Skinning the frog
My site for talking about the customization of Windows.
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Dec 4, 2018 5:02 PM by Discussion: Fences

As we work on the next version of Fences, we are interested in getting your feedback on what you'd like to see.

We are particularly interested in features that will make Fences more useful in your work and enterprise environment.  

Please comment below with any ideas and suggestions you might have.

Thanks!

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Nov 27, 2018 4:16 PM by Discussion: Stardockians

Are you a software developer interested in working in the game industry? Are you a talented artist with a great eye for making games with a distinctive look and feel? If so, make sure you check out some of the positions available at Stardock

Stardock has been around 25 years with the average employee having worked here for over 5 years.  It's an environment that encourages innovation, career growth and is just plain a fun place to work.

Today's highlighted position: Game Developer

Stardock is trying to fill up engineering spots at its Plymouth Michigan studio.  The position would involve working on cutting edge games as well as helping us bring our games to other platforms.  

Primary Responsibilities Include:
  • Write gameplay code and UI code.
  • Scripting and helping create quests and campaigns.
  • Improving engineering skills.
Education and/or Experience Desired:
  • Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science, Engineering, Mathematics or equivalent work experience.
  • A passion for gaming and game design.
  • Self-motivated, likes to identify and solve problems.
  • Strong C++ background.

If you're enthusiastic about the position and would like to tell us about it, please submit your resume and cover letter to jobs@stardock.com, with "Game Developer" in the subject line.

 

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Nov 27, 2018 4:16 PM by Discussion: Stardockians

Are you a software developer interested in working in the game industry? Are you a talented artist with a great eye for making games with a distinctive look and feel? If so, make sure you check out some of the positions available at Stardock

Stardock has been around 25 years with the average employee having worked here for over 5 years.  It's an environment that encourages innovation, career growth and is just plain a fun place to work.

Today's highlighted position: Game Developer

Stardock is trying to fill up engineering spots at its Plymouth Michigan studio.  The position would involve working on cutting edge games as well as helping us bring our games to other platforms.  

Primary Responsibilities Include:
  • Write gameplay code and UI code.
  • Scripting and helping create quests and campaigns.
  • Improving engineering skills.
Education and/or Experience Desired:
  • Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science, Engineering, Mathematics or equivalent work experience.
  • A passion for gaming and game design.
  • Self-motivated, likes to identify and solve problems.
  • Strong C++ background.

If you're enthusiastic about the position and would like to tell us about it, please submit your resume and cover letter to jobs@stardock.com, with "Game Developer" in the subject line.

 

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Nov 27, 2018 3:05 PM by Discussion: Personal Computing

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Stardock!  As the founder, President, and CEO of the company starting from the time I was a college student, I've made a ton of mistakes that you can learn from. Below is a list of both small and large errors I have made over the years.

#1 Computer Hardware becomes worthless

It is really difficult to admit that a perfectly good monitor, keyboard, mouse - or even PC - eventually becomes worthless.  Over the years, I tried to find increasingly ridiculous uses for old hardware simply because I couldn't stand the wastage. If you have a company of more than 100 people for enough time, you can imagine how much old hardware stacks up. 

Sure, you can donate some of it, or try putting pieces on eBay, but for the most part, you will spend far more time than it's worth trying to find a purpose for it once it is ready to be put out to pasture.

#2 There is no perfect office setup

We have spent countless thousands of dollars over the years on "Office Systems".  These are desks, cube walls, and all kinds of other things that are designed to create an efficient, yet comfortable, environment for your colleagues.  There are some great articles out there with many different ideas. However, you will find that these ideas come and go based on how fast technology is moving.  

Incidentally, once used, these office systems are worthless from a resale value.  When times change, just bite the bullet and be prepared to invest in a new "system".

#3 It is better to own a piece of a valuable thing than all of a worthless thing

In my younger days, I frequently made the mistake that I see countless entrepreneurs still making. It isn't the percentage you own of something that matters - it is the value of what you own that does. 

One of my favorite stories is the story behind Impulse.  Stardock was the first company to engage in what we now call digital distribution. Defined as being able to purchase, download, and install a piece of content (a game, a piece of software) from an integrated app store, Stardock in 1998 was way ahead of its time.  The very first game that was released at retail and digitally was Galactic Civilizations in 2003. 

Seems smart so far, right?

During this period, we had numerous requests to invest in us, but I said no because I didn't want to give up stock to "strangers" (this is one of those issues of having grown up poor; I was very unsophisticated in business early on). 

Using our own profits, we built up what became Impulse. Despite it having a multi-year lead in both technology and market availability, it ultimately was eclipsed by Steam, which had vastly more capital available to it (and more importantly, Half-Life II).  Ultimately, we sold Impulse to GameStop, which did bring a tremendous return on our investment, but still nothing compared to what it could have been had I been more sophisticated when it mattered.

Capital is king.

#4 It's a business, not a cause

Most Entrepreneurs I've met are driven by something.  In my case, I was animated by a desire to see IBM's OS/2 succeed.  Stardock nearly went bankrupt in the 1990's because, despite knowing that Windows was going to obliterate OS/2 in the long-run, I was emotionally invested in OS/2.  Luckily, we survived this folly, but only barely.  Despite Windows NT 4.0 coming out in 1996, Stardock didn't migrate to Windows until three years after, which is an eternity in the technology industry.

#5 Attitude matters more than talent

I have made many bad hiring decisions over the years.  To the point that I rarely, if ever, get involved in hiring.  As CEO, my job is to find and recruit people more talented than I am (which admittedly is a low bar...), but that isn't the same thing as hiring them. If we define talent as "intelligence x conscientiousness x experience," then we will define "attitude" as their ability to act as a force multiplier on the organization. 

People who know me will tell you that I have a distinct lack of insight into people's character.  That is, I tend to like everyone I meet and if they are talented, I tend to fixate on that. This is why in the past decade or so, after the recruiting process, I largely step aside to let people with greater empathy and insight evaluate the potential new colleague.

However, no matter how talented a person is, if they are toxic to your organization, they can actually reduce your company's overall productivity. If you have a hard time judging the attitude of someone, get a good HR manager who can.  Your job as an entrepreneur is to identify talent and recruit them. But it is not a requirement that you are able to determine if they're a good fit. 

#6 Know when to let go

I literally grew up in a dying steel town.  Seeing the parents of friends lose their jobs in Detroit during the 1970's and 1980's had a significant impact on my attitude toward laying people off.  This attitude nearly ruined Stardock when we moved from OS/2 to Windows because we had to let a lot of people go in order to make that transition, and I was just not prepared to do that. 

Rather than laying off a few people early on, I ended up being forced to lay off a lot more people later on instead in order to migrate the company from OS/2 to Windows. If I had simply made the hard decision early rather than waiting, I could have saved several jobs (and several friendships).

If you ask someone in banking who has dealt with "work out," the #1 cause of businesses failing is not being able to downsize employees.  The companies will cut all kinds of pointless things ("Let's get rid of air conditioning!") to save pennies when the the right call is really to let someone go.

In the technology industry, layoffs are particularly aggressive because of its rapid evolution.  Let me give you a really obvious example.  For much of my career, I had an "Executive Planner".  This was a person whose job was largely to keep me on schedule.  I remember when Soren and I were starting up Mohawk and on my first visit with him I brought my Planner with me.  She was very organized, very professional, and personable. But now, just 5 years later, it would be ludicrous to bring on a human being to do what my iPhone or Surface can do far better.

Lots of permanent jobs have gone away as we have specialized or automated ourselves.  Only you can decide where to draw the line on keeping people who have been with you many years, but whose jobs are no longer make sense in your business, or having to make a painful cut. But knowing where to draw the line might mean the difference between success or failure for your business.

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Oct 1, 2018 1:47 PM by Discussion: Life, the Universe and Everything

One of the challenges I face in my role as the CEO of a company is that I always live in the future.  My job is to project things that will happen 1 year, 3 years, 5 years from now.  As a result, I tend to worry about things all the time.

Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel, wrote a book I highly recommend called Only the Paranoid Survive. It's been a boon and a curse to me because I have learned a lot from it but at the same time, it has resulted in me constantly focusing on the future and not the present which is, frankly, not a very good way to live.

So what can be done? There is a concept called Mindfulness.  It is, in essence, about focusing on the here and now.  Many of us are aware of the advice to appreciate what you have today but that's easier said than done.  The question is...how?  Mindfulness is not advice, it is a series of techniques to try to focus more on the here and now to appreciate the moment, to live more in the moment in order to find a better balance between planning for the future and thinking of the present.

My question to you guys is, how many of you struggle with this as well and what techniques have you used to address it?

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This morning I awoke to see one of the most flagrant examples of doxing ever.

Now, to be fair, this person did apologize:

image

This event started because the social media person at a game company made a joke that this person didn't like.  To make that person pay "in real life", they took it upon themselves to find out who the person was and make their information public.  This is an ugly trend that seems to be gaining momentum.  Someone offends you with words, you try to ruin their reputation or career in real life. How do we stop this?

Well, let's look at this case. What caused this person to suddenly apologize and protect their account? We can only speculate.  But I suspect you, the reader, have some pretty good guesses of what happened.  I suspect that people found out who this person is in real life and found out they too have a career that they don't want to have affected.  I suspect, like many people, they instinctively believed in anonymity for me but not for thee was in play.  That said, good for them for apologizing. 

As someone who has been doxed hundreds (literally as in >99) of times over the years including having my home address posted with a picture of my house posted with a note that someone "should do something" about me as well as someone using that information to call our house and threaten to murder my wife and (disgusting act) my son, I am very well in tune to what doxing is (and isn't). 

You do not have an absolute right to anonymity

What happens online should stay online.  We should respect people's privacy and we should respect their desire to be anonymous.  But that is not the same as having an absolute right.  As soon as someone's online actions start to have real world consequences for their target, all bets are off.

I've been online since the Commodore 64 BBS days. There has been a gradual, but unmistakable, trend towards believing that no matter what someone does, it is out of bounds to reveal who that person is in real life.  That's insane.  If someone is trying to get someone else fired from their real life job then they should have no illusions that the target or friends of their target might return the favor.

To give you an idea of how out of touch some people are, I've actually had people quote me saying what I essentially wrote above as evidence that I support doxing.  This is akin to saying I support violence if I believe in the right of self-defense. 

Would those critics suggest that if someone was calling for violence against someone and posting their address that it would be immoral to find out who that person is? Of course not. They've already agreed that anonymity isn't absolute, we are only discussing when it should be pierced.

If we want people to stop trying to destroy other people's real-life careers, we need to find a way to discourage that kind of behavior.  To do that, we need to reverse the trend that allows people to think that they can hide behind their Internet anonymity while they try to destroy someone's livelihood and that is to recognize that anonymity isn't a right, it's a privilege that shouldn't be abused.

Rule of thumb

If you are trying to harm an individual in the real world, such as trying to get them fired or do not be surprised if they or their friends return the favor. I suspect that is what Matt there discovered when he decided to try to damage the employee at CDPR in real life.

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Aug 15, 2018 9:27 PM by Discussion: Personal Computing

Being involved in gaming communities means dealing with a lot of drama.  The most common problem I observe are people who have no capacity for empathy.  It never occurs to them what someone might do back at them.

Here are a few truths I've come to recognize:

  1. If you attack someone's livelihood, don't be surprised if someone returns the favor.
  2. You have no right to anonymity. People should respect your privacy but don't confuse respect with rights.
  3. Do not assume that you can attack the "Bigger person" with impunity. There is no rule that states that your target won't punch down in response.
  4. If you dance around a dumpster fire along enough, you will get burned.
  5. Don't apply rules to others that you do not keep yourself.

For me, these 5 rules have been a survival guide over the past three decades I've been online.  As I once explained to a colleague, you cannot infinitely absorb abuse from people and stay balanced.  You have to either redirect it harmlessly or failing that, make sure the perpetrator is given a figurative knock with a rolled up newspaper.

The counter-response, the one I've heard decade after decade usually involves "you have to ignore them".  That sort of response only comes from people who have never been the subject of social media mob justice or someone dedicated to your personal, real-life, destruction. 

One example of someone who got a harsh lesson was a friend of my wife who heard me complain about the review bombing of my book.  Mind you, this book was released in 2010, long before there was any awareness of the concept of "Social Justice Warriors".  In brief, a handful of people from a particular political forum wanted to make sure my "vile" (i.e. libertarian-like) political opinions resulted in me paying a price in real life.  Sound familiar?

Now, back in those days, I was still firmly in the "don't dignify with response, ignore it" camp that our PR people always insisted on.  So I just took it and complained to my wife and her friend.  She insisted that I just had to grow a thicker skin and proceeded to write a glowingly positive review that quickly resulted in the dogpilers to turn on her.  She became incredibly upset and raged "My family can see these comments about me!" and proceeded to delete her review.  Doing so, incidentally, resulted in a long-running myth that my wife reviews our stuff. 

But the point was made: It's easy give advice that amounts to "ignore the haters" but it's another thing to actually be on the receiving end of it. Which is why I live by those 5 rules. 

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Jul 1, 2018 1:25 AM by Discussion: Everything Else

https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/saturn-s-moon-enceladus-now-likeliest-place-find-alien-life-ncna887921

So we may have a candidate for life around one of Saturn’s moons.

Looks like we will need to make sure we look closely at this moon for the new Star Control.

There are some very interesting articles and videos at just how terrifyingly it would be if it turns out life is pretty common. Because if that’s the case, where is everyone?

 

 

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One of the less pleasant trends I've seen in social media is the lack of recognition that actions can have consequences.  It never ceases to amaze me to see grown adults behave in a beastly way and be shocked, shocked that their actions have resulted in consequences that were almost entirely predictable.

One exercise that I think many people would benefit from would be to consider what someone else might do in return.  Rather than trying to guess what they might possibly do, consider what they can do in response to something done to them.

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This article was originally written in 2001 as Stardock was nearing it’s 10th anniversary but it is as true now as it was then.

Companies often give lip service on customer support.  But in my experience, few companies really understand that supporting customers isn’t just a moral issue, it’s also good business.

[[..]]

The New NEW Technology Economy: The Customer Is God

If one good thing is going to come out of this recession, it’s that the dot-com’s will not just have simply died, but their roots will have been destroyed as well. Most people had their own reasons to despise the whole dot-com thing, but there was one universally bad trait about them that has not been discussed until now: dot-com’s were bad for consumers in the long run.

Why? Because most of their strategies involved building the largest customer base possible, with far less emphasis put on treating those customers well. And if that ploy had succeeded, it would have been very bad indeed for consumers.

Consumers. What a terrible name. I’ve used it three times in this article already. What a belittling term. Yet we take it for granted now. Each of these so-called consumers are individuals who work hard to earn the money they spend on a given product or service. And yet technology companies seem to forget that.

Our company, Stardock, was lucky. It was lucky because it nearly went out of business in 1998. How is that lucky? Because we discovered a secret. A vital secret:

Treating customers as gods matters.

You see, back in 1994 our company was an OS/2 Independent Software Vendor, or ISV. We made software for IBM’s OS/2 operating system. None of us had business backgrounds. We were engineers and techies. We brought our own attitudes and opinions to the company, and one of those attitudes was that we hated the way many tech companies treated us. And so when we set out on OS/2, we wanted to make sure we treated our customers as more than just customers, but as part of the team.

Our customers are our friends in a very literal sense. When we blew a beta date on one of our games, we sent our pre-paying beta testers a free copy of another game as a surprise, and then a few weeks later we released the beta. There was no PR calculation, no scientific thought put into it. We just felt bad and wanted to send them something so that they had a new game to play for Christmas. These were the kinds of things we did. We made sure our customers understood that we cared about them.

And then in 1997 the OS/2 market collapsed. Windows NT 4.0 happened, and the exodus from OS/2 was massive. With a year our revenue from OS/2 software dwindled to almost nothing.

This was actually the best thing that ever happened to us, because we discovered a business reality that apparently escaped the dot-com’s—that customer loyalty is just as important as customer quantity.

You see, in 1998 we had to switch gears and move into the Windows market. But we couldn’t get any venture capital. We couldn’t even get bank loans. We were finished. It was over. We were getting our resumes out. What’s more, we knew that once we jumped into the Windows market with Object Desktop for Windows, our desktop enhancements could very well fall prey to Microsoft when it developed new versions of Windows. That is, the ideas we would come up with and implement for Object Desktop for Windows might end up as “features” in future Windows editions.

So we decided to do something new—sell our product as a subscription. For $50, users would be able to buy a one-year subscription for Object Desktop that included all current features, plus everything we made for it in the following year. And they could keep the product even if they didn’t re-subscribe (something I’ll talk more about later).

Now there’s a little drawback to this. The first year Object Desktop for Windows was on the market, we had zip. Object Desktop was just a bunch of promises and partially functioning code in a lab. It required users to pay $50 for a bunch of software sight unseen. And it would require a lot of them to do it, because creating all this software was going to be expensive and time consuming.

But our customers, formerly on OS/2 but now on Windows, purchased it by the thousands. They remembered us and how we treated them. They trusted us. They thought of us in the same way we thought of them—as friends. Stardock wasn’t just another software company to them; we were friends, and if we said we were going to create these things, then they accepted the fact that we would.

And we did. By the end of 1999, we had produced ControlCenter, WindowBlinds, Tab LaunchPad, ObjectEdit, and a bunch of other things. Their trust paid off. We were able to create a product without any venture capital.

Customer loyalty really matters. If you treat people fairly, with respect, as individuals instead of “consumers,” you will earn their respect and trust in return.

Which brings us back to those dot-com’s. They really screwed things up. They often treated their customers with contempt. What we learned isn’t that the customer is always right—they’re not, and I have argued plenty of times online with them when I felt they were wrong. But we always treated them as individuals whose voices needed to be listened to if not agreed with.

The dot-com’s, on the other hand, came in and wanted to show results fast, and that meant grabbing as many bodies as possible without a care as to how they’d be treated. Even worse, the dot-com’s came up with get-rich-quick schemes that have since required an extraordinary amount of damage control by the rest of us.

Take subscription software, for example. In 1998, we were doing this electronically. Arguably, we were the first ones to provide such an electronic .NET mechanism. (In fact in 1999 we launched Stardock.NET – a year before Microsoft’s .NET initiative.) But the dot-com’s, not wanting to earn their customers’ loyalty but instead to simply tie their hands, came up with subscription systems that would require ongoing patronage or else their software or service would be useless.

If magazines worked under their system, Newsweek would take all your existing issues back if you didn’t renew your subscription. That’s BS. You paid for those magazines. They’re yours. If a magazine wants you to re-subscribe, then it better treat you well. That means it better keep providing value. It means the people who work there better listen to you. Put simply, they better earn your loyalty.

Unfortunately for the dot-com’s, they didn’t learn that in time. I can think of one remaining dot-com which has done a good job retaining customers: Amazon.com. But they’re an exception to the rule for the most part. The successful dot-com’s caught on that individual customers matter. Ten thousand very loyal customers are better than 100,000 indifferent customers, because the loyal ones will be there for you at crunch time. And many a dead company mistakenly believed they’d never experience a crunch time.

Probably the worst thing dot-com’s did was to make customers cynical. Many a new Stardock customer is quite wary of the things we do at first, because they think it’s a marketing or PR ploy. The dot-com’s really did a job on “consumers.” Think about it—when your barber or hair stylist asks how your wife or husband is doing, you don’t think it’s a ploy. That’s because the barbers and hair stylists of the world know something that the dot-com execs never learned—that people are individuals, not “consumers” to be harvested.

I predict that the NEW new economy will be built on the premise that, while the customer isn’t always right, he or she is an individual who always deserves respect. Customers should be treated as good friends, not simply as passing acquaintances. If they have a problem, find out what it is. Talk to them. It doesn’t mean kissing up to them; respect is a two way street, and you can’t build loyalty and friendship without respect. But if you want respect, you have to give it. That means treating those people with high regard, not as cattle.

The successful technology companies have always learned to treat customers as individuals, as lifelong partners. This means looking at the long term. It means building a long-term relationship with them and earning their trust and respect.

The NEW new economy won’t be good for “consumers.” But it’ll be great for people.

Brad Wardell

Brad Wardell is the President and CEO of Stardock (www.stardock.com). He’s known to hang out on Usenet and various on-line communities talking directly to customers to find out what they want improved.

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