Thursday, December 27, 2007

My crystal ball says...

I don't make a whole lot of predictions. It's always tough to go on the record with a hard prediction. Some of those that I have made in the past are:
  • I totally missed the boat on paperless medical software... actually it was more like the boat wasn't built yet. I designed and pushed a paperless medical office a full fifteen years before the market was ready for it. I couldn't give the stuff away then; now it's practically mandated.
  • I correctly bet the farm on Windows 95 over OS/2 Warp. That wasn't as much a no-brainer as it seems today. Warp was a true 32-bit OS, whereas Windows 95 was a hybrid; and I worked in an all-IBM shop at the time. But IBM's slogan of "a better Windows than Windows" worked against it. Why develop applications for OS/2 when you could hit both platforms by developing for Windows? And why buy OS/2 when all the apps were labeled "designed for Windows 95"? I claim 100% for this one.
  • I correctly predicted Red Hat Linux's huge IPO. A seeming no-brainer for those of us aware of Linux at the time. That was a minority at the time, though. I claim 100% for this one, too.
  • In 2002 I predicted that Christmas of 2004 would be when Linux on the desktop took off. That turned out to be overly optimistic. Three years later, Christmas of 2007, it happened, though. That's when Wal-Mart offered (and sold out of) Linux PCs using the gOS distribution of Linux (a derivative of Ubuntu). Never underestimate the power of low cost... it's a large part of what drove people to Windows 95 rather than the technically superior OS/2. Once again, apps drive the process. However, Open Source application adoption on Windows is making the transition to Linux easier. After all, OpenOffice.org is OpenOffice.org, regardless of your platform. The same goes for the GIMP, Nvu/Kompozer, FireFox, OpenProj, Scribus, Inkscape, and a host of other programs. All are multiplatform, and are compelling alternatives to Microsoft Office, Photoshop, FrontPage, MSIE, Microsoft Project, Microsoft Publisher or Quark, and Adobe Illustrator, respectively. Increasingly, the thing locked to the Windows desktop is Microsoft products and some games. Even gaming doesn't have Linux locked out.
  • I predicted that there would be no compelling reason for upgrading to Windows Vista. That prediction was 100% on the money. (here. and here. and here.)
What's up for this year? Maybe your guess is as good as mine, maybe not. For what it's worth, here are my guesses.
  1. MSOOXML will not be ratified as an ISO standard (We'll know really quickly if this one comes through... like, by February).
  2. The ODF will continue to gain momentum through non-U.S. adoption of this as a standard. More governments will realize that a truly open standard that is not controlled by a US company is to their benefit.
  3. There will be a resurgence in the use of Lotus Notes as IBM improves marketing of the product and captializes on the fact that Lotus Notes 8 contains a free version of Lotus Symphony, which uses ODF as a standard. IBM will finally take heed of the perennial complaints of the poor marketing of its Lotus product line. They will be emboldened in part by improvements in the user interface that convince them they have a product to sell proudly.
  4. US companies will pull off-shored tasks back within the US borders, "boondocking" them instead. "Boondocking" is my term for locating call centers in rural areas or de-centralizing them to take advantage of the lower cost of living outside of the usual urban areas.
  5. Microsoft Vista will still suck. This means more growth for Ubuntu/Kubuntu and other Linux flavors. Big beneficiaries: Novell, Red Hat, Microsoft Windows XP (go figure).
That's probably five too many, and we'll have to see how they turn out.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Introducing TicketDemon

I've been working on a "stealth" project for a while now. While TicketDemon is a GPL project, I have pretty much developed it behind closed doors up to now.

TicketDemon is simple management software for the trucking industry, particularly in the delivery of bulk materials by weight. This would be the bulk hauling of earth, ash, bricks, concrete, scrap, feed... anything that's weighed. It gathers the information from drivers' tickets to provide billing reports, payroll reports, and management information.

The incentive for such software is this: small operators pretty much have two choices in this industry for managing their work... they're either using shoeboxes, spreadsheets and homegrown software that doesn't allow them to really manage anything; or they're paying exhorbitant licensing for grandiose software that does ten times what they need. TicketDemon is somewhere in the middle.

TicketDemon tracks tickets. That's it. If you have regular routes (runs) hauling commodities from source to destination, enter the tickets into TicketDemon. TicketDemon will provide management reports to you broken down by driver, run, customer, date, or whatever else you can think of. Instead of tracking down spreadsheets everywhere, you can find all your information in one place, and can report on historical periods as easily as the current period. For those things that are derived from your delivery data, like driver commissions or billing, TicketDemon generates the appropriate reports with a few mouse clicks.

What TicketDemon is NOT is a full-featured accounting program. I'm not going to do you the disservice of "half-assing" an accounting system and claiming it's full-featured, either. TicketDemon does one thing well; it tracks tickets. TicketDemon will determine how much you need to bill your customers and will generate detail as well. Attach this detail to your invoice to simplify monthly billing. It's not a Payroll program. You most likely either have an accountant or the appropriate software already. Instead, TicketDemon will generate the reports you need to accurately feed commissions to your accountant or payroll program. It doesn't do fixed assets. It doesn't track tire tread wear. It won't pay your bills. I can put you on to some terrific software for those purposes if you need it. But accounting software doesn't track tickets worth a damn.

TicketDemon tracks tickets. It won't forget them. It won't misplace them. It won't incorrectly total them up, and it will always get the commission right. What more could you want?

TicketDemon's been in daily, practical use for close to 2 years now, and I think I'm about ready to show it off. If you'd like to see what it can do for you, please contact Everett or me. We'll be glad to give you a free tour.

Here are some of the program's features:
Management of Runs: Origin and Destination, Commodity, and delivery rates. Billing for a run can be a flat rate per load or by the ton. There are separate rates for base rates, billing (base rate + cost factors), and one-way hauls.
Ticket Management: Calculates the tonnage from gross weight and tare weight; tracks the driver, date, backhaul status, and billing status for the load.
Driver Management: Calculates driver payment as a percentage of the base rate. Percentages can be individually adjusted for each driver, and globally adjusted as well.
User management: You have managerial control over who has access to what features of the program. Restrictions can be placed on deleting or editing tickets, deleting or editing runs, managing drivers, managing commission rates, and reporting.
Reports include: Driver Detail, Truck Detail, Run Detail, Run Summary, Revenue Estimates, Billing Report, Payroll Report, Daily Driver Revenue, Weekly Driver Revenue (company), Weekly Driver Revenue (contract). All reports can be sent to your printer or exported to spreadsheets.

As always, our work is customizable. Hire us to tailor the program to your needs, or use your own programmer.

Great Tip from SearchDomino

By way of SearchDomino.com here's a great tip for globally adjusting your font sizes in Lotus Notes. As it turns out, Notes can do that, and has been able to for a long while... I tried it in R6.5 and it works great. As screen resolutions get huge it's nice to know that we can adjust accordingly to keep things readable without having to re-design every design element in a database.

I like the tip so much that I put an option in your user preferences in VIC CRM so you can access this feature without having to edit your raw Notes.ini file. This will be included in the next version. Since I use VIC as my home page in Notes it seemed a good place to put it. Just keep in mind that this magnification factor applies to all fonts in Notes, and you have to restart the Notes client for it to take effect.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Tis the season to be sharing (knowledge, that is)

By way of Ed Brill's blog, I stumbled upon this from David Gurteen, entitled "Don't let the IT Departments stifle Social Computing as they did Lotus Notes!"Gurteen's premise is that "it was the IT dempartments that effectively stifled Lotus Notes," and warns of the same fate overtaking social networking (wikis and blogs).

Just click through and read it... otherwise the following commentary won't make much sense to you. The "executive summary" is that Notes was quashed due to management for what amounts to control issues, and fears of anarchy in the datacenter and warns against the same fate for other collaborative systems (that's my characterization of it).

He pretty much nails it. The only two things I think Gurteen missed (and that ever so slightly) is 1) that "Notes" is stifled (in some companies it is, but with the latest release that may change, and there's a strong core following), and 2) laying the blame on "IT departments". I'd narrow that down a little to "IT management", and by that I mean at the executive level. Developers and project managers such as myself would have loved to deploy and support Notes in the way it was intended; that being in a way that allows people to use the templates they're given; to create TeamRooms or document stores at need to enable sharing among users, not hinder it. One way I advocate of doing that is to have your corporate apps with the standard development process, sure; but also allow a Domino server with space allocated and proper access rights granted to select departments to allow them to use it creatively and on an ad hoc basis. Need to manage a project? Create a TeamRoom. It takes about 10 minutes, tops, and there's no need for IT to be involved. Then you've got document sharing, a forum, team calendar, etc., all web enabled and with proper security.

As you should've read by now, Gurteen's comments are based on a blog post by Lee Bryant regarding inflexible systems and the incentive for insecure workarounds that they inadvertently promote.

It's a message that does hit home with me. I developed VIC CRM initially under contract to another company, but acquired the copyright and continued development because it was something that I found use for. In designing it I took to heart lessons from Augmenting the Human Intellect, a landmark paper by Douglas C. Englebart (upon which I commented extensively in the July 08, 2007 entry of this blog). It also answers one of the questions that I'm frequently asked about VIC. Unlike many shared systems, VIC CRM doesn't maintain a sales hierarchy or enforce access to specific documents out of the box. Neither does it allow you to mark a document as "Private". The question is, "Why?"

Let me start off by saying that like all Lotus Notes applications, VIC's security is managed through the use of an access control list (ACL) that is integral to the application. So it's secure from outside intrusion as you care to have it. But VIC's primary purpose.... it's
raison d'exister ... is to freely share information among your team members. And what I've found for my situation is that the kinds of document level controls generally placed in the sort of apps that compete in this marketspace are at fundamental odds with the purpose of the program.

What I've generally found for other people is that you cannot reliably predict the controls that they will need in their organization. For example, out of the several OverQuota (Relavis eSales) implementations that I've either implemented or maintained, exactly none of them use the sales hierarchies that Relavis designed into the product. In every case this feature is either ignored, disabled, or modified... and that's even though the product allows a level of customization through configuration! In no event has that been sufficient for my clients... and I'm talking about organizations that range from under ten to several hundred users; from a single office to multinational corporations. Don't get the idea that I'm picking on Relavis: this is incredibly complex software to create, and theirs is robust. I'm simply illustrating why I didn't go down that road.

It's not because it's difficult (document-level security is a relatively uncomplicated modification). It's because it's a waste of time to provide something that I don't need and you're never going to use. But more than that, it's because I'm creating software for a purpose, and the purpose is not to generate revenue for my shareholders via the product itself. I certainly don't worry whether the product meets some IT executive's perception of necessary, which -- often as not -- is based less on actual need than on how completely the product fills in some some magazine's feature matrix.

Steering back to topic a bit; VIC can be secured with ACLs and database encryption, both features are built into Notes. For my needs, I've found no need to complicate the product beyond that. As Lee observes:
The same IT folks who rail about the "risks" of sharing and online social networking are also responsible for creating systems so unusable and inflexible that they lead users to dump entire databases onto CD and lose them. I think it is fair to argue that IT systems that do no understand people are a bigger risk than human-scale web computing that treats people as adults.
There's value in simply documenting work for your own recollection, but when you're sick or on holiday how can the rest of your organization handle your customers in an informed way? What about when you're promoted, or you bring on new team members and want to disburse the work? How do you get these people up to speed? That's the real value of VIC CRM. Knowledge is power for the giver as well as the receiver. Sharing information frees you from being chained to your workplace (or worse, to your position! I know exactly what it's like for the many people who have been stuck in a job because they were "indispensible.") But to reap the benefits you have to be willing to share.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

No, thanks, Unify.

I was offered the most interesting whitepaper today. Entitled, "Efficiently Migrating Lotus Notes Applications to Modern Platforms " and sponsored by the Unify Corporation. The blurb goes like this:
"As businesses move into the era of highly scalable architectures, SOA, rich customer-facing applications, and mobile workforces, they are discovering that previously satisfactory workgroup and workflow systems no longer provide needed capabilities.

Lotus Notes, in particular, is quickly becoming viewed as a legacy platform that is difficult to shed as part of a move to modern, scalable, and non-proprietary architectures.
This white paper examines:
  • Options for rapidly migrating off of Lotus Notes to Microsoft's .NET platform
  • How organizations can better manage the transition
  • A solution for migration off the complex Lotus Notes applications to Microsoft's enterprise infrastructure"
Sadly, all Unify Corporation is attempting to sell is their own brand of hammer to replace the robust toolkit that is Notes/Domino. They start with false assumptions and base their sales pitch entirely on that. Here's what we have in this very short, very loaded, blurb.

Assumption: Lotus Notes/Domino is not "modern"
False. Notes/Domino 8 is re-engineered from the ground up. It's built on an Eclipse framework, supports XML, Java, is interoperable six ways from Sunday, and portable to more platforms than DotNet. The underlying language is Java, and you can use a choice of languages (or mix them) in development.

Assumption: Lotus Notes is not scalable.
False. Buried in here is that "Lotus Notes" is what we're talking about. It isn't Notes is a client for Lotus Domino server. And Domino is not only highly scalable, but is portable to many more high-end systems than the weak-by-comparison Dot-Net replacement to which Unify would have you downgrade.

Assumption: You can't do rich apps in Notes.
False. For the Notes developer, this is truly a case of "anything you can do I can do better".
Have a quick look at http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/lotus/library/domino-ajax/

Assumption: You can't support your mobile workforce in Notes.
False. I do that every day. Regardless of how you define mobility, this is old news where Notes/Domino is concerned. The Notes client is the standard for replication and off-line functionality. Notes applications are easily web-enabled, and can be made mobile-friendly as well. Data conduits connect Notes to PalmOS, Java, and WindowsCE. There's Lotus Expediter. There's Lotus Mobile Connect. There's Domino Unified Communications. I don't know what meth lab Unity frequents, but whatever they're smokin' is tainted.

Assumption: Previously satisfactory workgroup and workflow systems cannot be more cheaply modified to provide needed capabilities.
False. Some are being abandoned under the weight of ignorant, fact-bereft FUD like Unity's. Abandoned DotNet applications don't grow either. But if they don't provide needed capabilities, that's not a fault of the platform, but of the development team, and primarily their management. Now, modernizing the application is no chore where Notes development is involved. But Unity would have you not only build a completely new app, but change out the platform and the architecture, too. This is a Bizarro-world definition of "easy" that doesn't exist in any dictionary this side of Lewis Carroll's looking glass.

Assumption: DotNet is "Non-proprietary"
Not only false, but laughable. DotNet is a Microsoft proprietary technology. Yes, there is the Mono project for Linux, but be honest... when you're talking Mono, you're talking about reduced functionality. Almost all of DotNet's replacement value vis-a-vis Notes is dependent on other Microsoft technologies, such as SharePoint and the latest Microsoft Office suite (with recent additions such as OneNote). If you want to get the most out of DotNet, and most assuredly if you want to keep a straight face when discussing it as a replacement for Notes, you are talking about not only a single-vendor proprietary solution, but one which reduces your interoperability and platform choices as well. In terms of interoperability, Domino is far more open.

Assumption: Their paper fairly examines options to migrate Lotus Notes to DotNet.
False. One fair option is to not do it. Their premise is that you will reap ROI for a simple migration done for the sake of doing it. It is a false premise, for which you won't even need a calculator to do your own math.

Here's a fair comparison: you have a Domino app running on a Domino server. You used Notes Designer to build it, but as with most development these days, it's web-enabled. This one's also workflow enabled and sends email notifications. The entire app + data + access control is housed in a single NSF file on the server. To back it up or restore it, it's a matter of copying one file. One. To deploy it to production requires copying one file. One. It can be accessed via browser or Notes client. It can be accessed directly on the server or can be replicated for offline use (as required for use by the sales force).

The DotNet replacement for this system requires components split across the following technologies:
  • Visual Studio
  • DotNet
  • Active Directory
  • Sharepoint
  • SQL Server
  • Microsoft Office 2007
There is no such thing as a cohesive backup... you just hope you got all the parts. Support is scattered. Deploying it is practically a small project in itself. This is expensive, it's haphazard, it's sloppy in terms of development and architecture, and it sucks.

I'd say that Unity is marketing a "solution" in search of a problem if it weren't for the fact that the "problem" that they're "solving" is vastly better than the "solution" that they have! Notes/Domino is more scalable, more portable, built on a more open framework, more flexible, easier to deploy, easier to manage, and cheaper.

Let's look at what the Notes/Domino does provide you in a coherent, easily managed whole:
Domino:
  • rich-client server and web development platform in one. (iow, you get your choice of clients to support, either Notes or Browser, or both at the same time with the same apps).
  • web server and web services.
  • Eclipse framework
  • LDAP server
  • Application templates pre-constructed and ready to roll. Document management, team management, project management..
  • It also serves up email.
Notes:
  • Rich client application.
  • Development platform for web or rich client.
  • Browser.
  • Your choice of client/server, fat client, or thin client behavior, or all at once based on which apps it's accessing.
  • Absolutely unsurpassed off-line replication capabilities.
  • Built-in standards-compliant Office suite.
  • Integrated workgroup messaging.
  • And it also reads email, RSS feeds, Usenet groups, etc.
If you like, you can add a SameTime server for instant messaging (this is built into the Notes client, BTW... nothing extra there). If you're really looking to expand into enterprise-space, then look at Quickr, or Connections. These are seamlessly interoperable with Notes/Domino.

The number of Microsoft technologies required to replace Notes/Domino is staggering, and rather than being tightly interoperable as with the Lotus products, they are scattered to the four winds. That Unify unabashedly ignore this is more staggering. To think that they have so little respect for their potential client base that they distributed this pack of lies via SearchDomino earns them undying contempt. There are enough scary buzzwords here that some management types will read and believe it, but they don't subscribe to SearchDomino. To market their product through that channel is a boneheaded move of monumental proportions.

No thanks, Unify. You're too stupid to earn my business.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

RIP, Marc Orchant (1957-2007)

Marc Orchant died today.

You may not have known him, but I did, after a fashion. As is often the case in this age, we've never so much as talked in person, but have conversed in blogs, forums, and email.

Marc was only 50. His passing reminds me how tenuous our hold on life is.

Please make every day of yours count.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

New VIC CRM Release

There's a new VIC CRM release on OpenNTF.org.

It's short of a couple of features I was hoping for for this release (I'm behind in other work), but I wanted to get something out before Christmas. There will be more posts on this soon.