Monday, April 23, 2007

Vista incompatibilities - hitting home this time.

I've been recommending against upgrading to Windows Vista since the betas. There simply is no business case for the upgrade. If you're using FoxPro-based software like SBT Database Accounting, though, there's an iron-clad business case for not upgrading.

The software doesn't work under Vista.

I'm not just talking about the scary "do you really want to run this dangerous software?" prompt that you'll have to click through every single time you run the program, with no "Remember this decision" option. No, it just won't work.

As best as I can tell, there's a compatibility problem between the Visual FoxPro runtime and Vista's networking. Once you've clicked through the scare notice you'll find that SBT has no access to mapped network drives. Doubtless, this contributed to Microsoft's recent decision to drop support for Visual FoxPro. It would have been nice if Microsoft had the 'nads to admit that compatibility issues were at the core of the decision; and better yet if Microsoft had published a compatibility list for Vista as they did with XP, rather than try to slip an incompatible OS under the door by deliberately withholding compatibility information vital to businesses, but I digress...

You can sort of make it work, after a fashion, if you install the full developer version of Visual FoxPro 9. This means that you'd have to run the SBT VisionPoint program manually from VFP's command window. (You still won't be able to run vpw.exe directly from Windows.) But even that proves to be dicey, so I recommend installing XP on any machine that's to which you want to migrate your SBT software. New machines from Gateway and Dell come with SATA drives, so clean installs of XP are tricky, but it's far better than not having access to your accounting system.

FYI, to install XP on your SATA drive, simply download the drivers for your drive from the manufacturer's website or get them off of the drivers disk if the manufacturer isn't one of those substandard vendors who no longer ships them on disk with the machine. Burn them to a CD (you probably don't have a floppy drive, so the advice I've often seen -- to copy these to floppy -- is just plain silly). Then during XP's install process, click F6 when asked if you want to install RAID or SCSI drivers. Insert the disk with the drivers, install them, then continue with the installation.

And, unless you've tested Vista thoroughly in your environment with all of your mission-critical programs, avoid Vista. AVOID AVOID AVOID.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Today @ PC World: StumbleUpon Launches a New Way to Waste Time

Today @ PC World: StumbleUpon Launches a New Way to Waste Time
You probably know the concept: You install the StumbleUpon toolbar in your browser, click the button and you're taken to a random web page that was recommended by another Stumbler.
OK, here's my take on it. This is exactly the sort of thing that eventually gets overrun by companies pushing their own websites. In other words, the people at StumbleUpon have the following business model: to hell with browser hijacks... we can get people to hijack their own browsers. The more I look at the human race, the more evidence I find that the genes for intelligence are recessive.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The US Patent Office loses its mind.

By way of Slashdot. The preamble to the Amazon's new patent, called "Hybrid machine/human computing arrangement", reads as follows:
A hybrid machine/human computing arrangement which advantageously involves humans to assist a computer to solve particular tasks, allowing the computer to solve the tasks more efficiently. In one embodiment, a computer system decomposes a task, such as, for example, image or speech comparison, into subtasks for human performance, and requests the performances. The computer system programmatically conveys the request to a central coordinating server of the hybrid machine/human computing arrangement, which in turn dispatches the subtasks to personal computers operated by the humans. The humans perform the subtasks and provide the results back to the server, which receives the responses, and generates a result for the task based at least in part on the results of the human performances.
The words "for example" take this beyond the specific example of speech recognition and expands the patent to cover any such arrangement.

In other words, Amazon has patented workflow. That's right, workflow. It is 100% indistinguishable from the workflow solutions used for decades throughout the computing industry. I see nothing original in any of the claims. I have personally designed and worked on many such systems. An example of workflow: Insurance underwriting. The computer receives an insurance application and applies business rules. In some cases the decision is a slam dunk and the computer can accept or reject the application. In other cases, the computer defers the decision to a human underwriter, with time constraints for a decision or escalation. Other aspects of the decision, such as pricing, may occur independently of the underwriter's decision, but be based in part on that decision.

In my opinion, the Amazon patent is unenforceable and would not hold up to even the most casual challenge. If I were asked for advice, I'd say ignore this stupid patent. Let them try to enforce it and embarrass themselves publicly. It appears what we have here are three disingenuous "inventors" attempting to take the credit for and lay claim to decades of prior art. Venky Harinarayan, Anand Rajaraman, and Anand Ranganathan owe the people whose efforts they're apparently attempting to steal a lot of explaining as to why they shouldn't be denounced as opportunistic, greedy, plagiaristic bastiges. It is absolutely inconceivable that these three people could have spent any time at all in the computing industry and not been exposed to workflow. As I see it, that makes this more than a mistake; it's deliberate, and they owe an entire industry an abject, heartfelt, and sincere apology.

It also appears that we have a patent examiner who isn't competent to review claims in this domain. For that, the USPTO should revoke this patent and revise their broken process.