor at your booth, engaging with them, giving sway t-shirts or CDs, chatting about what they're doing, and how your products may help them (or, equivalently, may not) is invaluable. It's networking if you like. My philosophy is that if you are open and likeable and are not trying to force them to buy your product, you will probably be remembered down the road when the potential customer needs advice or some software. Nevertheless, it's impossible to get to know more than a few people during the exhibit hours and it's nigh on impossible to quantify the value in doing so (any sales that may accrue may only happen several months later).

    2. Visibility. Another good one for which it's hard to quantify the benefit. Existing customers feel comforted that Developer Express are exhibiting: it shows we're still around and active (and solvent enough to be able to pay to exhibit, I suppose). Potential customers, who may have seen one of our ads, or have heard about us from someone else, are reassured that we do really exist and are doing business, and the more new customers we reassure and encourage, the better our growth.

    3. Demonstrations. No matter how we structure and write our documentation, seeing a product being used makes you want to try it. Obviously, the more pizzazz the demo has (and, yes, CodeRush and Refactor! Pro lend themselves to this very well, but XAF does extremely well too in this area), the more wowed your audience will be, and the more likely they will be to buy later on. And with demos, versus the personal one-on-one, you will at least get to present to the majority of the attendees. Plus, with demos we sometimes get invaluable feedback on existing and possible new features.

    4. Meetings. Conferences are sometimes an ideal occasion to meet with our contacts at Microsoft, our resellers, and other vendors. We generally have at least one such meeting per conference, sometimes two or more. In essence, these face-to-face meetings with our business partners are free -- after all we're already there. Even in this age of instant communication, don't underestimate the benefits of actually seeing a business partner in the flesh and learning market insights directly.

    5. Sales. We don't sell at the booth since we have no physical product. All our sales are online from our website or from our resellers. So in order to track sales due to our exhibiting we make use of such strategies as giveaway CDs with a discount code or that contain a special URL to link on. We also track sales to see if there's an uptick after a conference. An increase in sales from exhibiting at a conference is possibly the only quantifiable metric we have.

    Of course, having laid all this out, I'm sure that you see the majority of intangible benefits I described above are achievable without going anywhere near an exhibit hall. For example, in many ways demos are probably better done as 8-minute screencasts downloadable from our website. You can pause, go back, watch carefully in comfort. The only negative aspect is that you can't ask the presenter a particular question right there and then: a recording doesn't answer. Similarly, visibility is achievable by releasing good software regularly, by publishing blogs, by getting satisfaction from support. Goodwill is realizable by being open with customers, by admitting mistakes, by making good problems that occur (even in the most well-run organization). And so on.

    So over the next few weeks we'll be monitoring the only quantity we can, sales. If there's a visible uptick (or, worse, a downtick), it'll help us make decisions about whether we'll do as many, or more, mid-level conferences next year.

    Of course, the big conferences, like TechEd and PDC, are inviolate: we'll certainly be there and continue to be there in spades.

  • More MVPs for Developer Express -- April Fools joke? NOT!

    So yesterday there was a bit of confusion on the internal DevExpress mailing list. Both Dustin Campbell and Oliver Sturm both announced that they'd been awarded MVP status by Microsoft, and, of course, the received impression was that they were pulling the proverbial leg on the traditional day of practical jokes. Nice one, guys; we're not falling for that one, we weren't born yesterday.

    Well, more fool the rest of us: Oliver and Dustin have indeed both been made C# MVPs. Together with our very own Mark Miller, that makes three MVPs on the DevExpress staff. They'll be demanding an executive expense account next, together with their own executive restroom...

    Please allow me to congratulate both of them publicly. Well done, Oliver and Dustin! It's well deserved. We'll certainly be popping a bottle of champagne to celebrate.

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