Archive for July, 2005

More on VFP Solution Explorer

Posted on July 31, 2005. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

Our thanks for the great feedback we’ve received on Solution Explorer, especially from Craig Boyd. The funny thing is that at OzFox last year there was zero interest expressed – but it was only a prototype at that stage and it was the last session of the night…

We’ll post details on schedules shortly.

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VFP and WMP presentation updated

Posted on July 31, 2005. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

After posting the presentation from Sydney VFP UG last week I was alerted to the fact that the resize workaround doesn’t work for VFP8 (or earlier) since it relies on VFP9 Anchors.

The updated presentation is here

http://www.svfpug.com.au/assets/2005Jul/WMP/Help/index.htm

Specifically this topic (which is an improvement on the original workaround anyway)

http://www.svfpug.com.au/assets/2005Jul/WMP/Help/index.htm?page=_1KV0RC7FM.htm

Sample code is here

http://www.svfpug.com.au/assets/2005Jul/WMP/Code/VFPWMP.zip

 

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More on VFP Solution Explorer

Posted on July 31, 2005. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

Our thanks for the great feedback we’ve received on Solution Explorer, especially from Craig Boyd. The funny thing is that at OzFox last year there was zero interest expressed – but it was only a prototype at that stage and it was the last session of the night…

We’ll post details on schedules shortly.

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VFP and WMP presentation updated

Posted on July 31, 2005. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

After posting the presentation from Sydney VFP UG last week I was alerted to the fact that the resize workaround doesn’t work for VFP8 (or earlier) since it relies on VFP9 Anchors.

The updated presentation is here

http://www.svfpug.com.au/assets/2005Jul/WMP/Help/index.htm

Specifically this topic (which is an improvement on the original workaround anyway)

http://www.svfpug.com.au/assets/2005Jul/WMP/Help/index.htm?page=_1KV0RC7FM.htm

Sample code is here

http://www.svfpug.com.au/assets/2005Jul/WMP/Code/VFPWMP.zip

 

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VFP Solution Explorer

Posted on July 29, 2005. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

There’s been a few discussions lately about a Solution Explorer for VFP (see Craig Boyd’s mention here for example). I note that Craig Bernston is working on one and there are probably others out there.

Here’s a link to a presentation Scott Scovell gave at OzFox last year and then re-presented at the Sydney VFP UG this month.

Scott is planning to open it up to the community later this year, and will be asking for suggestions shortly. Beta 1 should be out before the end of the year. Part of the aim is to make this an example of Good Practice development (I’ll be blogging more about this in the coming weeks, and comparing it to Best Practice) that guides developers on how to write ‘proper’ applications – there seems to be too much ‘quick and dirty’ code out there in our opinion.

Another aim is to make it as extensible as possible so that anyone can write Add-ins for it. There will be a big focus on this architecture initially. Interfacing to Visual Studio Team System is high priority on our list also.

It is hard to gauge how much interest there ‘really’ is for the whole Solution Manager concept – feel free to leave a comment, link to this or email me (cb@talman.com.au) if you have any thoughts. We’ll be pushing on regardless, but will be taking on board community comment very seriously.

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VFP Solution Explorer

Posted on July 29, 2005. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

There’s been a few discussions lately about a Solution Explorer for VFP (see Craig Boyd’s mention here for example). I note that Craig Bernston is working on one and there are probably others out there.

Here’s a link to a presentation Scott Scovell gave at OzFox last year and then re-presented at the Sydney VFP UG this month.

Scott is planning to open it up to the community later this year, and will be asking for suggestions shortly. Beta 1 should be out before the end of the year. Part of the aim is to make this an example of Good Practice development (I’ll be blogging more about this in the coming weeks, and comparing it to Best Practice) that guides developers on how to write ‘proper’ applications – there seems to be too much ‘quick and dirty’ code out there in our opinion.

Another aim is to make it as extensible as possible so that anyone can write Add-ins for it. There will be a big focus on this architecture initially. Interfacing to Visual Studio Team System is high priority on our list also.

It is hard to gauge how much interest there ‘really’ is for the whole Solution Manager concept – feel free to leave a comment, link to this or email me (cb@talman.com.au) if you have any thoughts. We’ll be pushing on regardless, but will be taking on board community comment very seriously.

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Sydney VFP User Group

Posted on July 28, 2005. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

We had a great meeting last night, and next month is looking awesome too

Links and details of presentations are on the site http://www.svfpug.com.au

And the OzFoxRox! podcast idea got a very enthusiastic response

http://www.svfpug.com.au/assets/2005Jul/News/index.htm?page=_1KR0NZA4Y.htm

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Interesting software development links

Posted on July 28, 2005. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

A few interesting links doing the rounds

Joel on Software: http://www.joelonsoftware.com/index.html especially http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/HighNotes.html

37signals: http://37signals.com/svn/ especially http://37signals.com/svn/archives2/sidebusiness_software_the_neglected_software_market.php

Andrew MacNeill comments on it here http://akselsoft.blogspot.com/2005/07/long-tail-fortune-500-vs-fortune.html

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Sydney VFP User Group

Posted on July 28, 2005. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

We had a great meeting last night, and next month is looking awesome too

Links and details of presentations are on the site http://www.svfpug.com.au

And the OzFoxRox! podcast idea got a very enthusiastic response

http://www.svfpug.com.au/assets/2005Jul/News/index.htm?page=_1KR0NZA4Y.htm

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Interesting software development links

Posted on July 28, 2005. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

A few interesting links doing the rounds

Joel on Software: http://www.joelonsoftware.com/index.html especially http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/HighNotes.html

37signals: http://37signals.com/svn/ especially http://37signals.com/svn/archives2/sidebusiness_software_the_neglected_software_market.php

Andrew MacNeill comments on it here http://akselsoft.blogspot.com/2005/07/long-tail-fortune-500-vs-fortune.html

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VFP Resources

Posted on July 25, 2005. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

Every so often a new person turns up at the Sydney VFP User Group and asks where they can find information on a VFP related item. Usually I send them an email afterwards with a list of VFP resources. But to save time I’ve compiled a list here. There are many others ofcourse, but these are some main ones to get started with.

[Update: Added The FoxPro Show in the podcast section]

Microsoft VFP page
http://www.msdn.microsoft.com/vfoxpro/

West Wind
http://www.west-wind.com/

Using Win32 API functions in VFP
http://www.news2news.com/vfp/index.php

FoxWiki
http://fox.wikis.com/wc.dll?Wiki~FoxProWiki

Universal Thread
http://www.universalthread.com/

VFP on MSDN
http://www.msdn.microsoft.com/library/default.asp?url=/library/en-us/dnanchor/html/vfpanchor.asp

Tek-Tips
http://www.tek-tips.com/

Virtual FoxPro User Group
http://www.vfug.org/

Foxite
http://www.foxite.com/

Podcasts
The FoxPro Show
http://www.thefoxproshow.com/

Blogs
I’ve put an OPML file of some Fox bloggers here
http://www.svfpug.com.au/assets/BlogsVFP.opml
Or zipped here (if you have trouble downloading the OPML directly):
http://www.svfpug.com.au/assets/BlogsVFP.zip

This includes anyone that I know of related to VFP, but that doesn’t mean their entries are all VFP related. Most bloggers put personal stuf in their posts aswell. Lately there has been a trend to having a personal and a professional blog, in order to separate the content (I’m considering this also)
The blog list has been largely compiled from the following sources
http://fox.wikis.com/wc.dll?Wiki~BlogWatch
http://www.universalthread.com/wconnect/wc.dll?LevelExtreme~2,3,1,5
http://weblogs.foxite.com/
There is a great range and you needn’t read all of them – I’ll let you decide which ones you like or not.
[Also, if you find that your blog is not in this list (but it is in one of the sources above) it means that I couldn’t connect to it at the time of compiling the OPML. Send me a note and I’ll add you in. I’ll try to refresh the OPML every few weeks.]

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VFP Resources

Posted on July 25, 2005. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

Every so often a new person turns up at the Sydney VFP User Group and asks where they can find information on a VFP related item. Usually I send them an email afterwards with a list of VFP resources. But to save time I’ve compiled a list here. There are many others ofcourse, but these are some main ones to get started with.

[Update: Added The FoxPro Show in the podcast section]

Microsoft VFP page
http://www.msdn.microsoft.com/vfoxpro/

West Wind
http://www.west-wind.com/

Using Win32 API functions in VFP
http://www.news2news.com/vfp/index.php

FoxWiki
http://fox.wikis.com/wc.dll?Wiki~FoxProWiki

Universal Thread
http://www.universalthread.com/

VFP on MSDN
http://www.msdn.microsoft.com/library/default.asp?url=/library/en-us/dnanchor/html/vfpanchor.asp

Tek-Tips
http://www.tek-tips.com/

Virtual FoxPro User Group
http://www.vfug.org/

Foxite
http://www.foxite.com/

Podcasts
The FoxPro Show
http://www.thefoxproshow.com/

Blogs
I’ve put an OPML file of some Fox bloggers here
http://www.svfpug.com.au/assets/BlogsVFP.opml
Or zipped here (if you have trouble downloading the OPML directly):
http://www.svfpug.com.au/assets/BlogsVFP.zip

This includes anyone that I know of related to VFP, but that doesn’t mean their entries are all VFP related. Most bloggers put personal stuf in their posts aswell. Lately there has been a trend to having a personal and a professional blog, in order to separate the content (I’m considering this also)
The blog list has been largely compiled from the following sources

http://fox.wikis.com/wc.dll?Wiki~BlogWatch
http://www.universalthread.com/wconnect/wc.dll?LevelExtreme~2,3,1,5
http://weblogs.foxite.com/
There is a great range and you needn’t read all of them – I’ll let you decide which ones you like or not.
[Also, if you find that your blog is not in this list (but it is in one of the sources above) it means that I couldn’t connect to it at the time of compiling the OPML. Send me a note and I’ll add you in. I’ll try to refresh the OPML every few weeks.]

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Sydney Visual FoxPro User Group

Posted on July 17, 2005. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

The next UG meeting (27 July 2005) is looking good – see UG site here and UG blog here

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Sydney Visual FoxPro User Group

Posted on July 17, 2005. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

The next UG meeting (27 July 2005) is looking good – see UG site here and UG blog here

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OzFox 2006

Posted on July 9, 2005. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

I’ve had a few queries from people about the next OzFox.
The answer is that we are planning to have the next OzFox in September 2006.
This is a deliberate move away from an annual event to a bi-annual one (bi-annual? I never know whether that means twice every year, or every two years, but you get the point). This was based on feedback from OzFox 2004 attendees who said having the conference every year would probably be too much.
Later this year (probably October) I will be putting together thoughts on the conference, confirming dates and speakers etc.
You can also watch the OzFox blog for updates (http://ozfox.blogspot.com)

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Taking on the big boys

Posted on July 9, 2005. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

Rick writes about his feelings of distress with American business (and this could be equally applied to Australia). I think it is an important read, now more than ever, regardless of whether you agree with him or not. So where do you start?

Well, start with the small things. You may think the following is trivialising the issue (not at all my intention), but it is very funny and makes a good simple message:
http://www.storewars.org/flash/
(it has been around for a bit so you may have already seen it)

By the way Rick, my wife and you share many ideas here. One of the things I love about Michele is how she makes a stand on even the small issues where it is clear that the business she is dealing with is totally out of line. One thing she does really well is stays rational, clearly presenting her case and thoroughly following up with a company she is dis-satisfied with. I learn heaps from her all the time. Ofcourse the temptation is to think ‘why bother? I’m only a drop in the ocean’, but as you say, if we don’t even make a stand, then we are effectively condoning the actions of big business. The good thing is that it doesn’t take too much effort to make a small difference, whether it is the buying decisions we make or more importantly the integrity with which we run our own businesses.

Sadly with our buying decisions on clothing it is almost impossible to buy an item that hasn’t been through a sweat shop at some point. But in other areas, especially food, we still have choices (well in Australia at least). However in our own businesses we have our maximum potential to fight the corrupt practices of (some) big companies. One thing my boss often reminds us of, is that ‘we are born with our integrity, whether we die with it is up to us’. Let’s not be a generation that decided it was easier to follow the path of corporate greed.

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OzFox 2006

Posted on July 9, 2005. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

I’ve had a few queries from people about the next OzFox.
The answer is that we are planning to have the next OzFox in September 2006.
This is a deliberate move away from an annual event to a bi-annual one (bi-annual? I never know whether that means twice every year, or every two years, but you get the point). This was based on feedback from OzFox 2004 attendees who said having the conference every year would probably be too much.
Later this year (probably October) I will be putting together thoughts on the conference, confirming dates and speakers etc.
You can also watch the OzFox blog for updates (http://ozfox.blogspot.com)

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

Taking on the big boys

Posted on July 9, 2005. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

Rick writes about his feelings of distress with American business (and this could be equally applied to Australia). I think it is an important read, now more than ever, regardless of whether you agree with him or not. So where do you start?

Well, start with the small things. You may think the following is trivialising the issue (not at all my intention), but it is very funny and makes a good simple message:
http://www.storewars.org/flash/
(it has been around for a bit so you may have already seen it)

By the way Rick, my wife and you share many ideas here. One of the things I love about Michele is how she makes a stand on even the small issues where it is clear that the business she is dealing with is totally out of line. One thing she does really well is stays rational, clearly presenting her case and thoroughly following up with a company she is dis-satisfied with. I learn heaps from her all the time. Ofcourse the temptation is to think ‘why bother? I’m only a drop in the ocean’, but as you say, if we don’t even make a stand, then we are effectively condoning the actions of big business. The good thing is that it doesn’t take too much effort to make a small difference, whether it is the buying decisions we make or more importantly the integrity with which we run our own businesses.

Sadly with our buying decisions on clothing it is almost impossible to buy an item that hasn’t been through a sweat shop at some point. But in other areas, especially food, we still have choices (well in Australia at least). However in our own businesses we have our maximum potential to fight the corrupt practices of (some) big companies. One thing my boss often reminds us of, is that ‘we are born with our integrity, whether we die with it is up to us’. Let’s not be a generation that decided it was easier to follow the path of corporate greed.

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Gotta love libraries

Posted on July 2, 2005. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

I’ve been looking forward to this book The Historian for a while.

Dymocks and other stores advised me I wouldn’t be able to get my hands on it until July 4. But my wife suggested I place a hold on it at the library. The library web site advises me yesterday it is ready for collection. So I picked it up today (July 2) even though it is not available in the stores until Monday. Love it.

Reminds me of my post over a year ago now.

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.Net Return on Complexity (ROC)

Posted on July 2, 2005. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

I’m concerned about the lack of return on investment our continuning involvement with .net is going to produce.

I guess I’ve bored enough people with my views on this over the past few months to warrant a blog about it (that way I can just point people here, they can smile politely and ignore it :-))

In a nutshell my train of thought is this:
1. Developers are not only victims of hype, they are now perpetuating it
2. Software development tools are becoming very complex
3. The cost of hype and complexity
4. What is the return on complexity?
5. The .Net P/E ratio
6. The way forward

Here’s my take on the situation:

1. Hype squared – .Net hype is out of control

I first became aware of my uneasieness with .Net hype at CodeCampOz (a wonderful event by the way, so nothing here should be construed as criticism of that event, it is just the time when my disillusionment started).
There, I discovered that the hype previously generated only by marketing departments had been embraced by the developer community and was being pushed to new heights.
(As a long time developer I’m excited by new stuff just as much as the next coder, but now i’m really starting to question if it is getting completely out of control.)

A few years back we developers had little tolerance for crappy beta software. Back at uni we didn’t even look at a product unless it was rock solid. I remember sticking with Borland C++ Builder for my thesis project because Microsoft’s Visual C++ wasn’t solid enough at the time.

But fast forward to CodeCampOz and we had presenters getting applauded if their presentations didn’t crash (which was pretty rare). Even at Microsoft events these days we have the standard ‘disclaimers’ at the start of each presentation (‘now, I’m runnning on Virtual PC so bear with me if it is a little slow…’, or ‘now, I’m runnning beta 2 so it might be a little unstable…’). And countless developers around the globe (I’m one of them) lap this up.
What have we been reduced to? And why?

The reason is because .Net hype is out of control.

And it doesn’t end there. I’m now getting quizzed by clients (who have no technical knowledge) on what our .Net strategy is. It seems that some clients don’t come with a problem to be solved anymore, they come with a hype-induced strategy to be met. The hype has certainly made it to the end of the chain when this happens.

[btw I’m sure this is not unique to Microsoft (lest you think I’m a Microsoft basher), it’s just that we are a Microsoft shop (and plan to stay that way) so that is my exposure.]

2. Complexity
By nature software is becoming increasingly complex as we solve bigger and bigger problems. But what worries me is that the development tools we use to solve these problem are becoming increasingly complex at a rate out of all proportion to the problems they are used for solving.

If you’ve been playing with beta2 then you know that Visual Studio is now a very complex beast. The learning curve is getting much higher. Sure, there’s a bunch of new wizards and some of the new controls are really great. The access to APIs is much better, and the project management/team aspects show huge promise. But, the path of a developer is now, more than ever, one of specialisation. Previously we developers could have a good handle on most of a product or even a product range (eg a few years back you could be very advanced, possibly even an expert on SQL Server, including administration, Visual Basic and ASP). But those days are fast retreating. The .Net developer of tomorrow will be an expert in one thing, be it SQL administration, high performance coding, performance tuning, DTS development, XML implementation, source control manager, whatever.

Part of the reason for this is that .Net is positioning itself as an Enterprise tool, similar to the Oracles, SAPs and other high end vendors out there. They ofcourse have high complexity in their development tools. eg it is rare (and very expensive) to find a person who is an expert database administrator, database developer, and front end develper in Oracle. (By contrast you can find plenty of developers who are great SQL Server administrators, developers and front end developers all in one.)

3. The Cost of hype and complexity

The hype and complexity of .net is going to cost software companies/departments (and thus their customers) more than ever.

Firstly the hype. Already the IT market is going through the roof. Try hiring a senior .net developer these days and you’re looking at $70K-$110K, possibly more. WTF? This product has only really been out for 3 years. (Great for you if you are developer by the way, but not so good if you’re trying to run a development team like I am). More on this later.

Next the complexity. As we become more specialised, it takes more developers to cover all the facets of a project.

4. Return on Complexity (ROC)

Now increased cost is all well and good if the problems we are solving are proportionally increased. But for companies like ours (at the small end of the scale – we only have 15 developers) the problems we are addressing are the same ones by and large. eg Customers want this database intensive web site, or that accounting interface, or that EDI network or this trading system etc.

So, assuming we are staying current with .Net skills (which we are), it is gradually costing us more to provide solutions to largely unchanging problems.

Thus my quesiton: what is the return for us? Will we (software companies) be making more money? Well, we’ll have to in order to keep the talent! Will we be making more profit? I doubt it. Will our clients be glad to be paying the higher fees we’ll be charging? No, we’ll employ bigger marketing teams to win them over (with the added cost that brings) or else rely on the hype to do it…

And, are we providing ‘better’ solutions for our clients? Well, yes we are. But is it worth the extra cost to them? How do you accurately calculate what I refer to as the Return on Complexity?

5. .Net P/E ratio

I’m getting a feeling of De ja Vu here. This has shades of the SAP debacle we experienced a few years back. I don’t know if this happened elsewhere (I suspect so) but in Australia atleast, we had a sudden surge in SAP projects. SAP skills were highly sought after and of course the prices went sky high. SAP ‘consultants’ (ie more than 2 years experience) weren’t getting out of bed for anything under $80K+. And so the vicious cycle started. Pretty soon the hype surrounding SAP got more suckers (think companies that want the latest ‘in’ technology) and the demand for SAP developers jumped again. ‘What! you got out of bed for less than $100K?…’ Everyone started learning SAP and the future looked rosy.

But pretty soon the big SAP projects started going way over budget and every week IT newpapers heralded another SAP project that had blown out/been canned/postponed. SAP was fast going out of favour and the rash of failed projects left a glut on the market. Suddenly SAP developers were having trouble getting work and their salaries were way down. ‘I had to get out of bed the other day for an interview with 80K other candidates…’

Nothing really new there I guess (think Dot Com boom all over), except that I perceive we are going to learn this great lesson again in about 3 years time. The hype for .net is unprecedented. And for now, clients are happy to pay for .Net solutions.

But look at all the big bank projects and other high profile .net enterprise solutions in progress. And look at the market value of .net developers continually rising (time to switch to recruitment me thinks…). Look at the numbers of new developers coming out of uni all eager to get stuck into .net and earn the big bucks. In a year or two I think we’ll see the first few .net failures in the press. These will be the big bank projects where the CTO suddenly had a look at the bill and said ‘enough is enough’.

The sad thing ofcourse in all this is that is has nothing to do with the technology. The projects won’t be canned because of the technology capabilities of .Net. No, it’ll be strictly a financial decision. And then we’ll see the mass redundancies, more customers questioning the cost of their projects and soon after the market will have ‘corrected’ itself.

Consider .Net a stock with a P/E ratio just starting to climb too high. Ride the wave as long as you can, but be wary of the crash.

6. Moving forward

So, where does this leave a company like ours. We are small (15 developers) but growing (we plan to double in size over the next 2 years). Should we be investing heavily in .Net? Well, one way of looking at is that in a few years time we’ll be able to pick up skilled staff pretty cheap…

But seriously, the question is more ‘Can we afford not to?’. We don’t want to be left behind, and we certainly can’t move to another platform – we are far too entrenched with Microsoft. And, Microsoft has been good to us over the last decade. Their servers and tools have enabled us to deliver great products and solutions to our clients. And frankly, (with my technical hat on) I like playing with the new stuff. I get a buzz out of building new ‘cool’ solutions. But you can understand my concerns when I have my ‘manager hat’ on. Just how should a software manager be guiding a small but growing software company?

I’ve raised my concerns here. With Visual Studio 2005 released in November, my job is to set a clear path for our company over the next few months.

I’ll write more on this as answers become clear.

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Gotta love libraries

Posted on July 2, 2005. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

I’ve been looking forward to this book The Historian for a while.

Dymocks and other stores advised me I wouldn’t be able to get my hands on it until July 4. But my wife suggested I place a hold on it at the library. The library web site advises me yesterday it is ready for collection. So I picked it up today (July 2) even though it is not available in the stores until Monday. Love it.

Reminds me of my post over a year ago now.

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.Net Return on Complexity (ROC)

Posted on July 2, 2005. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

I’m concerned about the lack of return on investment our continuning involvement with .net is going to produce.

I guess I’ve bored enough people with my views on this over the past few months to warrant a blog about it (that way I can just point people here, they can smile politely and ignore it :-))

In a nutshell my train of thought is this:
1. Developers are not only victims of hype, they are now perpetuating it
2. Software development tools are becoming very complex
3. The cost of hype and complexity
4. What is the return on complexity?
5. The .Net P/E ratio
6. The way forward

Here’s my take on the situation:

1. Hype squared – .Net hype is out of control

I first became aware of my uneasieness with .Net hype at CodeCampOz (a wonderful event by the way, so nothing here should be construed as criticism of that event, it is just the time when my disillusionment started).
There, I discovered that the hype previously generated only by marketing departments had been embraced by the developer community and was being pushed to new heights.
(As a long time developer I’m excited by new stuff just as much as the next coder, but now i’m really starting to question if it is getting completely out of control.)

A few years back we developers had little tolerance for crappy beta software. Back at uni we didn’t even look at a product unless it was rock solid. I remember sticking with Borland C++ Builder for my thesis project because Microsoft’s Visual C++ wasn’t solid enough at the time.

But fast forward to CodeCampOz and we had presenters getting applauded if their presentations didn’t crash (which was pretty rare). Even at Microsoft events these days we have the standard ‘disclaimers’ at the start of each presentation (‘now, I’m runnning on Virtual PC so bear with me if it is a little slow…’, or ‘now, I’m runnning beta 2 so it might be a little unstable…’). And countless developers around the globe (I’m one of them) lap this up.
What have we been reduced to? And why?

The reason is because .Net hype is out of control.

And it doesn’t end there. I’m now getting quizzed by clients (who have no technical knowledge) on what our .Net strategy is. It seems that some clients don’t come with a problem to be solved anymore, they come with a hype-induced strategy to be met. The hype has certainly made it to the end of the chain when this happens.

[btw I’m sure this is not unique to Microsoft (lest you think I’m a Microsoft basher), it’s just that we are a Microsoft shop (and plan to stay that way) so that is my exposure.]

2. Complexity
By nature software is becoming increasingly complex as we solve bigger and bigger problems. But what worries me is that the development tools we use to solve these problem are becoming increasingly complex at a rate out of all proportion to the problems they are used for solving.

If you’ve been playing with beta2 then you know that Visual Studio is now a very complex beast. The learning curve is getting much higher. Sure, there’s a bunch of new wizards and some of the new controls are really great. The access to APIs is much better, and the project management/team aspects show huge promise. But, the path of a developer is now, more than ever, one of specialisation. Previously we developers could have a good handle on most of a product or even a product range (eg a few years back you could be very advanced, possibly even an expert on SQL Server, including administration, Visual Basic and ASP). But those days are fast retreating. The .Net developer of tomorrow will be an expert in one thing, be it SQL administration, high performance coding, performance tuning, DTS development, XML implementation, source control manager, whatever.

Part of the reason for this is that .Net is positioning itself as an Enterprise tool, similar to the Oracles, SAPs and other high end vendors out there. They ofcourse have high complexity in their development tools. eg it is rare (and very expensive) to find a person who is an expert database administrator, database developer, and front end develper in Oracle. (By contrast you can find plenty of developers who are great SQL Server administrators, developers and front end developers all in one.)

3. The Cost of hype and complexity

The hype and complexity of .net is going to cost software companies/departments (and thus their customers) more than ever.

Firstly the hype. Already the IT market is going through the roof. Try hiring a senior .net developer these days and you’re looking at $70K-$110K, possibly more. WTF? This product has only really been out for 3 years. (Great for you if you are developer by the way, but not so good if you’re trying to run a development team like I am). More on this later.

Next the complexity. As we become more specialised, it takes more developers to cover all the facets of a project.

4. Return on Complexity (ROC)

Now increased cost is all well and good if the problems we are solving are proportionally increased. But for companies like ours (at the small end of the scale – we only have 15 developers) the problems we are addressing are the same ones by and large. eg Customers want this database intensive web site, or that accounting interface, or that EDI network or this trading system etc.

So, assuming we are staying current with .Net skills (which we are), it is gradually costing us more to provide solutions to largely unchanging problems.

Thus my quesiton: what is the return for us? Will we (software companies) be making more money? Well, we’ll have to in order to keep the talent! Will we be making more profit? I doubt it. Will our clients be glad to be paying the higher fees we’ll be charging? No, we’ll employ bigger marketing teams to win them over (with the added cost that brings) or else rely on the hype to do it…

And, are we providing ‘better’ solutions for our clients? Well, yes we are. But is it worth the extra cost to them? How do you accurately calculate what I refer to as the Return on Complexity?

5. .Net P/E ratio

I’m getting a feeling of De ja Vu here. This has shades of the SAP debacle we experienced a few years back. I don’t know if this happened elsewhere (I suspect so) but in Australia atleast, we had a sudden surge in SAP projects. SAP skills were highly sought after and of course the prices went sky high. SAP ‘consultants’ (ie more than 2 years experience) weren’t getting out of bed for anything under $80K+. And so the vicious cycle started. Pretty soon the hype surrounding SAP got more suckers (think companies that want the latest ‘in’ technology) and the demand for SAP developers jumped again. ‘What! you got out of bed for less than $100K?…’ Everyone started learning SAP and the future looked rosy.

But pretty soon the big SAP projects started going way over budget and every week IT newpapers heralded another SAP project that had blown out/been canned/postponed. SAP was fast going out of favour and the rash of failed projects left a glut on the market. Suddenly SAP developers were having trouble getting work and their salaries were way down. ‘I had to get out of bed the other day for an interview with 80K other candidates…’

Nothing really new there I guess (think Dot Com boom all over), except that I perceive we are going to learn this great lesson again in about 3 years time. The hype for .net is unprecedented. And for now, clients are happy to pay for .Net solutions.

But look at all the big bank projects and other high profile .net enterprise solutions in progress. And look at the market value of .net developers continually rising (time to switch to recruitment me thinks…). Look at the numbers of new developers coming out of uni all eager to get stuck into .net and earn the big bucks. In a year or two I think we’ll see the first few .net failures in the press. These will be the big bank projects where the CTO suddenly had a look at the bill and said ‘enough is enough’.

The sad thing ofcourse in all this is that is has nothing to do with the technology. The projects won’t be canned because of the technology capabilities of .Net. No, it’ll be strictly a financial decision. And then we’ll see the mass redundancies, more customers questioning the cost of their projects and soon after the market will have ‘corrected’ itself.

Consider .Net a stock with a P/E ratio just starting to climb too high. Ride the wave as long as you can, but be wary of the crash.

6. Moving forward

So, where does this leave a company like ours. We are small (15 developers) but growing (we plan to double in size over the next 2 years). Should we be investing heavily in .Net? Well, one way of looking at is that in a few years time we’ll be able to pick up skilled staff pretty cheap…

But seriously, the question is more ‘Can we afford not to?’. We don’t want to be left behind, and we certainly can’t move to another platform – we are far too entrenched with Microsoft. And, Microsoft has been good to us over the last decade. Their servers and tools have enabled us to deliver great products and solutions to our clients. And frankly, (with my technical hat on) I like playing with the new stuff. I get a buzz out of building new ‘cool’ solutions. But you can understand my concerns when I have my ‘manager hat’ on. Just how should a software manager be guiding a small but growing software company?

I’ve raised my concerns here. With Visual Studio 2005 released in November, my job is to set a clear path for our company over the next few months.

I’ll write more on this as answers become clear.

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