I view the products that MSP will develop as falling into several distinct classes:
The first I call ``guerrilla programming''. This consists of developing relatively small, quickly implemented products which fill an immediate need perceived by users of a heavily promoted product. For example, a 3270-type screen oriented data entry package which generates SELECTOR files would be such a product. Every existing SELECTOR customer would be a prospect for our package, and systems houses who implemented applications in SELECTOR would use our package and sell it for us to their customers. A systems programming example of guerrilla programming would be a super-reliable file recovery program for CP/M. Again, every CP/M user would be a prospect for this utility. These kinds of programs tend to be quickly developed, sell fast, but don't last long as often the vendor you're tagging along with brings out a new release with your feature in it. However, they do make money and you can afford to do a lot of them since they don't take long to write. You can hit it big with one of these if, say, the vendor picks up your package and starts promoting it. This is not likely, and no project should count on this.
The second is the closed system application. This is a stand-alone application package which performs a well defined function for a specific class of users. Visi-Calc is a superb example of such an application. If you hit on one that's widely needed and not currently in a tolerable form on a micro you can do very well with these. Market research is essential here, and looking at what people are paying to do on timesharing systems is a good place to start. The ``card file'' very simple database is something we might do in this arena.
The third is the software tool. This is a utility program which is applicable to a wide variety of users for different purposes. Examples are SELECTOR and other database systems, word processing programs, and sort packages. This is a highly competitive market where large advertising budgets predominate and thus hard to break into. However, the rewards are great. We should look at somewhat ``kinky'' tools that haven't penetrated the micro market far but which have been popular on other systems. SSG and a SCCS-type facility are two that pop into my mind.
Fourth is the ``interface gadget''. We all do this well and they sell very well in the micro market. For example, a 3780 emulator, a CP/M to IBM disc convert utility, and so on. The problem is not being hardware dependent, and that's difficult in this game.
These categories overlap to some extent, but I think you get the drift of the kinds of things I'm thinking about. A good rule of thumb is that anything we do should fill a need the potential customer already knows he has, or should be demonstrated to a prospect in 5 minutes or less. We don't have the resources to educate the user base or to change the world. Products for which we can prepare a ``demo disc'' for computer stores are particularly attractive. We can give away a demo disc, then when a prospect walks into a store, they can run the disc which sells the package.
Editor: John Walker