Thoughts on the Formatted Text Control Acquisition

It’s been a busy couple of weeks around BKeeney Software world headquarters.  Besides our normal (read: hectic) Real Studio consulting work we recently acquired the Formatted Text Control (and various and associated  Real Studio projects and products) from True North Software.

There has been some speculation on the reasons why True North Software sold their Real Studio assets and on why we purchased them.  I will attempt to briefly summarize what I know and offer some commentary.

Brendan Murphy, owner of True North Software, told me that the company is moving in a new direction with consumer software.  This doesn’t necessarily preclude using Real Studio, but since he’s focusing exclusively on the Mac App Store he has no need for cross-platform support and therefore Real Studio is not fitting his needs.  xCode might be harder to learn but it has more Cocoa goodies for now and the foreseeable future.  Developer products just don’t fit into his future business model.

I am speculating that the apps that True North Software has released on the Mac App Store are more profitable then developing and maintaining Real Studio controls.  At the end of the day a business needs to have adequate cash flow and income to survive.

People ask me why there aren’t more third party products for Real Studio and there is no one answer but I’ll give several explanations.  The first is that the Real Studio market isn’t as big as .NET or Java or even xCode.  This alone, I feel, prevents many developers from attempting to get into the market as there are only so many people that could buy your product.

The second half of that equation is that even if you do get it to market there is a strong resistance to buying any third party products.  Seriously, go to the forums and you’ll see people bemoaning the fact that Real Studio is missing some (what they consider) key elements and yet they don’t want to purchase plugins or other third party code.  Those are two very big negatives for getting into the market.

The next issue is that Real Software, in my opinion, is not very friendly to third party developers.  You can’t add anything to enhance the IDE except IDE scripts.  Fine, but then they’re not exceptionally friendly to plugin developers for a variety of reasons.  The biggest one is poor documentation on how to create plugins and certainly no guidelines on how to create native cross-platform controls.  The IDE doesn’t manage plugins very well (either in a folder or not when Real Studio is started) and there is absolutely no version control on the plugins.  Projects don’t track which plugins they require so if you’re missing a plugin hopefully you can figure it out.  There is also no way to register and validate third party classes and controls so it’s up to each developer to implement a serial number system.  I don’t know for sure but I suspect that piracy is fairly common in the Real Studio world.

Real Software does throw third party developers a small bone by offering to sell their products in the Real Software web store.  The exposure is nice and it does make it easier for larger corporations to buy products (only 1 purchase order/invoice to get past supervisors) but the percentage take by Real Software for each sale is large.  I’m not allowed to tell you how much – it’s in the contract.  Let’s just say look at my product prices on the Real Software web store and look at them on my own webstore.  But, I digress.

So the incentive was there for True North to exit the Real Studio developer market.  And that’s how we came into the picture.  We’ve used the Formatted Text Control since before the first official release.  I can’t tell you how many commercial consulting projects we’ve used it in and we’ve been into the bowels of the source code offering code back to True North as we came across bugs and when we changed things to make our projects work better for our clients.

We are primarily a Real Studio consulting company and we obviously do more than just consulting.  We recently released our Calendar Control classes for Real Studio that gives developers a nice full-featured calendar like iCal (now Calendar in Mountain Lion) and Outlook.  Formatted Text Control and the Spell Check Utilities plugin fit in nicely in our new Real Studio Developer products category.

If nothing else, we will continue to enhance Formatted Text Control to meet our needs in ongoing and future projects.  Our ideas alone could propel us to several new versions.  We look forward to adding more documentation, example projects, tutorials, videos and the like in the upcoming weeks and months.  If you have features you’d like to see, please feel free to send them to us!

Anyway, I hope that clears up a few things.  It probably creates a few more questions so ask away!

27 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Formatted Text Control Acquisition

  1. Bob, I have some ideas for FTC but since i am new to it, I want to use it a little more before opening my mouth. I think you and your team will do wonders with it.

    Thanks!

  2. “but the percentage take by Real Software for each sale is large.”

    I’ve been using Real Studio for a couple of years and this is probably the most nonsensical thing I have come across in the REAL world. I own most RB 3rd party offerings, but I can tell you the Real Basic Third Party ecosystem is a weird collection of abandoned websites, dirt cheap controls, and blogs and controls that haven’t been updated in years. Extremely discouraging, easily the most backward, developer-adverse, Tools resource system I have ever come across. I go to other similar products offerings like PowerBasic, QT, Delphi, etc… and I see these incredibly rich third party lists of available tools. Why in the World RS would sock it to the developers just because they offer it in their store? How much could that cost them? Seems like they would want to encourage as much 3rd party development as possible instead of trying to take a cut of the Pie.

    This is a real head scratcher.

  3. First, let me say there is an obvious reason why the market for plugins is is smaller than might be expected from the RS installed base…

    That is a lot of users are like me… They don’t make money from REALStudio (well in my case in over a decade less than the cost of an enterprise license) …

    I have been mostly current with RB/RS since version 3, and I deployed apps for other’s use at work (both desktop and more recently web) … But that has never been in my job description and I use my own license for it… I guess I could guess I could be called a “prosumer”.. I’m a bit more than a hobbyist since I code and deploy for others use at work occasionally but far from an IT pro.

    When you don’t make money from it, paying to keep current with RS as well as plugins becomes prohibitive very quickly.

    (BTW there are times I wish I could make good living from RS … jobs in my field, particularly as one gets older get very hard to find and keep these days)

    Merv :
    “but the percentage take by Real Software for each sale is large.”
    Seems like they would want to encourage as much 3rd party development as possible instead of trying to take a cut of the Pie.

    It seems to me RS may be of two minds (even if unconsciously) about plug-ins 3rd party stuff … the more there are the less flexibility they have to make changes to how things work under the hood without many more people howling because their plugins/encrypted classes stop working.

    Being able to have plugins is important (not the least of which is for marketing), but complicates things for them and so not a primary consideration.

  4. I’m in pretty much the same boat as Karen and will need to look for a change in career fairly soon, so I know how she feels. I also do my web page with RapidWeaver, and the biggest advantage of using RapidWeaver over others is the large amount of cheap third-party plug-ins which enable you to do amazing things.

  5. Certainly part of the issue with a third party market is that RS would have to give up some control which is not something they are keen to do. If they want more of an ecosystem they need to create the foundation for it.

    At Real World they talked about the ability to create Custom Controls for Web Edition (which was cool) but there was nothing (that I remember) for desktop apps or the IDE.

    In the R1 beta they’ve reworked some of the plugin structure to make them ‘safer’ to work with. I guess plugin authors could do some ‘bad things’ under the hood (manipulating strings? don’t remember the details) so they’re taking steps to make them better, so this might be a step in right direction.

    One can only hope that they’ll add some hooks into the new IDE that would allow some commercialized add-ons. Not holding my breath but that would be really nice. I can’t remember how many times I downloaded MZ-Tools in my VB6 days.

  6. @Merv
    If folks are abandoning their Real Studio products I would encourage them to talk to me! I would entertain the idea of purchasing the rights and source code for the products. Hopefully I can keep some of those products in the community.

  7. Bob,
    First of all, my sincerely congratulations for acquiring these excellent controls! I hope and trust that You will be able to continue the development of FTC.

    I have no clue if LiveCode have a bigger market or not for third party controls than what RS have. But what is the major difference is the price level. Check it out Yourself and please let me know why the price levels are so different.

    A DataGrid and a Chart control should at least be shipped with a RAD-tool like RS 2012. It’s not acceptable that on top of buying a RAD-tool’s license I must also spend $$$ to get these basic controls.

    The excuse that it exist good third party control is not acceptable.

    It seems that RS peaked around 2005/2006 and since then the Web is cluttered with ghost sites and abanded projects and dead products…

    Bob, I don’t blame You in any way it’s just that the lack of third party controls gets me p**** off 7 days a week.

  8. @DMW
    I don’t know what environment you came from, but I came from the VB6 world where we had to purchase advanced grids, charting controls and so much more because the ones Microsoft shipped with VB6 were either crap or under powered. We spent thousands of dollars per year, per developer, in our shop to keep everyone up to date (and that doesn’t cover the $10k to purchase the initial licenses). And that was JUST for 3rd party controls.

    We can argue all day long if Real Software should be shipping some more basic controls, but the fact that I can get advanced (or relatively advanced) controls at hundreds of dollars for the initial price with upgrade fees of under $100 per year (for my entire company) is a pretty good deal in my opinion. It all depends on where you’re coming from I guess.

    You’re arguing two separate points. One, you’re pissed off about the lack of a third party market. But at the same time you don’t want to pay anything for advanced controls. The two are related and I’m sorry you don’t see that.

  9. Bob Keeney :

    If folks are abandoning their Real Studio products I would encourage them to talk to me! I would entertain the idea of purchasing the rights and source code for the products. Hopefully I can keep some of those products in the community.

    Well I have merged cell listbox subclass I can sell you! 😉

    Now in about 3 years I only sold 3 or 4 licenses and i think only one person is actively using it (He asked me recently to a fix to bug caused by a change in RB2011R4 -It was an easy fix)…

    So I’m sure it’s worth a lot of money!!!! 😉

    Seriously though besides cost, with the number of RB 3rd party stuff that does get abandoned, I would be leery of buying anything I could not do at least simple maintenance on myself to deal with changes in RB…

    One example of something I think a relatively large number of people bought (well I’ve seen questions about it in the forums) are Asher Dunn’s PDF classes… Those encrypted classes are abandoned now and I don’t know if they still “work” because of changes in RB…

    I never bought them but did keep his last much more limited open source free version, tweaked them some for my limited needs (without having to understand the PDF spec) and used then in a project relatively recently.

    BTW I’ve been told he mentioned I helped him with the classes in the docs… but while I do recall exchanging some emails with him I don’t recall how!

  10. The .NET market offering a quite large number of third party controls that You don’t need to pay $$$ for. The Express version includes all controls You need for free.

    LiveCode is shipped with basic controls except a chart control. A third party chart control can be bought for < US$ 100.

    Sorry, the last part of my comment was meant to say the lack of basic controls with RS. The third party controls for RS is very expensive compared with LiveCode and also with .NET.

  11. Karen :
    One example of something I think a relatively large number of people bought (well I’ve seen questions about it in the forums) are Asher Dunn’s PDF classes… Those encrypted classes are abandoned now and I don’t know if they still “work” because of changes in RB…
    I never bought them but did keep his last much more limited open source free version, tweaked them some for my limited needs (without having to understand the PDF spec) and used then in a project relatively recently.
    BTW I’ve been told he mentioned I helped him with the classes in the docs… but while I do recall exchanging some emails with him I don’t recall how!

    The abandonment of Asher Dunn’s PDF classes was the #1 reason why I decided to include the full source code with Web Custom Controls. Buyers know that regardless of what happens in my life they can maintain the code. I don’t know why Asher didn’t open source or sell off his PDF classes rather than abandon them completely.

    I almost didn’t do wcc because of the “no plugins” attitude which is often expressed on the forums. I don’t quite understand it given the literally thousands I’ve seen people spend on plugins for other languages. In my own work the formula is really simple: if a plugin meets my needs and it would cost me more to roll my own (hours x rate) then the cost of the plugin, I buy the plugin. Of course I realize hobbyists have more time than money available for code.

    I would love to be able to reach more Real Studio users, and to see a more vibrant 3rd party market for Real Studio code.

  12. Well, the third party market for Real Software is hard. You have to keep up with their plugin SDK changes. RS 2012r1 will break some things. And of course you have to keep up to date with new targets like Cocoa. A lot of old things will also break once 64 bit is coming.
    The user base is also not that big. I don’t mean the total user base for Real Studio, but those who value third party additions and do buy stuff. There are still a lot of people who prefer to spend days figuring out how to call into a DLL with a declare than ordering a $50 license for something.
    For the RS Website Store, well, the cut is high compared to others, but that’s the price for the exposure. And I really want to be listed there and have RS support people refer people to use the plugins.
    Of course we’d love to see improvements. Like plugins per project or a version management for plugins in the IDE. Or license plugins using the new RS feature based license system in r2. Would certainly be nice if you could buy in addition to Desktop and Web a MBS SQL Package there.

  13. @DMW
    I don’t think I agree with this statement. I come from (and still am in) the Visual Studio world, and the yearly maintenance contract of the 2 main groups of controls I use (CodeJock and ComponentOne) is a little more than any of the RB 3rd party offerings I use, and I own most that are for sale. Einhugur is a ridiculously low $45 per year maintenance. Monkeybread a bit more, but geez 40K functions…. that’s a heck of a lot of functionality for $149 annual maintenance. JeremK’s tools are only the initial purchase, I’ve gotten free upgrades for several of his codes. Seems to be on par for what I am paying in maintenance for my Visual Studio controls.

    I think Real would be doing themselves a favor by letting qualified vendors sell their stuff in the Real Store for free. More controls exposed to the users, more money in the hands of the developers, and hopefully more Developers willing to take the plunge.

  14. Merv,

    Well, if You subscribe to C1 and CodeJock then You pay a $$$. Do You really get a high ROI on these two subscriptions? Could You have the kindness to elaborate it?

    Of course, they are great packages with excellent controls but for a small ISV it’s definitly an overkill…

  15. The market forces at work are slowly deteriorating the RS third party market. RS could do a LOT more to reenforce third party developers, but so far they haven’t really done that. Maybe they don’t see the need or they don’t know what to do, but the affect is developers are leaving because it is not compelling any more and there are far more compelling environments elsewhere. What if for some reason MBS went out of business, the RS market might be in danger of collapsing. Pros would leave because the necessary extensions would be gone. Hobbyists and semi-pros would start to dwindle since they would eventually realize what they could not do without MBS. That is how important the third party market is and RS has been sitting on their hands.

    Couple that with the continued and foreseeable delay of important features and you have a perfect storm brewing. I am not trying to be doom and gloom, but we are where we are because of strategic decisions RS has made in the past. Case in point, delaying cocoa to do the new IDE. It was an extremely high risk decision with no real up side. The fact that they had to backtrack and do what they said couldn’t be done says they improperly accessed the needs and the risks. I know this particular decision put me in very difficult spot and I had to make decisions on which direction to go. Xcode with ARC is now a far more compelling development environment and that is a real revenue loss for RS. Another example of what I consider a questionable decision is the expansion into iPhone development. As a developer, why would you use the RS environment to make iPhone and iPad apps since you get everything you need today from Apple? You would always be 3 dollars short and 3 days late and having to fight through RS’s middleware and bugs to produce apps that can’t match what you can do in xcode. On top of that, the xcode environment is essentially $99 a year, so why pay a lot more to do a lot less? When people start doing the math, they will have an epiphany and say like Homer Simpson, “Duh!” So RS is spending resources from the point of view that it will expand their license sales, but since resources are limited it will be the other components that pay the price. Things are and will continue to fall through the cracks for RS with too many irons in the fire. RS has made their decision which has triggered my decision to move on.

  16. Brendan, Thank You very much for Your point of view. RS is not my first option which I’m thankful to. It’s scary to learn that RS has placed themselves in a position where a third parts vendor play such a critical role..

  17. DMW :
    Brendan, Thank You very much for Your point of view. RS is not my first option which I’m thankful to. It’s scary to learn that RS has placed themselves in a position where a third parts vendor play such a critical role..

    I think it is a universal truth that Third party support is critical for every development environment out there. RS need to do a lot better job cultivating it of they will see their revenues slip.

  18. @DMW
    ComponentOne not so much now, but for years and years a lot of new, exciting features in its Grid control that I would incorporate in new releases, well worth the money. CodeJock, yes, still find value in the maintenance program. This past year they added the VS 2010 look and feel to most of their controls. I wouldn’t say I get a “High ROI” out it, but at $224/yr for CJ, really not much downside. Now if you strictly develop for a hobby or internal projects where you have no revenue stream coming in to support it, that might be a tougher argument to make. But even from a hobbyist perspective, I bet there are some spouses of fishermen, hunters, and gamblers out there that would give their right arm if their spouse could keep their annual “hobby expenditures” under 4 figures.

    But to my point, I really think REAL could do a lot better job of managing and encouraging the Third Party market. I am amazed that REAL finally put together an up to date list on their wiki, for the last couple of years I have maintained that info in a spreadsheet.

  19. @Brendan Murphy
    Brendan, in your move away from RB towards xCode, were you giving up cross-platform support and going strictly with Mac development? The reason I am on RB now is I want to support both Windows and the Mac from the same code base, and be instantly productive with my VB knowledge. RB has allowed me to do that. I know little about xCode other than my initial look at it 2 years ago told me it was going to be a lot longer journey to get my programs working on the Mac than it would be in RB. And I would *still* have to maintain a separate code base (in VB) for Windows. Is all that still the case?

  20. @Merv
    Yes, I am dropping Windows development. Cross platform development is RS’s strength, but without the need for doing cross platform development, xcode/cocoa clearly outshines RS by light years. Though I have not used it, the WE stuff looks interesting. So you need to decide what your requirements are and choose the right tool for the job. If you moved to xcode you would be writing in objective-c (essentially you would maintain two code bases). For you, I would say RS is probably the right choice for you since require one code base for both platforms.

  21. Don’t forget LiveCode which has more plattforms to target like iOS and Android. Of course, since it’s not a VB-clone You need to pick up the new language. I use it more and more and it’s quite straightful with documentation around You. So the day You may take a look at LiveCode.

    http://www.runrev.com/store/

  22. @DMW
    I looked at LiveCode, was not sure I could get past that syntax, which is very different than anything I have seen. Really, support for the Mac is the only reason I did any of this, if you are going to just support Windows and you have a mature code base in Visual Studio, there is no reason to switch to anything else, just keep on plugging away on the Windoze box, MS is not going out of business anytime soon.

  23. I know people talk about LiveCode and other things, but I think RealSoftware’s biggest competitor are web technologies.

    For free, you can start developing HTML/Javascript apps. Sure the IDE (which ever free/commercial editors you want to use) isn’t as nice, but once you get the hang of things, it’s just as easy. Furthermore, the developer tools in the newest builds of Chrome and Safari are really fantastic. You get things like profilers that you have to shell out more money to RealSoftware for. In terms of ecosystem, there are fantastic free libraries to do anything imaginable. Talk about charting? There are literally a half a dozen of very nice, free charting libraries.

    I don’t know how RS can compete with this. Sure, they are trying to get into the web with their web edition, but their forced server-client model means that no matter how much effort you put into your program it will always be slower and inferior to what a good web developer could create.

  24. @DMW
    I’m glad LiveCode is working for you. However, I’ve looked at in the past and just wasn’t impressed enough to convert. Plus, in recent years I’ve have had enough conversations with developers switching FROM LiveCode to Real Studio to be even more hesitant.

    Use the tools that work for you and if they happen to be LiveCode or Real Studio or .NET or xCode or Java then go for it.

  25. I purchased a licenses for LiveCode last year during a OmegaBundle sale. After spending some time with it, I can honestly say that LiveCode is a language that you would use for specific jobs (It does wonders for data processing). The hardest part about going from RS to LC is the wordy language syntax (Based off Hypercard) as well as getting used to the overall layout of how to program in it. After experiencing both RS & LC, I am still drawn back to RS as for the tools I make for my co-workers and myself to use.

  26. Bob Keeney :
    Certainly part of the issue with a third party market is that RS would have to give up some control which is not something they are keen to do. If they want more of an ecosystem they need to create the foundation for it.
    At Real World they talked about the ability to create Custom Controls for Web Edition (which was cool) but there was nothing (that I remember) for desktop apps or the IDE.
    In the R1 beta they’ve reworked some of the plugin structure to make them ‘safer’ to work with. I guess plugin authors could do some ‘bad things’ under the hood (manipulating strings? don’t remember the details) so they’re taking steps to make them better, so this might be a step in right direction.
    One can only hope that they’ll add some hooks into the new IDE that would allow some commercialized add-ons. Not holding my breath but that would be really nice. I can’t remember how many times I downloaded MZ-Tools in my VB6 days.

    I talked to several people at RealWorld2012 about the plugins and everyone said that they are making improvements on the way plugins works with real. no details. I think the WE is pushing the plugins/controls compatibility.

    just my 2 cents.

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