Creating "Libros Gratis": Part 1 – Why?


This is the first in a series of posts about the creation of the "Libros Gratis para Windows" (Free Books for Windows) apps for Windows and Windows Phone. In this entry, I will talk about the motivations and considerations for building the app(s). 

Libros Gratis Logo

Being involved in the Software business is like being involved in something magic. Have you watched Fullmetal Alchemist? Remember the "Equivalent Exchange" rule? Basically you can't create stuff out of nothing: you have to give something in exchange, something equivalent. If you want ice, you have to give up on water and heat. If you want a piece of furniture, you have to give up on some wood, plastic, metal, and hard work... There are, however, a few ways in which we can create stuff whose result greatly exceeds what we give in exchange. And Software is a great example. 

It's like having a superpower. Software and Information have been redefining the world at an incredibly fast pace for the last decades. That's sped up with the popularization of the internet, and then again as our devices become smaller, more portable, more social and more capable. A lot of attention is given to the economical and technical enrichment derived of that magic; but I'm afraid many engineers (not all of them, of course) forget paying attention to the social improvement potential of their superpowers...

 

Flash back to many years ago. Like, I don't know... 20 years ago, or something. When I was a little kid in Mexico City with an extreme hunger for knowledge. Knowledge back then (before the internet was popular, at least down there) came in the shape of books... But my family was neither fond of books nor in the position of acquiring them with enough pace to keep up with my hunger. "All right", my mom would say every 3 months or something, "we're going to the book store... I'm going to buy you 3 books, not expensive ones, and you better make them last 3 months"… They rarely were enough to keep me entertained for over a week. 

My salvation came in the form of a monthly subscription to a delivery service of public domain or almost-public-domain books. "The Little Prince", "Robinson Crusoe", "Frankenstein", et. al. They were relatively cheap, and a few years later you could find the whole collection for insanely cheap prices at some subway stations (Chabacano transfer, anyone 🙂 ?). Then the internet came and, leaving aside the ridiculously slow dial-up connection speeds, everything was easier. But I wonder, haven't I known that something such as "public domain" books existed -wouldn't I be either downloading illegal books, or even worse, finding a way to entertain my mind with something less healthy? 

Lets' come back to the present, then. There I was, wondering what could I do now to improve, at least a little bit, the lives and success potential of people. I needed something that: 

  1. Required the less possible amount of time, for reasons I'll explain in post #2, 
  2. Could have an impact. In order to have an impact it would most likely need to be free for end users, from start to end, 
  3. Preferably used the Windows Phone ecosystem for the most part, so It'd both reach the lower-end of the Spanish-speaking countries income bracket AND guaranteed that my buddy Chris would get involved 😛 , and, 
  4. Was based in something that I felt passionate about, so I had a good motivation to keep up with it. 

So there we go... #2: Free. #3: Windows Phone. #4... Uhm... Coffee, dogs, my daughter, history, books, Canada, gardening... Wait wait, what did you say? Books? Free. Windows Phone. Books. Free Books for Windows and Windows Phone! 

And eureka! The idea was born. There, I have it! An app to search for free (public domain) books on the Windows and Windows Phone platform! Lets' get coding then, right now! 

Eh... Wait. Except for, you know, time 🙁 … Well, I guess it'll have to wait... 

Hold on. Wasn't there a set of tools to create apps from the scratch, using data sources, web-based and that would end up basically giving you the app packages, super quickly? What was its name, Windows App Studio? All right, lets' check it out... 

And that's how this story continues in post #2: how was the app itself actually made 🙂 . 

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