20 years ago... My first steps in professional software development

2009 August 28

The other day, my old high school friend Tobias sent me a copy of this article in the German computer magazine "Bit Markt", published in 1989.

It reviews my very first commercial software product: “Print Label”. A DOS-based program that made printing labels easier.

That were the good ol' times of MS-DOS, PCs with 256kB of RAM and 4.77 MHz CPUs, 5.25” 360kB floppy disks and - cutting edge technology! - hard disks with 10 or 20 MB capacity. And printers were unable to process single sheets of paper, but instead only could print on continuous fan-fold paper. Most people knew absolutely nothing about computers at that time. I was 13 years old and in high school. Computers had been one of my hobbies for a couple of years after my older brother had introduced them to me, and from the beginning I found writing small programs much more fascinating than playing computer games.

Print Label was inspired by my high school friend who had a computer, and a printer, too. He got a pack of labels from his dad and wanted to print addresses on them, only to find out there was no easy way to do so. The idea was born, I started almost immediately programming, and a few days later the first functional beta was ready.

After some more time and a couple of additional releases, I started selling the software through small advertisements in computer magazines. A limited trial version was available for 5 German marks (around 2.5 euros), and the full version for 20 DM (around 10 euros). And people were indeed buying it, and many users seemed to be happy. I think I sold 20 or 30 full versions or so, and even more limited versions ... not a bad income for a 13-year-old at that time!

As the article reminded me, Print Label even included a small database called "Label Base". It was limited to 75 entries. I think it might be due to the fact that I knew nothing about linked lists at that time and held the whole database in an array :-)

Print Label supported Star LC 10 and NEC P6 printers - that’s because Tobias had a Star LC 10 and I had a NEC P6 :-) But it was extensible, and users could define their own printer drivers! Yes, at that time most PC users had technical know-how, not just user knowledge. Do you remember printer escape sequences? They were used for controlling the printer, for example to activate different fonts or styles like bold and italic. The printer manual consisted of pages full of such escape codes, and they were proprietary for each manufacturer and model...