Stealth Player Development

My MicroISV. Where software development and pornography collide...

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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Beta 2 Update – So Much to Say

I’m not a planner. I usually have a good idea of what’s coming next but to me making plans lead to expectations, which inevitably leads to disappointment. I like to be more flexible.

With the release of Stealth Player Beta 2, I’ve come to the realization that I must do something drastic, something that was not planned. This round of beta testing attracted far more users, activity, and issues. Feedback for the Beta 2 has been excellent (as in lots of it), but not always positive. The UI seems to be the sticking point. Not just the way it looks, but the way it flows. It’s too busy and odd.

Two things to say about the UI:
- A typical Window’s UI would seem too sterile for this app. I needed something sexy.
- I’m not a UI expert.

Some advice to others (based on what I now know):
- Use a standard Window’s UI if possible.
- If not possible, seek HELP.
- Simplify, Simplify, Simplify.
- Buy icons stock or custom (I prefer .png format)

In my case, help is Delicious Library (beta tester’s suggestion) and iTunes. I consider both these interfaces sexy and Delicious Library has won usability awards for its UI. So instead of hiring a graphics designer at this point, I’m going to emulate these great UIs and start from scratch.

Starting Over:
It’s not as bad as it sounds. The Beta 1 was basically an over done prototype and Beta 2 was a refinement of that. There was a complete lack of coherent design and the code was starting to get sloppy. Starting over allowed me to isolate the patterns I was using and boil them down to reusable templates.

The fact that I’ve gotten a lot done in very little time is a good indication that I’m heading the right direction. The multi-threading logic is simplified greatly thanks to the fact that I finally found out how to treat events in VB.NET more like you can in C#. If you’re looking to call properties and methods of the event (like you can in C#) just add “Event” to the end of the event name and voila! Did you know that? I didn’t. I just always assumed it was a limitation of VB.NET.

Outstanding issues:
Regardless of the new development there are outstanding issues that need to be addressed. These are:
- Proxy Servers: seem to cause a problem with the Web Service connection…Still looking for a good solution that doesn’t require user intervention. There’s a new article on MSDN about this, I just need to read it.
- Getting MAC Address: I need to find a reliable way to get MAC Address. One user has an issue with the way Stealth Player is getting it now (screen scrape from nbstat). The user has nbstat on the computer and it’s on path, so I need to look into this further.
- No Video: User reports that images work fine, but video causes Stealth Player to freeze. I'll be changing the way Stealth Player plays video, so I hope that will fix the issue.

Interesting Download Stats:
Since the beginning of Beta 2 my web site and web service have been tracking many statistics. Here’s some info I’ve been collecting per visitor:
- OS
- .Net Installation
- LicenseID – Gets populated when the user downloads.
- Registered – This happens when the user registers the product key.

From these fields I can start to answer the following important question. Do users without .Net installed download but NOT install Stealth Player at a rate higher than those who already have .NET? When Stealth Player is installed it will go through a prerequisite installation. If the user doesn’t have .NET then it gets downloaded and installed…many people think this turns users away.

Here are the results so far:
- 65% of users who did not have .NET installed completed the installation of Stealth Player and registered.
- 40% of users who did have .NET installed completed the installation of Stealth Player and registered.

While the sample size is small, the size both groups are nearly the same. Here’s another interesting stat:
- 35% of users with XP have a version of .NET installed already.
- 65% (the rest of the group) don’t.

What it all means:
To me this means that .NET installation is not a deterrent and that more .NET installations are starting to reach XP users through MS auto update. Good news for .NET MicroISV’s.

The “plan” as it stands now:
The new UI should be done by the begging of next week. Unfortunately, I’m at the mercy of a graphics vendor that doesn’t seem to want my money right now. I need their icons in order to finish on time.

After this release, I plan to force the product into production quickly.

I keep telling myself, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. Realistically, while I enjoy the challenges of the journey, I need to get to my destination soon.