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June 16, 2005

Micro-ISV Tip #3: When the going gets tough, the tough get virtual

I had occasion yesterday to interview Kevin Epstein, VMWare’s Vice President for marketing at one of their developer seminars, and he had some interesting advice for micro-ISVs trying to manage how they test: go virtual.

“I would argue that VMWare is one of those critical pieces of software for a startup, precisely because it allows you to use the resources of a much larger company without actually deploying those physical resources,” said Epstein.

Virtualization software lets you make something that looks, acts and breaks your app just like a real PC, only its all within a program. You define a new virtual machine, load the operating system, and treat it just as if it were a real pc, but its just a very large file that runs when you need it.

“If I’m a single guy in a garage, with two solid server machines, and I’m trying to develop a multi-tier app and test it against 10 clients, I don’t have the physical resources to do that. But if I choose to deploy all those resources within a set of virtual machines, I could create that infrastructure within the confines of a single physical machine, and still have leftover workspace.”

Besides saving hardware costs, using virtualization saves time: “Instead of developing something, testing something and finding it doesn’t work and having to wipe the entire system and start over. Even if I backed it up, it’s still several hours time.” Epstein said. “With VMWare, I just hit reset, and I’m back to a clean state.”

While there are other virtual machine (vm) packages out there, notably Microsoft’s Virtual PC, VMWare’s Workstation 5 ($189 USD per developer) has them beat hands down, especially if you are a micro-ISV. Here’s a couple of typical micro-ISV problems VMWare solves with a set of virtual machines at your beck and call:

* Installer woes. You’ve built your app, only to have installer problems drive you crazy and cost you sales. You can open a running virtual Win XP PC, run the installer, see it breaking and reset in a matter of a few minutes.

* DLL Hell. Your app starts dying an ugly death and your bug list starts blossoming because someone else did a crappy job on their installer. Starting with a working vm, you run the offending party’s trial app, see the error in their ways and create a patch for your program that fixes the problem.

* Testing your web based app or for that matter your web site. You develop a ASP app that breaks if and only if it runs on the next to last version of IIS and the user has last month’s version of Firefox. You open up Workstation 5, start a vm server and a couple of different vm clients, all on the same box. You decide if they’re isolated from your real network, or part of it.

What do you need to run Workstation 5? From my own experience, a virtual Windows XP PC runs as fast or faster than a physical PC on a notebook PC with a Intel® Pentium® M processor 750and 1GB of PC2700 DDR RAM.

The key factor is memory: “Good, high-speed RAM and lots of it”, added Epstein. “With a lot of RAM, you can build things that will work faster and better in virtual space than in physical space.”

You can download a 30-day trial of VMWare Workstation 5 from their site, http://vmware.com, but keep your $189 in your pocket for now; because the company has just started offering a much sweeter deal, especially for micro-ISVs. For $299 a year per developer, you can get a VMTN Subscription that gives you all of VMWare’s products, including their virtualization servers, image file to vm and physical to vm tools which are way out of the budget for most micro-ISVs.

The extra hundred bucks means you can do things for development and testing purposes like create a set of vms with your choice of automated testing apps and automate the automation of them, make – or have your customer make and send you on a dvd – a vm of their exact physical pc for you to test and more.

“It’s the same thing as if you had a room full of physical machines, with someone walking around, turning one on, starting tests, waiting for results to compile and stopping tests. But instead of physically turning them on, the API is doing all the work for you.” Epstein added.

June 03, 2005

MicroISV Tip #2: Your tax dollars at work

I had occasion yesterday to interview Teri Takahashi, Training Manager of the Florida Atlantic University Small Business Development Center (FAUSBDC, and you thought computer acronyms were bad!), and she had some advice for micro-ISVs worth passing on.

FAUSBDC offers 450 classes and clinics a year, the vast majority for free, for startup businesspeople in the areas of business planning, marketing, financing, accounting, bookkeeping, taxes, import/export disaster recovery and more. The classes – typically 2 to 4 hours, the most expensive of which is $100 – then get followed up with one-on-one mentoring between the startupee and SBDC staff, for free.

For example, FAUSBDC has a business plan clinic: “Its four hours, in which you get your template started, what is a business plan and why do I want one type of thing” Takahashi said. “We don’t do extensive training, our training is 2 to 4 hours and that it: A one shot deal, you come in and you’re done. Our training seminars are set up so you get good information in as short a time as possible, then we encourage you to follow that up with one-on-one consulting consulting forever, for as long as you want.

“Say you come in and come to the Introduction to Business Plans seminar. After you go there, you get a good, basic idea of what you need to do, then you come in and work with somebody one on one. Its always free, we’re the federal government.”

Your tax dollars at work? “Definitely. Your tax dollars at work.” She emphatically added.

FAUSBDC is part of a network of federally funded Small Business Development Centers (SBDC). They all offer classes for people who want to start their own business, and most offer one to one mentoring as well.

While the SBDC near you will be clueless regarding the ins and outs of programming, they know a lot about the business side of being in business, and also can give you some objective advice on whether you really are the type of person who can start a business or would be better off staying within the structure of an existing company.

To find the SBDC near you (and there is one, believe me) at the America’s Small Business Development Center Network site at http://asbdc-us.org/ and click on “Lead Centers” at the top. Definitely have a look at the FastTrac link, especially the FastTrac Tech info. Matter of fact, there are a lot of interesting to micro-ISV links there.

A P.S. for the suspicious: I am in no way (other than paying taxes) affiliated with the federal government.

If you found this post to be useful, please let me know

June 01, 2005

Work Eat, Eat Work

Just a very short note to say that version 1.06 of MasterList Professional should be available for download about this time next week. I had really wanted to get this out by today, but 2 factors got in the way: need to get a lot of contract work completed, and had a brainstorm (see Prioritizer below) that both solves some lingering problems with custom sort and gives you a much better way to whipping your tasks into the right order to get them done.

1.06 highlights:
- Working Outlook task integration when Outlook is the front end for Microsoft Exchange Server.
- The Prioritizer Tool, for quickly planning the order tasks are done in a project or your Current list.
- Trail period changed to 45 days.

If you own MasterList Professional now, in about a week when you open MLP you should see a dialog giving you the option to install the update.

Thanks for your continued support, it really means a lot to me.


  • Who?
    Bob Walsh, (Author, managing partner of Safari Software, Inc. a micro-ISV)
    Exploring the intersection between Getting Things Done and building a micro-ISV.
    Live from Sonoma, California USA.
    Once or so a workday.
    Because there's a way to get everything done, I just know there is!
    Micro Internet Software Vendor, a self-funded startup company: See mymicroisv.com for information and resources.


  • Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality
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