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Hawk / Ftwalk History

A More Personal Reflection:

Note: The following was written in 1999. It provides a small amount of insight into the state and activity level of Ftwalk (not much changed, see News):

I, Tom Hull, wrote Ftwalk, mostly in 1994-95 when I attempted to bootstrap a little software company (imaginatively named "Hull Software"). In theory, my company would specialize in tools and perhaps dabble in a little consulting. Ftwalk was meant to be just the first of many small tools, but as things turned out Ftwalk was overdeveloped and underhustled, and Hull Software was a bust.

Several things led to the overdevelopment, including:

  • Perl envy: While I had not heard of Perl when I started Ftwalk, when I did become cognizant of Perl, I thought it was plug ugly, and that once I matched Perl tit-for-tat, the choice would be obvious.
  • Perfectionist procrastination: I struggled endlessly, trying to iron out tiny details, polish up the documentation, etc. I worried about fantasized users being turned off by blemishes.
  • Development was more fun than selling. (Not to mention more fun than hacking on the validation suite, which I never managed to really complete, much less keep up to date.)
No point going into underhustling at this stage. Fact is, as Ftwalk became more competitive to Perl, it became less attractive as a product. To at least salvage some value from my efforts, and to put it on a more even playing field with Perl, I converted it to free software. But at this point (June 1999: eight years after writing my first Ftwalk, four/five years after productizing it, three years after giving it away) the Ftwalk user base is not just small: I don't know of anyone who actually uses it.

Other than myself, that is. I use it interactively, as a calculator. I use it to prototype code. I use it to munge baseball statistics. (See The Big Bad Baseball Annual 1999.) So this finally returns me to the original scratch-your-itch rationale for writing free software: Ftwalk is my favorite toy. I'm happy to share it. You are welcome to use it; run with it if you like.

At this point I cannot predict whether Ftwalk will have any future. I can imagine three scenarios:

  • Nobody but me takes an interest in it. In that case, I may or may not poke it every now and then, but what does that really matter?
  • Other people take an occasional interest in it, and perhaps they manage to nudge me back into a more active role.
  • Someone else pops up and wants to take over Ftwalk and see how far he or she can push it. I pass the torch.

The problem is that, at this stage, Ftwalk feels like a huge amount of work wasted. I have other things that I can or should be doing, and perhaps it is time to move on.