From Program to Product: Turning code into a saleable product

Author:  Rocky Smolin
Publisher: Apress, 2008
Pages: 218
ISBN: 978-1590599716
Aimed at: Impossible to tell
Rating: 1
Pros: It's short
Cons: It's terrible
Reviewed by: Dave Wheeler

Occasionally, books come along which have the potential to be very interesting, and this was one of them. Claiming to provide a roadmap for people who have a great idea for a piece of software and who want to get it to market, and written by an independent developer who's been writing and marketing software for nigh on 40 years, it could have been great. Unfortunately, it was complete drivel.

From laughable sections on choosing fonts and colours that completely fly in the face of every known design guideline, through to recommending that the way to handle customised versions of software is to hard-code conditional statements based on the name of the customer, the technical aspects of this book are woeful. Smolin is a former DOS programmer who has moved on to Access (a perfectly reasonable platform for smaller-scale applications, I hasten to add). Unfortunately, whilst the book is supposed to be generic in nature, it is his incredibly blinkered view on using Access that makes at least half the book worthless.

You also know that you're in trouble when the first steps of the roadmap discuss how to become a system analyst (badly) and guidance on normalising databases (again, badly), rather than on how you should establish whether a market might actually exist for your product and how to establish the legal protection that you will need to survive. Thus the book starts out by attempting to teach you what you already know, rather than present the core information that many developers need: how to set up a business, plan for marketing and sales, and so forth. Smolin obviously hates writing - confirmed by the constant references to wanting to commit suicide when writing the user manual for his own product - and it shows. Punctuation and grammar seem to have been added as an afterthought, with the standard of written English being exceptionally poor.

One aspect of the book looked very interesting: Smolin interviews a number of other "lone ranger" software developers about their experiences. Unfortunately, these interviews all tend to go the same way, with Smolin asking about which version of Access they used; how they came up with a price; did they use copy protection; and then how much trouble they found writing the manual. This effectively stifles the useful information that these developers could have brought to the party.

What's deeply frustrating is that I felt that Smolin could have written a really good book on a subject of interest to many developers, myself included, who have considered commercialising their ideas. He touches on whole ranges of issues that are important, but the writing and structure is so poor, the technical content so weak and the level of detail so shallow, that the book would have been better if it had been nothing more than a four- or five-page list of bullet points that you should consider before moving on to become a "lone ranger" developer.

Smolin's clearly been there, done it and got the t-shirt to prove it. Unfortunately, he can't communicate it.  Avoid this book.

<Reviewed in VSJ>