Monthly Archives: April 2009

Got a product idea? Don’t register the domain.

Since I started programming in the early eighties I’ve dreamed of ideas for software tools, utilities and products.  I’ve followed through and created some of them, but for many I’ve not, and I think I’ve finally figured out why:  it can only be because I registered the domain name before I created the product.  Let me explain …

Having an idea for a product or web site can be enormously seductive.  We can dream away, and if we never follow through, we can never fail.  Even better we can tell others about our fantastic idea, and almost know what it would feel like if it was a success.  Almost.

But the killer is that we can research domain names.  We can spend hours trying to find exactly the right domain for our product-to-be.  The one we haven’t even started creating yet.  And finally, when we’ve got that perfect domain, we can pull out our credit card, and register it.  Then, we are done.  That’s it.  No need to do anything else.  Dreamed about the success, got the domain name, and then … well, there isn’t really any need to take it any further, is there?

This post isn’t just about the dangers of premature registration, it is also to allow me to put some of my own overly-enthusiastic registrations to rest.  So here they are.  None of them are real, except in my imagination (and of course in the domain name registration) …

  • : Transient, anonymous conversations.  A GPS-enabled mobile-phone location-based service that is an anti-social networking site, where you could anonymously ask questions to anyone who happens to be close to you geographically: where are the closest toilets?  Has anyone found a green hat? 
  • : do you know everyone on your street?  Anyone?  This site was to let you get in touch with people living near you, to help build physical communities out of virtual ones.
  •,,, : this product idea used the JavaScript debugger API on windows to continuously break into JavaScript code running in Internet Explorer, and let you see what JavaScript code was executed, and how much time each function took.   I got close on this one.

For balance, I have got it right a few times:

  • – listen to in Windows Media Center.  I’ve stopped developing it since cracked down on the use of their APIs in some countries.
  • – listen to BBC Radio within Windows Media Center.  Still exists, and still quite popular.
  • (not mine any more) – Java-COM interoperability, initially through my Java implementation of the DCOM wire protocol.
  • (not mine any more) – SQL Intellisense within Query Analyzer and SQL Server Management Studio

This post is a little tongue in cheek, although there is a kernel of truth.  It is important to follow through on our ideas, and not just live on the dream.  Don’t deflate the excitement by working on the incidental.  Tackle the core first.

Stop that dreaming, and get coding.

Windows Home Server needs a peer backup system

I’ve just set up a Windows Home Server on my home network, and so far I think it is fantastic. I’ve been able to collect an assortment of hard drives and plug them all into the same machine, and have them seamlessly presented as a single large virtual drive:


Our photos are stored in a shared folder hosted by the Windows Home Server, and by enabling the “Duplication” feature, I know that copies are kept on two physical disks, meaning that in the event of a hard disk failure, I’ll still have a copy on another disk.  I’ve also been able to set up all of the computers in the house to be backed up.

There is however, as others have noted, a big flaw in this situation. Although I have all my photos duplicated on two disks, and all my computers backed up , in the event of a fire, or theft, I’m screwed.  Someone could walk off with all the physical disks.

What I really need is off-site backup. I’ve been doing this using an excellent service called Mozy, which for US$5 a month offers unlimited backups for a single PC.  Unfortunately Windows Home Server is based on Windows Server 2003, and Mozy will not run on Server operating systems.

A modest idea: a peer backup service

What I’d like to have, and what I’m tempted to develop, is a peer backup system, implemented via a Windows Home Server Add-in I’d create, and a web site which serves to hook people’s Windows Home Servers together.

My idea is this: I’d create a web site where people could register (probably automatically via the add-in) their need for an off-site backup, indicating how much space they need to backup. They need to commit to making an equivalent amount of space available on their computer for someone else.

My web site would match people up, and then the people could use each others systems to automatically perform offsite backups.  The add-ins could talk to each other, either peer-to-peer, or via my web site. There are issues of course. The backed up data would have to be encrypted, which makes incremental backups problematic.

The next obvious step would be to allow the backups to be stored redundantly across the computers of multiple participants, so that you are not just reliant on one other person.  For this to work you’d need to volunteer to make available much more space for other people’s backups than your own backups require – perhaps twice as much.

I’m tempted to develop this service, however  I’m not sure how I could cover my costs. Would you pay say US$25 a year for a peer-based secure offsite backup service?