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I have a terminal disease and there is a very high chance that I will no longer be in this world by the end of the year.

I have developed a web application that it is extensively used in my family’s business (a small hairdressing shop). No member of my family has neither programming nor system administration skills. I have neither close friends with those skills.

The business makes at most 10k in net profits per year. In fact, the business profits can only afford to pay the salaries of its 3 employees (father, mother and sister) and those are quite low and decreasing each year due to the financial crisis. In fact, I am not an employee of my family’s business, I work for a normal software development company. I developed the application during my free time in order to help them.

So far I do not care if another business also uses my application or even if the application itself loses my ownership. I just want that my family’s business can continue using it, which means system administration support if something goes wrong and development for new features/bugs.

I would like to ask you if you could give me the measures you think I could take in order to guarantee as much as possible the continuity of the application.

The technologies of the application are:

Platform: Tomcat (Java), MySQL and Linux

Frameworks: mainly JPA and ZK

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Perhaps clarify net profit. It has different meanings in the US to other places. –  Dave Hillier Mar 9 '13 at 22:40
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Very sorry to hear this. Honestly, given your situation this web application would be the last thing I'd concern myself with. –  KodeKreachor Mar 9 '13 at 23:46
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What does this app do for the hairdressing shop? –  Darius X. Mar 10 '13 at 4:19
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The only use a hairdressing shop would absolutely need software is finances, and contact management. And there are commercial packages out there for that. I'd be more concerned about transitioning them to one of them instead. –  RyanJMcGowan Mar 10 '13 at 9:13
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@RyanJMcGowan: And appointment management, if you support making appointments online. I'd look up tiny (i.e., non-chain) hair salons which run websites, call them up, and ask for help. There is probably one who can put you in contact with someone who can provide an affordable solution. –  Brian Mar 13 '13 at 13:04

5 Answers 5

First of all I am sorry to hear of your situation. I hope for the best for you.

I'm not going to tell you how to spend your time, but I have a suggestion that could keep your application living on and your family business supported.

Open source the application

In doing this, you will benefit the wider community, making the assumption of course that this applies to other hair dressing salons.

Even if the application is fairly proprietary to your family, contributors could make it more generic (and customizable) so it could become widely used. And you never know, perhaps this could become a really widely used project.

I am predominately a .NET guy but I would be interested in maybe spending some time on this if you are willing to open source it. Put it on GitHub or BitBucket. Write some (brief) documentation for newbies on how to compile, run and deploy the application, and let the community carry your flame. If you do decide to do this, please post a comment on your question or my answer with the details.

Best wishes, Sam.

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Nice thought, and +1 for being willing to help personally. However, I'm not sure this really solves the problem of keeping the site itself running. Someone has to be the "go to" person to fix things when they break. –  dan1111 Mar 13 '13 at 12:43
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-1 while your proposition is generous, I don't think it solves the problem. –  Simon Mar 13 '13 at 13:06
    
@Simon, what is needed here is a bit more information about what the problem is. There is no information about what the software does. If it is genuinely innovative and (potentially) of use to others, Sam's generous offer is a great way forward. Otherwise, some of the other suggestions/answers to this question may be more appropriate, such as steering the family towards other open source software that is already 'out there'. –  Bobble Mar 15 '13 at 9:42

I'm sorry about the situation you face, and I hope you are around to maintain the site for much longer than you expect.

This is a little bit hard to answer without knowing exactly what your site does, but most of the functions I imagine a beauty shop would have can be replaced with free or low cost, easy to use software.

  • Publicity/Information There are many free website and blog platforms available. They are generally fairly easy to use. One of the simplest solutions would be a Facebook page, which even someone with limited computer skills could handle. This might be an ideal fit for a beauty shop that wants to stay connected with a group of local customers.

  • Appointment Management - Something as simple as a Google Calendar could be used to record appointments. It can show availability online. If you need to accept bookings via the web, there are lots of people offering free or cheap software that can do this. I don't have any personal experience with them, but some research would probably reveal a workable, inexpensive solution.

  • Financial Records - Lots of desktop software is available that does this.

With tools like these, you probably won't get something quite as nice as your custom site. But you should be able to get adequate functionality. I think making this switch is necessary, because working on someone else's custom-built site is a time consuming job that requires a high level of skill. Unless you find another developer who, like you, is willing to donate time, I don't see that as a realistic possibility.

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On high pressure projects people keep things in perspective by reminding themselves 'it's only software, nobody died'. Sadly you won't be able to develop a cure for yourself. Your family won't be able to learn support the application.

Perhaps they need you to help them develop an application using technologies they know - pen and paper, ledgers and cardex, diaries and address books. Maybe you can introduce them to cloud based apps such as Zoho - it's free for up to 3 users. If, after you have gone, they find they need something better they won't feel bad about it. It's only software.

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'Sadly you won't be able to develop a cure for yourself.' Please remove this bit, it seems really harsh and cold and doesnt add anything to the answer –  RhysW Mar 13 '13 at 13:08

I appreciate this is a very sad situation for you and family, but it sounds like the problem is not entirely a technology one.

The business is barely viable. You've got to question whether they should bother to continue if they can only afford to do it with you working for free. It might be easier for them just to get other jobs.

The simplest solution is for your family to find someone who will continue to develop the site for free. The technology doesn't really matter. Perhaps you have a friend in your current workplace who might be able to continue after you've gone. Find this person and hand it over.

Without knowing what the site does its difficult to suggest or comment on technology choices.

There are a number of practices you can adopt to help other developers pick up your code.

  • Pick a coding standard that is widely adopted, for example, perhaps use Sun/Oracles. This will reduce the learning curve on your code base.
  • Ensure you have comprehensive test coverage. This will give a new developer confidence to make changes, while knowing they've not regressed anything.
  • Ensure that build and deploy are automated. You want to be able to get a clean checkout on any machine and only have to worry about actually making the code changes you care about.
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Sorry to hear about your situation.

As for tips I can give, all the above answers are pretty valid. Another thing you could try is freelancing sites like Elance and Freelancer. You can find pretty cheap hourly paid developers that can make some quick maintenance work when needed.

Maybe you can start using it now and develop a relationship with a couple of freelancers which your family would be able to contact in the future when the need arises.

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Not sure why you were downvoted, this is the most practical advice out there. The business clearly can't afford to pay normal prices for support. –  Graham Mar 13 '13 at 15:14
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@Graham, I didn't downvote this, but I don't think it is a realistic answer for the situation. Supporting a custom-built web application like this, even at below-market rates, is an expensive proposition because of the time needed to learn the system. –  dan1111 Mar 14 '13 at 9:48

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