Software developers serve up spam

I'm not sure whether it's just that my address has fallen into the hands of "email marketers" but every day my inbox is cluttered by yet more announcements of hot new software.

I’m not sure whether it’s just that my address has fallen into the hands of “email marketers” but every day my inbox is cluttered by yet more announcements of hot new software. They’re too numerous to read on the spot but I knew I’d be writing about them one day so most have been filed for this very occasion.

They come from companies like “Assistance and Resources for Computing” and “ExtraData Technologies” and “NextUp.com”, none of which is a household name. They variously promise to increase your privacy as you browse the internet, enable you to extract data from files of a type you can’t open and provide you with ways to spy on your employees.

While it’s annoying to be receiving all this spam (sorry, I don’t acknowledge the legitimacy of unsolicited email as “marketing”), it’s also encouraging. In a software world seemingly sewn up by Microsoft and half a dozen other publishers, it’s great to see there are other developers beavering away.

The irony is that Microsoft, for all its phenomenal success as a seller of software, is creating many of the opportunities being seized on by small-time developers. Many of the utilities the tiny start-ups are writing have come into existence to fix shortcomings of Windows or Internet Explorer or of some other major-league product.

If I were one of the opportunistic small-fry, I’d be saying of the major-league publishers, “long may you develop imperfect software”. As a user of those products, however, I’m more inclined to wish they’d make them better.

Is there a proliferation of utilities on the market today, or is it just that misuse of email is making me more aware of them? I’d guess that they are multiplying, as the population of PC and internet users grows, but I don’t have any proof.

The New Zealand Software Association (NZSA) doesn’t report any particular boom in utility development locally, unless high-profile Auckland company Keylogix is put in that category. Its ActiveDocs product, which provides shortcuts for the creation of word processing documents, has won the backing of Microsoft, translating into lots of useful mentions at Microsoft Office XP release events. ActiveDocs is closely tied into Office.

Interestingly, Key-logix is not the only local company making headway in the document creation market. Two others are AuthorIT Software and Owlcentral, which provide means for turning documents into components for publishing in various print and online formats.

AuthorIT has been in business for about five years, has eight full-time staff and does 90% of its business overseas, using the internet. The company identifies content creation and management as a growth market.

But most New Zealand development activity revolves around the staples of accounting and payroll, according to the NZSA. It says the Inland Revenue Department has 1000 people who claim to be payroll developers on its books.

While the three document creation companies are all Auckland-based, Christchurch is a hotbed of development, says the association, having already attracted about 80 organisations to a cluster of software companies that it helped launch about a month ago.

So what of all these new utilities I keep being spammed about?

Between beginning work on this column late in the afternoon and returning to it at 11am the next morning, my inbox received details of another half-dozen or so. Again, another batch of never-before-heard-of-products from companies like “SolarWind.net” and “PC Flank” …

I’d tell you all about them but that would only encourage them, wouldn’t it?

Doesburg is Computerworld’s editor. Send email to Anthony Doesburg. Letters for publication should be sent to Computerworld Letters.

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