In Part 1 of Xojo: The Best Secret in the Programming Industry we talked about some of the capabilities of Xojo and why it’s such a great software development tool. We finished it with the question on why isn’t Xojo more well known? If it’s such a good development tool why doesn’t everyone know about it? There are no easy answers to this but I’ll identify some of areas of concern.
Entrenched IT Departments
The first issue is the BASIC language. Xojo uses a form of the basic language. However, it’s nothing like the gwbasic many programmers learned in high school. It is a highly evolved, object-oriented language that happens to use a form of basic as the syntax. Unlike other forms of basic, Xojo compiles down into a self contained executable needing no outside libraries. It is not an interpreted language. It’s not a ‘toy’ language.
Yet, the stigma of Basic still persists. I think in many cases it’s because Basic is very approachable for new developers. Many of these developers are not programmers by education and are coming at the language to get something done. If you’re trying to introduce Xojo to your corporate IT department filled with programmers, that have spent thousands of dollars on their eduction, Xojo doesn’t fit any of the checkboxes of any of the current, hot, and yet soon-to-be-obsolete development tools they’ve learned.
From my own personal experience we had a Xojo app working as a prototype, proof-of-concept application, for a big Fortune 100 company. Their IT department laughed at it and then turned around and told the project owner that it would take them TWO YEARS to start working it (they were busy after all) and they estimated another two years of development time. Um…with Xojo our small five person team spent under a year on it starting from scratch and got it mostly working! But that didn’t matter. Never underestimate the power of entrenched IT departments.
And, much like in the Visual Basic 6 era, just because you can create a very useful application with the tool doesn’t mean that it is a great application that adheres to all of the modern principles. Simply put, just because it’s easy doesn’t mean anybody can magically create a great application. Software development takes some skill and some discipline to make a good application and sometimes beginning programmers don’t know any better (regardless of platform).
Who Is Their Market?
Honestly, I have no idea who Xojo markets to. I’ve used the term hobbyist in the past but Xojo prefers the term ‘Citizen Developer’. Whatever. I think we’re talking about the same crowd. They’re people that aren’t necessarily getting paid to develop software or it’s not their primary function in their job. While, I don’t have a problem with getting more of these types of people into the community but what I really want are the enterprise users.
The trick in either the citizen or enterprise developer is how do you reach them? In years past you could do some advertising in magazines but that market has gone to the web so it’s much harder to identify and advertise. What is Xamarin and the other cross platform tools doing to advertise?
Here are a few ideas: What about sponsoring a podcast or webcast that business owners or developers listen to? It seems like there’s a podcast for everything these days but the trick is to identify a podcast that might have a lot of listeners that fit the ‘citizen developer’ model.
The Raspberry Pi has some interesting possibilities and, I think, fits with Xojo very well. When Remote Debugging is completed this makes Xojo an excellent choice for the platform. I would think there is a number of marketing opportunities that open up from magazines to podcasts to websites that do nothing but talk about the mini computer. I imagine a ‘show us your Xojo Raspberry Pi application’ contest.
One of my new developers discovered Xojo as part of a software bundle from a number of years ago. It’s a long gestation period but giving out a free single platform license every couple of years does seem to grow the user base. This is anecdotal evidence, of course, but it makes sense to me. When the programming industry got started what you used at work became what you used at home. The flip side could also be true: if you start with a really good tool as a youngster you might end up using it later to get stuff done.
Many of our clients ask about Xojo and ask if I think they’ll be around in five years. For a company that’s been around for twenty years already that seems like a silly question but perhaps Xojo needs to use that as a marketing point. They’ve been around longer than most of the current, hot, software development languages and tools. I doubt they’re going away any time soon.
Third Party Tools
This one is near and dear to my heart because this issue has been around since I started with Xojo fifteen years ago. The Xojo community is small and there is not a big community of developers writing add-ons for it. There are tools for almost anything you want that range from free to commercially supported. The difference is that not all third party tools are supported equally and some developers aren’t exactly quick to support their products. Some developers look at Xojo and are scared away by the lack of third party components.
On the flip side, developers don’t write add-ons for Xojo because the market is small. We, BKeeney Software, have developed several components and can tell you that we couldn’t survive on component sales – a vast majority of our income is from consulting. We cheat and spend a lot of time on those components that we use ourselves. Either way we win. It’s either a competitive edge when bidding on projects or we make a little extra cash with sales to other developers.
I don’t feel that Xojo does a very good job of promoting third party products. They do sell some of those products through their web store but there are no previews, no demo’s, screenshots, or anything, to tell you how good those products are. There’s no way to link to the developers website, how long the product has been around, or when it was last updated.
I would love to get my products in front of more eyeballs. The store in its current form isn’t doing it. I would also gladly pay to promote some of my products (like our reporting tool) that I think many Xojo developers might find useful. Even better, I’d love to create a lite, free version, that could be bundled with Xojo. Sure, it’s a bit more work right now, but in six months or year, some of the people using the lite version might buy the full version.
Currently Xojo has the ability to use plugins written in C++ and there are some incredibly useful plugins out there. We own most of them because they save time and money on many projects. Xojo has announced that sometime in 2017 users will have the ability to create plugins within the IDE using Xojo itself. This has the potential of really growing the market but until it’s in our hands we won’t know for sure. This is a critical component in 2017 for Xojo to help foster the third party market. Hopefully Xojo helps promote them too in such a way that’s a win-win for both Xojo and the developer.
No Books/Lack of Training Material
One issue that some people have with adopting Xojo is that you can’t go to Amazon and find a Xojo book. There are some older REALbasic and Real Studio books but mostly they’re out of date (though still valid for much of the language). We, BKeeney Software, offer video training and we have about 65 hours of video that has some Real Studio material in it as well. The name change to Xojo from Real Studio and REALbasic hasn’t help them in that regard and it will get better over time.
Another issue is that Xojo is on a ninety day release cycle. It means that if I write a book that is completely valid today in three months there is a good chance part of it becomes obsolete. Every ninety days Xojo adds something, changes something, and fixes bugs. There is no way a printed book ever stays up to date.
If you’re looking for written material I’d look at www.xojolibrary.com as the topics tend to be narrowly focused on a specific topic.
I’ve thought about writing a book on database programming using Xojo. I even have an outline and some chapters fleshed out complete with code examples. But, since I know the new Xojo framework changes many aspects of Xojo it’s not worth it to complete the book. Why write it now and have to rewrite most of it when the new framework comes out? The community is small and the number of people that would be willing to write a book is even smaller. I think to get a book into Amazon and other books sellers Xojo is going to have to commission a book to give an author an incentive to complete it.
Competitive Advantage/Keep it Secret!
There are some people that are using Xojo and making a great living selling their Xojo-made applications. They’re just not vocal about it. I’ve heard clients tell me they don’t want their competitors to know they use Xojo because they feel it’s a ‘competitive advantage’. It takes them about a quarter of the time to put out a new version that their competitor (who is using more ‘traditional’ programming tools) can do. That means more sales to them.
I get it. Remember my story about the working prototype that the IT department laughed at? It’s five years later and to the best of my knowledge the project was never started. Imagine how they’d be feeling now if that Xojo prototype project had gone into product? The project owner would be a flipping hero for solving the problem quickly for far less money than they could do it internally.
They’re not Apple or Microsoft
Xcode is the standard bearer for macOS and iOS development. Apple is tight lipped on many of their new technologies so a third party developer like Xojo finds out at the same time the public does on new API’s and technologies. Likewise, Visual Studio is Microsoft’s preferred development tool and while they’re not as forward thinking and don’t obsolete older technologies nearly as much as Apple they do introduce new technologies at a fast pace. There is simply no way for Xojo to keep up with either of them.
This might be one of the biggest drawbacks to Xojo. Because they have to be reactive to the whims of Apple and Microsoft they are always late to the party. It took Xojo a few months to quickly deprecate QuickTime from Xojo because Apple deprecated it and shortly afterwards started rejecting applications from the Mac App Store that used QuickTime. I think they did admirably in that situation but what’s the next bombshell? That the Mac lineup is moving to the ARM processor?
At their developers conference last month they told us about a new feature called Interops that, at least for macOS and iOS, and Linux, make future platform changes easier to transition to. However, there’s no guarantee that something else won’t change in the future that causes Xojo to play major catch up.
It’s truly a shame that Xojo isn’t more well known. It’s a great tool that accomplishes a lot of things that other development tools don’t even try to do. I think the community is getting larger and one would hope that there is some tipping point where Xojo becomes synonymous with cross-platform programming. It has some extremely important deadlines to meet in 2017 to keep the platform moving forward.
Did I miss any reasons why Xojo isn’t more well known?