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July 24, 2004

SilverStar - Entering Phase II of our product plan

For the past several weeks, I've been testing and experimenting with our alpha pre-release version of NoteTaker 1.9 (our OS X version). In many ways, this release will be like no other release we've ever done before. It marks an important milestone for AquaMinds and the team here because it fulfills one of the important product development foundation pieces we envisioned from day one as part of our SilverStar Technology Plan. In short, the SilverStar architecture has been and is all about delivering increasing value to our NoteTaker users via key technologies which will enable cross-platform functionality, enhanced performance and modular or component-based customization. For our company, is the natural evolution of NoteTaker transforming from a proprietary, standalone application into a programmable platform in order to extend, enhance and enrich user productivity.

NTML is XML (open, public and transparent)

Earlier this year, we delivered on an important piece of the SilverStar architecture (our Phase I) which has been our on-going support of XML as an open, publicly-available file format for moving data from NoteTaker notebooks to other applications called NTML (Note-Taking Markup Language). The "Export NTML" command was included several releases ago as a cross-platform file and data format to be used by developers and XML programmers for developing new XSLT plug-ins. This XML-based architecture allows us (and any programmer/company) to create user loadable plug-ins which extend and enhance NoteTaker as a cross-platform compatible data type. In time, you can expect there will be XSLTs to transform NTML to XHTML and even to WordML (Microsoft's Word for Windows-specific XML). NTML means open choices.

Our own NTML example is the Keynote XSLT we ship bundled which shows off how an outline and content within NoteTaker can easily be transformed to a native Keynote presentation document. Our NTML file output also means that irrespective of NoteTaker's shelf-life, users' data will always be accessible and not trapped by some obsolete, proprietary file and data format. So now we begin Phase II of the SilverStar Technology Plan. To be continued.

AppleScript - Apple's other platform DNA

In a nutshell, powerful. AppleScript is one of the many hidden OS X gems that truly works behind the scenes. By itself, it's not terribly interesting but in combination with an application such as NoteTaker or a tool like Ecto; magic starts to happen.

Keep in mind, AppleScript is not a new idea or a forgotten technology either. However, it's neither a development system nor a programming language either. So what exactly is it? In short, it's an action-driven system for controlling and invoking programmatic event behavior among and between applications that previously had no connection or common application use. A clever way to combine applications and make them accomplish productive tasks on behalf of the user.

An OS X application such as NoteTaker is infinitely more powerful if it's AppleScript-ready. For users, it means more value, more productivity and more potential for new and interesting features when used with other applications.

But not every feature or user need is predictable or routine. AppleScript provides another means by which an application can do more or at least leverage its core feature set without requiring new commands. Most importantly, it doesn't have to know about every current and future application; it just has to be AppleScript-enabled as if pre-programmed for any number of possible scripts.

For example, when NoteTaker was first released in December 2002, there was no intense commercial focus on weblogs and certainly no knowledge about Ecto. Moving forward to 2004, NoteTaker users were actively creating web notebooks but also asking the obvious... what about weblog creation? To make a long story short, an enterprising NoteTaker user made the connection that an AppleScript "weblog script" could easily and quickly provide an elegant solution in combination with Ecto (based on its own AppleScript support). The rest is history. Serendipity.

Phase II - The search for an abundant software fuel source

It is a time honored tradition in the technology business to find a clever metaphor or an analogy to describe a new product or breakthrough. When you're lucky, it works and the target audience gets it the first time. It just resonates. So the challenge is how best to describe this new technology breakthrough to current and future NoteTaker users. One thing is clear though, it's definitely going to enable more productivity, more creativity and more value for our users.

As NoteTaker has evolved, so have our users' application needs. The challenge for a software company our size is how to create more leverage for ourselves and for our users. Ideally then, NoteTaker itself becomes a platform for plugging-in components or adding objects dynamically. This is not a new concept for a product technology to become more like a platform upon which other applications or plug-ins can run. That's the vision we've been following during this phase of our SilverStar Technology Plan.

It has also led us to ask some key questions in our search for an ideal approach; does there exist an abundant source of software fuel if you will that is everywhere? Something as abundant as hydrogen atoms in water molecules. It would have to be component-based, modular and easily installed anytime, anywhere (small memory footprint, secure and open-source in approach). And, these software object technologies would include examples of rich media content, interactive simulations as well as domain specific applications. What existing technology or technologies might we consider? And then the "aha" moment struck.

Posted by Scott Love on July 24, 2004 04:15 AM | |