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 Interview With Freeware Developer Alex Balfour, Calendar Magic
Feb 24 2010, 08:53 PM
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Your real name:
Alex Balfour

How old are you?:

Your freeware software:
My main freeware offering is Calendar Magic. Other freeware items are the Su Doku Assistant, Fifteen Magic, Waffle Magic and Algorithm of the Gods.

Your website:

When did you started developing freeware?:
In 1995, on taking early retirement.

Why did you start developing freeware?:
Although I've never been a professional programmer, I've loved programming ever since attending my first programming course (Ferranti Sirius machine code) in 1961. When I retired, I started developing various programs of interest to me and decided to make them freely available to anyone sharing these interests.

Is it a career, or just for fun?:
It's purely for the pleasure I get from starting from an interesting problem, figuring out a way to solve it, then developing and debugging the code. It has also been a marvellous way of making friends with people from all over the world.

What's the most difficult project/development you've done?:
While my background is in Mathematics and Computer Science, I have never studied astronomy. This made implementing some of the calendar systems in Calendar Magic quite a challenge. The hardest one was the Hindu lunisolar calendar.

Please tell us a little about yourself:
I spent the first half of my working life as a university academic and the second half in the IT industry.

What would you consider to be your major accomplishments to date?:
Creating a unique product in Calendar Magic -- there is no other product even remotely similar. The feedback I've received from users about it has also given me considerable pleasure and satisfaction, particularly feedback from users who are blind or nearly blind. To me that means much more than any money I might have received by offering my programs as shareware.

Any failures you'd care to tell us about?:
More of a regret than a failure. My freeware offerings are written in Visual Basic 6 which is now obsolescent. I'd like to start using a more modern programming language but there seems no way of doing this other than by rewriting all my code completely. This is a daunting task. For example, Calendar Magic contains over 50,000 lines of code.

Sadly, it just isn't going to happen.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in developing/programming?:
Keep your options open and don't become too narrow a specialist in one area. If your specialism goes out of fashion, you may find job opportunities drying up incredibly quickly.

What websites do you visit to relax?:
I find my relaxation in other ways. For example, I've been a keen tennis player for around 60 years.

Do you have any particular plans for your freeware in the future?:
Nothing major. Calendar Magic will mainly evolve now through suggestions from users.

What's your favourite book, movie, tv show, game, and food?:
Book: Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar
Movie: ?????
TV Show: Fawlty Towers or Fools and Horses
Game: Tennis
Food: Chinese


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