VPhot and its Future
Here are some observations regarding VPhot:
On the positive side:
1. In general, I find it very easy / friendly to use.
2. Providing VPhot from the cloud is definitely a step in the right direction - it also sidesteps the whole Windows versus Mac debate, when it comes to PC-resident software.
3. I would like to continue to use it.
- The documentation is poor: The tutorials are (and are acknowledged by the AAVSO to be) out-of-date, and no downloadable .pdf or other documentation is available that describes either: (a) the internal workings of VPhot; and (b) How to use VPhot. Both are needed.
- From reading various forums, it would appear that both updated tutorials and a manual have been promised for quite a long time. However, nothing has eventuated on either front.
- From a long career in software development, I am aware that software without adequate documentation is very poor software indeed. But the thinking (at least in amateur or semi-amateur circles) appears to be that producing the code to do certain things (measure stellar magnitudes, for example) is all that really matters and it is OK that the would-be user simply muddles through without documentation.
- At least in one forum, the AAVSO has stated that it is committed to VPhot “as a flagship offering” to members. However, that claim does not sit well with the lack of support (tutorials and documentation) provided by the AAVSO for VPhot.
As the AAVSO does not appear to be devoting any resources to addressing the above deficiencies, I am wondering whether VPhot is simply a “dead duck”.
It is important to know one way or another because (and again this seems to be something that software developers fail to appreciate), a large investment in time and mental effort is required on the part of any user to learn a software package. Of course this situation is much aggravated by poor documentation. If VPhot is not to survive, then one might as well switch to a commercial alternative and stick with that.
If the problem is that the AAVSO does not have the resources, is there a way to enlist the help of members with design, coding and documentation? Has the AAVSO, for instance, considered making the source code available to (selected?) members, a la Linux etc, so that they can create and submit new functionality, help with testing etc?
I am also curious as to:
- Whether the AAVSO believes that VPhot performs (for variable star measurement and double star astrometry) at least as well as other (commercial) software;
- Presumably, the AAVSO developed VPhot for a reason (to ensure that observers analyzed and reported their data in a way that more closely conformed with AAVSO's requirements, perhaps?). What were those reasons and are they still relevant?
- Whether the AAVSO is really committed to VPhot over the long term;
- If the answer to (3) is “yes”, what the AAVSO plans to do in the near future to document VPhot appropriately;
- If the answer to (3) is “no”, why any AAVSO member should bother grappling with it (especially in the absence of documentation), rather than purchase a more “commercial” package?