INTERVIEW: Alykhan Jetha (aka AJ), MarketCircle’s Founder

I had the good fortune to have an opportunity to ask some questions of AJ, MarketCircle’s Founder. What follows are some interesting insights into the approach to developing great apps for the Small/Medium Business audience of Mac users. Special thanks to AJ and Jill McCubbin!

GB: The iPhone appears to be a ‘closed’ environment. Too early really to tell any different. How do you see Marketcircle’s products adding value to new platforms such as the iPhone? How much more value add would you have with a more open platform? Say, with a voicemail API for instance…

AJ: A lot of people are ranting about this closed system. Do I want it open? Damn right I do. But I don’t blame Apple – in fact I think it’s a good idea. Apple has a lot on its plate. Opening the system up now would delay the iPhone launch. I say, get it out, perfect it, clean up the APIs and then open it up. The APIs aren’t the only thing Apple has to worry about. The people there will also need to publish a developer toolkit. Bring it on Steve!

GB: Integration and ease of use being key components of adoption… Is there anything in particular you see around the bend Leopard enables for the next versions of your products? Care to offer details (CalDAV, etc)?

AJ: There is a lot to like in Leopard from a developer’s perspective and we have already started to take advantage of some technologies. For example, Billings 2.5 is 99% resolution independent already. We are keeping a close eye on many Leopard features – including the scripting bridge, core animation and CalDAV – but there are still many questions that we don’t yet have answers to. WWDC promises to be really productive this year.

GB: A good bit has been said about Apple’s lack of adoption in the enterprise, yet quarter over quarter their growth is outpacing all of the other computer companies. How can that NOT impact the enterprise!? Has Marketcircle seen any interesting “wins” in that space lately?

AJ: First, just to be clear about the term “enterprise”, that’s “large enterprise” as in companies greater than 500 employees. The fact is, according to the 2004 US Census, there are over 5.8 million businesses with less than 500 employees versus a little over 17,000 businesses with more than 500 employees. Those 5.8 million small businesses employ over 58 million people versus approximately 56 million for the larger businesses.

So, Apple’s in fact addressing the business majority with the iPhone, and that majority has the discretionary dollars and nimbleness to be early adopters. This majority has no need to beg an enterprise I.T. manager to please turn on the frigging phone.

From Marketcircle’s point of view, there are all kinds of requirements, special cases, this rule, that rule etc… and a software developer gets handcuffed by all this baggage and then progress slows. Just look at Microsoft to see that. The new Microsoft OS was continually neutered during the development process and now some of its biggest customers are not even upgrading – they are holding off.

I don’t know if you ever saw the first couple of betas of NeXTSTEP 4, back in the day? It had a gorgeous new interface but, by the time the OS shipped, we were back to the old UI. Why? Because NeXT’s “large enterprise” customers didn’t want to retrain their employees and refused to buy into the new UI. I think Steve Jobs learned from that lesson.

Apple is growing because of Apple innovations, and they are innovating because they don’t have to worry about large enterprise baggage.

Has Marketcircle had some wins in the enterprise forum recently? Yes, we have. But with so much effort and at such cost, in the end it wasn’t worth it. The large enterprise is where dinosaurs and user experience go to die. I’m happy Apple isn’t focused on that market.

GB: I love, love, love Daylite. I’ve used SaleForce.com and as good as it was I will NEVER go back. So, how do you make something so good better? And, if I might ask… when *IS* that QuickSilver integration coming? πŸ˜‰

AJ: Hey, thanks! Well that is easy to answer. We have a lot of ideas on how to make Daylite even better and so do our customers. The question is which innovations to accomplish first and when. We try to deliver power, flexibility and simplicity – yet this aim is very hard to balance. It takes considerable thought and debate to decide which new features get into Daylite, and when, but rest assured more and more improvements are always on the way.

Speaking of QuickSilver, did you know that Daylite has a couple of real convenient hot-key commands? The one I use the most is “New Task”. I use it from any app I’m working in when a thought comes to mind, and the best part is I can delegate that new task to anyone from that same screen. Combine hot keys with full keyboard access turned on, and you have some great new functionality.

GB: With all the hoopla surrounding Web 2.0… do you see a day when Daylite and/or Billings are developed as web applications (I see Ruby in one of your current for-hire job descriptions)?

AJ: That job application was for an internal position that we’ve now decided we don’t need. Ruby nonetheless holds some interesting possibilities because of the dynamism of the language itself. We will definitely put some of that technology to good use – but (cloak of mystery applied) not in the way you’d expect πŸ™‚

GB: Finally, again from a development point of view… How do you find XCode 2 (and 3 soon) helping or hindering your release cycles? Any interesting anecdotal stories for us shade tree programmers?

AJ: I’m not sure Xcode 2 (or 3) on its own will make a huge difference. What makes a difference is what comes with Xcode 3. Objective-C 2, other new frameworks and Xray are good examples. From a developer perspective, Leopard is pretty exciting. There are a lot of cool new things that Apple is putting in Leopard. I’m really looking forward to seeing what comes along – both from our engineers and other Mac developers out there.

As far as advice for shade tree programmers – a very common sentence comes to mind – just do it!

Again, my sincere thanks and appreciation to AJ and Jill! Some other really good interviews of AJ on Mac development and MarketCircle’s offerings can be found at CocoaRadio and at The Mac Observer.

Marketcircle Inc. develops award-winning business applications for Mac OS X, including Daylite business productivity management software, and Billings, a practical time-billing and invoicing application. Incorporated in 1999, Marketcircle Inc. is located in Toronto, Canada, with partners worldwide.

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