Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Who knew...

I know many have seen (at least) the source of this before but this was a direct link after it was slashdotted that "Microsoft workers prefer Google." - Before the chairs started to fly.
Steve Ballmer - techno remix - Google Video

VFPX at CodePlex

Wow - writing that headline almost sounded like a movie playing at a Cineplex but the VFPX site looks like it's up at CodePlex, along with a cool little logo.



Looking at the Logo, I think the VFPX name works well.

It doesn't look like all of the user rights have been assigned yet but the projects are there and ready to go.

CodePlex looks pretty cool as an overall environment - it's got issue tracking, source code control, releases and discussions (much like SourceForge).

If you haven't been involved much in the SednaX side of things, now's the time to jump into VFPX - download the current version of tools and then start letting people know what works and what doesn't.

VFPX

FoxPro is outdated - compared to what?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was a slow process because the JusticeTrax LIMS relies on an aging code format, Visual FoxPro.While Visual FoxPro is outdated, it is still compatible with today’s technology.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?

Monday, June 26, 2006

Defending Bob (and other unopopular UI choices)

Adam Barr really went out on a limb with this one but reading the comments is where you'll find even more gold in this great blog post.

Dumping on the iPod, promoting the "Designer Era" and then hearing about different ways people interpret design.

It's a great post (comments included). I don't know if Adam was behind the "Microsoft iPod" video but many of the comments make the same point. "Apple does defrag behind the scenes, if MS did it, they would still put up a big sign telling you they were doing it".

And no, Adam doesn't defend Bob 1.0 completely - "Windows does not necessarily need to become Bob, it just needs to be designed right for *its* customers. Maybe some brilliant designers can figure out one UI that works for everyone, or not." (for the record, Trish loved using Spot the dog as the Office 200x assistant and we did get a copy of Bob because it DID make computing somewhat less confrontational. Was it perfect? Absolutely not - but it did include some interesting ideas)

But hey - I'm still looking for a useful UI because the whole Windows folder/explorer approach just doesn't work (oh yeah, the finder works the same way) - maybe that's why Google gets it right with gMail. You want to find something? Just type it into search and there it is.

Maybe this is part of what Office 2007 is trying to do - but myself? I still find myself trying to find where all the old options were. I've tried "Rooms" - still doesn't make sense. I find I'm living directly in a browser these days so maybe something will show up there. But - how do I code within a browser? Hmmm...

Maybe MindJet should come up with a Web-version of MindManager. It could be a cool Ajax app for sure - and sync directly between mobile and desktop versions and could even do a great job of showing the links between everything you look at. Kind of like Cnet's News Mapper tool.

Proudly Serving My Corporate Masters: Code and Design

Sunday, June 25, 2006

WinFS Update: That Smarts!

Ouch. Reading the comments, that must smart for the developers who have spent their time working on this.

Sure, it's cool to access the file system in a development environment through code access but this has been an oft-touted benefit of each new subsequent version of Windows.

Maybe Ted is right, could an existing open-source file system be used instead with better results?

Too bad.

What's in Store : WinFS Update

Friday, June 23, 2006

Zoho offers more than just typical web-apps

OK - I admit it - I read ZdNet and that's where I first saw this. I was somewhat skeptical because there are so many "web-office" competitors out there - what makes this one so different?

But after looking at the entire site, I have to agree with Richard when he says that Zoho may be well-positioned to take a stronghold in this area.

Forget about Word-processing, spreadsheets and presentations for the time-being (oh yeah, those are FREE) - all of those are offered.

Zoho offers a Virtual office much like the Webex Office. But it also includes a Page Creator (like Google's), your own Planner, an online chat, but what really caught my eye was Zoho Challenge and ZohoCreator.

You need to test people? Challenges works great. Here's the way to do it. You add questions, identify the correct response and then assign the test to individual candidates. It lets you mark questions, show images and more.

Need to create a web app? I have tried DabbleDB and really liked it so I was surprised to see that Zoho has one but it hasn't really been talked about (at least that I've seen). But Zoho Creator has some features that Dabble just doesn't. If you've been tracking your data on a spreadsheet up until now, Zoho lets you import it. Need to build it from one of their existing templates? No problem. From scratch? Sure thing. A real programming language? Uh - pretty close. They aren't kidding when they say , "And we truly believe that Creator can be become the Visual Basic for the Web"

This tool needs a screen cast. And it uses a language called Deluge - which looks pretty easy to work with. Look for one soon.

As I mentioned previously about Dabble, , this is where the FoxPro web solutions may want to start looking to showcase their own great features.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Offering Multiple Feeds

Craig, I agree -
I was also a bit disappointed when I realized that Rick Schummer has switched his feeds to only showing the partial feed instead of the whole one. Update: Rick's feed is a FULL text feed but Newsgator is only showing a few lines of posts done later on. I wonder why.

You can have a Feedburner that offers full feeds and another that offers only the partial feed (Feedburner calls this its Summary Burn).

This is kind of like what Steve has done on the Wiki - choose between Full, brief or title only for updates.

Another solution for you Craig - Fetchlinks. It's a Newsgator plug-in that will actually download the entire piece into Newsgator (whoops - it's for the desktop version only - i.e. Email version).

But I agree with you - I'm getting to the point where it makes more sense for me to stop subscribing to sites that don't give me full text. (again)

Monday, June 19, 2006

Improving MapPoint

Last week, I returned from a family wedding in State College, Penn. We decided to travel the way down after realizing that the time it would take to drive down would be about the same as it would be to fly after all the delays and waiting around airports (note: there are no real direct flights out of Ottawa except to "hub" cities). I had just received MapPoint 2006 and thought "now is the ideal time to try out the directions." I also retrieved directions from Google Maps just to be on the safe side. Since I wasn't bringing a laptop, I printed the directions and put some of the maps onto my Pocket PC just to be safe.

As it turned out, both of the maps were fairly identical but what I want to note here are very small and useful features that could be used to improve just about any mapping service, with a focus on Mappoint.

1. Export a Route to Pocket Streets.
Why this one hasn't been done is beyond me. You can choose to Export a map to Pocket Streets but if you choose too large an area, it tells you to select a smaller area. Well, when you're traveling for 9 hours, you KNOW you're going to be going to need a lot of maps. Why can't the software just export out maps that are all along the route (that it knows) and then move them over? I have a GPS unit on my iPaq and because I didn't print out all of the possible areas, I was frequently "Out of Map area".

2. Summary Directions.
The entire route to State College was made up of a total of 2.5 pages of directions, all referring to "turn right on this ramp, turn left on this ramp, go 10 yards and then turn around". Do you know what the real directions could have been?
a. Take the 416 to the 401.
b. Take the 401 to the US bridge near Kingston at Hill Island. This is highway 81 in the US
c. Take 81 until Cortland US-11.
d. Get onto SR-13.
e. Get onto I-86.
f. Get off at Lock Haven (US-220).
g. Follow the signs to State College.

That's right - 7 simple sentences. I think having a Direction Summary may prove extremely helpful since the names of the streets and routes often change and aren't always accurate. Yes, you need the details but - it's hard to read the details when...the DIRECTIONS are wrong. Note the picture below:



The directions state: Take ramp Right and then turn RIGHT towards pa-64 and Lamar. If you look at the map, Lamar is to the right but where is the highlighted route? It's going left. Because of this simple mistake, we lost about half an hour (took the right towards Lamar and then got back onto I-80 and then got off 20 minutes later). Summary directions would have resolved this problem completely and made MapPoint look like a hero.

3. Is Quickest really the quickest?
Sometimes, a faster route may not always be faster. But if you want to change the Preferred Route segments in MapPoint, you have to click 5 times to get there (Route->More Options->Segments-Preferred Road Types). The final destination would have been 20 minutes longer but all on highways. Hmm...what an opportunity - especially since the other way did note construction delays. In addition, if we had gone that way, the direction list would have been four lines instead of 6. It might be useful to immediately highlight two routes and allow the user to pick one to really determine which is faster.


Now, the GPS really helped us out big time- both in finding our way around Penn State but also ensuring we were going the right way but as I noted in #1, unless I had an easy way to print out EVERY possible map, it wouldn't have worked out.

This isn't a complete rant against MapPoint. I love it for a lot of reasons and MapPoint 2006 would have been great to have put along with a laptop with me on this trip (then I would have had all the maps - but then I would have to buy a GPS when my phone already has one) - hmm - maybe I need that new Avertech UMPC with GPS. MapPoint 2006 certainly has some great features like a Text to Speech feature for reading the directions but of course, those aren't on the Pocket Streets included with it. MapPoint 2006 boasts a few new features but all of these as far as I'm concerned really need you to have a GPS feature on your computer. Sure, it's cool to export out and look at stuff on Windows Live Local but otherwise, every other feature was really designed around making it better on GPS. Is that the target market here? If so, why include Pocket Streets?

As my wife noted, these are the reasons why people still don't rely on mapping web services. Small little changes would make all the difference in usability. Time to pull out the big map all over again.

Shedding Some Light on shedding some light

Rick points out some great new additions to Bob's Southwest Fox 2006. He notes some of the great new speakers that were just added to the list but also about every attendee getting $150 in dbi Dollars. That's a great opportunity especially considering that dbi is offering some of their controls as part of Sedna (so be sure NOT to use those dbi Dollars on those six controls).

While perusing the site, I found this post of Rick's, which is a very good read, especially for those developers or consultants who feel the need to pull out conspiracy theories.

As Rick noted "this blog is not read by everyone" - but just by posting re-links to it keeps a valuable discussion going. Rick's Shedding Some Light is a great blog and his report on Craig at the DAFUG was awesome!

It's tough to keep up with everything because there are so many feeds to read. I keep on putting posts that I want to make into my drafts folder because I just don't have all the time to get them into a form that I'm happy with.

This isn't just a post about linking to Rick's blog though - there have been stories that were posted six months ago that become popular again only once someone links to them. A lot of FoxPro developers are hard at work on some truly great things and when they put them out, they expect a thundershower of activity but it doesn't come. Instead, it comes slowly as more and more people find out about them. I've written about some of them, others have written about others but all are appreciated.

Keep them coming!
Shedding Some Light: Southwest Fox 2006 - More revelations

Privacy Bill of Rights?

I tend to keep out of political issues but after just seeing this headline - Hillary Clinton calls for "privacy bill of rights" - I have to ask - has the US Constitution been trampled on so much that no one has any regard for its amendment process?

A separate "bill of rights" ends up being as useless as some group getting together to form some "taxpayer's bill of rights" - they end up being silly, derided and a big waste of time.

If loss of privacy is such a huge issue, then add it to the only "bill of rights" that the US has - the Constitution so that everyone, from the Supreme court on down, has to respect it.

Or maybe she hasn't really thought this through and just wanted talking points...

Oh well, this is why I stay out of this stuff. Politically, there are MORE important things to worry about, like losing the ability to show public domain works.
Update: And yes I do know that there is confusion about what the WIPO amendment might mean - but really, just as it's important to focus on issues, it's also important to put the results of that focus into something meaningful.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Dave wants to OutFox the World!

So welcome Dave Crozier to the blogging world with his OutFox the World! blog.

And what a way to start - the VFP Organizer is in beta. He had a video of it up a few days back (as noted on ProFox) but now he's letting users download and use it. All done in VFP - check out the picture here.


What's funny is that I just finished submitting an article about dbi Technologies's ctDays control for FoxPro Advisor and lo and behold , here's the VFP Organizer.

Looks great and welcome Dave! - can't see how else you plan to outfox us!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Virtual Earth Mashup does web services one better

Ken posted this last week but I haven't had a chance to try it out.

Now that I have - I have to say, "wow - that was easy".

I had previously signed up to the MapPoint web services to see how we could use those. I'm sorry but the whole registration and entire process of using the web services made it a chore. The Virtual Earth SDK is how every web tool should offer itself over the web.

I love MapPoint (although I have a separate post brewing in me about my latest trip through Penn State with it) - but the fact that I could say "Show me directions" and then switch over to the source code tab to copy and paste it into my very own web page totally rocks.

Well done! This should be a model for how VS automatically creates web services - it's not enough to show the sample call, show an example of how it works and then show the code behind it.

Does it dumb down developers? I don't think so - this is just like "Full Code Intellisense" - let me tell you what I want to do, you give me the starting point and I'll take it from there. (and while i'm sure there are some code jockeys out there who believe that Intellisense is the single worst idea in the world - I'm sure most beg to differ)

The Virtual Earth Interactive SDK

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Taming Dockable Toolbars

Great tip from Mike on dealing with unwieldly toolbars. Mike notes that it's come up with several customers - my guess is that it comes up with just about every developer and they just go "oh well - that's how it works" - nice to know there's an easy fix.


Taming Dockable Toolbars

Welcome to DLL Hell 3.0!

As Vassilis notes, Microsoft has gone back to
Where the tools have no name. And some people aren't that happy about it.

Now maybe it won't be that bad, but judging by the comments left when people tried to re-install Windows 2003 SP1, it seems like the supposed salvation is still somewhere lost in the details.

And since many applications are still just running with DotNet 1.1, now you'll have "do you have DotNet 2.0 on it" or maybe DotNet 3.0 or maybe they will have to rely on the actual four digit version #, which is how their directories are named.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

PodTech's to-do list

In the spirit of those wacky MasterCard ads, Judi Sohn seems to have cracked the code:
A View from Home:PodTech's to-do list

Except, I think they were able to stand the traffic. I was out of town.

Great post though.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Microsoft Code

When I started reading this, I was worried it would get really long (and possibly boring). At 6 chapters, it's short, sweet and just down-right funny. A hilarious send-off of the Da Vinci Code right at Microsoft.

The funniest exchange (abridged) - a discussion on the user interface choices in Microsoft products:

"It should be easy to rotate, I think it's here on the Format menu, you just choose Font or Paragraph. Hmm, there is no Paragraph choice..."

"Maybe it's on the Edit menu, under Object."

The level 71 developer clicked a couple of times. "Object just highlights it. It's probably somewhere on the Format menu. Is it Alignment? No, that's just left/right/center."

"Let's try the Text Box option on the Format menu," "Great, it's a modal dialog with tabs. What about the Position tab?"

"Hey, what about the Text Box tab. Of course, we'll have a dialog called Text Box and then put a tab called Text Box on it. Oh look, you can rotate the text by 90 degrees, but not 180 degrees."

"What about the Size tab?"

"The Size tab? Why would rotation be on a tab called Size? Never mind, here it is on the Size tab.


Quick and easy to read and just down-right funny.

So who is Mini anyways?

Proudly Serving My Corporate Masters: The Microsoft Code: Chapter 6

Steve wants to replace the common controls

Hmm...this looks interesting. Steve's just reported that he's submitted his VFP Common Controls replacement library to the SednaX group.

Hey Steve- why not show us a sample with a screencast?

Between this and Carlo's excellent Status bar control, we'll have updated UIs in our applications in no time!

Monday, June 05, 2006

Name Your FoxPro

The SednaX admins have made a few noises about the need for a real "production" name for the SednaX project. (SednaX is a community-based initiative for add-ons to Visual FoxPro - since Microsoft code-named their next set of work Sedna, the SednaX kind of fit nicely). So the Name Your FoxPro poll results so far are favouring a VFPX (which is a play on VFP 10 as well as favoring the eXtended nature) but VFP.Next is also making a big play here.

You can vote here and don't be afraid to add your own suggestions. You can already see some fun entries such as:

Ostrich
Vixen
Starlight

or perhaps one that speaks to some VFP developers feelings about MS, "Futility".

It's important to note that this is not about renaming FoxPro proper - it's about getting a more public name for the SednaX work. Follow the discussion in the forum threads. The poll was simply put up to give an easy place to comment on it all.

Brian Jones: Offering PDF for Free

Just my luck. I read up from Ted and post a bunch only to find out from Brian that they plan on offering it as a free-download.

Funny the way the world works these days. The big issue though is will IT departments really download it?

I agree with Brian. It sounds like the conspiracy theory may be off for a while - if this is Adobe's mistake, they should really smarten up.

Brian Jones: Open XML Formats : Legal issues around PDF support

How to have a meeting

Well, after all the great "How to" meeting posts over at Visionpace, I thought this strip was particularly appropriate.

Bug Bash » Archive » Getting to Yes

How many wasted meetings could be improved with this approach?

Office Ribbon Resources

If, like Craig, you are interested in the new Office 2007 UI, this is a great resource.

Aside from showing how to extend the new Ribbon UI, it has a solution builder guide.

The entire Office UI blog is a great resource for understanding the hows and whys of the new solution.

Microsoft and Adobe: Leaving the way for Metro?

Ted may be starting to sound a little paranoid after Microsoft's announcement about dropping PDF but who can blame him?

Update: Brian has stated this is Adobe's issue, not Microsoft's.

It certainly is strange. Not supporting PDF is kind of like having a music player that doesn't support MP3. Of course, since Microsof also won't support ODF, that means their one hope for a "global" format is Metro, talking about at the recent HEC. There's a spec here.

From a developer perspective, having the entire doc format done in XML will make it easier for VFP developers to write tools that export data but that's something being planned for interfacing with regular Office docs anyways, right? The big downside is that it immediately locks you into the Win platform. O/S debates aside, that wouldn't be bad if Windows supported every device you used but that ratio is getting smaller, not larger (unless your home is outfitted with a Windows Media Centre, Win SmartPhone, XBox 360 along with your regular computer). Now I'm sure some people do live in those homes but there are just as many who are discovering Macs and other alternatives for their home automation enjoyments and how are they going to enjoy sharing documents between environments?

Since anyone can readily support PDF (as Ted points out, GhostScript is free), the only answer I can think of is that they are doing a "well, we'll just do our own thing" again. A bully move - but unfortunately, one that could put the nail into the Office coffin unless it plays out right.

In a number of clients that I go to, they still haven't moved up to Office 2003 because their corporate standard is something other than Microsoft. They buy Office to ensure they can work with others but their "standard" word processor and spreadsheet is something else (although these days, email is the "real" word processor alternative to Word). By not giving them a real compelling reason to upgrade to Office 2007 (and PDF support would arguably be it), some offices may find themselves 7 years behind the current version. And while I, like Craig, admit that the Office 2007 UI is cool, it's not everywhere (note that the MS Project Team said that they "decided to stay with the core user interface have shipped in the past") - instead offering cool features like Visual Reports and better business templates.

Why is that? Wouldn't the user interface changes (designed to make complex tasks easier to accomplish) be a cinch for a complex task like Project Management? My immediate thought is that the target audience for Project are companies that spend millions of dollars on training anyways so the benefits of "simplying complex tasks in the UI" is redundant. They're going to be spending the money on training anyways - so why not put the development dollars into an actual business benefit as they've done? But the same could apply to the rest of Office? If Office's main customers (read: the ones who make it a cash cow) are corporate and government (the ones who will send everyone away on training), will the new user interface be a real reason to upgrade? PDF output certainly could have been. So now the question is - why would a company choose to upgrade?

Update: If you don't think the reason for the new UI was ease of use, check here. Jensen Harris' Office UI blog expressly states "our design goal was to require no training at all"

Whoa - I've covered a lot in this one post. I think I'll leave it for now to come back to individual topics later.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Craig's awesome skill toolkit!

Craig noted about the most recent Sydney UG meeting that he had limited time to go through what he wanted to and that he was stumped by attendees saying they don't find a lot of value in blogs. But he pointed to his articles and whoa! His VFP Business Skills help file (nicely done with HTML Help Builder) is chock-full of valuable examples, ideas and links to very useful sites to help with (not just promoting VFP) but also basic perception tips you can put into your application to make it better.

It's a fast read but what a great resource as an intro for VFP developers who are a) trying to make their app look good and b) trying to promote their own skillset.

VFP Business Skills