Software Developer Tip: RSS Aggregator + Google Blog Search

Large companies, such as Microsoft or Google, have entire sections of their company dedicated to things like PR (Public Relations) and paying attention to what the media says about them. As a small time individual developer, you probably don’t have time to track down everything that is said about your product. But, if you know how to use an RSS Aggregator such as RSS Bandit or Google Reader, then you can passively (efficiently) watch a lot of the buzz about your product.

The trick is to use the RSS syndication feature in Google Blog Search. Basically you do a search for your product’s name, and then you click on the button to get an RSS feed for that search query. Whenever you check in on your RSS feeds, you’ll know if people have been talking about your product in the “blogosphere.”

Step 1 — Go to Google Blog Search and type in your product’s name. Usually you want to surround it with quotes.

Step 2 — On the top right side inside the browser window, click on “Sort by date”. The default is to sort by relevance.

Step 3 — On the left side of the window, find where it says “Subscribe:” and then click on the format that you prefer (I use RSS, for instance).

Try it out 馃檪 I use this to keep up on what people are saying about Paint.NET — both good and negative.


Paint.NET Help: Now with Windows Live Translator

One problem that a small software developer like myself faces is getting my software and its help content available to users that don’t speak my language. Translating something like the Paint.NET Help is a daunting task — it’s a lot of content, so it either takes a lot of time, or a lot of money.

Machine Translation (MT) gets a bad rep because it usually provides laughable, hardly usable translations. It is, however, very cost effective. So, I have added the Windows Live Translator widget to the Paint.NET Help. Hopefully it can help non-English users get the gist of the help content, while at the same time adding some more feedback into the Windows Live Translator system. Who knows, maybe someday it will be almost as good as a “real” translation 馃檪

If you use this, then please send feedback via the “Is this translation useful?” link at the top of the Windows Live Translator shell.

PC Club stores close … I used to work there!

So, I just saw over at HardOCP that PC Club has shut down completely. We had around 4 of them in the Seattle area (Lynnwood, Bellevue, Tacoma, and I think one more), although only the Tacoma one was still around. I actually worked there as a “sales associate” in the summer of 2002, between my junior and senior years of college. I thought it was a pretty decent place to work, although apparently things went downhill after the founder passed away (whom I met — he gave me an eBay coffee mug which I still have).

PC Club in Lynnwood, WA, circa 2002

Some [possibly] interesting bits of historical info:

路 I was the top grossing sales person there during the months that I worked (summer, and during Christmas break). However, my margins were lower than the others. The cause? I’m not sure, but it’s probably because I just told the truth, or at least my honest opinion, when customers asked questions! If someone was buying a computer and couldn’t decide between an Athlon XP or a Pentium 4, and asked “What’s the difference?”, then I replied with “You probably won’t notice much, other than the $100.” Because of this I sold more systems, albeit at less profit margin. I never sold one of the $1,000 Pentium 4 2.53 GHz chips … oh well 馃檪
路 When games like Morrowind or Unreal Tournament 2003 came out, we sold a lot of graphics cards. The big dog at the time was the GeForce 4 Ti4600, but we sold a lot of the Ti4400’s.
路 The week before I started working there, the place was actually robbed. The manager was helping a customer with some questions at the front counter, and when he turned his back for a second the customer reached over and yanked a tray of expensive Pentium 4 CPU’s. Then he ran. If it hadn’t been for this, the store would have been profitable its very first month in operation.
路 One time we had a very interesting fellow walk in carrying some computer almanac. He demanded to know how the computers responded to some math problem … apparently he thought that the Pentium FDIV bug was still around.
路 The manager wanted us to try and sell the LCD monitors used by the POS (point of sale) computers. Even though they were obviously used and a little dingy (from fingers, post-it notes, etc.) he refused to sell them as anything but full price and new. “They aren’t used!” Umm, yes, they were! The customers he tried to sell them to weren’t exactly impressed (nor fooled).
路 We had one guy come to the story regularly just to hang out and talk. He had a job as one of those guys who stands on the sidewalk wearing a sign that says, “Carpets For Sale!”, with a big arrow. He was a mostly normal guy, not a bother or anything … apparently they actually get paid good money to do that since it’s really hard to retain them.

Paint.NET turns 4!

According to the Roadmap page, version 1.0 was released four years ago on May 6th, 2004. Happy birthday Paint.NET!

As most people know, Paint.NET started as a senior design project at Washington State University‘s EECS department. When we finished the first version, it was meant as a “hey look we actually made something – neat!” project that we showed off to family and friends. A simple website was put up on the web server, and the project was neither hyped nor advertised once the semester was over. Fast forward a few months later, after I started working full time at Microsoft, and I was forwarded e-mail from some interns who had managed to find it and were asking about why it wouldn’t install on XP SP2.

Interesting things to know about the first version of Paint.NET, in no particular order:

路 It took 15 weeks to complete, from start to finish.
路 It was about 36,000 lines of code.
路 It was distributed as a raw MSI, instead of an installer/wizard EXE.
路 It required Windows XP SP1 as the minimum OS. There was no support for 2000.
路 And, because of a typo, it did not work in Windows XP SP2! Changing an equals operator, =, to a greater-than-or-equals operator, >=, fixed this.
路 Plugins were not supported.
路 We used a CVS server that was running on an XP box that doubled as one of our development workstations. It was in the EECS computer lab that other people had access to, and we had to tape a piece of paper on to it that said, “SERVER – DO NOT TURN OFF!”
路 We did not have a bug tracking system. We either fixed bugs immediately as we saw them, or put them in to an Excel spreadsheet (mostly the former).
路 I made the floating windows translucent after observing that most people didn’t even try drawing in the occluded areas when I handed them a tablet PC with Paint.NET on it (“hey you, draw something!”). It was if that area of the canvas didn’t exist. Once the windows were made translucent, this went away! Usability studies really do work.
路 For the first month or so of development, the status bar had no information in it. Instead, it had the text: “I am the status bar!!!!!!!!!1111”

Paint.NET v3.31 is now available!

This is mostly a servicing release to fix a few important bugs that have been causing some people a lot of headaches. You can get it in the usual ways: either via the built-in updater (Help -> Check for Updates), or directly from the website:

Changes since v3.30:

* New: Enabled integration with Window Clippings, which is a high quality screen capture utility by Kenny Kerr.
* Fixed: Fixed a crash with the Open/Save dialogs if the Documents or Pictures directories were either inaccessible or if the user did not have certain file system permissions.
* Changed / Fixed: The hotkey for Adjustments -> Levels is now Ctrl+Shift+L instead of Ctrl+Alt+L. This was preventing certain characters, such as the Polish ‘艂’, from being typed.

For this update I’ve also worked with Kenny Kerr to enable integration between Paint.NET and his Window Clippings utility. It now has a built-in “Send to Paint.NET” action so that when you take a screenshot it will automatically send it to Paint.NET without a filename (“Untitled”). Before, this had to be done manually and it was a bit clumsy because it would show up in the File -> Open Recent menu with a long, computer generated file name. It was also tricky to ensure that the alpha channel, which Window Clippings captures correctly for Vista/Aero effects, made the trip correctly.

To kick this off, we also have a special deal — for the month of May we’re knocking $4 USD off the price of Window Clippings for Paint.NET users! Now it’s only $14 USD instead of $18 USD.

You will also see this offer when you install Paint.NET v3.31. I use this program myself, and it saves me a ton of time when I make screenshots, e.g. for the Paint.NET help and documentation. I really like how it automatically captures all of the Vista/Aero effects, such as the transparency and the drop shadow. I highly recommend it.