MY EXPERIENCE:


Inkspin1 is a startup based in Estonia founded by people who had been with Skype since near its beginning. They are partners with Skype in writing a Skype client intended to run on televisions, to allow "grandma" to use Skype without needing to figure out the whole computer thing.

Most televisions run Linux (I didn't know that!), so our job was to write a generic demonstration client that would be easy to tweak to TV manufacturor hardware and branding requirements.

When I came on board the development group was 4 people in China working on the GUI and the "guru" in Estonia who was handling the connection through the Skype API. They had been working on the GUI for over 6 months, and it was going nowhere. It didn't take more than a few days to see the problem was they had no overall design - every application and every screen used GTK and Clutter API calls for their graphics. Not only was writing and adjusting every applicaton a major job, but when the time came to customize for manufacturers the process would be just as slow and error-prone as making the demo was.

After a month I went to Estonia to meet with the directors, and convinced them that this would not work, that we had to start over. I promised that by the end of 2 months we would not only have the new system in place and be back where we were, but that the scheduled release of the demo version would not have to be delayed, that in 3 months' time the GUI would be essentially done. In the 2 days I had left in Estonia I got the basics of the design done and demonstrated the main application running.

They agreed to the change. One of our programmers was fired, a second second quit, and we picked up one new junior who was very good. And... we got the code finished on time. Using our new widget set applications were not only much shorter and simpler to write, but they were easily adaptable to any style changes requested by our designer or clients. Widgets ranged from basic geometrical shapes up to more complicated ones like a virtual keyboard for entering data, or a badge for representing a Skype contact.

Besides writing the widgets, the most interesting thing about this project was learning how Skype ran its distributed database. Event handling is very different when a request needs to be sent out to the cloud, and there is no guarantee of how many replies you will get, how long it will take them to come in, and when they are finished.

Inkspin1 ran into cash flow problems and shut down development for some time, including closing their China development group. But, they have recovered and their product was announced in early 2013. I spoke with the CEO, and they are still using the GUI that we wrote.
 
 

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