Thinking Out Loud: What Should I Learn Next?

Now that I'm an independent developer again, I've been giving a lot of thought to what I should learn next.  I still love Delphi for developing Windows desktop apps, but I've been doing that for (holy shit!) 15 years now and it's waayyy past time for me to update my skills.

I had been leaning towards iPhone development, and I even attended Macworld to get a feel for the development community.  But as wonderful as the iPhone developers I met were, I'm completely turned off by the way Apple handles their App Store.  Having a one-stop shopping source for the iPhone is great – I'd love to have something similar on Windows so customers wouldn't have to fill out their personal information every time they want to buy software online – but Apple's lack of respect for their developers killed any interest I have in iPhone or Mac development.

The obvious choice, then, is for me to drop desktop/single-device development completely and create web-based software.  Nothing for customers to install – they just browse to a URL to use my app.  The trick, of course, is to create a web app that people are willing to pay for.  I'm not one of those developers who wants to rely on VC financing to stay afloat while they figure out a business model, and I'm far from convinced that every web developer can earn a living from advertising (yes, I recognize the irony of me saying that).  Having a family to support sort of kills the willingness to create something and hope it somehow makes money down the road (I mean, have you seen the cost of health insurance these days?).

Strangely enough, I find myself leaning towards sticking with Windows development.  I say "strangely enough" because I have a love/hate relationship with Microsoft, and I cringe every time I see a Microsoft app favor geekiness over simplicity and usability.  But lately I've been impressed with what they're coming up with.  Their moves with Azure, Silverlight and .NET are impressive and show that they're not down for the count.  For the time being it may not be "cool" to develop for Windows, but if you care about being cool, then WTF are you doing being a geek in the first place?  I'm perfectly fine being anti-cool if it enables me to keep my family covered and develop software that tons of people use.

So…if you've read this far, then there's a good chance you're a developer and not just someone who uses my software.  If so, what would you do in my shoes?  What platform and development tool(s) would you focus on now?

53 thoughts on “Thinking Out Loud: What Should I Learn Next?

  1. I’ve been thinking about this. While I have nothing concrete, I do have some thoughts and insights I’d like to share that may (or may not :) ) help.
    While mobile app development is the ‘hot’ thing, I have a feeling that it is kind of behind the curve to develop for the iPhone at this point. Your success has come from getting products out ahead of the curve – Homesite, TopStyle and FeedDemon were all products that were out before there was a real mainstream need for them.
    If you were to decide to develop for a mobile platform, I think Android would be the platform to develop for. Since it really just starting to get some juice thanks to the DROID, if you can ramp up quick enough, you might be able to make some impact. iPhone has been out too long and all the other problems with the app store that have already been mentioned seem to rule it out. However, I’m also not convinced that any mobile programming is the way to go, and neither is any web-based service. I think we all know how your last experience with SaaS turned out :/
    I think you need to figure out what the NEXT big thing is going to be. Yeah, I know, easier said than done, and that’s kind of a “well, duh” statement – but as I noted earlier, that’s always been one of your strengths – interpreting the buzz and developing appropriately.

  2. I agree with critter about Android development. Though I love doing iPhone apps and have made a pretty good profit as a side business, if you’re going start out with a distaste for the distribution model you’re probably not going to be as gun ho as you need to be do make a really nice app.
    That being said, I believe some of the others who are suggesting that Android will be the leading mobile platform in a few years. The fragmentation issue will hopefully work its self out – there’s too much money there for it not to. If you can learn the ins and outs of quick development you can probably make some good cash doing contracting. That may not sound as attractive as developing and maintaining a marque piece of software, but $120+ an hour is a nice sounding number.

  3. @Julian,
    I know it’s been a while, but there is most definitely a nifty equivalent to Live Writer for the Mac, it’s called MarsEdit, by Red Sweater ( Software.
    It’s a fantastic weblog editor, and it supports all kinds of connectivity, even to Microsoft technologies.

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