I recently stumbled across Good Software Takes Ten Years from Joel Spolsky’s Blog. In this article, he recites from his own experiance and the brief history of software development a number of stories and common pitfalls of succesful commercial software products. Granted, these applications might not be my favourites to use (Lotus Notes and Microsoft Word), but they were succesful in the sense that they are used by millions of people.
Lotus Notes for instance, was released five years after development, and it took another six years before the user base started to really grow. As an example from my own experience, we’re using Linux on our laptops and servers, an open source variant of Unix. Unix exists since at least the 70′s. In the first twenty years of its’ existence, high-priced unix workstations and servers were mainly to be found in universities and corporate research and development environments. Now, after over thirty years, through Linux (and to a lesser extent, FreeBSD and its’ derivative, MacOS-X) it is spreading to a much larger user-base.
Starting last December, I am programming on the e-laborateproject. Not exactly a long-running project. It is, however, based on i-tor, open-source software that has developed through several projects starting January 2002. So, I-tor is now in its third year. Having been involved as a coach and programmer, I can recognize several of the pitfalls Joel Spolsky managed in the project.
Having been there, I can say, that it is possible to survive those pitfalls, even if you’ve stepped right in them.