The software you always wanted? (or, "Pony Signups!")
January 9, 2008 10:57 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to write some software, for fun and profit. What kind of software would you pay for that isn't out there already? What's missing in your current software? Where's the pain?

I'm a software developer by day, and occasionally by night. I'd like to work on some Windows software independently, creating a polished, saleable product (I'm not terribly interested in open source).

While I do certainly have ideas of my own, there are undoubtedly tons of opportunities I may be overlooking. Is there software for Windows that you wish was available but isn't?
posted by RikiTikiTavi to Computers & Internet (22 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Okay, this is something I would buy:

I'm a writer. I would love something small that doesn't waste a lot of (witness my awesome technical vocabulary) Computer Space. And that it would do is, you could set it to a timer, or to respond to a certain number of words typed, or you could set it to respond to a certain speed of words per minute, or you could set it to give unpredictable responses. And then it would play a sound or show you an image you liked or give you a "YAY, you are awesome!" popup or something.

Basically, I want an operant conditioning computer program. Thank you.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 11:04 PM on January 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'd like a program that will help me organize all my files and folders. OSX has a great app for this called Hazel, and I considered purchasing it before I switched to Linux. I'd still pay for a Windows port.
posted by theiconoclast31 at 11:39 PM on January 9, 2008

I want a program that will actively harrass me to accomplish goals in a way that is impossible to ignore. "Have you paid the Amex bill yet?" "Don't forget your allergist appointment." "Did you get to the gym today?"

Something between a life coach, a dominatrix, and Mama Fratelli from The Goonies.
posted by roger ackroyd at 11:52 PM on January 9, 2008

If it's of general utility it's probably already out there. Even if you get lucky and think of something new and useful to the general population, it will be folded into the next version of OS X/Windows.

IMO you should be looking for vertical markets - the narrow specialist stuff where it's not economic for Microsoft to come in and steal your lunch money. thehmsbeagle's suggestion of writers is good; there are a few niche word processors that are optimised for creative writers rather than office drones. Reminder popups, OTOH, are candidates for being rolled into Windows.

For a long time I kicked around the idea of an SMS appointment reminder for doctors, dentists, car mechanics, hairdressers, anyone who loses money due to missed appointments. It would integrate with the popular management packages in those industries and send someone a reminder 24 hours before their appointment. At cost+25% per text, that could build into a nice recurring revenue stream. There are companies doing that in the UK now, but in the US... who knows.

So I suggest that more-or-less one-to-one service industries would bear examination. These are people who's earnings are limited by the number of hours they work (can't cut two heads of hair at the same time), and so would, in theory, welcome anything that saves time and hence pays for itself.
posted by Leon at 12:54 AM on January 10, 2008

I asked for this recently:
The idea is to move and resize windows using the keyboard. First, with focus on the window to be moved/resized, you'd hit a hot key to create a grid overlay, or even a pop up. You would then use arrow keys (or whatever aliased keys, of course) to navigate to the upper right corner of the destination, hold down shift, and use arrow keys again to navigate to the lower left corner of the destination. When you release the shift key, bam, moved/resized window!
posted by Chuckles at 1:37 AM on January 10, 2008

Chuckles, like this? Or is there more to what you want?
With the window you want to resize or move as the active window, hit Alt-Space. Use the down arrow to Move, press Enter and use the arrow keys to move. Alternatively hit the down arrow to Size and use the arrow keys to resize the window.
posted by JaredSeth at 2:53 AM on January 10, 2008

Project management software that is in plain English - I would like to keep track of my individual projects, but the terminology that's in ALL the PM software is confusing. Any sort of similar software for the lay-busy-person would be great.
posted by divabat at 3:04 AM on January 10, 2008


Try Chaos Antidote, which is basically the same program as Hazel, and available for both Mac and Windows. (Yes, I wrote it. Yes, I'm slightly annoyed that Hazel did so much better for no clear reason.)

If you need any help with setting it up, my email's in my profile.

(Apologies for the slight offtopic comment.)
posted by Zarkonnen at 3:25 AM on January 10, 2008

To actually answer the poster's original question - have you considered writing games? They have the advantage that there is an essentially unlimited market for them, since they don't need to fill a need beyond being entertaining.
posted by Zarkonnen at 3:34 AM on January 10, 2008

I buy a few shareware programs every year, hope you won't mind if I give you some general advice.

Typical features of software I end up paying for:

- Polish - you've already identified this, but it's worth mentioning again. Personally I much prefer clean and elegant classic Windows design over distracting skin-type interfaces. When we're talking about games, this means professional standard graphics and level design.

- Does a good job of dealing with fiddly, complicated, badly documented APIs or file formats, including lots of annoying special cases. This is the stuff that few people want to do for free and is probably a better basis for making money than a really good idea that is fun to code.

- Unglamorous. Think of things like file format converters which also have a lot of features described in the previous point. Again, this has to do with reducing your competition with free alternatives.

Another way of providing value is to do a better job of some difficult image/sound/video processing problem that is intrinsically unsolvable in the general case, like identifying the sequence of chords in an MP3 file, or categorizing web pages on the basis of a statistical analysis of the content.
posted by teleskiving at 4:23 AM on January 10, 2008

Belvedere is a Windows knock-off of the Mac-only Hazel.
posted by blag at 4:32 AM on January 10, 2008

Software that lets you securely operate your microwave with your mobile phone.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:38 AM on January 10, 2008

Software that writes and maintains/repairs software (including itself) via wysiwyg.
posted by yoga at 4:55 AM on January 10, 2008

Leon's advice is spot-on if you wish to actually turn a profit. There are plenty of organizations / groups / sectors where the "leading software" is hopelessly outdated and could use a white knight, but most developers shy away from these sorts of projects because they're "boring" or there's too much effort required to gather requirements and user stories. Most programmers like to just dive in to a project. The kind of stuff that sells can't be hacked out in a sleepless week of cigarettes and Mountain Dew.

Personally, I think good software should be stable, efficient, feature-rich and small. In that order.

No point writing something if it's just going to crash randomly. Small software companies can't afford that kind of bad publicity. Efficiency isn't just in execution speed, it's also memory footprint. Feature-rich is a double-edged sword: you want all the features users would expect, but not so many that it becomes Kitchen Sink software (Microsoft is famous for this). A clever way around this is to have a plug-in architecture: that way users only pay for what they need. Small is generally just a product of efficient.

And example of what I consider some of the "tightest" software out there is the stuff found on Analog X's website. Thing is, he isn't charging any money for his stuff.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:00 AM on January 10, 2008

I always thought a good software idea would be a timetable/schedule server/reader. You write a client for moble devices which subscribes to various schedules that are published by various people. The server is the one you charge for, it is a website where rail roads, museums, yoga studios, gyms, movie theaters publish their current timetable or schedule. The reader is for the mobile device and that one is free. I download the reader to my iPhone or Blackberry and subscribe to the appropriate train schedule so I dont have to go to the interwebs when I am trying to remember if the next train is at 10:45 or 10:53.
posted by shothotbot at 5:08 AM on January 10, 2008

Software that alerts me whenever a new post is made to the blue, grey or green, so I don't have to stay here, reloading my browser incessantly. Though I probably would, anyway.

Anything Mac-friendly. Yes, I know you said Windows, but cross-platform rocks, too. I love that Blizzard, for example, gives you the Mac and the Windows versions of their game in one package. Do that. Make your stuff work on a Mac, too.
posted by misha at 7:45 AM on January 10, 2008

misha, you seek an RSS reader.
posted by knave at 8:02 AM on January 10, 2008

Here's are few things I would like:

1. Put FIND in the context menu of IE. I know I could do the hot key, but I'm surfing with the mouse...let me use the mouse.

2. Social Word Processor. Been thinking of this one for a bit but I don't have it flushed out. Basically a word processor that uses a social dictionary, thesaurus and grammatical structures from user submitted documents. An engine scans the document and parses it up using some sort of magical algorithm. As subscriber to the service I can click on any word and sentences to get alternatives based on user submitted documents. There would be a web and desktop component. I would buy this in a heartbeat.

3. Something that merges all the features of Big Oven, Cozi and mvelopes together.
posted by bleucube at 8:14 AM on January 10, 2008

I'm surprised no one's mentioned AutoHotKey, a Windows script-based macro host. @Chuckles, you (or someone with the time and energy) could easily write your own grid-based-window-movement-with-the-keyboard utility. The "script showcase" has something called "KDE Style Windows" I use all the time. There are also mouse gestures, key shortcuts to do things like open the CD/DVD drive with the F12 key, things to map keys to mice or mice to keys, etc., etc., and it calls DLLs. Very slick! Oh, and very free.

Back on topic, I'd suggest personal database software (like TiddlyWiki could be used for, only more user-friendly) that could be taken anywhere with no installation. And it'd be a relational database, but somehow viewable on major OSes (Windows, Linux, MacOS). And it'd fit on a small USB stick. Maybe an abstraction layer on TiddlyWiki that uses plugins? And could export any table to CSV or Tab-delimited files? And could import major simple table formats like CSV into new tables? And all run locally through a web browser using JavaScript? And also function as an RSS reader so I could browse and search Metafilter while suggesting websites by cross-referencing Google searches in the background? That'd all be nice to have.

Another good thing would a self-contained web-based file server that also handles web chat. "Run this executable and your users can all connect to a chat system and send files to each other through this box." No need to install PHP/Apache and a script - it's already all done. And it'd be encrypted and password-protected and double-secure and..and.. HFS does the file aspect of this, by the way, but not the chat. I'd buy that for sure. I think it exists for $100 or something, I found a utility that does that. If I had a real need for it (which may be soon) I'd find the funds to buy it.

I strenuously disagree that all common-type, everyday utilities have already been written (or written well).
posted by ostranenie at 8:27 AM on January 10, 2008

On update, bleucube, you could map one of your useless 5-button-Microsoft mice buttons to Ctrl-F using AutoHotKey. Or double scroll, or left-right-click or some other bizarre unanticipated combination if you actually use them for back/forward browsing. (Or Ctrl-C, Ctrl-F, Ctrl-V, Enter if you're highlighting THEN searching on a highlighted word.)
posted by ostranenie at 8:29 AM on January 10, 2008


Thanks for the suggestion - will check it out.
posted by bleucube at 8:57 AM on January 10, 2008

Write a replacement for the pitiful and annoying OSX Finder.
posted by Area Control at 11:10 AM on January 10, 2008

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