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My personal software history

Whenever I get asked what my first experience with computer stuff was, I like to respond that I learned Basic from a book when I was 9 years old. A more precise answer would be to say that my first contact with computers was around 1979, when my father decided that we (kids) would have to know computers in our future anyway, so we were looking for “the right tool” to get into the matter. It took until the C64 was released around 1981 that I actually got to do some real programming, all I had learned from the book mentioned above was something like “10 print hello world – 20 goto 10”.

My friend and I were among the first “geeks” who showed the Commodore staff at exhibitions how to put text on the screen border by IRQ-driving sprites boldly where no text was seen before. In order to push the limits of the C64 we learned machine language (the real stuff) and I still remember having loud discussions with educated programmers who thought their “high level Assembler” was the solution to the world’s despair. Well, seeing the quarrels about PHP is good/evil in the 90s, pro/contra Java in the 2ks or Ruby/Python/Perl/pfffffrrt ever and always I think we were quite normal back then. Only a programmer who makes his life as awkward as possible is a true hero. Right?
We even sent postcards to one another written in hexcode, known 6510 code by heart was an easy thing for a boy. I published articles in magazines and wrote software code for math books (Logo, Basic, Fortran, Pascal etc.) and even released my own tools (like a line based text editing software that used graphical output to matrix printers to provide better font rendering). Later I was able to write tools and documentation for Apple- and the first affordable PC systems.
More important than my “childhood dreams” on the C64 was the arrival of the Amiga(1000), a machine that promised so much and was so difficult to persuade to actually do it.

I only digged into Assembler for a short time, learning 68000 wasn’t that much fun. Software got more complicated, the programs blew up in size and complexity, a lot of work had to be done to push the limits of the platform, on the Amiga to get around the limited GUI and issues with resource handling. When Thomas Wenzel and I developed audio hardware during the later 90s we got into contact with SEK’d, the developers of the already famous Samplitude software on Amiga. SEK’d wanted to switch platforms to PC but not let their user base down, so we were allowed to take over development and support of Samplitude on Amiga, then named “Samplitude Opus” and soon to provide one of the first full-blown 32Bit DAWs.
But the trouble around the Amiga and some seriously bad experience with Commodore-/Amiga “decision makers” convinced me that “believing in a platform” meant frustration in the long term. Computers are tools, software is the oil that keeps them running. Whoever believes that one system is “better” than another (OS or what) seriously needs to get a life.
The only thing I regret from leaving the Amiga for good was that I did not finnish development of ARTAS, the (first meaning “Amiga-“, later) Agnostic Retargetable Audio System. ARTAS was laid out to include features that Steinberg put to life in VST (of course one did not know of the other). I transferred ideas of ARTAS in to later developments, mainly into the image workflow systems, but until today a real implementation does not exist.

Working for a hard- and software service provider in the early 90s I got involved in the world of news and magazine publishers (among the houses I worked with was “Verlagsgruppe Milchstrasse”, publishers of titles like Cinema, TV Spielfilm and others). I was responsible for database development, GUI and user experience management and API development.
One of the editorial departments used “Cumulus”, a (back then) small sized image database system that they wanted to turn into a platform independent “interactive” system. I created (reverse-engineered) a “Cumulus-Reader” intranet system that was to become the base of “KuhMuli”, an extensive featured workflow system with image- and article-placement and production API that was a core element of editorial work for quite some time.
A side product of KuhMuli was “ImageBug”, an image analysing tool that read out color information (and dealt with color management) to balance image placement on magazine pages for better visual impression. “ImageBeatle” was an extended version of this tool that could extract images from movie files and create keyframe based flipcharts for video prodctions.
ImageBug also made it into an automated image cataloguing system named “QImport” that a partner and I successfully installed with photo agencies and photograph offices. In cases QImport could increase the number of images processed (and thus revenue) at those agencies by a factor of ten.
Another component out of the KuhMuli workflow environment later turned into a „MiniWall“, a tool to live display editorial progress. This application was further developed into a PDF- and document archiving system (which is still in use e.g. at the ZEIT-Verlag). One of the features of this tool is its ability to back-convert text components into floating text (removing line end breaks and hyphenations).

Smartphones have not exactly made development easier. Performance issues pair up with user experience difficulties – and data security isn’t something that grows on keyboards. One of the most interesting projects I developed during the 2000s is a large sized contact database that includes CRM functionality, mail- and lettersystems, interconnectivity to external document management systems. It features MS office connections and is able to export address data to Blackberry units.
Parts of this system were developed into smartphone “apps” and customer relationship tools.
The project I am most intrigued with is “Framtle” (“Frame-Beatle”, obviously a pickup of an older naming scheme). Framtle is all about managing images, keyframes, movie- and video pre-production (storyboarding to be precise) as well as planning of presentations, stories in general (for books, articles etc). Framtle is still in its extended planning phase, but being a project of the heart I hope to get it up and alive before 2015.