Clarity

CLARITY: CRM Live becomes CRM Online

Posted on March 27, 2008. Filed under: Clarity, Microsoft |

The main interest in this article from Mary Jo is not about CRM (who cares about a name change after all) but rather how Microsoft are clarifying their terms:

Live: Consumer focus

Online: Business & Enterprise focus, hosted by Microsoft

Hosted services: hosted by Microsoft partners

And don’t miss the revenue sharing snippet at the bottom – Microsoft will share 10% of the CRM Live charge with reseller partners (its at the bottom of page 10 of the linked document).

(via Mary Jo Foley)

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CLARITY: VSTS, VSTO, VSTA, VSX

Posted on February 2, 2008. Filed under: Clarity, Microsoft, Technology, VSTO |

Seems like Microsoft is having a V Day, every day. Here’s a run down of the main V technologies/tools:

VSTS (Visual Studio Team System)

Firstly, Visual Studio. Visual Studio 2008 (the current version) is Microsoft’s IDE for building .NET based applications, be they Web, Desktop, Device or Microsoft Office based.

Visual Studio comes in a number of different versions, grouped into three main areas:

The premier version is called Visual Studio Team System 2008 Team Suite and includes everything from all the different-role based versions.

VSTO (Visual Studio Tools for Office)

VSTO is Microsoft’s tool set for building applications that run in Microsoft Office (eg Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint). They are built using Visual Studio.

Originally a replacement for VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) in Excel and Word, VSTO was made available in its first version approximately around the start of 2004. The most recent version – VSTO V3 – was delivered as part of Visual Studio 2008 in November 2007.

The aim of VSTO is to provide tools for developers to build on top of Office as a platform. Using VB.NET and/or C#, developers can use Visual Studio to build add-in for most of the Office 2003 and 2007 applications, including Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, InfoPath and Visio. SharePoint and Groove development is also possible, al though not directly targeted.

(See also my further thoughts on VSTO here)

VSTA (Visual Studio Tools for Applications)

VSTA is a customisation toolkit for allowing your application to be extended (using .NET). You are basically exposing your application’s object model in a form that can be built upon using Visual Studio. You can even embed a cut-down version of Visual Studio into your application to allow customers to extend it without having to install Visual Studio.

If they do have Visual Studio installed, they’ll be able to built add-ins for your application.

VSTA comes from the same Microsoft product group as VSTO and shares a similar architecture. Here’s how they relate to each other:

Microsoft has a product (eg Outlook) that they want you to be able to extend. They use VSTA to allow their product (Outlook) to be extended using Visual Studio. They call their extension toolset VSTO.

(Note: They don’t embed the cut-down version of Visual Studio into Outlook, but the concept is similar to how they provide the macro editor embedded into Office.)

VSTA is reasonably new – the first version was announced in early 2006. The second version is due in early 2008.

VSX (Visual Studio Extensions/Extensibility)

It’s easy to get confused between VSTA and VSX. The difference is that with VSTA you provide extensibility for your application, whilst with VSX you build new extensions for Visual Studio. With VSX you are building something new onto the Visual Studio IDE.

Code Magazine recently had an entire issue devoted to VSX.

VSX is part of the Visual Studio Ecosystem of products, delivered via the Visual Studio 2008 SDK.

Microsoft has been focusing on opening up extensibility for Visual Studio a lot lately. Although the ability to do so has been around for a while, it is now free (previously it was licensed at a cost), licensing restrictions have been toned down, and the Visual Studio Shell has been released (meaning you can build Visual Studio Add-ins without even needing Visual Studio installed).

Also, a number of open source projects have appeared on CodePlex, including the World of Warcraft AddOn Studio.

Other V words:

VSS (Visual SourceSafe)

Microsoft’s long running source control product has been superseeded in many ways by the source control elements of Team Foundation Server, however VSS is still promoted and supported. Ideal for smaller development teams.

Volta (Volta)

A new initiative from Microsoft labs, as opposed to a product as such, this is a process of so called tier splitting, whereby the Volta technology takes a traditional WinForms application and splits it out into client and server tiers/components, all held together with Volta goodness. The server tiers can be transformed to being web based (JavaScript usage features heavily in this case).

Vista

I think we all know this one. Microsoft Vista is an operating system, and the successor to Windows XP. 

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CLARITY: Thin, Thick and Smart clients

Posted on January 9, 2008. Filed under: Clarity |

The term Smart Client is probably the most often misused of the three, and there always seems to be a little bit of confusion as to where Thick stops and Smart begins.

But, yet again, The Architecture Journal (Issue 14, p10) guides us with a simple and helpful summary. Some will no doubt disagree (since the issue is focused on connectivity and mobile devices).

I’ve summarised them here:

Thin Client (Online Application): Client software, normally browser based, where connectivity is required.

Thick Client (Offline Application): Client software, installed locally, where connectivity is not required. All required data is local. (Synchronising of data at some point may be provided)

Smart Client (Occasionally Connected Application): Client software, installed locally, where connectivity is required regularly but not continuously.

This is a helpful guide, but of course is still open to debate.

The key point is what the term ‘required’ means? The common answer in my experience is that ‘required’ means ‘required to provide a good user experience‘.

Thus, is a program like Outlook a Thick Client or a Smart Client application? I usually say it is both, since it will work fine on its own (eg for Contacts, Tasks, Calendar) and yet it requires a regular connection for others (eg Email, Meeting requests). If a good user experience for you means instantaneous email Send/Receive then Outlook is a Smart Client, but if you only need to check email once a day or every few days then it is a Thick Client.

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CLARITY: Flash versus Flex versus Silverlight

Posted on November 28, 2007. Filed under: Clarity, Microsoft, Technology |

Summary: Flex is to Adobe as Silverlight is to Microsoft

Silverlight is often referred to as Microsoft’s version of Flash, however it is more correct to say it is Microsoft’s version of Flex.

You could say the following…
Silverlight 1.0 = Flash
Silverlight 2.0 = Flex

[UPDATE: Silverlight 1.1 has been re-branded as Silverlight 2.0]

Here’s a very basic comparison of Flex and Silverlight:

Flex is an Adobe product which allows you to build Rich Internet Applications* (RIA)

It is basically a developer tool which has a framework of functions that allows you to build applications that run in a browser (any browser on any platform).

Flex can use the Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR)** to run those very same web apps on the desktop as desktop apps.

Flex is currently building in .Net framework support.
Flex is currently in Beta for version 3.

In comparison, Silverlight is a Microsoft technology that allows you to build RIAs.

Silverlight apps are built using Visual Studio, Blend and other tools.
Silverlight 1.0 (released in October 2007) focused on providing Rich Media support.

Silverlight 1.1 (currently in Alpha) is focused on the programmability behind the apps.

Via a Silverlight plug-in, the apps run in any browser on any platform (there are some limits though).

Silverlight does not provide desktop app functionality. WPF is the Microsoft solution for rich media desktop applications.

* Some people contest that RIA stands for Rich Interactive Applications
** AIR used to be referred to as Apollo (it’s previous codename)

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CLARITY: SharePoint – WSS versus MOSS

Posted on November 26, 2007. Filed under: Clarity, SharePoint |

There’s still plenty of confusion out there about SharePoint, particularly around what is included in WSS versus MOSS. Part of the problem is that there is soooo much information about SharePoint that the simple details get lost…

So, let’s go through the various options, comparing WSS with MOSS Standard and MOSS Enterprise as simply as possible. I’ll exclude technicalities (eg that you need R2 of W2K3 etc) and just focus on the main points.

Windows SharePoint Services (WSS)

Currently in version 3.0, WSS is a free add-on to Windows 2003 Server. WSS is the foundation of SharePoint. It provides a stack of features (or services), including document management & collaboration, Wikis, Blogs, RSS feeds, strong Office integration (Word, Excel, Outlook, Access, PowerPoint) including alerts and synchronisation, basic workflow and some search capabilities. It has the foundational elements such as security and storage services.

Many intranet requirements are completely catered for with WSS. And WSS can be used quite effectively as a web site too.

[I’ve seen discussions about storage limits within WSS being set at 4GB*, but my current understanding is that this is not the case – ie there is no set limit.]

Microsoft Office SharePoint Services (MOSS) Standard

MOSS** sits on top of WSS and comes in two main versions: Standard and Enterprise.

MOSS Standard has stacks of features of course (including Enterprise Content Management, Portals and comprehensive Workflow), but the main ones to consider are:

  • Enterprise Search (which allows you to crawl a number of data sources)
  • People management (which includes all the My Site stuff, Personalisation features, Single Sign On and more)
  • Analytics (which includes all the usage and auditing functions for example: you can audit who is searching for what)

Point to note: Enterprise Search IS included in the Standard version.

Microsoft Office SharePoint Services (MOSS) Enterprise

Moving on to MOSS Enterprise, we get everything in Standard, plus a few more features added, the most important of which are:

  • Business Data Catalog or BDC (which is a means of linking SharePoint to basically anything including SQL Servers, Oracle Servers, Microsoft CRM, SAP and more, and providing the BI functions including dashboards and KPIs)
  • Excel 2007 Services (which allow Excel spreadsheets to be ‘hosted’ and rendered, and even accessed as web services)
  • Forms server (see below)

Point to note: People sometimes confuse BDC with Enterprise Search. To clarify: BDC can be considered an extra source of data feeds into Enterprise Search.

Other versions

There also used to be various flavours of MOSS for Search, and these can best be summed up as WSS plus Enterprise Search (ie they lack some of the other MOSS features such as ECM etc). They have recently been re-branded as Microsoft Search Server 2008 and come in a free ‘Express’ version and the Standard version.

Aside: There is another SharePoint pseudo-version known as the Office Forms Server 2007 which basically allows InfoPath forms to be rendered in the browser. It can be added to just WSS if required, and is included by default in the MOSS Enterprise version.

Comment

Microsoft hasn’t gone out of its way to make all this clear I have to admit – the hype around SharePoint is usually focused on the MOSS side of things – and why not? After all that’s where the big dollars are. Speaking of big dollars, it may not be as big as everyone keeps making out.

Licensing

Sure enough the Internet facing licensing is off with the fairies (at around the USD 40K per server mark!), but inside the company it can be significantly cheaper.

I don’t claim to understand the SharePoint licensing intimately, but this link will give you an overview of licensing (eg a basic intranet MOSS license is under $5K, although moving to Enterprise will get you into $60K level – Yikes!). However, the real kicker comes when you have to weigh up all the CALs you need (and for Enterprise you need to buy both the Standard CALs and the Enterprise CALS on top).

Getting confused yet? Yep, and to top it off you also need to factor in SQL Server licenses if you don’t already have those in place.

Summary: You need MOSS Server license + CALs + SQL Server licenses

Point to note: If you want to expose your intranet on the internet (eg via your web site) then you are in for a headache 🙂

This barely helpful link from Microsoft attempts to make it clearer, but requires about five readings before it starts to make sense.

This Excel spreadsheet is a great SharePoint feature comparison for those wanting to get into the nitty-gritty (well worth the download).

Consider this…

Here’s the main takeaway… if you are considering SharePoint for your intranet but have been worried about licensing costs, then start with WSS. It has stacks of collaboration features and may be all you need. And it’s free. Plus you can always build on it, adding MOSS features later.

If you did move to MOSS, start with MOSS Standard and think carefully about whether you need the Enterprise features.

And think very, very carefully about making your web site MOSS based 🙂

References

References: Inside Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 by Patrick Tisseghem

Notes

* 4GB limitation – MOSS running on SQL Express will be limited to 4GB (due to the SQL Express limitations), but WSS seems to run on a special version of SQL that is not limited. MOSS is never recommended to be run on SQL Express. Disclaimer: I am not sure of these details.

** MOSS is technically MOSS 2007, as there has not been any previous MOSS versions. The previous version of SharePoint was SharePoint Portal Server 2003, usually referred to as SPS or SPS 2003.

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CLARITY: Microsoft is a marketing company

Posted on November 23, 2007. Filed under: Clarity, Microsoft |

Not wanting to be too much of ‘well duh’ post, but I thought it was worth reminding ourselves that in software we need to be focusing extensively on marketing and sales. It all too easy to get caught up in the development, to the detriment of the marketing.

I’ve (finally) finished ‘Partnering with Microsoft‘ by Ted Dinsmore and Edward O’Connor. It’s a little dry, and can get repetitive, but overall it is a useful analysis of how Microsoft Partners should approach their relationships with Microsoft and other partners. In the process, the book details how Microsoft organises itself.

The following quote is worth reflecting on in light of your own software company:

Of the total employee base, 23,200 (42%) are dedicated to research and development, which includes product development; 25,100 (46%) are engaged in sales, marketing and support; 4,300 (8%) are assigned to finance and administration; and 2,400 (4%) work in manufacturing and distribution.

(p37, based on Microsoft organisation details in 2005)

So, to be clear, Microsoft has more people working in sales, marketing & support than they do developing the actual products. The inclusion of support in the 46% is distorting, and ideally I’d like to know how many just in sales and marketing. My guess is that the bulk is in sales & marketing. But even so the message is clear.

Now, I’m not saying that Microsoft’s model should be your model, but if you find you have heaps of developers and no marketing resources, then perhaps there’s food for thought.

How to Make Money in Trusted Partnership with the Global Software Powerhouse

(btw – I’m linking to the book on my Amazon store page – I get a commission from every sale – which I use solely to help cover costs I incur running SBTUG)

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CLARITY: SaaS versus S+S

Posted on November 23, 2007. Filed under: Clarity, Technology |

If, like me, you’d just assumed that Software + Services (S+S) was Microsoft’s way of trying to take over and re-brand an existing concept – namely Software as a Service (SaaS) – then the following diagram is a helpful corrective.

It’s taken from page 18 of Issue 13 of the Architecture Journal (download here), and is a nice overview of how S+S and SaaS relate to each other.

image

Aside: I’ve tried reading this excellent magazine in soft form (ie PDF) many times (in fact I originally referred to this issue back in September). But, call me old fashioned, it wasn’t until my printed copy arrived a few weeks back that I actually read and absorbed the content in depth. Amazing what you miss on screen.

It’s one of the reasons I’m dubious about the Kindle (even though I’d desperately love to have one).

Anyone else have this problem?

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SEO: Jargon list

Posted on August 4, 2007. Filed under: Clarity |

Useful: A Complete Glossary of Essential SEO Jargon (from SEOmoz)

My favorite:

Google bowling Maliciously trying to lower a sites rank by sending it links from the “bad neighborhood” – Kind of like yelling “Good luck with that infection!” to your buddy as you get off the school bus – there is some controversy as to if this works or is just an SEO urban myth.

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