Thursday, August 23, 2007

How to say no to too much upfront work

Ted Roche posted a great item on ProFox linking to this post. It's typically about designers but it's just as relevant to development. Thanks Ted.

AIGA position on spec work: Design & Business: AIGA

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The FoxPro ecosystem

Neil Davidson has a great post on the Business of Software blog: The inevitable death of the ecosystem in which he notes how Microsoft is moving into arenas previously filled with their third-party partners and are now competing with them directly. The concern? "Third parties will start to leave the ecosystem and they won’t be replaced. "

So what about the FoxPro ecosystem?
With FoxPro being unleashed, we have a choice: leave it or tend it. The FoxPro community is full of great tools, some competing with each other while others are more complementary. But what is relevant here is that we no longer have to worry about Microsoft possibly coming out with a new feature that will hamper the existence of an existing tool. I recall when the new hooks for the report writer were first being talked about and there was an active discussion from Microsoft about how these changes might affect third party products.

Instead, we are free to build and enhance the great tools that we have been given and also come up with our own. And they can be similar tools or approaches.

Tod's post about automating project hooks referenced Rick Schummer's Project Builder tools - this was one of the first times I had even heard of this tool - because in the past, I've always just done it myself.

While there are other commercial tools available, developers are often a Do-It-Yourself breed. The FoxPro community has always had a good number of developers who are passionate about sharing their tools. Now's a good time to encourage other FoxPro developers to share their ideas and little tools they use.

Many will think now that Microsoft is effectively "leaving" the VFP ecosystem, FoxPro is a "dead product walking" (this is a term mentioned by Rafael Ruffulo in an upcoming article for ComputerWorld canada) - but ecosystems don't have to have major companies supporting it - as long as the other members of that community continue to support it.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Automating Development in FoxPro

Tod wrote a great post on 7/30 5 Ways to Automate Development in FoxPro

I don't use all of these approaches but I did want to touch on his Using Project Hooks and describe one of the ways we make use of this.

We have a fairly "remote" development team with developers in Canada, the US and aboard. We use SourceOffSite to manage our code base which offers its own challenges but one of the trickiest things we have to deal with is creating production builds with the latest versions.

If I build version 2.5.1 of an application and my co-worker has to build it the next day, we want to make sure that he builds version 2.5.2. Now, sure, you could always make sure you get the latest of the project metadata via SourceSafe but that's a bit of a hassle.

Instead, we maintain a table with all of the version numbers for the various apps (there are over 100). The table is stored as XML on our web server. In the BeforeBuild process, when building an application, we download the XML file and convert it to a cursor using XMLTOCURSOR().

We then verify that the application in question is in the table and update the version numbers, first updating the PROJECT version # (provided the table has a later version) and then assigning a new common version #. The file is then reconverted to XML and re-posted to the web server.

We've added a number of other checks into our project process as well (such as copying the EXE to the latest Builds folder, etc) but the end result is that we can have multiple developers working on multiple applications and never need to worry about the version numbers getting out of sync. All thanks to project hooks.

We also did a number of other useful items such as posting notes for the release each you did a rebuild (we had a check to say "Are you building a public release" for this) - while developers may not always provide the most "public-ready" comments about a build, they have helped provide the basis for release notes for every project.

Certainly, it might be nice for some development teams to have larger application life cycle management tools but the cost and implementation requirements for those tools is very often prohibitive. What's great about FoxPro for smaller shops is that it's easy to build all the little pieces you need!


Working with FoxPro SP2 before its release

I don't always recommend running beta software for production purposes but sometimes, when it's good and solid, you can make your own products better or at the very least, make your development day easier.

Cesar has done a great job outlining many of the new features to be found in Sedna here:

Cesar Chalom : VFP9 SP2 / SEDNA USEFUL LINKS

In particular, the report enhancements to be found in the Visual FoxPro SP2 beta have been demo'd in a video by Lisa Nicholls - what looks really exciting is the ability to rotate text in a very easy way.

More importantly, Cesar has noted how he is working directly with "pieces" of SP2/Sedna today and how some are directly available without installing the "beta" version of Sedna. For example, you can download the My Namespace directly from Doug's site and he also posted the new Report apps from SP2 on Foxite.