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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Dave Crozier said...

Can I just correct your misunderstanding.

Microsoft HAVEN'T said they will put VFP in the open source domain. What they HAVE said however is that the code to SEDNA will be released as open source which is a different matter. In fact Yag (Alan Griver) has stated that the code to VFP will neverbe released as there are too many intellectual rights problems to address.

I Quote:
...Additionally, VFP will continue to be supported for 8 more years. The MVP program will continue as long as there’s a community. The capabilities will continue to grow with things like VFPX. In fact, one of the things I am proudest of is that while we can’t open source the core, the extensibility model allows folks to keep adding new capabilities.

Dave Crozier

Bill said...

No 'misunderstanding' on my part Dave... I fully understand what Microsoft is doing, they're burying VFP, and are hoping to place enough smoke around the issue to make themselves sound a bit noble...

What I was referring to was the 'possibility', of the whole app being place in the open source community, and how that could be the saving grace.

What they're doing now, just prolongs the inevitable.

I personally spoke to Mr. Gates about this in 1992 shortly after they bought Fox, and he "assured" me there plans were to aggressively market and promote the package... sadly, that never happened.

They've spent 14 years digging a hole for VFP, now they've dropped it in the hole... it's only a matter of time before it's filled in.

The fact remains, one of the best development tools every built is about to fade from the landscape, and there's nothing today, that can fill that void (without a developer doing a ton of additional coding).

I appreciate you stopping by... the more folks we can get talking about this, the better the chances are we can find another tool to fill the gap the demise of VFP will open up.

MS may 'support' the app for 8 more years, but every open project on my plate is being rescoped to drop VFP as a result of the announcement, I'm guessing that's happening to other developers all over the country as well.

Lorna said...

Hi Bill, missed you for the last while. I have absolutely no thoughts on this subject, but for some reason, feel compelled to read yours.

Dave Crozier said...

Bill I now see what you meant! I obviously got hot under the collar due to M$ axing THE BEST desktop application development system by far.

Not that the announcement was unexpected, just that it seemed really sad having used and followed the product from the original Foxbase days. Not to worry though as I suppose it would have been difficult to improve on an already perfect product ;-).

Yes, a good step forward would be opening the product up to the community in full but I fear that will never happen. As you say, they got what they wanted in terms of expertise and Rushmore Technology to try and speed up .NotYet (grin).

The one big plus though is the strength of the VFP community which , despite being overlooked by M$ has consistently stayed loyal. As a member of the Profox listserver group ( I know that many people are looking to broaden their skills in other areas similar to VFP for application development. One product is Dabo, a desktop application framework wrtten and developed using Python by Ed Leafe and Paul McNett - both VFP Guru's. Ed's aim is to put into Dabo all the functionality of VFP. This is indeed a very tall order but the advances in two years have been phenomenal with limited resources.

Maybe later rather than sooner, M$ will indeed realise what an opportunity they have squandered by not making VFP cross platform (as it was originally) and it may well come back to bite their arses sometime in the future! As for myself I just love VFP and will continue for many years to come, making use of my skills in the product in an environment where the "skills nucleus" will at the best stay constant. The Fox is dead - long live the Fox!

On another note thanks for the blog entries and keep them coming.

Dave Crozier

Bill said...

Lorna - I've missed you too, hopefully I'll be around more in the very near future!

Dave - No problems... ALL of us are a bit hot under the collar!

What I don't get, is why they never just bundled the database manager with .Net and add VFP.Net as an available language!!

Yes I'm already a .Net guy, but I'd definitely pony up the bucks for the VFP.Net add-in... and what better to have as a basic, yet strong, built in DB, than VFP?

The way I see it, they're missing the boat.... what are the other options for a windows based application?

SQL? Too much money and overhead for many small businesses

Access? Nice little tool, but it sucks speed-wise, it's just not robust enough as a data manager.

With VFp as an available tool, the .Net community would gain one of the largest, and most loyal developer communities around...

What do they NOT get about that?

Anyway... thanks to you both for dropping in!!