The Way Forward

After having more or less abandoned Compositor almost two years ago due to a lack of energy, I’m reviving development, and here’s my plan how to move forward.

But first, let’s briefly recap what happened so far.

I started work on Compositor in March 2015. Here’s the git history of the first few commits:

Some of the initial (La)TeX typesetting and rendering capabilities had been carried over from my previous app Computable, an “IPython for iPad“:

Also check out these slides for some backstory on Computable in case you’re curious.

Development was done by just myself, mostly on (long) evenings and weekends, all happening beside my fulltime job as a freelance software engineer.

I was working “8 + 4” days at that time: working 8 hours at my regular day job, then going home, getting some food, doing a one-hour nap to recharge my batteries, followed by another 4 hours of evening work on Compositor. (This worked surprisingly well, and I sustained that mode of working for about 6 years.)

It took me about three years to get Compositor to version 1.0 – or at least, what I then simply called version 1.0. The app was far from usable at the time, but I felt that I needed to force myself out of stealth development mode and go public to get some feedback, and also some motivation to further development.

Although the app was received with some excitement, it wasn’t commercially viable at any point, mostly because it was pretty much unusable for any serious work, and the few license purchases that came in were basically generous donations from very supportive people around the globe.

Still, I kept pushing the app further. In early 2021, however, after years of long evenings and no success in sight, I felt drained of any energy, and I more or less stopped working on Compositor. I didn’t know at the time if I would ever revive it.

Some 18 months of drastically reduced workload (and drastically increased gardening and veg-growing efforts) later, I had recharged my energy water table enough to start exploring the idea of picking up work on Compositor again. I had invested so much time and energy into this app, and there’s a ton of clever functionality hidden inside this unassuming app, so I felt a strong desire to not throw all of this away.

I tested the waters in the last few weeks, silently working on new releases, just to see if I felt comfortable. And I did. It was clear that I would need a different, more sustainable way of working on Compositor, however.

So here’s my plan:

First of all, I need a mode of operation that doesn’t put pressure on me. Otherwise it won’t be fun, and I’ll probably abandon it again.

To remove any pressure, I won’t charge anything for the app until it reaches a truly usable state. It will be a free download with full functionality, no restrictions of any form. All I’m asking users is to send in feedback if something doesn’t work for them. This should help me find and iron out major deficiencies without having to put in a ton of manual, explorative testing effort myself.

Second, there will be no fixed release cycles. Whenever something is ready, I will release it. Trickier features will take longer to implement, easier ones will be released quicker. Also, there will probably be more work get done in the dark and cold winter months, and less in the warmer, sunnier months of the year.

So that’s the “no pressure” part sorted. To still lay out a way to maybe turn this into a commercially viable endeavour at some point, you may have noticed the “until it reaches a truly usable state”.

This milestone will be defined as “students can use it to write their master’s thesis”. This is certainly a very limited scope considering the capabilities of LaTeX, but I have learned the hard way that you need to (very sharply) narrow down your focus in the vast LaTeX landscape if you want to get something to a finished state at all.

Once this milestone is acchieved, I will bump the version number to 2.0, and start charging USD30 for the app again.

The current license check will be removed in the next version 1.22. Keep an eye on the releases page on GitHub, or follow @compositorapp on Twitter to get notified about new releases.

Let me know what you think, either in the comments, or on Twitter.