Where’s my template editor?!?

rant.jpgEvery time we release a new version of the software we not only get to announce what new features we added, but everyone quickly finds out which features we didn’t add. This makes a new release the best thing in the world for some people and a real frustration for others. For those of you who are frustrated, we hear you. It’s always annoying when a product you really like does an upgrade, and you discover that they didn’t include that one thing you’ve been asking for since 1997!

It happens to everyone, including us. Take ActiveSync as a great example. Pocket PCs have File Synchronization. Smartphones don’t. With every new release of ActiveSync or Windows Mobile for Smartphone we all cross our fingers and chant “Please include file sync! Please include file sync!” and every time….nothin’. Why Microsoft? Why?

Well, I can’t speak for why Microsoft does what they do but I can tell you about us. Here is what we consider when we try to make decisions about new features. There are always additional things that can influence a decision but these are the biggies.

What Users Want
This is huge. We keep all sorts of lists of the things that users ask us for. We research the ideas, check out the options, and explore ways we could do them. The more people that ask for something, the more likely we are to include it. This is a prime area that we look at when considering a new feature.

What Users Hate
Sometimes people come right out and say what they hate, other times it becomes clear in frustrated support emails about a particular issue. Either way we track this stuff and work to improve it. Areas of major annoyance get top ranking on the big list-o-future-features.

Where the Market is Headed
We need to watch which way the wind is blowing. If we don’t keep up with current market trends we’re not going to be around to MAKE another upgrade. These are tough because sometimes people aren’t asking for the thing yet, but if we don’t add it we won’t be competitive 6 months from now. Windows Mobile Smartphone is a great example of this. We wrote a smartphone version before there was a smartphone on the market. This meant taking time that could have been used to add features to Pocket PC, but that’s where the market was going so we had to blaze a trail in that direction!

What Microsoft/Palm/Etc. Tells Us To Do
I posted about this awhile back. There are things we have to do whether we like it or not. A great example in eWallet 5.0 is moving around a lot of files the software uses. From the info we’ve received, files that change as the user does different things (templates, sync files, custom graphics etc.) must NOT be in the program directory in the future. This means we had to redesign the file structure for eWallet 5.0, a big undertaking, at the expense of adding features. Failing to do so could lead to the software not working at all on new versions of Windows Mobile!

Making Things Better for New Users
There are times when we need to make changes that will benefit new users more than existing users. For the existing users, they’ve often become used to whatever weird thing we did in the past. The problem is that every new user has to “get used” to that thing as well. To that end, we often make changes that will make the experience for a new user significantly better. This can be really frustrating for people who are used to the product working a certain way. There are a few of these in eWallet 5.0 and I’ll blog about them later, but these are things we just have to bite the bullet and do sometimes.

What We Love
I’d be misleading you if I didn’t include this one. Every so often there is a feature that we really love so we add it. Sometimes these turn out to be the things everyone wanted but didn’t know they needed. Other times they are that feature that makes everyone wonders if maybe there is something in the water over here in Ann Arbor. Most features get added for the other reasons I listed but this one does come up every so often.

So there you have it. A few of the big things that we look at as we add new features to our products. Not a comprehensive list since there are LOTS of ways a feature could end up in the product, but a good descriptions of the major ones.

And don’t forget the first thing I posted! We take requests VERY seriously so send them our way! (Or post in a comment here even! We’re listening!)

11 thoughts on “Where’s my template editor?!?

  1. spmwinkel

    Well I think people who make a lot of noise if their request isn’t implemented at a certain point of time, are just wasting time and effort. If they don’t like the software, they just don’t pay for it. The reason one purchased software in the first place is because of the features that a program has at the time of purchase. Every feature that is added in a free upgrade is a gift to the user, and every feature that is added in a non-free update is a point where the user can decide again if he/she thinks the new features are worth the update price.

    Unfortunately the few users that make a lot of noise are very visible, but you should be able to see from the sales administration that there are always many more happy customers. ;)
    So keep up the great job!

  2. Brandon

    Out of curiosity … why would you not be allowed to place changing user files in the program files directory??!! Seems a little odd.

  3. Marc Post author

    “Out of curiosity … why would you not be allowed to place changing user files in the program files directory??!! Seems a little odd. ”

    You’d need to ask MS about that one. While there is no “official” word on this yet, what we’re getting is that with future versions of the OS’s any sort of ‘user edited’ files in the program directory will become a no-no. We’ve been strongly encouraged to make these changes.

  4. Kay

    I’m not that much into MSFT programming practices and I hardly ever use MSDN for anything unrelated to Sidebar / Active Desktop technology, but I think the reason they want this to be that way is simple:

    If you upgrade your system, Windows (XP, Vista, CE 5.0, CE 6.0) you’re very likely to backup your “My Documents” (or just “Documents” on Vista), but chances are that you’ll forget about the files somewhere deep within %PROGRAMFILES%, I know I have, in fact, the reason why I use multiple partitions (or memory cards with mobile handsets) is that I want to keep myself from accidentally deleting important files.

    MSFT’s System Restore Points also omits any personal files and only saves application related data.

    All in all, I think MSFT is just essentializing their way of storing data. One example would be Vista’s User directory (compared to “My Documents” in earlier versions):

    The directory name is shorter, no space, it’s easier to manipulate via scripts that way and it’s in the root of your system drive, not in some obscure directory.

    Take this with a grain of salt though, this is just what I think MSFT is doing, I might be totally wrong about it all.

  5. Doug

    I always find it very interesting to hear how developers decide which options will go into a new update and which ones will not, or will be shelved for a future release. Thanks. I am also happy to see how much weight you put on user feedback and requests.

    Since your e-wallet 5 Beta was such a success, I hope we will see many more such efforts from Ilium.

    Keep up the great work!!

    Doug

  6. Taccy

    Thanks for this, it’s good to see both the process you follow, and your honesty (as in adding the stuff you want).

    One way to reduce undue criticism for upgrades migh be to provide some way that the users (us) could see what has been requested. I don’t mean this to imply any sort of definite updates on your part, merely some of the suggestions that users have offered.

    For example I suggested that it would help me if Listpro could save a list of filter setups to quickly arrange the data in a single click. If I could see that I was the only person to think that this would be good, then I can understand that any chances of it happening are unrealistic. Additionally if there was some sort of request list, I am sure that there will be suggestions form others that will make me think, ‘wow, that would really help, I’d like that too, in fact more so than my own suggestion”.

  7. Marc Post author

    I like the idea of a “request list” that people can see and maybe cast votes on. I’ll have to think about that one!

    And Doug, you can count on many more beta programs. We were thrilled with the success of this one and hope to do more of the same.

  8. John M

    A request list sounds like a good idea. I generally take advantage of upgrades, free or otherwise, because I find changes that I didn’t know I needed. I wish that other software vendors gave the same level of support as Ilium. Keep it up.

  9. Bernie R

    Request Lists are great, we’ve all seen many a Forum dedicated to upgrade or feature requests for next versions.

    What you dont see often is much feedback from the companys that are developing the software these lists and/or forums are dedicated to.

    Its interesting to hear when a software company is responding to such requests. As a user, its always refreshing to get some sort of feedback, when you take the time to make a suggestion about a piece of software you use all the time.

  10. Dominic

    This is an impressive post. You guys are right on top of things and this explains why the software is so useful. The list is a good idea.

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