Posts from July 2005.

CaseDetective for FogBugz Beta 1 Released!

Woohoo, I’ve just released CaseDetective for FogBugz Beta 1 onto an unsuspecting World!

If you’re a user of FogBugz and fancy giving CaseDetective a try, please scoot over to to download the first beta release of this simple desktop reporting app.

I’ve sent out my first Newsletter using CampaignMonitor too, which simply states that the beta is released and where to get it, and also has a link to the CaseDetective Yahoo Group. I figured a Yahoo Group would be a good way for anyone using CaseDetective to share tips and tricks.

The beta has a trial period of 60 days as opposed to the normal 30 days I’ll be using once v1.0 is released, I thought this a good idea to make sure there was plenty of time for feedback. I’m also counting a days usage as being each new day that CaseDetective is actually run rather than calendar days from first run, so the testers really will have quite some time to test it. When v1.0 is released the counter will be reset and the limit of 30 days imposed, so that’s a total of 90 days they’ve got to play with all told.

Also, my online store is now open for business! Right from very early on in this adventure I’ve been signed up with eSellerate, it just seemed to have the easiest online store, and also had the option of using their Integrated eSeller which allows you to purchase from right inside the application. I’ll let you know in due course how this pans out.

What’s the price of CaseDetective for FogBugz I hear you ask? Well, it’s a paltry $69 US, only a little over half the current price of a FogBugz license.

Anyway, it’s been a very very tiring time this last two weeks, I’ve been spending 8 hours in the office on the day job, and then another 5 to 8 working on CaseDetective in the evenings, with another good 7 or 8 every Sunday too. So, it’s off to have a glass of Merlot, wind down, and try to prepare for all the feedback I hope to get from the beta testers over the next few days. I’ll maybe say hello to my wife too, I haven’t really seen her for a couple of weeks, she’s been very understanding and supportive at this really busy time, trying to keep out of my way and helping with lots of encouragement and love. Boy do I love her.

What happens if FogCreek adds reporting to FogBugz?

In a comment on my last post, Jon asked:

The only red flag that jumps out is what happens when FogCreek adds reporting to FogBugz?

That’s a very good question, and one I’ve been very aware of from the beginning.

When I first started this project I had no idea what would be in FogBugz 4.0, I always expected that they would include at least some simple method of extracting to a file. This question was probably one of the biggest contributors to my slow start on this project, I was always afraid I’d be wasting time as FB4 might have this feature and everything else I desired.

I can’t tell you the relief I felt when I saw FB4 for the first time and found that there still were no inbuilt extract functions! :-)

FogBugz 4.0 was an absolutely huge update to FogBugz, tonnes of stuff was added that we users have been crying out for, but reporting was still missing. I don’t know the actual reason for not adding an extract function, this is complete conjecture, but I expect it’s down to Joel and the crew’s commitment to making FogBugz a developer tool, not a management tool. The docs still point to ways to create reports with Excel or Access, but at present FogCreek aren’t going to help you any further. You can’t even find this reporting related documentation on the main index of their online help, I had to search the Knowledge Base to find it.

If Fog Creek were to add an extract function to FogBugz, which I’m sure would be pretty simple (I considered creating a plugin myself) then I’m sure my current target customer base will erode to next to nothing, for that particular feature anyway.

There is of course plenty of stuff in CaseDetective other than reporting that people have been asking for of FogBugz but have yet to get. Simple things like being able to see more than 7 columns in the grid view, having different columns on view per filter rather than a single global view, being able to sort by certain columns missed out of FogBugz at present. And there are tonnes of things I’ve got lined up to make it much more attractive, I’m not going to talk about them here, but I’m really chomping at the bit to get to developing them as I know how much of an impact they will have on my customers productivity (for the better of course).

If Fog Creek decide a desktop companion of their own with extract/reporting functionality would be a good idea, then I really am going to have a problem! When Project Aardvark was announced I had a good couple of weeks of nail biting until some hints from Joel indicated that the new project had nothing to do with their existing products put my mind (almost) to rest.

But, as I pointed out in my series of articles called The Big Think – Part 1, 2, 3 and 4, in the end I’m in this for the experience, not the money. This is very much a learning exercise as I don’t believe the market is very big anyway, but hopefully this will be a stepping stone to a whole raft of tools for my customers to enjoy using, and for me to enjoy creating.

The Game is Afoot

Eric Sink has written a huge but excellent article called The Game is Afoot, comparing the games we know and love to the whole Business of Software.

Go read it now, it may take a little while, but it’s well worth it as it’s very insightful, interesting and entertaining, as all Eric’s writings tend to be. Go on, read it now, I’ll wait…

… OK, done? Good, I’ll continue…

Although all of the games vs Software Marketing segments were interesting, one that really caught my eye was the one regarding Rugby, not just because it’s a great game that we love to play and watch here in Ol’Blighty, but because it is probably the most important example in relation to my current venture.

Here is a little section to refresh your memory:

How software is similar

Segmentation is perhaps the most important concept in marketing, and the world of software products is no exception. Very often, the way to win is not to be better, but to be different. Look at your market and identify the different segments or categories. For each category, ask yourself lots of questions:

  1. How many customers are in this category?
  2. How much money do they spend?
  3. Are those customers well served?
  4. Who is selling stuff to those customers now?
  5. What unsolved problems do those customers have?

Choose a category where you can win.

Those five seemingly simple questions are extremely important when trying to determine whether an idea you have for a new product is a goer or not. And also extremely difficult to answer with complete precision.

How This Relates To Me

In case you’re new to my blog or not familiar with what I’m up to, I’m writing a desktop application called CaseDetective for FogBugz which aims to initially address just one main feature often asked of Fog Creek to implement in their bug, feature and inquiry tracking application, FogBugz.

This one feature is “simplified reporting”, or more specifically, extracting data from FogBugz.

So, how would I answer those questions:

1. How many customers are in this category?

I have no idea how many customers are in the category. It isn’t going to be very big though as we’re looking at a niche (people that need to extract reports) within a niche (FogBugz users).

I do however know exactly what my competition is in the category, which is a start I suppose! The category is all those reporting tools and more generalized applications that can connect to a FogBugz database (MS Access, SQL Server or MySQL) to pull data out into one or more formats. These tools range from things like Business Objects/Crystal Reports to MS Excel and Access.

2. How much money do they spend?

I know how much these customers spend on licenses to FogBugz, it’s right there on their website ($129 per user plus yearly support renewals, if you’re too lazy to click through :-) )

But the tools they use cover quite a range, Crystal Reports effectively starts at $200 and can go much much higher, whereas most people get MS Excel effectively for free with MS Office, which the majority of the business world will have bought.

In any case, my target is most definitely clued up enough to know that yer pays for what yer gets or else they wouldn’t have been wise enough to have bought FogBugz in the first place. So relatively few dollars for a tool that could save them hours of grief per week is going to be a no-brainer.

3. Are those customers well served?

Yes and No.

There are some great tools out there for extracting data from databases, but they all require domain knowledge. i.e. you need to know your database very well to get the best out of it’s data, this is no small task.

If you’re a manager who’s job it is to keep track of the progress being made on your next big thing and keep an eye on how many bugs and inquiries are being dealt with, and trying to find ways to relieve the pressure and keep the higher-ups off the backs of your team as much as possible, spending time trying to fathom out how to link all those tables together in this terse SQL language thingy that you’ve never seen before in your life is not going to be the best use of your time.

Having a tool that shows all your existing FogBugz filters and allows you to add or remove as many fields as you like from across the database in language you understand, with options for sorting as you please is going to be much better. Especially as it’s only then a couple of clicks to have a spreadsheet with all your data in your hands.

4. Who is selling stuff to those customers now?

I don’t think anyone is selling to these customers to directly answer their problems, they’re selling to them indirectly with multi-purpose reporting tools.

This is where things get a little sticky for me. Why hasn’t anyone else targeted these customers already? Am I wasting my time?

If Eric were to read that last couple of sentences he’d probably be banging his head against the desk and asking “Why are you doing this then, why are you doing this then, why oh why oh why!”. My answer lies in the next question…

5. What unsolved problems do those customers have?

My potential customers have to fight with MS Excel, Access or some other tool that was not built specifically for what they are trying to do. These people simply want to get data out of FogBugz that approximates what they see in fogBugz every day, they just want it in a format that they can use to create pivot tables and fancy charts in their company logo emblazoned Excel templates and the like.

I see the same question being asked over and over again in the FogBugz forum: “How do I create reports?“. The answer will soon be: “With CaseDetective for FogBugz!“.

The Game Is Most Definitely Afoot!

(Via Eric.Weblog().)

Brain Muscle

I’ve been on a mad coding frenzy the last few days, trying to get CaseDetective finished, so every night I’ve been putting in between 4 and 5 hours of solid development time. It’s been great, really getting along nicely, although I’ve had to drop a few features that are just too tricky to implement well in the time I’ve got before I want to ship, I’ll see if they’re asked for before adding them to the schedule for a future release.

Why’s this post titled “Brain Muscle” you ask?

Because, as I’ve been putting in some serious time into development with RealBasic every night at home, when I sit down at work each morning (yes, I still have a day job) and start coding in Informix 4GL or SPL I start off trying to write in a RealBasic style!

I keep tripping over myself by trying to hit tab to auto-complete variable and function names while coding Informix 4GL in vi! Also, I’m forever forgetting to use the 4GL “LET” statement when assigning values to variables as RB doesn’t need such an archaic statement (and nor should 4GL, it’s predecessors didn’t, so why does 4GL?). There are many other little brain muscle things that I have to shake off each morning.

I wish I had all the trappings of a modern and well executed editor for coding in Informix 4GL as I do with RealBasic. I do use vim rather than straight vi, so I do at least get syntax highlighting which is nice, and I’ve got my .vimrc file setup to auto capitalize the Informix reserved words (you can do this with a .exrc for normal vi too). But my time spent using the RealBasic IDE (and I’m only using v5.5.5, haven’t even moved on to the spiffy new RB2005 yet) has made me realize just how much more efficient I could be if I had the right tools.

I wonder what coding EGL in Eclipse for WebSpehere is like, I’ll probably never find out though as the trial download is over 2.5Gb in size! Besides, I see myself using RealBasic more and more in the future, it’s just plain fun to use!

Wood iPod

Way cool: Wood iPod by ZapWizard

Search For Identity Part 3 – The Reveal!

Rough Draft

So, a week or so ago I got a rough draft of the CaseDetective for FogBugz icon to review from Jordan Langille at, here it is:

CaseDetective Icon Draft

As you can see, all the elements from the original sketch are there, the Trilby which imparts the idea of “detective” is there sitting on the stack of cases. I thought it was superb, had just the right style and texture.

But, I had a few little niggles:

  1. I thought the hat itself somehow wasn’t quite right. The right hand side of it as you look at it wasn’t defined enough, didn’t stick up enough as I (rightly or wrongly) thought it should.
  2. The join on the ribbon was a little rough, although it was nice and subtle I just didn’t like the black square. I loved that there was a join, just not the black square.
  3. But, the most important problem in my eyes was that the icon was not square, so didn’t sit well alongside other icons when I tried it out.

I talked to Jordan about my opinions and he was more than happy to put a bit more definition into the hat and do something else with the ribbon join to make it a little more of a feature. Jordan was also already aware of the icon not being square, and was already set to change that. It was after all a rough draft to check that it was going in the right direction, which it most definitely was.

The Final Icon

A couple of days later Jordan sent a little message “Hey Ian, I think this might be it :o ) Let me know how it looks.” with the following attached:

CaseDetective Icon Draft

My response? “I believe you’re right! Please wrap it up and send me the final files.”

Jordan’s addressed all my little niggles.

  1. The hat has a much more solid appearance on the right hand side, making it much easier to see when it’s scaled down.
  2. The ribbon now joins with a nice little gold buckle, which although may not be something you’ll see all that often in the real world, I think it ties into the colour of the folders nicely.
  3. And adding a folder to the stack instantly relieves the problem I had with the icon not being square. I think it adds a little more chaos to the stack, which I like, almost looks like it might topple over, ‘cos without CaseDetective you just can’t control all your cases as easily! :-)


All in all the process of getting my CaseDetective for FogBugz icon designed was much easier than I expected. Leaving all the design work to the professionals has in my opinion paid off, the icon is distinctive and works well at all the sizes I’ll need to use it (16×16 up to 128×128 and beyond).

Jordan has not only delivered on his promise of “the icon of your dreams” but also really held my newbie hand throughout the process, he’s a really nice guy and I’ll be putting some more work his way that’s for sure.

Now I just need to stop fiddling about with the final few features of the application and get it out to the beta testers!

We've got the 2012 Olympic Games!

We’ve (London, UK) got the 2012 Olympic Games!

Superb, can’t wait. Well, I guess I’ll have to, but you know what I mean! :-)