Make a Win Phone app… and then?

I had a specific need. I needed a bomb sight correction calculator.

When I have some spare time, I fly the IL-2 Sturmovik, which is a wonderful, action-packed WW2 air combat simulator. On servers there may be up to 50 pilots in the air, flying a wide array of aircraft, and serving a number of roles. Some are fighter pilots, some fly ground attack planes, and some, like myself, fly bombers. My favorites are the Japanese Mitsubishi G4M Betty and the German Ju 88 and Heinkel 111.

The game is so well made that it even includes a bomb sight for accurate bombing. This device relies on the altitude and airspeed to decide when is the perfect time to release the bombs. It takes quite a lot of practice to master the device, but when you know what you are doing, you can plant a bomb in the target with relative ease and precision.

It is also programmed in the game that the airspeed and altitude need to be adjusted for accuracy. The higher your speed and altitude, the more you have to adjust. The formula is speed * (1 + altitude/15240), so if you are at 2000 meters doing 300 kph, you must feed in 330 kph to reflect the correction. All is well so far.

First, I made an Excel sheet with which you can do this easily. But running Excel and IL-2 on the same computer is hard, because popping out from the game into Excel is not very handy. Then, I moved the Excel onto my Windows Phone which has Excel, and it works of course, but then I decided to see if I can program a small Windows Phone app.

I took the SDK from Microsoft – 10 minutes. Refreshed my memory on how to make Windows applications – 30 minutes. Programmed and tested the application – 30 minutes. So in an hour and a half, I had an app that does what I want it to do. This is how it looks (click to see it bigger – the stuff on the right side is the emulator’s mess):

the user interface

And then I hit the brick wall. To install this app in my phone, I need to “developer-unlock” this specific handset. And to do that, I need to subscribe to a Microsoft service at 99 dollars a year, which enables me to unlock phones, and also, to upload my apps to the Windows Phone marketplace.

So to install my own code on my own handset will set me back 99 dollars, which I can then try to get back by selling the application at the marketplace for, say, 99 cents. It’d only take a hundred bomber pilots to buy it for me to break even. But the problem is, there are few bomber pilots who use the bomb sight, and probably even less who use the Windows Phone.

This makes it quite hard for me to react positively to people who want encouragement to learn phone programming on Windows. I do understand the need of Microsoft to make money, but why not charge me when I start selling apps? Why charge me when I am just beginning to learn the craft? And more specifically, why charge me for creating and app and testing it on my own mobile? Sure, there is an emulator, but it is not the same thing as my phone, which I know well. And which I could use to fly the IL-2 better.

Oh well. Let’s see if I can find a way around this, but if not, I think open source is beginning to sound more and more lucrative with every concrete wall I see in programming.

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