Archive for November, 2007

False finishing touches

Monday, 19th November, 2007


I just spotted a comment over on El Reg that really made me think. The story was about some possible plastic bag law they are on about implementing in London. Living about as far away from London as is possible whilst staying in England, the bag thing is likely to have a minor (if any) impact on my life.

But the comment – its just a ‘false finishing touch’ designed to make you think all the higher priority issues have been resolved. And we are invited to look around for other examples. That really caught my eye.

Well one springs straight to the front of my mind:

I’m thinking of one spreadsheet model in particular that I had the misfortune to maintain. With a lovely graphical flow chart front end that looked total quality professional. And some of the roughest production VBA I have ever seen behind. (FFT for sure)

I use that code as an example of what not to do in VBA training sessions. At the conf last year another maintainer of that app sat smirking all the way through my slot. I could only show some mild examples for confidentiality reasons, he knew the full gory mess. He left the country to get away from maintaining it.

I’ll be demoing it again this year in my VBA quality slot as I still haven’t come across anything worse.

The visual beauty of most spreadsheets I see is inversely proportional to the underlying quality. The more polish, the more ugly underneath. Of course there are exceptions, but I have learnt to be wary of attractive spreadsheets.

Of course, I’ll hold my hands up to not being a UI guru which may influence my views.

Oh – I’ve just been reminded of another (bit of a cheap shot maybe?). Most people would agree Excel 2007 is pretty easy on the eye, and there do seem to be many eye candy developments, shame then that the code adding up bit didn’t quite work eh? Bit of premature beautifying maybe?

What about you? any other examples of FFT? seen any ‘lipstick on a pig’ spreadsheets recently?



Asus Eee 0.9 impressions

Saturday, 17th November, 2007

0.9 cos I’ve been using it a fair bit at home, but not been travelling yet.

It looks a bit like its on life support here. I’ve got network and USB mouse plugged in one side, and USB keyboard and external screen plugged in the other.

Effectively when at home it’s just like any other machine, except, and this is a big thing I think – it comes with Linux installed. ‘Big thing’ in a market changing kind of a way. Bear in mind the most common way to get a pc without Windows is to build it yourself. Shop around, Linux machines are hard to come by. The Dell/Ubuntu deal is a bit of a damp squib, and damn hard to order (I have tried a few times). Stop press more Linux machines appearing daily…

In truth the OS has between minor and no effect on my web world (although I guess I’ll soon meet some Linux unfriendly sites). I have the same Firefox, with the same theme and the same extensions as my Windows box. The MS Office site doesn’t work well with Linux (the intrusive spyware fails).

In terms of non web apps, I havent done much yet as I have bought it mainly as a web machine. The fact that it drives all these peripherals so well is brilliant.

Of course being Linux it doesn’t run my beloved Excel (2003 of course), and I have no current plans to try Crossover office or Wine. A fair chunk of my basic spreadsheet stuff is in OpenOffice anyway so should just work fine on this machine,

Visually I reckon the Eee is spot on, usability wise, on its own, I think the keyboard is fine, although I think I would struggle to work all day on it. The screen is the biggest compromise I would say. Quality wise its very good, but it is a bit cramped for anything too involved. (but it is better than my blackberry).

About an inch (25mm – for us metric folks) either side of the screen is taken up by speakers (which are ok sounding actually (for a laptop)) personally I would rather have had a wider screen and crappier speakers wedged in somewhere else. I estimate I’ll look at the screen ~100% of the time, and use those speakers < 5% of the time, if ever. I assume its more of a cost thing than optimising the wrong thing.

I havent done much away from mains power yet, but a 3.5 hour battery life is better than any other machine I have, but probably not enough for hardcore road warriors.

For 200 quid I think it represents stunning value, and a cheap safe and easy way to play with Linux. I’m interested to see if the Windows (XP btw) version due in the next few months will cost more, if so I’d recommend this Linux version, because those essential Windows apps you need probably won’t fly on this machine.

Rumours of an 8Gb 10″ screen version have recently been quashed, but that would be a killer spec I reckon, even for 50-100 quid more.

Oh and Asus supply the hardware and the OS like Apple – so there is no driver pain. Compare and contrast with the battles MS are having with rogue drivers on Vista, on hardware they don’t control. Maybe the Asus/Apple approach is the way forward?



Technical investments

Friday, 16th November, 2007

What skills do you think are going to be valuable over the next couple of years? and what are you doing to develop them?

And where have you been burned in the past?

Me: I converted my VB5/6 MCSD to a C# a few years ago (03/04 ish?). I still do more production VB6 than .net. I would now call that a poor investment of time effort and money. I read recently that the .net framework 2.0 penetration was about 10% of desktops, 1.1 is about 40%?

Whats going to be big (that is realistic in my little world)? well I wish I knew!! Maybe compliance? hopefully migrating struggling spreadsheets to more enterprise ready technologies? In the smaller orgs I expect to see migrations away from Excel to OpenOffice Calc, in fact I recently quoted on one of these. Maybe BI and OLAP will finally kick in? What do you think?

Whats going to be small? .net/Excel I reckon will continue to be a minority sport. Excel 2007 is unlikely to impact my clients before 2010 unless someone fixes the interface. In fact I think the UI incompatibilities will fragment the spreadsheet development scene.

What am I doing? I’m continuing the develop my C++ skills for developing fast secure xlls, I am also testing some of my stuff on OOo Calc and dipping a toe in the Star Basic pool. Interestingly Gnumeric will run directly from a pen drive with no need for an install – that makes it a great choice for some tools I use.

Other than that I’ll continue with Excel/VBA/Access/ and maybe VB6. I personally have some reservations about using VB6 with it being so close to retirement, but no one else seems to care, so maybe I’m being over cautious?

I’m also going to keep an eye on Linux, I totally can’t decide if there is an opportunity there or not for our sort of skill set. What do you think?

What about Java? I have actively avoided Java (after a very brief play with J++ many years ago) to focus on other things. Anyone planning on investing a bit of time/effort in Java?

Another thing – web development? Lots of stuff seems to use Linux/Apache/OS (LAMP stack) and we are lead to believe that is gaining ground, and interoperability is the future. Yet IIS takes market share from Apache every month. What does it all mean?



Asus letterbox blogging

Thursday, 15th November, 2007

This is me blogging on my new Asus eee.

eee screen


I’m thinking of doing some proper work soon.



Asus eee 0.8 impressions

Thursday, 15th November, 2007

0.8 because the battery is still charging so I havent had it running yet.

First impressions:

Small solid good.

here are some pics:

basic eee open shot:
eee open

Eee sitting on my Vaio, which is (/was!) a small machine (12.1″ screen)
eee v vaio open

Eee compared to Vaio closed, including power – note the Eee has a big mobile phone style plug rather than a big muckle brick.
eee v vaio closed

It looks like a ‘proper’ laptop, but only cost 230 quid (the Vaio was 1,100 I think). There doesn’t seem to be much space for stickers sadly.

If I can get the unboxing vid uploaded without it killing ff (again) I’ll add a link.

I think something on this machine might be jealous of the new kid in the family – I’m on my third hard reboot this hour, something in the combination of Firefox, YouTube and ZoneAlarm (guess who I suspect) is killing my pc.

Yea – vid:

I’ll be bringing it to the conf, for anyone who hasn’t got one yet.

Big shout out to Ebuyer.

My pre-order with another supplier bounced late yesterday so I ordered at 4 pm for Ebuyer, it arrived 8am this morning. Fantastic. I’ll be buying from them again. (sadly they look to be out of stock now).



Asus eee v iPhone

Thursday, 15th November, 2007

From a marketing POV nothing technical.

The UK iPhone ‘launch’ has been considered a bit of a flop. Of course they will sell plenty over time but the ‘event’ was very much a none event. (source ElReg of course)

In the other post I mentioned the people queuing in the rain last week for the iPhone. A few people are now suggesting they may have been plants. Obviously they are plants for sitting for days in the rain, but also possibly part of a PR stunt.

I’m not big on newspapers or tele, but I believe there has been quite a campaign to promote the iPhone.

Contrast with the eee. They are slowly trickling into the marketplace and being snapped up as they land. No adverts, or queuing stooges. I’ve been tracking them for about a month, and had mine on order for a week – should be here this week. There seems to be a natural, honest buzz around them, with at least one of the early unboxings making it to most popular spot on WordPress.

Its really quite refreshingly hype-free – the ideal antidote to the vacuous hubbub created by the Apple marketing machine.

One comment I have read a few places is that the Eee has the potential to be a real market changing product. Its a sub notebook for 200 quid, that alone is pretty novel. Add the fact it runs Linux, comes with a full suite of most tools most people need (and they are mainly open source) and the potential becomes obvious. For sure it’s not going to be everyones cup of tea – but I wish mine would hury up and arrive! [update: it’s on the van apparently Its arrived – photos by dinner time]
Put it this way: the Asus Eee represent the best possible chance my eldest has of getting the web surfing laptop he wants from Santa.



mini ribbon dig

Thursday, 15th November, 2007

Some choice search terms that brought people here this week:

  • get rid of Excel 2007 ribbon
  • 2007 excel clasic mode
  • Excel 2007 no good
  • Excel 2007 clunky
  • revert excel 2007 interface
  • excel 2007 rubbish

Obviously its completely self selecting, still its reassuring to know I’m not the only person who thinks the Ribbon UI is pants.

Maybe we should start a petition ? (hehe – joke)

Maybe I should write a couple of positive posts about the ribbon (that would mean dripping sarcasm of course!) and see if the millions of ribbon lovers turn up and show the love. I assume there are millions of ribbon lovers? (apart from the massive User Experience Astronaut space stations staff of course)



Office 2007 security resources

Wednesday, 14th November, 2007

I tripped over this link recently:

Its a good overview of some of the security features in Office 2007 and links to some MS resources.

For the avoidance of any doubt, worksheet, workbook, workbook open and VBA protection are not considered security features. These are usability features.

You’ll see from the documents at that link that MS have a much better security story by integrating more closely with Windows and policies etc.

As a matter of interest, please leave a comment if you care about security (honestly). If you don’t care about security please leave a comment why.

I think a great many people in the Office development world don’t really care about security, so don’t be shy.



Xlls for free

Tuesday, 13th November, 2007

Those nice people at Microsoft have made it possible to develop xlls for no cost.

Heres how:

Grab a copy of Visual Studio Express C++ from here watch out some of the links seemed moffed up – if you keep getting dumped at the C# page keep searching – its not a conspiracy. Don’t be fooled, only the C++ one will do, nothing else can create the necessary native code binaries.

Download the Windows SDK that is also mentioned on that page.

Download the xll SDK from here.

Job done. Oh there is the small matter of piecing it altogether and knowing enough C/C++. Luckily those are topics for my xlls session at the Excel developer conference.

To be frank though, at this stage I’d be tempted to go directly for the Visual Studio 2008 beta2 and start coding in that (free but expires in March I think). That includes the Windows SDK (and all the latest VSTO stuff) . The real, live version of VS2008 will be released in November, ie you can buy it and use it. There is a separate launch event in Feb 2008 for some reason.

Other free xll creation options are Dev C++ a free Windows C++ developer environment. I’ve used that for non xll work and its good. You should also be able to use Eclipse, which I keep meaning to try. Any tool that can create native code dlls with the _cdecl calling convention will do fine (Delphi-yes, VB-no, .net-no)

I’ll do some more posts on creating xlls, in the coming days/weeks. This post is just so you can get hold of all the bits and bobs (for free) if you need them.



R1C1 notation

Monday, 12th November, 2007

Recently we discussed people’s preference for A1 or R1C1 notation without taking the time to explain how they both work. So here is a bit of an explanation.

For those not familiar with R1C1 notation:

R1C1 means row 1 column 1 ie A1 in the’ other’ notation. Well actually it means $A$1 as its an absolute address. If you copy =R1C1 from any cell to any other it will always to refer to the top left cell (A1).

Relative references in R1C1 are done with square brackets []. so

R[1]C[1] means one cell down and one to the right. In fact to make it easier I did some screen shots. The arrows are show dependents ones. (with hindsight, precedents might have been clearer).


And the A1 equivalents:

A1 notation

Roughly speaking relative references are easier to deal with in A1 style notation and Absolute ones are probably easier to deal with in R1C1 style.

If you haven’t tried using the other style, try it, you may find its useful once you are familiar with it.

Oh and I used an internal tool to do the arrows in one click and PUP to convert from relative to absolute in one click.

HTH, the pictures look better if you click on them.