Sunday, March 25, 2007

What Have I Been Up To? . . .

Since the last post?

Well, primarily I’ve been working for the Railroads, my workload there has been, well, let’s just say, overwhelming, this month. There were several tight deadlines, and some areas of responsibility that were fairly new to me as well.

Those combined with my “Not a problem, I can handle it” attitude got me in some trouble around mid-month… I know, me, Mr. “I deliver on time”… finally got himself in trouble and missed a deadline… that may not be a big deal to some of you, but, it was a big deal to me.

I’m happy to say the team I work with, really, and I mean really, stepped up to the plate to help me bring this one phase in, and get the project back in the green. For someone (me) who has had little success in getting help from others (with a few notable exceptions) this was a wonderful turn of events.

In another phase, I’ve completed a data model and an application in VB.Net to allow folks to analyze what they’ve been working on. It’s comprised of one basic form, with a tab control, thirteen tabs each with various views of aspects of the data model. There’s even a context sensitive column search feature that’s activated on a right mouse-click.

How did I get that done, with everything else on my plate? One word, “Infragistics”.

These folks have a slogan “Powering the presentation layer”… from where I sit, they definitely do! If you’re involved with .Net, and are looking for a controls toolbox that functions in Windows, or Web, applications check this company out, for my money they’re definitely the real deal.

In my spare time, I’ve been working on, believe it or not, preparing a commercial VFP application for delivery. A very well known paint company contracted with me to help them with this project earlier this year, but, things didn’t really start heating up until mid-February, and then got very serious, when, in the middle of my other crisis.

Just this past week I worked over 50 hours for the RR’s and another 30 on the project for the paint company… my entire month of March has been a series of 70-80 hour work weeks. I’m not complaining mind you, just recognizing that old saying “When it rains, it pours!”

In talking with some of the other team member on the paint project, I’m pretty confident we have a shippable product now. We’ve converted the application to VFP9, added a software licensing process, altered how some internal password functionality is derived and in general done a decent ‘cleanup’ on the product.

Again, great team, excellent communications and hard work by everyone got this pulled together in time.

My friend Ken Sheldon (remember Ken?) and I had been planning to get together this weekend and hit a bowling alley, roll a few games and, in general just catch up with one another. On Wednesday, as I was looking at some additional tight deadlines (changes to the RR application for a Friday demo, and the fast approaching shipping deadline for the paint company, I was seriously considering postponing our plans.

At some point however, I realized that I always do that, let the work interfere with my personal life. I’ve been doing it for 25 years, Ken would have understood, he knows me and my dedication… about that same time I decided that four or five hours out of the weekend, to enjoy some time with an old friend (Ken and I have know each other 20 years, this year, and we’ve worked together at 3 different times over those years), was something I definitely needed to do.

So at about 8:00am on Saturday he and I headed out to Buffaloe Lanes in Cary. (Yes, that’s how they spell it… as Ken would say, from the Dan Quayle school of spelling).

When we got there, a youth league was in full swing, all 32 lanes in use by kids in the age range of 5-10 it appeared. Well we stood around and talked, and watched the kids bowl for an hour or so, and decided we’d reserve a pair of lanes for when the first pair freed up. As we were talking to the folks, one of them said “No one showed up on 27/28, let them have the pair”

So we were off and rolling (literally).

I’m happy to report that Ken has finally beaten me in bowling; in fact he gave me a sound ‘thrashing’… I averaged about 146, he averaged 198… The only other time he and I bowled together it was in Liverpool, NY.. I had probably the best three game series in my life, he had one of his worst… and I’ve hung on to that victory for over a decade… I’m just so glad that we got out again, and he won, it gives an excuse for a rematch!! Hey, he’s a great bowler, I’m just glad he’s not embarrassed to be seen rolling with me!

So what do ya think folks.. a strange month for sure… I’m neck deep in both VFP and .Net, Microsoft announces the end of VFP yet I’m working like a mad man to keep up…

Two lessons here for me…

1st, you should always make time for friends and family.. It’s worth every second of the time

2nd, hard work, and great team members can accomplish amazing results, especially when you let the team know you need their help.

So how has your March been?

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Open Source… the future?

The open source community, that’s where Microsoft says they intend to place VFP once they’re done with it.

I see few distinct possibilities for the future if that’s what they actually do.

First, and the worst case, is that it will simply die there.

If you know the history, Microsoft bought FoxPro originally to get the ‘Rushmore’ technology it contained. You see, at the core of the Fox was a database engine, one capable of incredible speed, even on those old 286/386 and 486 boxes with slow hard drives.

In many cases it out performed databases on much larger platforms, costing ten times, or more money.

Surrounding that core was (is) a language designed from the ground up to manipulate and work with data. It has some of the best string manipulation functions of any language I’ve ever used.

So, what I fear is that if they release it to the open source community, it’ll be stripped of the technology that made it such a work horse, and saddled with a shell of what it has today.

If those things happen, it will surely die a fairly quick death out there in the open source world.

The other, less likely, but far more exciting prospect is that it’ll land in Open source intact. A group of developers, possibly some of the folks from the current VFP group at Microsoft will pick it up and run with it.

There’s a ton of us ‘old coders’ out here, and a great bunch of young guns as well that would love to be able to tell our clients we’re building their new application on the newest piece of open source software.

The open source community is, overall, robust. It’s also made up of folks just like most of us VFP geeks, zealots, they grab onto something an run with it, and before you know it, it’s the “language de jour” … hey look at Ruby, it was virtually unheard of a couple of years ago…. It’s all the ‘buzz’ today.

Another, possibly even more interesting possibility, is that a group will form up, and using the base code, build a .Net version of VFP. A VFP.Net.

Personally I think that is the track that holds the most promise of widespread success, in my opinion. Microsoft has invested untold millions in the .Net platform, and it’s actually beginning to find some widespread acceptance in the corporate market place. It’s still behind Java, but it’s gaining.

Currently, while you can ‘connect’ to a wide variety of Databases from .Net,
manipulating that data, slicing it, and analyzing it, in .Net, is a long way from the ease with which it can be done in VFP today.

The concept of ‘Macro substitution’ inherent in VFP, simply doesn’t exist in .Net (or at least no one *I have talked to has found it), it would add a ton of functionality if it were there.

We can currently combine code from any .Net language, in the same solution as it all eventually is compiled to be utilized by the .Net CLR (Common Language Runtime), so why not a VFP.Net?

Hell there’s even a COBOL.Net, surely there are minds out there smarter than mine who could get it done!

I’ve built some DLL’s in VFP that I can add to a .Net application to provide some of the functionality I’ve needed from time to time… can a VFP.Net be that far away?

Regardless though, I’ll be devoting most of my free time now to converting my favorite VFP apps, like my TimeClock© to .Net. I can’t afford to be out of work with a skill set no one is willing to pay for!

If you’ve got thoughts, I’d love to hear them!

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Friday, March 16, 2007

The End Of An Era. . . .

Well folks, it’s official… Microsoft is ending development on any new releases of Visual FoxPro.

Redmond Developer News Microsoft: No Visual FoxPro 10

I’ve been an xBase/VFP developer for over two decades, 20 plus years, and now, well, it seems those skills will pretty much be about as useful as those of an ‘old school’ TV repairman.

Yeah, there will still be a ‘need’, but nothing like there was. Makes me glad I’ve worked on my .Net chops over the past few years… time to get really working on them now though!

Sorry I haven’t been around much. A lot has happened over the past few months, not the least of which is that I’ve been very busy. I miss everyone, and appreciate those of you who still stop in to see if there’s anything new.

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