Saturday, August 28, 2010

Another Reason to visit SW Fox: Software, Software, Software

Doug recently linked to Kevin Ragsdale's post about why people should attend Southwest Fox. If you've been listening to the FoxShow recently, we've been interviewing speakers and there are more interviews to come in the next few weeks.

AKSEL is also proud to announce that we are offering two subscriptions to MSDN Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate for attendees. If you don't already have MSDN, this is effectively your way of getting every piece of business/developer related software from Microsoft.

Rick, Doug and Tamar will be drawing for the lucky attendee at this year's conference - so you have to be there to win it.

As a note, if you DO already have MSDN, Pay it forward and be sure to throw the subscription back into the hat for others who may not be getting it to get the chance to work with the latest development tools from Microsoft. Note: this subscription also includes great designer tools like Expression with Sketchflow which I love for prototyping applications.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Simple But Useful VFP Tip: Remote Views with SQL Server varchar fields

Note: This is a feature that's been in VFP for years - but I've often found that useful features often remain hidden until someone points them out. So I'm taking to finding my little VFP tips as I come across them and re-posting them here.

I work in a variety of environments but one thing I always keep with me on my USB drive is VFP. Regardless of the data I have to work with, I always find that a task comes up that is infinitely easier in VFP. The funny thing is that other colleagues on a team who haven't been exposed to VFP are usually amazed at how quickly stuff can be done.

Today, I was working with a SQL Server table and SSMS only lets you edit the first 200 rows on their own - otherwise you have to script it (or use another tool).

For most of these systems, I typically create a VFP Database Container and then create remote views as necessary.

Oftentimes, the problem is that when VFP comes across a varchar field that is longer than 254 characters, it immediately converts it into a memo field so I am left with something like this:

This is annoying as the field I really need to modify is the DisplayText column or the Memo field and while I can open it, I would prefer to be lazy on this end.

So in the View designer, highlight the desired field and choose Properties. Then change the Data Type of your output of choice. Since most of my text in this column will be less than 254 chars, I'm just making that change here.

Now, when I browse my remote table, I can see the contents of the field, make changes and they propagate right back to the SQL table.

Nice and simple.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Turning on the Lightswitch

Microsoft announced a brand new tool for business users yesterday called "Lightswitch", which (according to the announcement) makes it easier to build business applications for the desktop or the cloud.

Beth Massi sounds super excited by it, describing it as a tool that makes it easier to build data-centric applications, something that FoxPro developers know a little about.

Mary Jo Foley discussed Lightswitch as a tool similar to FoxPro:
" The idea, my sources say, is to bring the Fox/Access style of programming to .Net".

I don't buy that or maybe more to the point, I wouldn't put FoxPro and Access in the same boat to begin with.

This sounds more like an "Access" version of InfoPath which lets you "build advanced forms for line of business applications". If you walk through the screen shots shown on Jason Zander's intro page, it looks more like an application Setup Wizard or a "template-driven" application builder.

I welcome all tools to make building applications easy for organizations - it may dilute what many call "programming" - but if it solves an immediate business need, great.

However, remember all those efforts IT and centralized development shops have made to centralize development efforts, ensuring standards, etc?

Unless those standards were Silverlight, WCF and Entity framework, you've just thrown another tool that IT will hate into the mix.

From the intro page
"LightSwitch applications themselves are robust and are built on top of .NET technologies including Entities and WCF, the same technologies you already choose from when you write your apps today. Because the apps are built on top of .NET with VS you will be able to open your LightSwitch applications in the full version of Visual Studio and do advanced extensions."

Those key .Net technologies are VB or C#. I haven't seen what the final application and source looks like but let's face it - Lightswitch is a template-driven application builder for Visual Studio.

Some key points that make Lightswitch sound attractive:
- any database (including SQL, Sharepoint and Azure)
- can build desktop, WCF or browser-based applications
- extensible templates

Hank Fay jumped in with his analysis almost immediately, calling it a Bait & Switch, calling it an insult for domain-expert programmers:
"I have consulted with, and worked for, non-professional programmers for 12 years now, and if anything, the programs they create are more complex, in terms of data needs and UI needs, than what professional developers create. Oh, for sure, professional programmers can write complex algorithms, or wonderful feats of asynchronization communication over barriers of distance, protocol, and so forth. But when it comes to the business-end of the horse, one has to know the domain to understand the complexity, and that’s where the domain experts shine."

As someone who knows how important a good consultant is to moving an application along the right path, but I have also seen consultants or "experts" completely destroy a business opportunity, by either taking too long or not understanding the right concepts.

My big concern here is that Microsoft has added once again to the number of tools a business can use to extend or build applications with. You need to track something, do you use:
- Visual Studio (WinForms)
- Visual Studio (ASP.Net)
- SharePoint
- Dynamics
- Access
- Infopath
- LightSwitch
- Visual Studio (Office Extensions)
- Web Matrix
- WPF/Silverlight

I know that LightSwitch is an extension from Visual Studio but promoting it as a separate product can make this tricky to decide.

Yes, each one has certain things that it does well - but remember when Microsoft's own teams had a rough time deciding between tools when it was just VS, Visual FoxPro and Access? Imagine what the discussion will sound like now.

As many developers now focus on development patterns such as MVC (MVP, MVVM, etc) to build best-of-breed applications, Lightswitch removes that process. As I noted above, until we see the actual code created, it's hard to judge how successful it will be.

I'm a big proponent for the right tool for the right job - but there isn't a lot of guidance as to where Lightswitch fits. That's going to be the big challenge.

SW Fox 2010 Location Changes!

I received an email last night from Rick Schummer, announcing a fairly big change for Southwest Fox 2010 - it's no longer in Mesa, Arizona - it's in Gilbert.

Previously made reservations at the Arizona Golf Resort have been cancelled - instead, the conference will be at the Legado Hotel and SanTan Elegante Conference and Reception Center in nearby Gilbert.

The new location looks amazing.

Use the code "SWFox" when registering.

Southwest Fox is the annual gathering of FoxPro developers with great sessions on development tools, techniques and practices.