01 January 2011

Deep-Sky Planner 2: The Move to Windows

Fortunately Deep-Sky Planner 1 was successful enough to warrant a version 2. In the mid-1990s, DOS was losing market share rapidly to Windows 3.1 and Deep-Sky Planner needed to make the move. I stayed with Borland tools for the move, adopting Borland C++ 4 and the Object Windows Library (OWL) for the user interface. OWL was well designed and was similar to Microsoft's MFC in its role for developers. Other new technologies adopted at the time included WinHelp for the online help system and InstallShield for the setup program. (I have long held the belief that installation programs are almost as difficult to develop and test as many applications. Installshield helped, but not much!)

Learning the Windows 16-bit API was the major learning experience for this release. I was not an early adopter of Windows - in fact, I did most of the development for version 2 on OS/2 running Windows 3.1 in a virtual DOS machine. It seemed more stable to me than developing under Windows 3.1 but it really taxed my PS/2 model 70 computer at the time. By the end of the development cycle, I moved to a Pentium machine running Windows.

Memory and disk space were still critical design constraints for 16-bit Windows. Version 2 required an 80286 CPU or above, 8 MB of memory and a whopping 3.3 MB of hard disk space. My, times have changed!

Version 2 gained planet ephemeris and events calculations that users had requested. It contained the same 31,418 deep-sky objects as version 1 and nearly the same sorting and filtering options, just presented in Windows. The program took on the usual Windows behaviors: context sensitive help via F1, the familiar main application menu structure (File, Options, Window, Help), multiple report window management (cascade, tile, etc), and customizable toolbars. By making a search query and the resulting report take on the role of a 'document', it was reasonable to make functions like File|Save and File|Print do what a user might expect with a report. This interface design took some time to evolve. It occurred to me while taking my daughter for a morning walk in the stroller - she's in college now.

Version 2 went much more smoothly on the production side. I began a long working relationship with Rick Fienberg at Sky Publishing in 1995, and he was a true pleasure to work with. The first evaluation diskettes went to Sky in July of 1995. The contract was signed in November 1996 and the copyrights registered in December. The first advertisement appeared in the January 1997 issue of Sky & Telescope. Other venerable software titles appeared in ads of that issue, including TheSky v4, Redshift v2, Voyager v2 and Guide v5. Deep-Sky Planner 2.0 shipped on 2 diskettes and went for $49.95.

By March of 1997, I created web content for the product. I wanted to be able to distribute product updates through the web, and Sky accommodated that by providing space on the skypub.com site - another first for the author of a product published by Sky.

There were eventually 2 'bug fix' updates to version 2, so the web page idea worked out well. Version 1 never needed any bug fixes, but Windows was a different beast.

Next time I'll move on to version 3 and the promise of 32-bit Windows, more catalog data and more new features.

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