Archive for November, 2008

Massive discounts at Codematic

Sunday, 30th November, 2008

In line with our leaders’ edict that prices should be reduced so we can spend our way out of recession, Codematic has taken the axe to our already generous prices.

Save up to 1,000 GBP on our fast worksheet unprotector (requires the purchase of 2,000 licences – old price (each) 23.50 GBP gross – new price 23.00 Gross, saving 50 pence per licence)

If thats not generous enough for you – what about a custom xll udf in C? was 293.75, now 287.50, saving a whopping 6.25 GBP (each).

We’ve slashed the full 2.5% vat reduction off all our prices (of course that is 2.5/117.5, so only really 2.13% but hey – the gubmint is calling it 2.5% ).

Note, even though some of our suppliers have taken the opportunity to pocket the change and increase prices we are passing the full ‘discount’ on to our customers – happy Christmas!

Net prices havent changed.

Bit of a pain having to suspend my Sunday to change the e-commerce, but actually it wasn’t that hard. Pity my sister who has over 1,000 stock items, many of which were imported with a text .175 vat rate, and can’t be re-imported.

I made the change a few hours early so then I had to sit and wonder how I would account for anyone buying 2,000 licences on the new vat rate. Guess what? no one did!

Have you seen/heard/read any vat related sagas around this rapid rate change (1 weeks notice isn’t much is it really?)

cheers

Simon

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New Vat rate

Wednesday, 26th November, 2008

From next week the UK vate rates will drop from 17.5% to 15%, for about a year apparently. The hope is that retailers will pass on this reduction to consumers, but bearing in mind the short notice that may be hard for some.

The hope is that this will boost spending, I certainly plan to boost mine (I am thinking of a Samsung NC10 netbook for starters). Will you be splashing the cash?

The government being the government and having a governmental grip on reality are calling it a 2.5% price reduction, whereas any halfway competent finance/maths/common sense person knows its really only 2.13% (2.5/117.5). I’m not sure how dramatic an impact in spending a 2 percent discount will have.

They reckon it will take many years to pay back the debt this little gift will cost. I think a lot of that cost will be caused by people having to pick through their systems searching for *1.175 and *(1-1/1.175) etc and replacing with the .15 version.

Our main rate of Vat has been 17.5 for so long I’m sure this is going to shake out all sorts of previously hidden sins.

Opportunity perhaps?

cheers

Simon

JES – Just Excel Syndrome

Tuesday, 25th November, 2008

This terrible affliction affects a wide range of otherwise healthy, dedicated, diligent developers.

The symptoms are simple to spot – some shoddy Excel/VBA monster tacked on the end of a super highly refined, mega abstrated, meta meta program work of digital art.

Their inheritance hierarchy is 10 levels deep, their UML designs fill 2 walls of the nearest office, Their code is pure joy to behold, a breeze to debug, and eminently extendable. Well most of it.

Because on this coding masterpiece, like an unwelcome carbunkle in an unspeakable place, they have grafted a tatty, pure amateur hour Excel VBA front end. The grid is big, impossible to audit mega formulas scattered randomly, the formatting burns your eyes, the VBA is 10 pages of macro recorder spew. ‘Its Just Excel’ it doesn’t matter.

A few people have contacted me separately about this issue recently. Rob sent me a link to a SQL Server article with tons of highly polished T-SQL feeding into a macro recorder abomination. I’ve also see it on projects I’ve worked on where the devs seem to have given up all quality requirements for the last step. I’ve seen big iron consultants insist on turning Option Explicit off to ‘make things easy’, on big, serious enterprise reporting apps.

Have you seen examples of this Just Excel Syndrome, at work? on line? in books?

I know most people are familar with Excel, is it this familiarity that feeds this complacency?

Other thoughts as to what causes it? Ideas on how to address it?

cheers

Simon

Spreadsheet modes

Friday, 21st November, 2008

That was an interesting debate about using formatting info in functions we had the other day. Clearly both sides have valid views and to a large extent it comes down to what you are doing.

Building a complex mission critical system that has to withstand 3-5 years of hamfisted use is quite different from quickly needing to clean up some data to get an estimate out before a pressing deadline (Barclays I’m thinking of you).

In VB.net you have the option to use strict, indeed in VBA we can choose to not use Option Explicit for quick hacking around or turn it on for stuff thats a bit more involved or when more rigour is required. In VS too you can set the level of warnings.

Maybe we need this ‘mode’ functionality in the grid?

Hacking around mode: anything goes, mega formulas, 60 levels of nested ifs, functions depending on formats, scattered dependency trees, functions with side effects in other cells?, perhaps even access the the command table from UDFs? etc etc. multi million rows?

Production mode: much more rigid ‘best practice’ style, perhaps with the option to bypass a rule. lets say no more than 3 levels of nesting, but as a dev you can use your professional judgement.

Then  when ever a workbook opens, instead of ‘Active content has been disabled’ it could say, this workbook conforms to Production mode guidance, or not.

What do you think?

What sort of things would you put in each category?

If this were an add-in would you contribute code? would you buy it?

cheers

Simon

They’re closing in on us…

Wednesday, 19th November, 2008

“Diagnostic-Code: smtp; 552 MS-Office file containing VBA macros found inside of the email”

Of course it contains bloody VBA – I’m a bloody VBA developer FFS!!

So I’m trying to send a client an app (the magnificent (and popular) Alternative FileSearch for Office 2007 since you ask) and their email is having non of it.

I guess if a few more mail servers implement this featurectomy approach to security, we’ll have to move to browser/cloud apps.

Of course quotes like this don’t help Excel/VBA’s security hole image:

“They decided on this unusual format because they wanted the video to penetrate even the most Draconian corporate firewalls. After all, who can’t receive an Excel spreadsheet?”

Well anyone with Trend Micro mail software can’t.

bah bloody humbug!

anyone caught by this? is it an increasing trend do you think?

(I’ve had a client for years where one of the Excel/VBA apps has been flagged as a virus by certain mail servers, we just zip it with a password). oh thats a good idea…

cheers

Simon

Weathering the recession

Tuesday, 18th November, 2008

In the red corner representing all that is good and sexy with the cloud/t’interweb, lets hear it for Gooo-oo-gle.

In the blue corner representing the grubby reality that most people actually do real work on desktop apps, just back from the 1990’s lets hear it for Microooo-soft.

Lets get ready to r-r-r-rumble….

Google sells ads. Very efficiently. Pay per click puts the onus on the advertiser to improve their conversion rate – but they only pay when people visit their website and see their sales message. (lets ignore click fraud). Google only get paid when people (potential customers) click on ads.

Other forms of advertising like telly, magazines etc are a big up front cost and a hard to measure conversion ratio – expect spend on this sort of advertising to plummet as we move into the depression.

Google ads are highly targeted, and can be managed in real time by the advertiser. Some advertisers, especially the ‘buy x at fleabay’ where x = whatever you searched for type (slaves, syphilis, fail – whatever), will reduce their spend, but many won’t. They will work on their conversion rate, and even if they give away 99% of their margin to google in fees they are still making some profit. At 100% they are still building/maintaining market share.

If advertising spend does plummet Google could sack off the half of its workforce that are working on freetard beta products that generate no cash and maintain its margin without materially impacting its future ad serving business.

I think Google will suffer, but not much, certainly not as much as these guys reckon.

Microsoft makes most of its money from desktop software (1/3 Windows, 1/3 Office, 1/3 all the other stuff they do, much of which looses a stack of cash). Lets just look at the 2/3.

Microsofts business is a big investment upfront in R&D and Dev costs. Those cost are sunk forever and cannot be cut. The ongoing cost is then mainly marketing and distribution, and a bit of support. Meanwhile that big dev cost has moved onto the next version (and next but one).

If customers don’t buy a version of Windows or Office, the vast majority of costs are still sunk, sure they can burn a few less dvds, and save a few pennies on FedEx, and hard to open packaging, but they don’t have much leeway to reduce costs to maintain margin. If they reduce Dev costs (of future versions) they are effectively eating next years seed corn.

Microsoft make the premium office suite, yet O2007 has largely failed to connect with the power user/dev community that should be driving adoption. I don’t think Office 2007 deployments are where they should be by now.

Not many people are claiming Vista has set the operating system world alight either (well Apple and Ubuntu have I guess!).

In a cost cutting world productivity gains is a hard sell. Bosses will be expecting workers just to stay later and be thankful they have a job at all.

I think MS have an uphill battle in the current climate to over-recover their costs (make margin)  as they have done in previous years. They have already played a lot of marketing cards so about the only tool left is deep discounts, and that is already happening. As the premium player against strong free/open source competition, a price war is a bad place to be.

In terms of competition who competes with Google on pay per click ads? Ya who? No one is the correct answer. MS paying searchers way more than they earn per click is not a long term strategy, and certainly not a robust one.

Who competes with MS on the desktop? In OS, Apple is doing well at the top end, Linux at the netbook end (and XP in a way). In Office, OOo are claiming 150-200M users, and increasing by 1.8M per week (20-30% of the Office suite market), and thats zero cost, as is sticking with the current version (unless you are on some Software Assurance type annual fee). Sticking with the current at least saves you a big migration cost either to O2007 or OOo.

On the plus side at least they didn’t squander their cash mountain on Yahoo. So they have a decent cushion. And I guess they have the option of hacking off some of the loss making areas.

In summary then (sorry this was so long)

I think Microsoft will get a bigger battering in this recession than Google. I expect more news of more sparkling discounts on MS products, and tactical withdrawal from some markets, in the coming months.

What do you think? And what do you think the impact on us independent devs/consultants will be?

I kind of thought Excel/VBA may pick up as its faster and cheaper than many alternatives, but I’m not seeing that, are you? There does seem to be a bit more Access work around though I reckon.

Cheers

Simon

Pimp my app?

Monday, 17th November, 2008

Its tupping season round here so one of my farmer mates was explaining how the ewes encourage the rams.

I’m not sure when he also told Sun or who they got the idea from them. But it looks like they are following a similar strategy.

SUN pimping out Java – OpenOffice next.

To save you reading heres the summary:

Last year Sun got a few quid off Google to push their toolbar with Java. This year they had an open auction and MS paid the most and now Sun is pimping their toolbar instead.

Next, Sun are going to auction off some branding opportunities on/in/with OpenOffice. No one quite knows what this means, but its hard to see how it will be good for users. (Does anyone know how successful MS has been with their advertising funded Works ‘suite’?)

This is a monumental FAIL on so many levels.

  1. Pretty soon (within 3 years I reckon) MS is going to stop haemorrhaging money in this area. At that point the valuation of Sun’s distribution will plummet back to reality, or lower now they pissed Google off so badly they stopped distributing StarOffice.
  2. Every time someone downloads something they did not ask for and did not want, they will lose some love for the trojan horse that brought them that gift. Expect Java to get rapidly devalued, and/or distributed by non Sun sources without all the crapware. Likewise OpenOffice.
  3. In 3 years time (max) everyone will be avoiding Suns ‘distribution channel’ and its crapware infestation like the plague it will have become.

Sun should just sell themselves to MS and be done with it.

Your thoughts?

cheers

Simon

Lucky dev

Sunday, 16th November, 2008

fail owned pwned pictures
see more pwn and owned pictures

I bet the dev of that piece was glad they didn’t put something like

“Impossible error” or “no chuffing way to get here error”

I once released an app to the client with the error message

“You can’t do that! Donkey!” left in from ‘debugging’.

Luckily they saw the funny side of it and did not take it personally.

Whats the worst message you’ve left in production code?

cheers

Simon

Migrationware built on Abandonware

Friday, 14th November, 2008

I love irony me.

From the ‘distributing Office 2007 migration tools’  page:

  • OFFSCAN.EXE – OMPM File Scanner program
  • ACCSCAN.DLL – Application library modules
  • OFFSCAN.INI – Configuration file
  • MSVBVM50.DLL – Visual Basic 5.0 runtime version
  • SYSTEM.MDW – Access system database

The Office 2007 migration tools require MSVBVM50.DLL. Thats the runtimes for VB5 – the one before VB6 that they terminated in what, 2000? So VB5.0 must have been 96? 97? 98?

The real irony is that Office 2007 will not open VBA5 (Excel 97) VBA projects!

Now if they had used VB6 (why wouldn’t they?? (lost the source code??)), those runtime are on most desktops anyway.

So questions: why isn’t this in .net? and if proper VB is good enough for this (and therefore by definition better than .net (for this)) why don’t they bring it back?

If MS just made VB6 sp6 available for sale again plenty of people would buy it – I still see more VB6 jobs than VSTO. Just a thought , y’know with the economy an’ all.

Google have increased their ads per page to beat the recession, MS could re-release all the software they forcibly removed against users wishes.

Anyone else still got a copy of VB5.0? (I think I probably have – I did the VB5 option in my original MCSD)(before they turned it into such a blatant marketing tool).

Cheers

Simon

[I suppose VB5 could be their only tech that can correctly identify the pre VBA6 projects that 2007 will remove, but I would hope not]

.chm WTF?

Thursday, 13th November, 2008

I got a support email the other day:

Did you know XLAnalystr.chm opens with “Navigation to the webpage was canceled”

No, no I didn’t, and here is part of the reason why:

I went to update the Windows machine that I use for those few online Windows/IE only tasks I occasionally have to do.

It said I needed to update the updater, so I did

Then it said I need to update WGA (Windows Genuine Arsepain?) so I did that. Then it was able to check to see if my Windows was genuine or not (lots of false positive reportedly)  Yay! it correctly guessed it is genuine, no black screen of doom for me.

Next it said my updater software had been modified, did I want to reinstall it? oh, yes please. It started doing that then had to break off because it needed to update the updater updater. But I can’t do that until it has checked my Windows in genuine – hello?? Alzheimer’s!! we just went there…

So obviously I gave up, I never really enjoyed merry-go-rounds, this is just farcical. I’m sure there is a rational explanation, something on my machine that needs to get itself fixed so I can use the update service that is part of the licence fee I already paid MS. But the rational explanation I see is this: in wanting to reduce piracy Microsoft are hurting their genuine customers. I hope its worth it. [/rant]

So anyway the net effect is my test machines aren’t as up to date as they might be if Microsoft would let me update them. Hence I am missing the (recent?) loss of love for .chm files.

Chms allow you to take a web site and ‘compile’ it into a single file, great for interactive help systems, so good infact thats what MSDN comes in for us old skoolers who like our help local. So good thats what plenty of us distributors of software choose for our help. I am seriously thinking of just doing a pdf instead in future.

Nirsoft (Makers of the useful Office add-in manager have this as a FAQ:
Q: When I try to open the help file of your utility (a file with .chm extension), I get the following error: “Navigation to the webpage was canceled”, what should I do ?
A: First, try to copy the chm file to your local drive, and then double-click it. If the problem continues, right-click the chm file, choose “Properties”, and then click the ‘Unblock’ button. after that, you should be able to open chm file without problems.

Some poor bloke went through all sorts of misery until he finally got this as a solution:

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00
[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\HTMLHelp\1.x]
“EnforcedDirectories”=”%WINDIR%;C:\\Program Files\\Movie Maker”
[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\HTMLHelp\1.x\HHRestrictions]
“MaxAllowedZone”=dword:00000001
[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\HTMLHelp\1.x\ItssRestrictions]
“MaxAllowedZone”=dword:00000001
We found that you need both the HHRestrictions and the ItssRestrictions for it to work properly.
I think the first entry “Movie Maker” was already there, it just came along when I exported the key.

That certainly isn’t the first impression I am after making with my software

“EEK SECURITY WARNING! BAD SOFTWARE, BAD COMPANY, BAD USER FOR DOWNLOADING IT, BAD DOG” err… no thanks!

The Codematic web division is delighted with the proposed move to pdfs.

What do you do?

cheers

Simon