What does a decade and a half of development get you?

May 14th, 2018 - Posted by Ben Thomson, Director of Operations

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You probably all know the familiar notification sounds of an unnamed “business” networking site (owned by, ahem, Microsoft!). I wouldn’t say I am incredibly active on the site, or in my case the app, however I awoke this morning to hear the repeated “pings”, along with notification I had over 10 messages to read.

I know my phone can sometimes act up, so I had assumed it was all an error on the phone or the apps part, however it is apparent now the majority of these messages were congratulations on the anniversary of me joining RedTie. 16 years to be precise in April. I had to double-check, 16 years??! Where has that gone?

I have aged 16 years by looking in the mirror (no grey hairs yet though!). How has software development come on however? If we take a look at our own web to print platform, we could start with its humble beginnings as one of the first Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) in the market. 16 years ago we pursued the dream of making software that was both easy to use anywhere with a browser, whilst being incredibly feature rich.

Back then we were mostly hampered by limitations of the browser – at the time, HTML4 was the standard for front-end design and with this we had to really think outside the box in order to get the features we wanted into the software. There will be some of you that remember that even JavaScript was taking a beating from an enterprise and security point of view… I personally remember reading “JavaScript to be outlawed!” type articles in the development media!

Fast forward a few years and HTML5 arrived (ok more than a few years, the gap between HTML 4 & 5 was over 10 years) with some fanfare and brought JavaScript frameworks such JQuery essentially bringing JavaScript back to life. The rule book for website design had to be torn up as this new version of HTML brought together media rich options such as embedded video and a whole host of better user interface controls. Brilliant we all thought, we can build the feature rich web to print software we always wanted but… there’s a catch (isn’t there always?!).

With such a radical new release of the HTML standard and associated technologies, it took some time for browsers to catch up. To implement bleeding edge features meant we had to move a lot of our development roadmap to be limited to those customers that used the latest browsers. Some customers will remember when we had 2 versions of our product builder for example – one that had a limited feature set vs. the all singing, all dancing version offering almost total control over personalisation options, albeit requiring the latest browsers.

We should all remember some of the issues we had with the transition from terrible browsers (I’m looking at you IE8) to HTML5 compatible ones. I would say this period caused us the most headaches in terms of releasing impressive features whilst maintaining browser support. If I dive into our online ticket system history back to 2010 I can see a number of cases where simply replacing certain browsers with the latest Google Chrome opened up a whole new world of features for customers who previously couldn’t use them.

Then there’s the choice of underlying programming languages. There’s a few choices available, all with their own eccentric ways of doing things. Some good, some bad. Ultimately, does it matter to a user of cloud-based software such as ours? We do the programming and as long as it’s feature rich, who cares? Well we do and you should too! Choosing .NET has given us huge payback in terms of everything from better user interface controls to scalability and stability. It’s seen as the “grown-up” language for good reason.

More recently, Microsoft (the owners of the .NET language) have been outlining their roadmap for a more “build once, release to many” utopia. The dream of many a programmer I can tell you! The principles will be based on .NET (and called .NET Standard) and will allow for software to be developed once and released on multiple platforms, for example Windows, Linux, Android or iOS. It is still early days for this new ambitious plan to make .NET multi-platform and has really extended the potential of the language. If we made the right decision nearly 20 years ago to use the Microsoft development environment then these changes have backed up that decision and we are confident it will have been the right choice in another 20 years.

So when someone asks me what has changed over the last 16 years I say the rules may have changed but the game has not. You can say that we have had to make some sacrifices whilst technology catches up, however choosing a web to print software provider that pushes the boundaries such as we do means you are always at the forefront of future development.