VFP: The Visual FoxPro Tipping Point

Posted on January 13, 2006. Filed under: Visual FoxPro |

The Visual FoxPro Tipping Point
There is a VFP Surge on at present. 2005 was a good year for Visual FoxPro and 2006 could turn out to be the VFP Tipping Point.
Those familiar with Malcolm Gladwell’s famous book may see some similarities to the VFP environment at present. But first a quick recap of relevant important events in 2005.
The start was the unveiling of the Sedna Roadmap. Here we discovered that VFP did in fact have life left in it. Perhaps not a new version, but certainly plans for improvement. Next came some great conferences, exemplified by SouthWest Fox, and then a significant bolster by the SednaX initiative. A few key press items added significant weight to the acceptance of VFP (I wonder if Mary Jo Foley realised how carefully Fox developers would scrutinise and use her piece). Then late in the year an index was indicating a rise in the popularity of VFP.

All in all VFP captured the attention of many people.

And as an aside, there is also the fact that many senior executives have a FoxPro heritage and still hold the Fox with great affection (although not perhaps with as much passion as we’d like).
So that leaves us now poised to either: watch from the sidelines, or, help rapidly grow its acceptance.
Whether or not you agree with Gladwell’s notion of a Tipping Point (some consider him a genius, others little more than a rehasher of out-dated psychology studies) there are definitely compelling signs that we may be on the verge of a Tipping Point with VFP.
Let’s clarify growth
But let us first clarify what it is that is potentially growing. Is it the number of developers? I’d say this is unlikely, although Scott Scovell insightfully points out in an OzFoxRocks episode that there is scope for VFP to pick up from the VB vacuum. (This is the vacuum created in VB software houses that no longer find VB supported yet can’t finance the learning curve to move to full blown VB.Net development.)
However, the main part of VFP growing is in its acceptance by corporations. If VFP reaches an exposure and acceptance in the general community that it is alive, reliable and productive then the resistence at the corporate level will diminish. This is in contrast to the current response often heard: ‘is VFP still around – I thought it died out years ago’, and other examples of ignorance. (In their defence though IT Managers are being hit on all sides to meet compliance and other requirements, so it is often difficult to keep up with all development offerings out there, and thus only the most heavily marketed will get a look in.)
So, back to the The Tipping Point. To push towards an ‘epidemic’ we need three things working together:
1. The message
2. The connectors
3. An understanding of context
(This ofcourse is a slight bastardisation of Gladwell’s ideas – for example what I refer to as ‘the message’ is more akin to what he calls ‘stickiness’, and he also orders connectors before stickiness)
1. The Message
Here’s the message we need IT Managers (and the rest of the developer community) to hear and understand:
i. FoxPro IS still very much alive, and it is still improving
ii. FoxPro IS technically strong and well supported
iii. FoxPro DOES allow you to meet corporate compliance requirements (eg backups, replication, data privacy and security, performance, centralised reporting etc)
VFP ‘theoretically’ meets all these points. However, perception is not always the same as reality.
Let’s take point iii. for example. Most corporations are concerned about compliance. And thus are unlikley to be comfortable with a file based database. So, in this case we need to be promoting how well VFP works with SQL Server. (And SQL Server should definately be in your skillset – but that is a topic for another discussion)
Assume you are tendering for a large corporate project. You are competing against companies, let’s say, that use Java as the development tool, with SQL as the backend. The IT Manager is comfortable with SQL Server as the backend, and hence with their proposal.
How sad would it be if your VFP based solution was rejected because the IT Manager wasn’t comfortable with a file based database: ie when you say ‘VFP’, all he/she hears is ‘file based database’.
In that case it would have been better if VFP didn’t actually have any backend database functionality because then the IT Manager would have been forced to understand that you were going to use SQL Server.
So, in this case, the message needs to be spelled out clearly that VFP works extremely well with SQL Server.
When IT Managers hear ‘FoxPro’ they need to automatically think ‘strong SQL Server integration’
(Isn’t it ironic that you could miss out on a corporate project because your development tool is too database functional?)
Here’s some other examples where the message is not getting heard:
– you say ‘FoxPro’, the IT Manager hears ‘unsupported product’ (because they don’t realise it is supported until 2014)
– you say ‘FoxPro’, the IT Manager hears ‘ancient product’ (because they remember using a FoxPro app 15 years ago)
– you say ‘FoxPro’, the IT Manager hears ‘slow and unreliable’ (because they remember using a flakey FoxPro app 15 years ago on crappy hardware)
– you say ‘FoxPro’, the IT Manager hears ‘won’t scale’ (because they are like this guy)
You get my point. Our goal is not proving technical merits, our goal is to overcome misconceptions and get the real message heard.

2. The Connectors
So, we know the message we need to get out ther. How do we do it? Here’s where you need connectors.
These are the people who are moving between different developer and business communities. Are you going to SQL, BizTalk and .Net user groups? Then let people know that you (and heaps of others) are using VFP. Notice, I’m not saying promote it as something they should convert to. People going to a .Net user group are unlikely to want to change their primary development tool – so get off the ‘VFP is better at X than your tool’ hobby horse – you just end up convincing people you are a pain in the ass. No, rather, let them know you are using VFP productively, efficiently and profitably where appropriate.

If VFP is respected in the developer communities then it translates into the business world pretty quickly.
But don’t neglect connectors in the business world. Keeping corporates up to date is key. The more blogs, conferences, books, web sites out there talking about VFP the more VFP will be noticed.
Understand that IT decision making is often not about technical ability, it is more about perception.
An inkling that a technology is obsolete and non-supported will work against that technology in the IT decision maker’s mind. Responding with an argument about technical merits will likely confuse and bore said decision maker.
So this is a story about perception. Specifically, correcting perception.
3. The Context
You need to be aware of the context you are in. The context for VFP is that it is not well promoted, size wise, by Microsoft when compared to other tools. (Comparing marketing in percentage of user base however it probably is comparable.) So, that means there is an added hurdle trying to reach the corporate IT decision maker’s ear, since it is likely to be drowned out by the myriad other marketing campaigns.
Don’t assume that ‘others’ are promoting the message for you.
What can you do?
Well, lots. For starters do something. As Gladwell points out in his book, context is interesting here. For example: if you are the only person on a street and you see someone being mugged it is most likely you WILL call the police. But if the street is crowded it is likely that you WON’T. In fact it is likely that no one will. Everyone else thinks that someone else will do it (scary huh? – this is a documented behaviour).
How many of you assumed for example that the rest of the community emailed Mary Jo Foley about her article? Have you emailed her yet? (If you haven’t then you still have time)
Here’s some other things you can do:
– Start (or continue) blogging actively about VFP
– Tag your web sites. As William Sanders points out in his superb FoxWiki article 
there is direct benefit in doing these things? (OK, you might not be interested in skewing an index so much as actively promoting your tool of choice.)
– Support user groups and conferences.
– Start your own podcasts. How bizarre would it be if there were hundreds of VFP podcasts coming out?
– Write articles and help out on forums.
– How many of you are supporting VFP publications and books? Wouldn’t it be interesting if one of the bestsellers on Amazon was a VFP book

– And the big one for me: Improve the look and feel of your VFP products. I know I sound like a broken record here but nothing kills a prdouct’s reputation more than a crappy user interface. So put some effort into efficient screen layouts that meet Windows standards, nice user controls and decent graphics. People judge your development tool by the things you build with it. Just by striving for excellence in user interface design, you could be doing a great deal to promote VFP…
– Craig Boyd’s Call to Action has covered all this and other ground well 
And, the obvious thing about all these activities ofcourse, is that by engaging in them you are actively improving your own abilities and skills as well. You are investing in your own future.

‘The Surge’ is real and VFP is poised to grow in acceptance. The next year is crucial. We all need to promote VFP so it reaches its Tipping Point and moves to becoming an epidemic (Gladwell’s term). With some simple contributions by you this can be achieved.


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2 Responses to “VFP: The Visual FoxPro Tipping Point”

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If you could setup a ‘send this page to’ type email forwarding service, then the viewers could more easily forward this on to the related parties … such as IT managers!

Yes, there is an ’email me’ link but unfortunately it is easy to miss. It is a little icon at the end of each post that looks like an envelope with an arrow in it.

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