History of Mindat
About this History
This History of Mindat document was originally prepared for the 10th Anniversary of the Mindat project (December 25th 2003), but has since been extended, and has become part of the material used in the talk given by Jolyon Ralph to Mineral Collecting Clubs about Mindat.org - see also Mindat.org - 10 years online today
A Brief History of Mindat Time
25th December 1993
I start development of a DOS program. The DOS program is designed for my own use, as a simple text-entry program for retrieving data on minerals and mineral localities. The data entry is done manually by editing text files, one file for each letter of the alphabet containing minerals starting with that letter.
I started the work on Christmas Day 1993 because I was bored - there was nothing good on television!
I originally planned on writing a database using the Paradox database system, but I could not find a way to format out chemical formula correctly, and I was adamant that I wanted something that displayed formula correctly, not in a simplified-for computer way, such as CaCO3.
So I fired up Borland C++ compiler, and started to write my own program from scratch.
28th August 1995
Final changes made to the DOS program. You can view the source code here , and an example data file from the time here. By this point, the program had evolved so that data could be added in directly from the program, but it was still text driven and hardly user friendly.
Having started using Windows 95, I decided it would be a good exercise in learning Windows C++ programming and the Microsoft MFC framework to convert my old DOS program to a Windows application. I spent a lot of time trying out the new controls and methods of Windows 95 programming to try to learn how to use different techniques of Windows programming. To date it's still the most complex program I've ever built on Windows, and most of the skills I learnt doing this have not really been used again.
The mindat logo was born at this time too!
The mindat logo was a Siberian Elbaite, taken from a 19th century hand-coloured print (long out of copyright).The search pages were quite powerful in mindat32 - an example of how it looked is shown to the left:
The locality search gave a hierarchical list that could be clicked to open and expand entries.
Mindat32 used the same database files and format as the original mindat DOS application, and that was beginning to reveal major weaknesses.
By October 1996, I was looking at alternative methods of displaying mineral data and fixing one of the big problems with the system - it was difficult to format things nicely for the page, and difficult to keep that formatting the same when printing, and of course, dealing with international differences in paper sizes, etc, was frustrating. Around this time, Microsoft made available Internet Explorer 3.0, and a programmable interface for allowing use of Internet Explorer 3 technology within your own applications was provided. And because at that time everything seemed to be ended up being called 'something' Explorer, mindat32 was rebranded as Mineral Explorer '97 (which was a terrible name). The design work improved, and the buttons and toolbars looked a lot nicer.
The other major advantage was the database system was improved dramatically for performance, however this lead to problems with Windows 95 users - the performance gain was generated by splitting the data into individual files for each mineral, and locality information with minerals was 'normalized' by storing locality ID numbers rather than locality names.
Mineral Explorer hit a natural stop in development - by this time I was already distributing copies of the software from my website, and Bob Keller's Rockshop was providing download links for the software. The big problem was how to deal with updates to the data, I did not have time to keep adding all the localities myself, and there was no simple solution for merging in updates sent by users into the master database - however this was the solution I was working on.
However, development of Mineral Explorer slowed down. In Feb 1997 the software development company I had run with my parents since 1990 closed down and I had to look for other work. Mineral Explorer proved a great demonstration of my skills, and I was offered work with several companies, however in the end I took a job for a local company doing Windows and Networking consultancy rather than programming, and for three years I did very little programming work, and Mineral Explorer was put on the shelf as I concentrated on the serious matters of my new career (and for the first time in a long while, girlfriends).
At the end of 1999 I got very frustrated with my job, in particular I had the 'creative itch', I wanted to go and make things, get back to programming, rather than just go out and be a (highly paid) problem fixer for companies computer problems. I took a gamble and quit my job in the start of 2000 to start my own company to do internet development and programming, called Mysterious Ways Developments Ltd.
I had successfully taught myself C programming on DOS with Mindat, and C++ programming on Windows with Mindat32 - so it made sense to throw myself in the deep end again and try to develop something enormously complicated as my first real attempt at PHP web programming.
I ditched the awful Mineral Explorer name and went back to the Mindat name, and registered mindat.org as a domain name, and after a surprisingly short time, the first version of mindat.org was ready in Late