Archive | March 1, 2006

Why Not FoxPro?

On the ProFox mailing list on 2/24/06, Dave Bernard wrote: > > For every person on this planet planning or executing a complete rewrite of > a working line of business VFP system (not a developer tool) into > .NET/J2EE/anything, I want to ask a simple question: > > “What were the business reason(s) for doing so?” >

1. Scale. Client wanted to move to gigabytes of data, and their internal programming staff and consultants they brought in could not develop a satisfactory app. Client invested millions in DotNet and SQL Server, and went bankrupt. Remants of the company are back to megabytes and back to VFP.

2. Inability to find good consultants. Having gone through a dozen VFP developers who were dBASE refugees and should not have been developers, company went for the magic pixie dust of Java. After millions of dollars of development (sounding familiar?), company was bought for hundreds of millions of dollars and entire app was scrapped in favor of the purchasing company’s existing system.

(There are a lot of developers out there who write junk for code. I don’t think VFP attracts them, especially, perhaps it’s just had a longer time to accumulate them? I’ve seen some pretty awful stuff out there.)

3. Painted too deeply into the corner: I supported a client for nearly a decade who had a legacy system written by a well-known developer early in the VFP 3.0 days. There were no best practices then, so there were some fairly complex work-arounds. The system was very large and very complex, and the micro-managing, penny-pinching boss would never authorize an hour spent to rewrite something that worked, no matter how arcanely. After a decade of making serious money out of this application, he got caught up with a young guy who could show him spiffy little tricks in *Delphi* of all things (out of the frying pan, into the fire) and, not understanding the differences between superficial GUI tricks and the deep functionality of his application, put his existing development into maintenance mode to go on a wild goose chase with Delphi. He was too cheap and too wily to lose his business to this, but his best developers quit, his customer base moved on, and when he sells out in a few years, he’ll get a lot less than he could have.

4. Slightly off-topic from the VFP re-write question, but an answer to why not FoxPto: Corporate standards: I tried to pitch a WebConnect app to a Very Large Insurance Company. They had standardized on: Macs on the desktop, Novell for their network, Oracle for their database and Netscape Enterprise for their intra-, extra- and inter-nets. I fought this one all the way up to a one-on-one with the CIO, who tried to explain to me that Microsoft was “going the wrong way,” a view I’ve come to agree with, but for different reasons and with a differnt new direction. IT evolution slowed to a crawl in this company, and the CIO has taken an early retirement to “pursue other interests.”

5. Cost savings: Tired of paying experienced senior developers with decades of experience in the business niche and this particular application, PHB thought it would make sense to employ cheap VB developers to rewrite the app in the para-dig-m of the day, VB and SQL Server. Experienced developers moved on, weaker devs stayed on for free training. New apps took forever to deliver, cost gazillions, and lacked the functionality of the original. Customers wouldn’t upgrade for fewer features. Company foundered, bought up by BigCompany for 1/10th of peak worth, for customer base. Old code and new code discarded.

In summary: incompetence, incompetence, incompetence, incompetence, incompetence. Hmm. Guess there is a pattern .

So, Dave, you were looking for GOOD business reasons to switch? I have run into few of them:

Good apps need to be rewritten every once in a while, as cruft builds up, and the model of the business encapsulated in the code doesn’t always evolve as fast as the business does. Software tends towards rigidity and/or fragility. Refactoring and other advanced techniques are designed to extend the longevity of an application, but refactoring a gnarly old app can be more costly than rebuilding.

When rewriting, you have the glory of starting with a clean slate, and re-examining your assumptions. New business models (software rental, software as a service, application service provider) may be available since the original app was conceived (probably back when we used floppies). ACID compliance, disaster recovery, HIPAA and SOX compliance can make new architectures a requirement. New component models, loose coupling, multi-phase commits, heterogenous backends are all designs to consider.

Security is a huge concern with ever-increasing connectedness, portability and liabilities.

So, ultimately, the business decisions come down to:

1. What business(es) do you want to be in? 2. What architectures enable that? 3. What tools enable those architectures? 4. What resources do you have available to execute those designs?

When faced with a clean slate project, new languages and tools are always a siren song. “There are no silver bullets” is a 30-year-old quote.

However, given the specs of a couple of apps lately, I couldn’t find a justification for writing them in FoxPro. While we have a mature language (well-debugged, well-documented and lots of support), some great frameworks and lots of programming talent, there were concerns I could not address: Microsoft has handed out BILLIONs in legal settlements in the last couple of years. Microsoft has made it clear VFP9 is the end-of-the-road for the binaries, with some xBase decorations extending VFP9 into Sedna. 64-bit is out and support for NX bits mean some loss of functionality. Bottom line: a single vendor who is end-of-lifing the product. Competing languages with rich features included Perl, Python, PHP and Ruby had no proprietary vendor lockin, no preferred data source and the flexibility to deploy on many platforms. VFP Web deployment is a chain of SPOFs (Single Point of Failure): W2K3, IIS, COM. In comparison, if a mod_perl app has a problem on Apache/Linux, redeploy on OS X or on Zeus or via CGI. Options. Choice. That’s what it came down to. The VFP solution was climbing out onto a limb with a vendor renowned for orphaning its products.

Orphaning: In the late 80s, I sat in a room back at the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston while Microsoft announced the rollout of the NT platform. During the Q&A session, a fellow came up to the microphone and explained that he was a Microsoft “partner,” had subscribed to their products and had spent years with a staff of programmers developing an app not far from release, but targeted at OS/2. What, he asked, was Microsoft going to do for him? His voice was unsteady, and it was apparent that he was facing a disastrous failure. There was an awkward silence when he finished as the crowd fell silent. There was no noise but an occasional clink of crystal against silverware. A Microsoftie finally managed to speak up, trying to deflect the comment into a pitch for their new development tools. The spell ended, but the impression remains to this day.

I can’t lead another client down that path. THAT’s the business reason.

Ziff-Davis notices FoxPro and Sedna

Microsoft Watch from Mary Jo Foley reports FoxPro Faithful Await Microsoft ‘Sedna’. “This week, FoxPro developers received a first test build of a new set of technologies, code-named Sedna, designed to make FoxPro interoperable with Windows Vista, Office 2007 and .Net.”
“Visual FoxPro developers, oft-overlooked by Microsoft, are about to get an infusion of new technologies aimed at making the FoxPro language interoperable with Windows Vista, Office 2007 and .Net.”

Apple ships new Mac Minis

OSNews points to two articles that juxtapose in a Point-CounterPoint fashion. What I read: in the first piece, the author is desperately trying to prove that Windows sucks less than before. Bugs are fixed. Bad driver models replaced. Security is tightened. This is incremental improvement, laudable, expected, but not compelling, and not worth the cost of the update, nor the incredibly long wait. Microsoft themselves have admitted that Vista sales will come through the purchase of new machines, not upgrades. This isn’t market choice, it’s monopolistic behavior.

The second article argues that Vista is a mess, and I agree. It’s not an operating system, it’s a software bundle that includes yet another incompatible operating system kernel, a new GUI engine and interface, and new half-apps (bundled applications with the good features removed).

It’s funny. In some ways, I see a parallel between Microsoft shipping this huge bunch of stuff (Media Players, backup software, networking, GUI, web browser, game subsystem, kernel) and cable TV providers shipping bundles of cable channels. Each insists it would be too hard or expensive to unbundle and provide the customer with a la carte choice. Each backs this up with some pretty questionable claims.

It’s about choice.

Why Windows Vista Won’t Suck. “There’s a lot of confusion about Windows Vista these days. Many online discussion forums have a great number of users who express no desire to upgrade to Vista. Sure, we’ve all seen the screenshots and maybe a video or two of Vista in action, but for many it only seems like new tricks for an old dog. Yeah, it’s got some fancy 3D effects in the interface, but OS X has been doing that for years now, and it’s still Windows underneath, right? The sentiment seems to be that Vista is another Windows ME. Perhaps part of the problem is that people just don’t know what Vista has in store for them.”

Also from OSNews, Why Windows Needs to Go Back to Basics. “Once upon a time, operating systems managed the resources of computers, and that was about it. But after the PC revolution, most software makers started subscribing to the theory that bigger means better. But does it?”

Apple ships new Mac Minis

Computerworld News notes Apple unveils Intel-powered Mac minis. “Apple Computer’s Mac mini became the company’s latest offering to make the transition to Intel processors today, with one of the two new models featuring a dual-core chip.”

Quick summary: Intel single-core 1.5 MHz, 512 Mb, 60 Gb, read-only DVD for $600. Intel dual-core 1.67, 512, 80, DVD-write, $800. Great boxes with infrared interfaces for remote control, could be neat system to add to your home theater stack.

Dartmouth Lake Sunapee Linux User Group tomorrow: Jonathan Linowes on Xaraya

Date: Thursday, March 2nd 7:00-9:00PM

Place: Dartmouth College, Carson Hall, Room L01

Presenters: Jonathan S. Linowes

Topic: Xaraya

Xaraya is an extensible, Open Source web application framework written in PHP and licensed under the GNU General Public License. Xaraya delivers the requisite infrastructure and tools to create custom web applications that include fully dynamic multi-platform Content Mangement Solutions (CMS). Xaraya’s modular, database independent architecture introduces tools that separate form, function, content, and design with on-the-fly extensions allowing greater control and versatility.

Jonathan will present an overview of Xaraya, its architecture, core modules, and extension modules, including a brief demonstration how to get started developing web sites using the Xaraya platform. Examples will be used from current live web sites.

Jonathan is principal of Parkerhill Technology Group, a strategic management and web development firm, and has over 25 years of entrepreneurial and technical experience ranging from small start-ups to multinational corporations. He holds a Masters degree in Media Technology from MIT, and serves on several boards including the Software Assocation of NH (SwANH), Amoskaeg Business Incubator in Manchester NH, MIT Enterprise Forum of NH, and North Country Council CEDS (economic development strategy). Jonathan lives in northern Grafton County on a retired dairy farm with his wife and 4 young children.

Powered by WordPress. Designed by Woo Themes

This work by Ted Roche is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.