Tuesday, June 27, 2006

FoxPro is outdated - compared to what? (an example of what FoxPro developers are up against)

I recently heard of an interesting story - you can read about it here - related to how the FBI recently canceled a project for a management system. No big whoop there except that the vendor in question was selling a FoxPro application. The full PDF report (from the Auditor General) is available here .

Just so you don't need to read it - here are the parts that were interesting:

The customization was a slow process because the JusticeTrax LIMS relies on an aging code format, Visual FoxPro.While Visual FoxPro is outdated, it is still compatible with today’s technology. However, according to FBI personnel, Visual FoxPro is difficult and slow to customize compared to newer programming languages. While the extent of customization was the main obstacle, having to use the old code increased the delays.

Note: JusticeTrax's LIMS application uses VFP 9 and a SQL Server back-end. It is also used by a variety of law enforcement agencies and forensic labs across North America.

What was the FBI currently using?
The FBI currently uses Microsoft’s Access 2002 as the ECS database software.

More:
The IMPRB expressed additional concerns about project risks, including the fact that the Visual FoxPro code used for JusticeTrax’s LIMS is old technology

Now there are a number of other reasons for the cancellation of contract (they wanted a web-based app - LIMS is a desktop app, poor project management, no champion, etc) but so many times, we hear that Microsoft wants examples of why we feel FoxPro has been badly treated and how they can help and here is a classic one. (I'm sure many VFP shops have similar stories)

Now, the report does not note who the FBI personnel were who said that "VFP is difficult" - but look at the words being used : "old", "difficult","slow to customize","aging code format". Let's deal with these separately:

Old. OK. Java is "newer" compared to VFP but C++ isn't. Uh - and unless I'm mistaken, there are still some mainframes in use in the US government.

Difficult. What programming language isn't slightly "difficult"? (is VFP any more difficult than, say , VB?).

Slow to Customize? That's more an attribute of the application itself. I'm sure that Windows is slow to customize as evidenced by the fact that you have to regression test it for millions of users, compared to a Linux or other O/S. One FoxPro application may be incredibly easy to customize whereas another is incredibly difficult - that doesn't mean FoxPro is slow to customize.

Aging code format - I wonder how many lines of code in VFP are STILL the same as they were back in 1990. Calvin? Any ideas?

Now I'm not intentionally trying to spin this (see the various discussions on WinFS, for examples of Spin) but I am holding this up as an example of the challenges that FoxPro developers face regularly. None of the comments are true of the language or tool itself - yet inexperienced IT program managers or knowledge workers might read this and think otherwise. Is this Microsoft's or the Fox Team's fault?

No - but clearly this is where better responses are needed. Maybe, someone should flash up the TIOBE index. Sending over case studies would be one option but once again, IT's PRODUCT SPECIFIC - so it doesn't answer the question.

Maybe we should show the life cycle for extended product support.
VFP 9 - 13/01/2015
Access 2000 - 14/07/2009
Access 2003 - 14/01/2014
Visual Interdev (how many web apps were deployed) -30/09/2004
Visual Studio 2003 - 08/10/2013

How do you combat this type of ignorance? Can you?

I don't have the answers here - do you? How would you respond?

4 comments:

Eric Selje said...

If this is the kind of investigation the FBI does, it's no wonder they can't catch a damn terrorist. Ooops...it well it was nice knowing you all, but I've got a vacation in Cuba now...

Michael Hogan said...

Andrew - this is a serious problem for our community. I've been toying with the idea of creating a 'foxpro successes' web site for posting success stories that don't otherwise get acknowledged. I'm willing to develop the site but I don't have the desire to hunt for the stories or write the articles on a continuing basis. If you know of a few people who would be interested in doing that work, I'm ready to start the site now!

Vassilis Aggelakos said...

Michael,
This is a great idea!
I would like to share my success (VFP) stories in a site like this.

See also here
http://weblogs.foxite.com/vassilisaggelakos/archive/2006/05/18/1551.aspx

and here
http://weblogs.foxite.com/vassilisaggelakos/archive/2006/05/22/1565.aspx

Bill said...

This was a great post, and, in my opinion, exactly the kind of 'misinformation' we, as a community, are up against.

The current gig I'm on, when I arrived, the entire shop was under the impression that FoxPro was no longer being sold by Microsoft!!

They have several VFP 6.0 apps that they finally gave the go ahead to upgrade to vfp 9.0, once I showed them that there was, in fact, a new release by MS...

I'm currently revamping one of my sites and intend to add in some RSS feed lnks for exactly this kind of story.

Found your blog, because someone searched mine and I was checking the results of the search.