Monday, December 31, 2007

FoxRockX

As Rick notes on Shedding Some Light: Fox Rocks with FoxRockX, Rainer Becker is about to launch a new magazine, taking the place of FoxTalk and FoxPro Advisor. Rick has the full details on his post, well, full details except for where to get more info, but I'm sure that's coming.

Looks like 2008 is going to shape up to be a GREAT year for VFP developers.


Powered by ScribeFire.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas

Whether you celebrate now, have already celebrated your past holiday, are planning to, or not, I hope you find yourself surrounded by family and those you love during this holiday season and are able to remember fondly those who are not with you.

We often find ourselves buried in work, or too distracted by other problems, to share and remember a few moments with those closest to us. So many of us are separated by huge distances, we often find it easier to focus on those who are out of arm's reach yet so easy to connect with online, instead of those who are right beside us.

So do yourself a favour, put down the keyboard (stylus, mouse, etc) and spend that time. I know I will.

Merry Christmas.


Powered by ScribeFire.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Where is Sedna?

OK - this is getting a little long now...unless Microsoft is saving it as a Christmas gift for December 24th. It's now been 1 month since the release of XSource for SP2, 2 months since the dbi Controls have been available, 2 months since the release of SP2, 3 months since I spoke with Rick/Doug who thought everything was on track for Sedna, 6 months since the last beta (even though Doug has been posting bits and pieces) and still we don't have the new pieces.

I thought maybe it would be a stealth upload to Codeplex but no. All that's there is the slow but steady updates to VFPX.

Lisa's doing missing documentation...and I'm sure most of the Fox team has gone off to their other new areas...but surely someone is still at home getting ready to put Sedna to bed...anyone?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Concentric Hosting is Currently Down

I currently manage 4 sites that are hosted by Concentric - around 12 or possibly 11:30 EST, their servers shut down for unknown reasons, affecting http, email and other services.

I saw that on twitter, other XO sites may have also been affected.

I finally got through to Support after an hour. Of course, their support team don't have much knowledge nor an ETA for the resolution.

About an hour ago, all sites were erroring with Site Not Found errors - the Concentric.com site is now reporting a 500 Server Error - Could not connect to VFS server. So I guess that's some progress.

This just p*sses me off. You can't even get to a site to find out what is happening but once I do find out, I'll post it here.

Of course, at this stage, I can't even redirect the DNS to another site - since they manage it. Or can I? Any ideas?

I suppose this isn't so bad - it's only the second time in 10 years I've had this problem but still what a pain and I've got clients who use some of the other sites as well. Argh!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

On Automated vs. Human Testing

A lot of people are pointing to Joel Spolsky's Talk at Yale: Part 1 of 3

and it's a great read. If you read it further, I guess closer to the end of Part 1, he makes some very valuable comments on automated testing and the need for human intervention, using Vista as an example:

Speaking of the old approach to testing - "they spent a lot of time making sure that the user interface was consistent from one part of the product to another, because a consistent user interface is easier to use than an inconsistent one."

And because of the reliance on automated scripts - "And so one result of the new emphasis on automated testing was that the Vista release of Windows was extremely inconsistent and unpolished. Lots of obvious problems got through in the final product… none of which was a “bug” by the definition of the automated scripts, but every one of which contributed to the general feeling that Vista was a downgrade from XP. "

"nobody wrote the automated test to check if Vista provided users with a compelling reason to upgrade from XP."

Now that sounds a little harsh but it's also very true. No one will argue (ok, I'm sure some will) that UAC is a better way for managing security, or that putting all the but the reasons that Joel mentions above are precisely the reasons why Chris went off on his rants about the Vista UI last year. Now Ed did counter with some great points but many did agree and the result (6 months after the release of Vista) was still the same.

I'm all for automated testing and test suites, etc - but let's remember that software is only useful if people can use it. And the people who write it aren't always the ones who find the bugs. (great post by Goran Zidar on that)

I often think of this when I wonder why we haven't done more implementing new VFP 9 technology in various products (including Foxfire!). After all, many of the features are completely awesome to put in. But the user experience has to count for something. And while putting a variety of code into the Comments field is one way and while sure, you can build a dialog with a bunch of checkboxes on it - I don't know if you come away making an interface easier to use. Now, most of my readers here are developers - so we want the cool features and the UI on these dialogs certainly works the way most of us would expect it. But I'm taking the leap here from a development IDE to an end user product. Just as a user doesn't always get all the different format options that can be dropped into the Picture box, nor do I think they will get all of the other features. So the user experience has to be considered priority and that is not something that can happen properly with automated testing.

I'm doing some work with outsourced resources from Russian but I've also seen the same results with local contractors. Early on, I have learned that if I want a dialog to say something, I have to spell it out completely - as in word for word, spelling out each dialog. If I don't, I know others will come back and clobber me for it.

Likewise with good user interfaces, it's something everyone needs to struggle with. What is the easiest way for users to discover a feature? (some might argue that users shouldn't have to discover a feature but in this case, I equate discover to inductive user interface). Now some don't get IUI and use obviously bad examples to describe its shortcomings. But that's not the point.

It's all about consistency and while I'm sure there are some automated tests that ensure buttons are lined up perfectly and the right fonts are used, they still don't take the "human impact" into consideration. I don't think any automated test would have shown that Apple's UI decisions would be as impactful as they have been in the software world.

Those that are looking for automated tests to do everything should look into good usability tests. Morae's a useful tool here but sometimes, it's simply enough to set up a Snag It  or a GoToMeeting and just record what people are going through. 

Blogged with Flock



Update: Argh! And just as I posted this from Flock, I was presented with another UI inconsistency. WHO was it that decided that any open-source or non-MS tool should reverse the order of the buttons in a dialog so that the most commonly used option was on the furthest RIGHT instead of the Cancel?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Crystal Reports 2008 ?? - Really???

Craig points out that Crystal has a new version and in his words, Crystal Reports 2008 -- Don't bother

It's really sad to see companies start ending their support of technology that so many other companies have built their solutions around. Certainly you can't hope to have every technology around forever (I built my first Excel solution using DDE in Windows 2.1) but I find Crystal (er, Business Objects) sometimes makes decisions that are mind-boggingly dumb.

Case in point, Crystal 10 had a nice easy to use Prompt for Parameters. In Crystal 11, this was reproduced by a more web-like interface. Sure, it looked great - but one problem: the customers I had were working in a secure environment where every app that wanted access to an internet page was prompted for security. Not only that, Crystal 11 also used JavaScript heavily - a solution that was disabled for most of the regular end-users.

So while CR 11 may have had these great features, it caused more problems than it was worth.

Why not simply limit the support for older technology? Give them a REASON to switch. One could argue that no one makes applications that use COM anymore - but that just isn't true, not yet at any rate and I don't see it happening for quite some time. If you consider that while a software development tool may only have a lifetime of a few years (consider VS 2003-2005-2008), a BUSINESS application has a considerably longer life cycle - especially when it works.

It's pretty disrespectful of companies to kill features and still expect users to upgrade to it when their businesses run off it.

That's why so many businesses still work off of older versions of applications. Crystal 2008 doesn't offer the same as 11 or 10 before it. In the accounting world, Sage kills off VisionPoint yet the replacement (Pro) doesn't offer the same functionality. I have a client who still uses the DOS version of ACCPAC but generates reports using other tools. I'm sure there are others - look at the OS statistics.

What old application do you still have running around today?

Cathy Pountney: Workaround for Data Group bug

Cathy's posting a workaround for the bug she reported earlier with Visual FoxPro SP2 but the deafening silence from the Redmond camp is kind of annoying. We all looked forward to having a single solid release of VFP from which we could build solutions around - but one that wouldn't be introduce major new problems from previous versions.

Cathy Pountney: Gotcha: Workaround for Data Group bug

Now I suppose one could argue "why didn't this come up in the beta test" but this brings to bear the entire issue of a "public" vs. "private" beta. In my mind, with a Private Beta, users are far more likely to be critical of functionality and not bring on a list of "I want" items. Sure there will be a few - but most developers and users I know of in "private betas" are well-aware that by the time a product goes into "Beta" - the feature list has been locked down and now it's time to fix bugs.

When you release a "public beta", even to developers, you've immediately open yourself up to "why can't it do this" or "I want it to do this", stuff that can take time away from just about everyone on a project.

Now when you look at the Microsoft Connect site, it gets a little more interesting.

There are items that have been reported as Resolved since the release of SP2 but there's no comment about HOW they've been resolved. Does that mean there's a hotfix coming? Or are these items being fixed (somehow) with Sedna? (which still has not yet been released)

It seems Cathy was right about "if enough of us complain, they will address it." but we aren't seeing HOW it's being addressed just yet.

One thing I did notice - is that there is no easy way in MS Connect for someone to pull up all the VFP issues so one thing that would be useful woud be for everyone to preface their bug reports with VFP SP2 (or VFP, at the very least).

While I wouldn't expect MS to continually issue fixes for bugs as they come up in VFP, some of the issues that are being reported are big enough to warrant a hot fix , in my mind. As I said above, I don't mind having a product with known bugs (that have been in there for a while) that we have to work around but regression testing aside, I don't think anyone expected any loss of major functionality. Has anyone heard how these items will/won't be resolved?