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Shrink-wrap Development

I’ve been developing shrink-wrap software for a little of 6 years now. In that time I’ve come to learn the true meaning of being “alone in a crowded room”. There are thousands and thousands of developers out there. However, if I manage to meet more than one shrink-wrap software developer in a year, it’s a miracle.

This fact alone makes development of shrink-wrapped software one of the most difficult tasks in the software industry. We lack any true source of information, assistance, or community. When most developers have a problem, they post a question to a newsgroup and quickly receive an answer. When I post a question to a newsgroup I’ll be lucky if anyone even understands the question, let alone have an answer.

One good example came up recently. We are investigating changing the database we use for out flagship application. The current system we use has some very convoluted (and expensive) licensing issues. It seemed obvious that taking a look at Microsoft SQL Server (really, the free MSDE product) would be worth some time.

We had a number of questions that came up (how do we handle schema changes, how can we automate deployment, etc) that are never asked in the internal development sector. All of the documentation and all of the books available are only geared to the internal developers (or occasionally the web developers). The problem is, I don’t care how John Hancock or BMI handles a schema change, I care how Intuit handles a schema change.

What I would like to see is a shrink-wrap software community. A place (website) where developers that work on shrink-wrapped software packages can share experience, ideas, and solutions. While someone rightly pointed out that only 10% of the industry fall into this category, it is still a heck of a lot of people….

And Joel, yet again you hit the nail on the head. So far you are the only one I’ve found that writes worth while articles for us shrink-geeks.

Marc LaFleur
Tuesday, May 7, 2002

You could always start your own shrink-wrap developers community site. It really doesn't cost much to get a web site off the ground.

The problem you've got is that of all the development 'worlds', shrink-wrap developers are probably the ones least likely to be able to talk freely about issues.

If Intuit has worked out a great way to handle schema changes, it becomes part of their competitive advantage. Why would they pass that information on to anyone else? If their competitors get the information for free, Intuit has lost that advantage. At the least, they would want to force their competitors have to spend thousands of dollars and lose 6 months of R&D time to catch up with them.

The other problem is that shrink-wrap companies don't want their developers making them look like they don't know what they're doing. If developers from Intuit, for example, start asking questions in an open forum about the best way to implement web security, it gives the impression that they don't have any knowledge or expertise in that field. That might hurt their reputation and their product's sales.

Darren Collins
Tuesday, May 7, 2002

The obvious solution being to post anonymously when you don't want people to know which company you work for.


Adrian Gilby
Wednesday, May 8, 2002

In my experience, there's just not that much shrink-wrap software getting written... and certainly not much *good* shrink-wrap software.  At least in my area (Washington DC) it's all "custom business applications", be they web apps or native ones.  As Joel pointed out, some people might call these things "products", but they're not to me.  They're also generally not very "good", as I believe Joel's article also observed.

What a drag.  After nearly ten years of this expensive semi-custom software thing, I've never gotten 10% of the satisfaction I got from having a fairly successful shareware product a few years ago.  I'm dying to work on a real consumer product and there's none around me.  Sucks.

Scott Evans
Wednesday, May 8, 2002

(er, and the point of my post was to say hey, that's why there's probably not many people for you to meet... I just ended up in that digression since we were mid-death march, well into a 15+ hour day.  ow.)

Another point... though there's not a lot of big commercial shrinkwrap development, there's a *lot* of polished, stable, "real" shareware (or sell-from-home-ware) out there.  The new shrinkwrap, perhaps.  Though you'll never meet those folks at trade shows or in software methodology discussion groups.  Ah, the beauty of the 1-3 person product team.

Scott Evans
Wednesday, May 8, 2002

anyone else write embedded control systems for industrial shrink wrapping machines? is there an online forum for this?

Friday, May 10, 2002

<<though there's not a lot of big commercial shrinkwrap development, there's a *lot* of polished, stable, "real" shareware (or sell-from-home-ware) out there. The new shrinkwrap, perhaps. Though you'll never meet those folks at trade shows or in software methodology discussion groups.>>

Scott, by "software methodology discussion groups", do you mean to include this one? This of is one of those groups right?

Just curious -- am I the exception to this 'never' rule, surely not the only one here? Actually I had sort of assumed that a lot of people here were selling or in control of their own products because of the nature of the discussion board... aren't most of us in the same general corner as Joel and that's why we're here?

Anyway, you may be right about the 'new shrinkware' -- seems like a lot of good niche software out there is made by 1-3 people. And not all of us are competitively restricted by the Big Corp. since there is no Big Corp. Also few of us making these sorts of things even compete with each other at all since we make different things. As for myself, I keep up regular friendly email contact and 'share secrets' (some but not all) with my two 'most threatening competitors' as the benefits outweight the disadvantages in my opinion.

X. J. Scott
Tuesday, May 14, 2002

WHY are most programmers custom developers, vs shrinkwrap developers?

That seems to indicate a general shift in the SW community.  Why is that?

1.  Solutions must be custom.  I.e., solution for Albertson's won't work for Safeway.  And do they each need a different kind of concrete for thier buildings?  I don't think this it the true reason, although they may THINK it is.

2. Poor marketing/business skills on the part of the developers.
  Rather than trying to pre-develop a solution and sell it to Albertson's AND Safeway, developers just wait for Albertson's to request a solution and they build on for only Albertsons.

3.  Companies believe they can do it better if they do it in house, so it matches thier business practices better.

4. Shrinkwrap solutions are done so poorly, that they can't solve ANY problems.

Thought anyone?


Clay Nichols
Monday, June 2, 2003

Hi Everyone,

  As I test and develop a bit, and it is often that I am required to write papers on technical issues. A good way to start off a topic, regardless of assumed audience,  is to define the topic. 

I am not a member of the "shrink Wrap" software community and recently had a question posed to me concerning: "shrink wrap" as in  "what is shrink wrap SW ?". 

My answer, "damned if  I know"  ....

live and learn ....  so off to the wonderul information woprld or WWW to search for Deming like "Profound Wisdom" on shrink Wrap ...

I came to this website hoping to find out more about it.  Interesting enough no-one has defined shrink wrap although the answers give some insight ...

So does anyone want to help ...

q1.) how would you define: "shrink wrap".

q2.)  Also how do you contrast shrink wrap with Application Service software, if any  ..  and what would you say are a couple of diffences between the approach you would take in testing the two ?

By the way these questions purportedly came from a job screening questionaire from industry and my friend, thought I might be able to help . Which as you can see .. not much help at all ..

Now he has me going  ...

  Good thing UCSD  didn't ask me  what is "shrink wrap" technology before I could be admitted ...  I might never have gotten anywhere ... ... maybe i didn't ...

By the way, it sounds like "shrink wrappers" are in a pseudo isolated world .. partially due to industrial proprietary interests and concerns ...

  I can relate, I worked a couple of years in "Black Box" environement with a commercial company developing SW for a military concern  .. discovery that you had discussed outside of the company any design or analysis method, architecture, algorithm or language, method of test, goal of the SW or HW used, etc... would at best cost you your job, and possibly land you in jail ...

Try getting support with that limitation ...

Good luck .... and appreciatively

--- mike

mike durrigan
Saturday, April 3, 2004

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