Software

PROJECT: We need a Microsoft Project Express

Posted on September 28, 2006. Filed under: Software |

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a cheap (perhaps free) stripped down version of Microsoft Project?
 
Today we took on the third big client in a row who is using Excel to project manage their project.
 
Insane right?
 
Here’s how they do it. Tasks go down the first column. The other columns represent dates. They size the date columns about 10 wide and colour in the cells to denote scheduling for each task. And the colour of the cell denotes the resource being used.
 
Great. What happens if you want to insert a new task? How do handle task chaining? How do you allocate partial resources. What if a task is running behind schedule – how do we calculate contingency? How do we insert public holidays? What about if a resource goes on holidays? And on it goes. Amazing.
 
And this is a big project. We are talking 3 separate companies involved, 10-15 key managers and business analysts, a development team, plus IT technicians.
 
I asked their Project Manager why they were using Excel and not Project. She informed me that the company has no licenses for MS Project. She was in disbelief herself (she’s been contracted by the company to PM the project), but since the company was not prepared to buy licenses they were forced to use other means… Incredible.
 
So, I checked prices. And yikes, Project is expensive (check this out for example). But even if they bought 20 licenses it would still be a fraction of the project cost.
 
Now I wonder if this is a regular occurrence. For us it seems to – as I mentioned at the start this is the third project in a row where this has happened. Fortunately we convinced our client to purchase MS Project in the last project, but that was a tough and thankless task.
 
To ease the cost barrier it might be worth Microsoft providing a cut down version of Project that is much cheaper (or even free!). Call it MS Project Express and just provide basic Gant Chart and Resource views. Forget the reports and Resource Levelling, perhaps even strip back the task attributes.
 
Currently my only other option is to recommend that clients install the 60 day trial – atleast we get good project tools for the first 2 months…
 
Any other suggestions?
 

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TECHED: TechEd clarifications – the need for clear direction

Posted on September 24, 2006. Filed under: Software |

TECHED: TechEd clarifications – the need for clear direction

I’ve had very little feedback on my TechEd Disappointment post (even though surprisingly it has become my second most hit post of the last 6 months). Of the feedback I have received there has been two main points:

1.       The post was far too long and wordy – yep, can’t deny this (in fact I suspect that most of the hits I’ve received has been lost – ie people take one look at how long it is and go elsewhere {g})

2.       Some of the points are unclear

It is this second point I’d like to address. A passing comment by Nick Randolph at the end of his excellent podcast alerted me to my need to add clarity (I’ve a lot of respect for Nick – anyone who’s heard him present will know he is very smart. So if he’s misunderstood my point then it’s clear to me I haven’t presented it very well!)

The point in question is with regard to Microsoft’s overview of strategy (this was my suggestion to do with the opening keynote at TechEd). Nick is right to say that the Vista and Office roadmaps have been clearly presented by Microsoft and that anyone reading blogs will be aware of such. (As an aside: from my experience, many people, including attendees at TechEd, don’t read blogs, so assuming they do could be a little presumptive – but for this post let’s assume that everyone reads blogs and is well informed on short term strategy at Microsoft.)

Microsoft’s longer term strategy – what is it?

However, my main point is the longer term view. I’m really after a clearly articulated overview of where Microsoft is going to be in 5 years time. Perhaps not so much in the developer community, but definitely in the IT Pro space, people are looking for assurance that the decisions they are making now are valid for the 5-8 year timeframe. Microsoft can really help out by providing more information here. For example, if I embark on a big SharePoint project within our company (which we are just commencing by the way) where will this leave us in 5 years time? What can we expect going forward once Office 2007 has been released? In my opinion a keynote is a perfect place to present this. Please note, I’m not after details of feature sets, I’m after strategic direction. How is Windows Live and Office Live going to fit in with their other plans? How does Microsoft really plan to respond to Google as a competitor (reputed CEO chair throwing aside {g})?

Unity

The other request I have is to make Microsoft’s strategy more unified. Let’s take an example that our company has experienced recently. We’ve been called into a large Healthcare company to consult on their BizTalk architecture and methodology. You may be surprised to learn that both their IT Manager and Development Strategy Manager had no idea what BizTalk was. (They need to interface with BizTalk at another company and thus need to get BizTalk running at their end.) To us this isn’t a surprise. Like all IT Managers, they are time-poor and under resourced. They don’t have time to read all the blogs and Microsoft articles that they’d like to. They have no idea where BizTalk fits in the Microsoft strategy.

Now, I’m not criticizing these guys. They are the norm in my opinion. They are very good at their jobs and have built an impressive infrastructure so far. And yet they hadn’t heard about BizTalk. What can Microsoft do to reach these people? My suggestion is that the opening keynote at an event like TechEd is the ideal place to include coverage of these technologies.

In Nick’s podcast Athena mentions that TechEd had single day focuses on key tools such BizTalk (to be honest I wasn’t aware of this). Even in light of this, and although BizTalk 2006 was included in the fanfare of the Ready Launch last November, I’ll wager money that a survey of IT Pros (and developers even) would reveal that the majority don’t understand where BizTalk sits in the Microsoft strategy.

The problem is not lack of information on products – in fact just the opposite – we are bombarded with too much information. What managers need is high level overview clarity.

Best practice

A final example is the Patterns and Practices team. Although many might disagree, it is my opinion that Microsoft should be making mention of this in an opening keynote. It is an excellent spoke in Microsoft’s software integration wheel. And I’m not just talking about Developers. IT Pros should be made aware of the P&P strategy. In fact they should be mindful of it when evaluating their software providers.

As personal feedback on the P&P perception, we’ve been interviewing a few .Net developers lately for roles in Talman. None of them have known what the Enterprise Library is. That’s right, none. Not one has known anything about the P&P team. Most have not known what a design pattern is. Now, I could be critical of them and wonder at their lack of general knowledge. But, I’d rather suggest there is an opportunity for Microsoft to be clearer on these matters. It was great to see mention of it (again) in Frank’s last MSDN Flash (note, at the time of this post the latest edition was not yet up on the site). Frank’s regular email is a great way of staying informed. But, what can we do to ensure that all .Net developers are reading it? And as Nick asks in his podcast, how can we get more people to value user groups? It is very important that we get these tools and strategies from Microsoft out to a wider audience.

Ill informed?

In closing let me be the first to admit how ill-informed I am. It well may be that this is all clearly articulated somewhere. If so please point me to the relevant resources – I’ll be very grateful.

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O07: Office 2007 Technical Refresh Thoughts

Posted on September 24, 2006. Filed under: Software |

O07: Office 2007 Technical Refresh thoughts

I was going to attempt to work in some witty James Bond references (eg Office 07 = O07 – License to Thrill, Live and Let (Toolbars) Die, The World is (Still) Not Enough, A View to a (conditional formatting) Fill, etc, etc) but soon realised none of them were remotely funny…

So, let’s give the new Office 2007 Beta 2 Technical Refresh a one word summary instead.

In a word: Exceptional.

Let’s break it down:

Performance

Impressively good. Performance wise Office 2007 is very good. Now, admittedly I’m running on a reasonably new machine (< 12 months old) with 2GB of RAM, so stating that performance is good is probably not particularly reliable. But note, if I’d said speed was slow then we’d know there were major problems.

It is rare for me to run Beta software straight on my notebook these days, but after running the Beta on a VMware image for a couple of weeks without problems, and then the release of the Technical Refresh I decided to make the leap. I installed it straight on my machine and after a week haven’t regretted it. Everything (except Project 2007) is running great.

Stability

The product is very stable. I’ve only had a single crash all week and this I’m pretty sure was to do with my LinkedIn Outlook Add-in playing up.

[Oh yes, and Project 2007 is completely hosed. I don’t know if the Tech Refresh wiped it out or what, but Project 2007 is completely unusable. I haven’t investigated further, so it might be an easy to fix known issue, but I’m just warning people that I’ve had problems with it.]

Ribbons

You’ve all been ribboned to death with so many blogs and articles on the new Office UI so I won’t bore you with more coverage. Let me just say that I am an Office Ribbon convert. I think the idea is fantastic and the closest to a revolution that Microsoft has come up with in a long time. I know it’s a big call, but I consider the ribbon concept to be so good that it will be the standard in all products eventually. Visual Studio would benefit from the concept (ie only show me stuff I can actually do) as will SQL Server, MMC snap-ins, and just about everything else that has some complexity to it. I’m sold on it.

Add-ins

In general all my Add-ins all work. The LinkedIn Outlook toolbar I think had some intermittent problems, but Skylook, Mind Manager and SnagIt are all working fine for me.

Outlook 2007

Outlook 2007 was my first stop. There are features aplenty, but my three favourite (so far) are:

1.       Calendar Tome Zones: We have family in Minnesota, and having their times displayed next to current time is surprisingly handy.

2.       Calendar Overlaying: I have a bunch of different calendars (personal, birthdays, plus when connected I link into a few of my company calendars, and I am also going to link into my wife’s calendar when at home). Having the option to simply overlay these is a fantastic feature.

3.       To-Do bar: Having this on the side of all different views (Mail, Calendar, Notes, Tasks, Contacts) is now unthinkable to be without.

I was trying to think of what new features I’d like in Outlook. I reckon a convergence of OneNote (more on this later) and Outlook would be great. I would like to be able to go to a scribble pane in Outlook and write notes, record audio and drop screen shots like I can in OneNote.

I also downloaded the Search Beta 3 that Outlook recommends. I’ve had mixed results with Microsoft Desktop Search before (up till now I’ve used Google Desktop Search) but this one is working without problems. And it is quite fast. I may be close to uninstalling Google’s offering…

My only slight criticism would be memory usage. After a week of use (I hibernate most of the time, so I only reboot every couple of weeks) Outlook was taking up over 220MB of memory – which seems a little high to me (reminds me of that joke about how to find Microsoft products in Task Manager – sort by memory usage… boom tish).

Tip: when opening up an email, at first you might miss the Next and Prev email buttons on the Ribbon. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realise they are up on the top Quick Access mini-bar.

Word 2007

In a word, fantastic. I can’t believe how bug-less this release is. Everything seems to work well. There are no glitches with layouts or page numbering. Formatting is a dream (thanks to the Ribbon concept) and the new default font (Calibri)  is a eye-pleasing (interestingly Calibri comes up as a spelling mistake in Word…).

Tip: Doubling clicking on the ribbon will hide it and bring it back. To be honest I didn’t realise this until I was going through Office sessions on my TechEd DVD set… so perhaps you have missed it too).

Excel 2007

Not much to say here except that it continues to do everything I need, and does it well. The conditional formatting is a nice feature (but of course isn’t backwards compatible so you are limited in who you can send it to).

Excel has always been a strong product, so it is hard to improve on.

PowerPoint 2007

And here’s where the real presentation advantages come. No doubt you’ve seen some of the formatting tools demoed already, and all I can say is that it lives up to the hype. Using PowerPoint 2007 will definitely give you an unfair advantage over other presenters not yet onto it. Simple graphs, bullet point formatting, font formats, and the mass of great templates available are more than enough reason to upgrade to this version.

I know people say they are sick of seeing PowerPoint presentations and the old ‘death by PowerPoint’ arguments do have merit. But face it, you can’t escape it and as long as you don’t start trying to use all 50 million different formatting features in every single presentation you can’t lose. It’s about balance. Don’t go overboard with animations and a new colour scheme on every slide. Sure, you still need to stick to the rules of good presenting (eg http://blog.guykawasaki.com/2005/12/the_102030_rule.html), but PowerPoint 2007 allows you to do it with some flair.

Here’s something annoying to do… Create a New presentation based on the Quiz Show template. Go to slide 6, take a screen shot and send it to the Office team as an incredibly urgent mis-fact that needs to be fixed before the product is released…

OneNote 2007

Not much has changed here from what I’ve seen so far. OneNote is one of those simple programs that you’ll either find extremely useful or irrelevant. I’m in the former category and couldn’t live without it these days, but if you’re working with OneNote 2003 then I can’t offer any compelling reason to upgrade. A few nice usability enhancements, but little else. By the way, did OneNote 2003 have the F11 – Full screen option? If it did, I never noticed it. OneNote 2007 has it, and it is mildly useful.

Publisher 2007

I’ve only used Publisher a few times in the past (eg when I created the OzFox 2004 brochure a few years ago) so I can’t really offer anything in-depth on this. But to me it seems fine. The range of templates and example documents it comes with are great (although previous versions were also overflowing here). I downloaded a few of the Flyer templates from Microsoft online and was pleasantly surprised by how professional they look (eg the Professional Services flyer).

Publisher is the only program I’ve found to be a little slow. Not sure why.

Visio 2007

Overall, more of an already good thing.

There is an odd looking Getting Started interface (black with dark blue labels can be hard to read at times), but once working the interface is the old familiar one (no Ribbons here). The samples are quite helpful. I don’t remember seeing a sample in 2003 that showed how easily you could link Visio diagrams to Excel data, but here it is simple to spot. I had a problem with the ‘Project Management’ sample – It was initially crashing on the PivotDiagram task pane. Helpfully Office recognized I was experiencing issues and prompted me to run the Office Diagnostics. This all proceeded without incident (and without reporting any findings btw) but the problem hasn’t re-occurred since. Coincidence or other, I’m pretty impressed.

If I could request just one thing for Visio it would be to add a zoom bar on the tool bar, just like the one in Word 2007. That feature is so handy it begs to be put in as many products as possible.

If I could request two things, the second would be to make the Shapes Window pane have fly-in functionality. Currently to maximize real estate you need to close the Shapes pane, and then go to View -> Shapes Window to get it back. Even having a hotkey to do this would be welcome improvement, but having the Hide/Show fly-in option (similar to the To-Do Bar in Outlook 2007 would be ideal).

Groove 2007

Think Skype on steroids. I really like the idea behind Groove, and although I think it will be a long while before it really takes off there is benefit investigating it now.

For those not familiar with Groove, the idea starts with sharing a workspace. It will be of most benefit to remote users who want to share stuff around. You set up a Groove account and then create workspaces that you share with colleagues. Testing this one was hard since all I could do was share between my notebook Groove account and my VMware hosted Groove installation. Still it was enough to evaluate the functionality.

Groove of course is much more than just workspaces. Besides file sharing there is discussion boards, Issue tracking, notes sharing, meetings and more (even a Chess game). Calendars can be shared, but I couldn’t work out how to link in my Outlook Calendar. It seems Groove has its own internal Calendar. I can only think I must have missed something obvious here, because not being able to share your Microsoft Office Outlook calendar in Microsoft Office Groove would be a big oversight. Someone please point me on the right path…

Groove claims to allow you to share IE Favourites and put Shortcuts in your My Documents folders. I enabled these but couldn’t quite get them working. The IE Favourites shortcut turned up but I couldn’t see any shortcuts to My Documents workspaces. Perhaps I didn’t quite understand the concept properly.

All things considered Groove is a big thing waiting to happen. However, if I’m not mistaken it still needs better integration with the other Office products. To be fair, Groove is still in Beta, it’s just that the other products still in Beta look so much more refined.

Other products: InfoPath and SharePoint Designer

I haven’t had time to play with these yet, so I can’t report on them at present.

Closing

In closing let me reiterate my disbelief at how good these applications are for a product still in Beta. Microsoft has done really well – in the main they are fast, stable, feature packed and instantly productive.

All the normal Beta software disclaimers apply of course, however I recommend loading Office 2007 Beta 2 and the Technical Refresh (but sans Project 2007) as soon as possible. There are many positives and few negatives.

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TECHED: TechED Disappointment

Posted on August 29, 2006. Filed under: Software |

Preamble

I attended TechEd 2006 in Sydney last week and was disappointed. In this post I’ll outline some suggestions I think Microsoft should consider in order to improve the event for next year.

Firstly though, a brief note on my expectations going in to TechEd.

My reasons for attending TechEd were:
– to better understand Microsoft’s product range,
– to understand their strategic direction,
– to receive guidance on appropriate technologies to use (when and where)
– to appreciate the business value offering of Microsoft products, and
– tips & tricks.
It is also an opportunity to mix with other developers and chat with Microsoft Staff.

I was so impressed with TechEd in 2004 (see here, here and here) that I convinced my boss to send a bunch of us along. Thus, eight of us from Talman went, including 3 from our web team, 2 from our desktop team, our Chief Architect, our Technical BDM and myself.


Eight Suggestions for Microsoft

Suggestion 1: Improve your message

The opening keynote was a disappointing start to the event. Not that speaker Anne Kirah isn’t a great presenter, it’s just that her talk was totally inappropriate for a room full of IT professionals.

My summary of her talk would be:
Microsoft is now listening to the ‘average’ user.

This ofcourse is something Apple had sorted over a decade ago. Why then are we effectively being told that Microsoft is catching up, as the opening keynote? And who really believes it anyway?

No, Microsoft missed a perfect opportunity to give great clarity to its audience.

Here’s how I think an event like TechEd should start – the keynote should be a bird’s eye view of where Microsoft is headed. It should give an overview of the product releases coming up (with estimated dates) and how they all relate to each other.
There should be comment on how Microsoft intends to offer value to businesses and how it plans to compete with other vendors (eg Google, VMware, Apple, Sony). It should focus on real value to customers and reduce the dependance on hype and ‘coolness’.
A keynote should also cover briefly the structure of the company (eg relevant today would be a comment on Bill’s plans to step down, and how Ray Ozzie will be leading strategy in his place).
There should also be an indication of how the different sectors of Microsoft relate to the different Tracks of TechEd. How does the Architecture Track relate to the Web tool track, what do Web Developers need to understand about new Server offerings, and so forth.
The whole schedule and variety of sessions offered should have a central theme (albeit mentioned ever so briefly) that ties them together.

I for one came away from TechEd with the impression that Microsoft doesn’t really know where it is going. It has a bunch of very complex products that have taken way too long to develop, coming out with a lack of unified strategy. This is a company loaded with bloat, desperately hoping the ‘coolness’ factor will carry them through. If this is the case then I suspect they are targetting a minority of the attendees. Sure, there is 20-30% of attendees who are loving the cool coding options affored by the new tools. But the rest of us are after real business value and assurance that the decisions we make today are wise for the next 5-8 years. Personally I left feeling empty and worried.

Microsoft, please take note, TechEd 2006 has been a costly advertisement for your lack of clarity. You have only a few years left to restore it.
 
Suggestion 2: Improve your content

General content
I felt that the general content was pretty light weight. The sessions did have a Level designator (I think 100 meant low and 300 meant high but I can’t be sure) but this is no excuse for having not much content. OK, keep the expertise level basic, but please make sure there is lots of it. Even with basic level content I should come out of session with my brain crammed with knowledge, demos, ideas. Sadly, I felt many had about 45 minutes worth of content padded out to an hour 15. The padding is usually done by way of ‘charismatic’ presenting, with anecdotes, a few jokes and perhaps even lame criticism under the guise of Microsoft focussed self-deprecation (more on this later).

Poor descriptions of content
A number of sessions I went to had inaccurate session descriptions. Most commonly this happened where the description included references to ‘proper architecture’, ‘process guidance’, ‘design principles’ and so forth, only to be little more than discussions of what the actual product was. Take the Location Solutions Architecure and Best practices’ session. This was little more than a discussion of what is available in Virutal Earth and MapPoint. There was no architecture here, nor any Best practices.
Suggestion 3: Improve your presenters

I’m stunned at how many sessions had presenters who freely admitted to being ill prepared. Comments to the effect of how they hadn’t even rehearsed their session, or they were using a new CTP so there might be problems with the demo were more the norm than the exception.
The other common experience was the use of VPCs that were really slow, or crashed.

Folks, this is just not acceptable.

Perhaps at a User Group or at a Code Camp, but not here.
We are paying big bucks to attend. As mentioned earlier I personally brought 7 people from Talman along (8 including me) which gives us a bill of over $12,000 (not including time away from work). I don’t expect to be treated with so little respect that you haven’t even rehearsed your session. Some presenters were even preparing their sessions earlier on the very day of their session. What a fucking joke!

If you are using a VPC you should have it perfectly prepared so that it is fast and definately works. One presenter was linked via a network to a VPC server that he commented seemed to be in use by someone else and hence he was experiencing poor response. Lord help us!

Guys, I know it is not in Microsoft’s agenda, but please just use VMware for now. It is easy, fast, efficient, and free, and will give you a much better overall perception. The only thing I am aware of that you can’t really demo with VMware is Vista, and that only because it doesn’t support some of the glass effects. But for everything else, you should be using VMware.

Also, using criticism as a  presentation ‘device’ is not on. This is one of the features of poor presenters – they criticise things, usually existing versions of products. Here’s an example of how things like this manifest:
‘So, have you ever tried to search in Outlook? It sucks right…’
Another method is the ‘stupid user’ approach – like this:
‘So, we ended up sending the client simple links that showed how susceptible to SQL injection they were’ (ie stupid arrogant client, smart helpful me)

I’m pretty sure the aim is to somehow get the audience on side. Perhaps, the thinking goes, I’ll be honest and point out some of the shortcomings of the existing product and that way the audience will have more respect for my recommendation of how this new version really rocks! Yeah right.

The other issue is the use of shared sessions with two presenters. This is so problematic that I’ll be giving it a separate blog post later. But for now, take the Office Opening Keynote. Arpan and Angus looked like they hadn’t even met before the session (although I assume they had). I’ve blogged before about Angus (I thought he was amazing at CodeCamp Oz) but here he was forced to play second fiddle to Arpan in discussing some of the new features in Office 2007. Why? What was the point? Guys, you just came across looking silly. Kill the joint presentations folks – generally they just don’t work.

[Exception: The only time I saw a joint presentation work was Adam Cogan and Steve Hertzberg giving a Cabana session (one of the highlights of the whole TechEd I have to say – make sure you attend one of their workshops coming up in September). These guys had very clearly worked together before and complemented each other beautifully.]

And finally speakers, please pay attention to when your other sessions are on. It was disappointing to hear many speakers not even know when they were next presenting – ‘I think I’m on tomorrow afternoon…’ – its as if you don’t really care.

Suggestion 4: Improve your scheduling tools

CommNet
When it comes to knowing what was on and where, it was a very cumbersome process. I have to say that the CommNet site is one of the worst sites I’ve ever used (and I’m not just saying this because one of the Talman guys knocked up a better one in the week before).
Little things, like trying to change your session meant you first had to remove your existing session, then allocate a new one. Too bad if you were scrolled right down to the bottom of their woefully layed out page…

And here’s the thing – if you decided last minute to change to another session (eg because the one you planned to attend was mysteriously cancelled!) then you had to trudge all the way back to the exhibition hall to call up the CommNet site.
I suspect Microsoft is well aware of the issue, since they quickly provided handouts of the sessions on days 2 and 3.

Having a few machines available up at the Parkside floors might have helped. As would having wireless available in the rooms (it was only available in the exhibition hall).

Bar code scanners
Guys, I want my privacy. At the door of every session the staff recorded our bar codes going in. I’m sure this is useful information for Microsoft but frankly, I’m not really happy with them scanning me and knowing my preferences. (Not to mention that it slowed down the process of getting into rooms.) I’d rather be anonymous. That’s actually one reason why I didn’t fill out the evaluation forms – they are directly tied to my login.
Suggestion 5: Improve your schedule

Reduce the sessions to one hour (from 1 hour 15) and make the breaks between sessions 15 minutes (rather than 30).
This will allow more sessions per day and also means if you miss a session you are not as severely affected.

Schedule sessions over lunch aswell. One of the excellent decisions the organisers made was to have lunch from 12 noon through to 2:30pm – this meant there was no rush to eat and you could schedule in cabana sessions easily. Top marks for that decision guys – it made a big difference.

Also, consider repeating some sessions. Perhaps make this concept flexible and based on attendance levels at sessions and evaluation feedback – sessions could be repeated on the 2nd and 3rd days. I realise this might be difficult for some speakers (since they wouldn’t know they are repeating a session until a day or even a few hours before) – but not to worry – the well prepared, passionate speakers (who are most likely to be asked to repeat a session) will gladly do this.
Suggestion 6: Improve your business value

Not much is new
I have to admit to some surprise about the lack of new stuff coming out from Microsoft. Where as 2 years ago they were in the middle of a new cycle of products (eg things like InfoPath, VS2005, TFS, SQL, SharePoint, MapPoint, BizTalk, WSE, etc were all in Beta) now the best we can come up with is Office 2007 and Vista. [Yes, Longhorn Server and a few others are coming aswell, but they received little attention.]

And in these products there is not really much that is revolutionary. In fact, sometimes I wonder if all they are doing is making simple stuff more complex. OK, so I don’t really believe that last sentence, but I can imagine some attendees who aren’t linked in to blogs, user groups and the general community coming out with that kind of impression. Take the new Search capabiltiies in SharePoint and Office. It seems that they’ve really just taken a simple concept,  executed beautifully by Google Desktop Search (and MSN Search for that matter) and made it really complex. Sure, you can still do all the simple stuff, but the focus is on the new complex capabilities (stuff that I suspect 95% of users don’t want or need).

Proper guidance
Another thing Microsoft should be promoting is proper design and architecture. How many sessions do you sit in where the speakers will be building an example solution and skip even the most basic parts of design? It usually gets skipped with a passing comment such as:
‘Now if I was doing this properly I’d write a proper business tier rather than just passing through SQL statements straight from the click event…’

Wrong. You are presenting to a whole ‘generation’ (audience) of developers who never (and I mean never) get to see a proper middle tier design demoed.
The same goes for error handling. How often do you see one simple exception object check, but nothing else (or just a message box with a lame description)?
Wrong. We should be getting hammered with the need to write proper error handlers, data objects, business objects, object naming, etc.

Every demo should be referring to the Enterprise Library and making it ‘normal’ practice to include them (no matter how simple and useless the demo is)
Microsoft have a whole Patterns and Practices team producing guidance in these areas – what a pity most of the presenters seem oblivious to their existence.

And come to think of it, how often are the speaker’s code snippets reviewed by acknowledged professionals who give it the thumbs up or not. How does Microsoft ensure that what its presenters from outside companies are presenting is quality code? I’d be interested to find out.
Suggestion 7: Improve your TechEd Party

In a word: pathetic
The ‘party’ was held at the Home nightclub just over from the venue. I don’t know how many of the registered attendees went, but it felt very cramped. We were skwished in, we had to queue up for limited cold food, it was far too loud, and the ‘entertainment’ was light on. After 45 minutes I’d had enough and went home. Crazy. They had even hired some ‘celebrities’ (Willy Mason and some boxer) to play Xbox boxing. Yawn. What a croc. I wonder how much it cost to get them along.
Shame on you Microsoft.
Suggestion 8: Show me the fruit

A very minor point obviously, and indicative that my rant is drawing to a close, but it would have been nice to have fruit available. Even just bowls of apples around the place would have been great.

Speaking of fruit, having a few Boost Juice bars in the exhibition hall would have been great. Not sure on the cost of this kind of thing, but they’d definately get some converts.
Its not all bad… Some highlights of TechEd

Ok, enough of the rant, here’s a few areas that deserve praise:

Venue
The venue was excellent – plenty of room, well layed out, huge lunch area, etc. There was always heaps of food available, all the water and soft drink was free, and even little things like having a selection of herbal teas available was a nice touch (I mostly drink herbal tea these days). Everything was clean (including the toilets) even late in the day, there were plenty of staff and there were very few queues. Very impressive.

Great speakers
Although there were many poor speakers, there were also a number of exceptional speakers.
My top 3 speakers were Scott Guthrie, Adam Cogan and Greg Low (UPDATED: Previously I incorrectly reported that Greg had missed a session – this was not the case – my mistake, and apologies to Greg for this error).

All are seasoned presenters ofcourse, but the reason they stand out from the rest (that I saw) is due to the amount of preparation they put in. They know their presentation (not just their product) inside out, and they have obviously rehearsed and/or given it many times previously. Their presentations never crash, and they deliver as much content as possible in their allotted time. No padding and guff here.
Take Scott Guthrie for example. I caught his ASP.Net End to End session. Even though I was aware of most of the content already, it was delivered in such a rapid fire, beautifully executed, crash-free, passionate manner, that I was completely enthralled. Top marks Scott.

Dev’Garten
The Dev’Garten was great. No two ways about it. A great place to hang out and meet up with Microsoft DEs, Community greats and other developers. The Dev’Garten was also the place for contributing to the Uplift project. I’ve heard great reports about the project, but it is not something I took part in, so I can’t comment any further.

Exhibition Hall
The exhibition hall was well layed out, had plenty to see and do, plenty of vendor stands to investigate and there always seemed to be a Cabana session going on.
The opening night welcome drinks event was extemely well organised. Also, things like the registration processes were efficient and easy to understand. Very professional.

Dell computers
The massive line up of Dell PCs was excellent. Hundreds of machines (it seemed) ensured that everyone could get onto CommNet, read their mail, surf the web etc. Nice work.

Hands on labs and certification
Again, another incredibly impressive arrangement. Many people were able to get certified at discount prices and the staff there were very helpful.

Closing

So I’ll leave it there.
Although I left TechEd 2006 with some grave disappointments, I have to admit that overall there is value in attending. But there is plenty that can be done to improve the event.
And the reason I feel comfortable about posting this entry is that Frank Arrigo and the rest of the gang are always welcoming of ways Microsoft can improve. Frank made special mention during the locknote that they were after feedback on how they can improve – their aim is to make TechEd 2007 the best ever. At this stage I’m not sure I’ll be attending, but I hope they achieve their aim.

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HYPE: Office 2007 ribbons disappearing?

Posted on August 29, 2006. Filed under: Software |

Classic stuff. Jensen Harris comes to terms with the stupidity of hype-induced Australian journalists.
I wish I could take credit for this kind of misinformation spreading – it’d make a great April Fool’s prank. No doubt some clown at TechEd last week is responsible.

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GOOGLE: Anil Dash on Google Apps

Posted on August 29, 2006. Filed under: Software |

The always interesting and extremely serious {g} Anil Dash comments nicely on Google Apps for your Domain.
I especially liked his second main point explaining why Google Apps doesn’t compete with Microsoft Office.

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TECHED: More on TechEd Live

Posted on August 21, 2006. Filed under: .Net, Software, Visual FoxPro |

It was remiss of me in my last post not to mention the two inspirators (inspirational people) behind the TechEd Live concept.
 
The first ofcourse is Paul Stovell, with his TechEd Session Picker (see him at TechEd doing a Dev Cabana session) – he definately got the momentum going.
 
The second is Bill McCarthy with his TechEd 2006 Picker (see him doing the joint Cabana session with Paul above). Although arriving on the scene after Paul, it is not exactly clear who started the process first – it seems as though Bill may have been waiting for a go-live directive from Chuck.
 
Both of these guy’s apps will export their schedule to a vCal file which you can then easily import into TechEd Live when you register (note you must do it when registering – currently it doesn’t support import after registration!).
 
So, you have 5 options for getting your schedule onto TechEd Live:
 
1. Manually set your sessions on the TechEd Live site
2. Export vCal from Bill’s app
3. Export vCal from Paul’s app
4. Export vCal from my TechEd Control app
5. Publish directly from my TechEd Control app
 
What ever method you use, just make sure you don’t miss out on a single session time slot – there is just far too much goodness to be had.
 
 

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TECHED: TechEd Live

Posted on August 21, 2006. Filed under: .Net, Software, Visual FoxPro |

Check out the TechEd Live web site Scott Scovell has developed. It allows you to plan all your sessions, share them with the community and choose which friends you want to see along side you on the maps.
 
For screen shots and an overview there is a write up here:
 
There is also an accompanying desktop application (built by yours truly) which allows you to do all your scheduling offline and the sync it up to the TechEd Live site. Details on that at the link above aswell.
 
Check out the site here
 
Given the ‘hastily cobbled together’ nature of both the web site and desktop app, there are a bunch of minor issues. I’ve noted some of them here:
 
Web site built with: .Net 2.0, SQL and Atlas
Desktop bult with: Visual FoxPro
 

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RAM: Fixed my XP hibernate issue with 2GB RAM

Posted on July 24, 2006. Filed under: Software |

I finally got around to fixing the hibernate issue on my notebook. XP has a known issue on notebooks with more than 1.5GB or RAM whereby it won’t hibernate properly. Rather it will wake up, stay warm, flatten your battery and then give you a ‘Insufficient system resources’ error in your system tray.
 
Now, the fix has been available for ages, by simply calling Microsoft Product Support and getting them to email it to you. But I have just never got around it to it. Anyway, I was heading out on the weekend and wanted to hibernate when I thought I’d just google the problem. Sure enough, someone has the hotfix generously hosted on their site. Downloaded it (here) and all is fixed. Why didn’t I do this months ago?

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SOFTWARE: Refactoring vs Maxfactoring

Posted on June 10, 2006. Filed under: Software |

maxfactoring
noun, verb
1. the process of gradually improving the ‘look and feel’ of a software application in small chunks
2. partaking in the UX initiative of ‘results driven application surface design’
The result is aesthetic only, there is no change in functionality, performance, stability, scalability or reliability. Side effects include improved sales and perceived higher quality.
 
Usage (n): ‘The software team spent 3 weeks on the maxfactoring…’
Usage (v): ‘I spent some time maxfactoring my application today…’
 
Also:
maxfactored
an application can be described as having been ‘maxfactored’ once its visual appearance has been improved (ie the ‘user story’ has been enhanced)
 
Maxfactoring is a low cost, high benefit activity for software companies to apply, along with code refactoring, to software that is approaching functional completeness
 
(With apologies to a well known cosmetic company)
 
 

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SOFTWARE: Dave Lemphers on getting a degree

Posted on June 4, 2006. Filed under: Software |

The ‘Infectious’ Dave Lemphers (you only need to see him present once to see how infectious and passionate this guy is) wrote (a few weeks ago) about ‘Why you should get a degree in Computer Science or Software Engineering’.
In principle I strongly agree with him.
 
There’s a few problems we face however. One is that post-dot-com there has been a shift in the consumer mind to what they should pay for decent software. The amount of free stuff out there is extra-ordinary and with it comes an expectation that software development is a reasonably easy endeavour. Now, we ‘proper’ developers know there is a significant cost to provide good design and development, but we have trouble convincing our clients of such.
 
No one expects an architect to design their house for free, but they will often expect a software ‘quote’ to be free, despite the overhead we have of investigating, requirements gathering and initially designing their solution.
A simple (and tired) example ofcourse, but indicative of some of the problem.
And if you have trained your clients to always pay for the design, then fantastic – I wish we were all in your position.
 
Dave suggests that the Government (or an industry body) should enforce programs that require developers to have proper qualifications. With this I whole heartedly agree. As long (as Dave also suggests) they also ensure consumers are aware of the costs they should expect to pay to get a job done right. 

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LINK: Free database CRUD

Posted on June 3, 2006. Filed under: Software |

I pretty much agree with this article that we should be able to get basic database operations (create, read, update, delete) out of the box. Although our projects are getting more complex, the underlying data integrity requirements don’t really change much.
 
Thanks to Adam for pointing this one out to me.
 

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SOFTWARE: Microsoft out of touch?

Posted on June 2, 2006. Filed under: Software |

Paul Stovell looks lovingly into the future of Vista error messages…

http://www.paulstovell.net/Posts/Post.aspx?postId=2e18c36c-83ce-4483-8129-37f2cd9fcf26

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IT: The tyranny of IT departments

Posted on June 1, 2006. Filed under: Software, Visual FoxPro |

This (old) article on the 'tyranny' of IT departments caught my eye:

http://blogs.smh.com.au/razor/archives/it_in_business/003483.html

I'm sure we've all had experiences both positive and negative dealing with IT departments. But what interested me most was how many comments there were – so many people felt the need to 'share' their experience (most in defence of IT departments interestingly enough). I'd never have thought it would be of so much interest.

But the real reason I am linking to it is because it uses a FoxPro 'horror story' to make its point. Oh, those pesky IT bods…

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