A New Year's Letter from Zugg

What's in store for 2001?

Happy New Year!

It's become a tradition for me to review the past year and to then give you a peek at what is coming in the next year.  In working on this year's letter, I've noticed that I never wrote a letter last year!  The year 2000 was a very hectic one, and last January I was still fresh from my wedding and honeymoon and wasn't thinking much about zMUD I guess (Bad Zugg).  So, this year, I get to review the status of the past two years, and then speculate on the year 2001. 

zMUD in 1999

Not much happened with zMUD in 1999.  With my (then) upcoming wedding being planned, I was kept pretty busy.  In fact, other than some automapper improvements, most of 1999 was spend dealing with copy protection issues in zMUD.  The registration code algorithm was changed in late 1998, and a Y2K bug in that algorithm was reported in early 1999.  zMUD version 5.55 was released in June just in time to fix another time-related bug on July 1st.  Then the wedding came in September and time seemed to accelerate.

zMUD in 2000

The year 2000 was a much better one for zMUD.  With my new wife leaving her regular job and joining Zugg Software full time doing email support, I was able to devote more of my time to programming.  If you email zuggsoft these days, you'll usually get a reply from my wife Chiara, unless it's a technical question that she passes directly to me.  This cut my email load by more than half, which was critical in getting more focused on programming.

In early 2000, serious work on zMUD v6.00 was started.  The web site also got an overhaul as I switched from the ShareIt registration service company and started processing orders directly on the zuggsoft.com site using Cybercash.  Then, in May, the tragic fire struck our town of Los Alamos.  Fortunately, our home and business were spared, but over 400 families lost their homes to this terrible fire and even today, are still just getting started rebuilding.  Most of these families still just have charred, empty lots and no homes built yet.  We were only 2 blocks from the devastation and lucky to have come through intact.  However, we still lost more than 2 weeks of work, and emotionally, zMUD wasn't my highest priority for a while after the fire.

Then, in the summertime I attended the annual Borland conference (zMUD is written using Delphi from Borland) and the annual Shareware Industry conference.  Finally by late August I had time to focus on zMUD once again.

And focus I did.  There was a new record for the number of zMUD versions released during the months of Sept, Oct, and Nov 2000.  Hundreds of Beta testers helped me find and fix countless bugs in the new versions.  Ambitious new features such as Window Docking proved to be very difficult to get working.  But finally, in late Nov and early Dec, a stable, public version of zMUD (6.15) was released.

While v6.15 still has some bugs (no program is ever bug free), it has statistically fewer bugs than any other past version of zMUD!  And as of today, there are 31,000 registered zMUD users!!  Thanks to everyone who has continued to support zMUD!

New Copy Protection

The year 2000 also saw major changes in copy protection and licensing.  The old version 5.55 had been out long enough that many hackers had figured out ways around the home-grown copy protection methods that I used, causing zMUD income to drop.  Also, the copy protection became notorious for failing and causing customers to get dreaded Code 301 or Code 111 errors.  In many cases, potential new customers were unable to get their full 30-execution trial.  And yet, at the same time, I was spending a considerable amount of time working on the copy protection code instead of working on real features.

I finally decided, in late summertime, to use a commercial company for the zMUD licensing and copy protection.  After a very extensive evaluation of several companies, I choice the eLicense solution from ViaTech.  While the transition has been a bit bumpy, ViaTech has been great in their help and support of zMUD, and I no longer have to spend any of my own time on copy protection code.  Customers now get a full 30-day trial and no longer get burned by the home-grown copy protection problems.  True, eLicense comes with some issues of it's own, particularly the limit of 3 licenses and how these licenses can get lost because of reformatting your computer.  However, eLicense is working on these issues are are improving the situation.  Also, when someone finally cracks the eLicense system (which I'm sure they will eventually), I'll have a dedicated company working on fixing it, or taking legal action as necessary.  Both things that I'd prefer not to work on myself.  eLicense really saved Zugg Software this year and allowed me to focus on adding real features to zMUD instead of just messing with copy protection.

Grades for the past 2 years

OK, so before looking ahead, let's look back at the predictions made in 1999 and see how I did.  For 1999, the priorities were:

This finally got done in 2000 in version 6.10 with the implementation of MXP (see below).
MUD eXtension Protocol (MXP): B
I finally produced a version of zMUD with basic MXP support.  I'm excited that several MUDs are taking a leading role in adding MXP to their MUDs and to several important MUD code bases.  While MXP is only partially implemented, I look forward to expanding the MXP support in zMUD over the coming year as more and more MUDs support it.
Chat Server: F
This never happened because of legal issues in making zChat compatible with ICQ.  The zChat project has now been placed way on the back burner until the IETF releases some standards for instant messaging.
zTelnet: F
Still haven't done this, but it's still on my list for this next year.
Advertising: D
I promoted zMUD, but not nearly as much as I'd like.  I never made it to GenCon, although I'm hoping again this year to attend.
Customer Service: A
I've got to gloat about this one.  With the addition of my wife doing email support, we are keeping to our stated goal of responding to all email within 48 hours when we are in town.  With a growing customer base, our email load just keeps increasing, making it harder and harder to keep up.  Between the two of us, we spend more time on customer support than I do on programming.  Top level customer support is an important issue for me and one of the main reasons I think many people use zMUD.  In addition, even with the licensing changes this year, I was able to continue to provide free upgrades to existing customers as promised (and this wasn't easy...most licensing companies could not accommodate this business model).

So, what happened that I did not predict?  Well, instead of focusing on 2-year old predictions, I instead took a close look at the last zMUD Survey Results.  Here are the items most requested in the survey results:

zMUD script debugging: A
The syntax editor and debugger are fully functional in v6.15 and are very stable.  The settings editor was completely rewritten to handle the syntax editor, adding other new features like nested class folders, and creating a user interface more like Windows Explorer that is easier for new users to learn.
Improved Window interface: B+
Version 6.15 has the new window Docking support.  Docking can be very cool, but it can still be a bit buggy.  The more I use it and get used to how it works, the more I like it.  But Windows just wasn't designed to easily handle a docking interface like this, so I reduced the grade because of the bugs that still occur now and then.
More Tutorials: F
Haven't gotten to this yet.  My wife is working on some tutorials; I've got a tutorial submitted by a zMUD user that I need to look at and post; I've got several topics (Gauges, Window Docking) that I want to write tutorials for soon.  Hopefully this year I'll get to this.

The rest of the items in the survey didn't get much attention, except that I did add MCCP (MUD Client Compression Protocol) support even though it didn't get a high response in the survey, and added COM scripting and plugin support (which is very cool).

So, overall, I'll give myself a D for zMUD work in 1999, but a B+ for zMUD work in 2000.

What's coming in 2001?

Here are my plans and predictions for 2001.  This year, I'm going to be branching out with some other products and not just focusing entirely on zMUD.  So, I'll provide a section for each product that I have plans for:

The main focus in zMUD development this year will be MXP and Plugin support.  Automapper improvements are covered in the Mapper described below.  With MXP, I want to work with more developers to improve the MXP spec and get more support for MXP in the MUD community.  For Plugin support, I want to add more to the COM interface to support things like dockable panels/windows for plugins, and to support more sophisticated plugins like the Mapper addon and a potential Database addon.  Timeframe for the next round of zMUD versions is June-Dec 2001.
zMUD Developer's Kit
The pricing of the Developer's Kit is being changed so that only developer's that create public plugins will have to pay the licensing fee.  The kit will be free for private/personal use.  Also, Visual Basic and C++ examples of COM plugins will be added to the kit, along with the COM documentation.  Timeframe: Feb-Mar 2001.
This will be a standalone mapping and database program.  It will interface with zMUD as a plugin and will greatly enhance the features of the current automapper. But it will also allow you to create any kinds of maps for any other game.  For example, I'd like to be able to create nice, printable, D&D maps with this tool, and also use it as a Dungeon Master tool for tracking people during live roleplaying sessions.  This will be a separate product with a separate charge from zMUD.  Price to be determined.  Timeframe: June-Dec 2001.
During the summer of 2000, I took the core technology from DoctorZ and created the DoctorPing program being used at www.dslreports.com to test DSL connections.  During the DoctorPing development, several improvements were made to the base technology that I need to roll back into a new version of DoctorZ.  I also want to fix some of the bugs in DoctorZ and make it into a more useful network testing and monitoring tool.  I may also change the name to something different/better.  I'll also be wrapping DoctorZ with the eLicense copy protection scheme.  Timeframe: March-May 2001.
AC Explorer:
This has been a popular, free, mapping and database tool for Microsoft's Asheron's Call game.  Because I've gotten a lot of good suggestions for major improvements, and because donations for this product have been good, I'll be doing a commercial version called AC Explorer Pro this year.  Price to be determined.  Timeframe: Feb-May 2001.
This will be a version of zMUD intended more for a business environment.  MUD-specific features like the Automapper and some of the graphics, startup screen, etc will be removed.  SSH support will be added and VT100 scrolling region bugs will be fixed.  Otherwise it will be the same code base as zMUD.  This will be a separate product with a separate charge from zMUD.  Price to be determined.  Timeframe: May-June 2001.
zMUD for Linux:
Borland is releasing a Linux version of their Delphi development tool (which is what zMUD is written in) early this year.  I was supposed to be on the beta testing list, but something happened and I never got a beta copy.  Once Delphi for Linux (Kylix) is released, I'll start to play with it to see how well it works.  While a direct port of zMUD is out of the question due to Windows-specific code in zMUD, I might start a new, cross-platform rewrite of zMUD using Kylix.  I still haven't decided if Linux users will pay for software, so this project is still up in the air.  You can donate to help this project and show your support for Linux.  Timeframe: ??? (depends on Borland).

That's a very long list of projects, so it will be a busy year!  Feel free to send me feedback/suggestions on any of these projects.

So there's a look at the year ahead.  It's always hard to predict exactly what will happen.  1999 and 2000 certainly didn't go exactly as planned, but was still a great year for zMUD users.  2001 should be even better.  Thanks again to all of the zMUD users out their that continue to support it, and to all of the people who have supported Shareware and registered their software.



This page was last updated on January 08, 2002.