Archive for January, 2009

Office 14 beta

Thursday, 8th January, 2009

The Office 12 beta program was at least 12 months, I don’t just remember exactly. On that basis I made my prediction that we would see the O14 beta but not the RTM.

But then someone pointed out that things are a little more competitive these days and such a long beta program could allow competitors time to RTM any super whizzy new features before O14 gets releasd.

That makes sense, but is it realistic to cut the period down?

What do you think? Can/will they cut the beta period? will we see O14 in 2009?

And if so will it be called O2009 or 2010?

Do you even agree there is more competition now than 2006?



Excel code deployment

Tuesday, 6th January, 2009

One of the oft quoted barriers to .net and Excel take up is the deployment hassles with the .net components. I have concerns in this area too (and have voiced them), but I wonder how obstructive they really are.

Every client I have worked with recently has at least .net 2.0 on their corporate desktops. Whilst no one seems keen to deploy more than necessary to their desktop estate, I can imagine getting say the VSTO runtimes deployed could be do-able. Everywhere I have worked uses rich powerful tools to manage their desktops, either SMS, or Altiris or similar.

Another common discovery is enterprise data sources replicated in tatty spreadsheets because the users did not know about, or could not access, or did not trust the enterprise solution.

These factors make me wonder if the challenge of .net/Excel solutions deployment is either all in the mind, or a cultural/business politics issue? I certainly don’t think there are significant technical barriers.

So if we want to boost uptake then we need to be addressing cultural/social type issues. Microsoft can’t do this alone, or maybe not even at all. They can address the technicalities, and I think they are with VSTO for example

Here are some of the obvious issues

  • business users rarely have official access to .net dev tools.
  • business users do not want to be tied to IT deployment requirements (time scales, quality, access, testing)

What we need are some compelling applications or systems that demonstrate how and why .net is so much better than what everyone is currently doing. Now I haven’t gone too far out of my way to look under absolutely every stone, but I haven’t come across anything in .net that made me think: wow that is so much better than anything we have now.

I have seen that with C. Fast UDFs is a compelling feature IMO. If .net could write UDFs that are as performant as the C API, but easier to learn, and safer to write, and supported on Excel services and realistic for business developers to deploy, and maybe worked with the numpty UI. Then I think .net might gain some traction with Excel devs. It would need to work (seamlessly) with more than the latest version of Excel.

.net apparently has some great UI stuff, but Excel is not Photoshop, or Powerpoint. I’m not sure glitzy UI is as important to many Excel users as the Office team seem to think. Although I’m not claiming any authority in this area – I’m not big on UI.

I have done a few data access apps in C# and it works very well. One was a command line app – C# is much better than VB6 for that, and much easier than C/C++.

Are you seeing more opportunities in .net?

Are business users starting to show more interest, or am I spending too much time in IT departments?



Ethical blogging

Monday, 5th January, 2009

I got asked (nicely) by one of the people on this list of names to remove the list from Tonys comment (near the bottom):

Tonys list is a simple copy paste from here:

Which is in the top few results on Google for Compassoft.

Should I remove the list or not? and why?

I don’t see a problem with publishing already public info, am I missing something?

Of course I wouldn’t like my name publicly associated with a failed company – but thats why I work for little old Codematic.

I’m still new to this blogging lark, what should I do?



Is OpenOffice attrifying?

Monday, 5th January, 2009

Michael Meeks certainly seems to think so

Whilst he accepts there are plenty of flaws in his analysis, the broad picture is pretty discouraging.

He reckons OO has about 24 active (code) contributors. MS Office 2007 had 700 staff! Although I’m not sure how many of them were coders, or how many were actually sabotaging the interface instead of enhancing the product. I’d guess 100 coders? (I can’t remember where I read that 700 staff number, anyone got a link?)

Michael points to some grim procedures as part of the cause, and I’m sure that is the case. My personal opinion though is that there are very few C/C++ coders who are that interested in office suites.

Its the same story in the MS world – Vista has had all the headlines, very few bothered to delve into the actual apps that ‘users’ use.

I looked at contributing to OOo, and its still on the list of ‘one day’s, but I want to start off with Gnumeric as that codebase seems easier to follow. A couple of things put me off contributing code though

  1. The need to sign over some part of the copyright to Sun – that doesn’t seem very ‘open source’ (thats OOo not Gnumeric)
  2. Getting into coding in Linux
  3. The need to earn a living

I hope to get there one day, but for now it seems that those with the technical skills don’t have the interest in the applications, and those with the interest in the applications do not have the requisite technical skills.

This conundrum is something Microsoft have come very close to solving with Office VBA. And something it now looks like they have thrown away with the spurning of VBA in favour of .net developer technology.

There are a few .net/Office devs around, and some great resources, but not many compared to the huge body of VBA resources available. Even though VBA has been unloved (in MS) since the 90’s.

If OOo made it possible for ordinary users to write add-ins and extensions, with no more difficulty than VBA do you think that would boost the community contributions?

(Michael is one of the folks working on getting VBA into OOo)

I don’t know if it would show up on his stats but I do think it would boost the OpenOffice ecosystem. Frankly you would have to be pretty dedicated to port a VBA app to StarBasic.

I think End User customisation and development facilities are essential in this end user productivity space, OOo seem to know that, MS used to know it but seem to have forgotten. And I do mean END USER, ‘professional’ dev tools are handy enough, but its the application users who need the power more than the IT team.

I want OpenOffice to do well, if it does it could easily replace MS Office as my target environment. Even if it doesn’t reach those heady heights, if it just gives MS the kick up the arse they need to listen to their actual customers instead of corporate IT middlemen, it will have succeeded for a lot of knowledge workers.

Maybe I need to re-prioritise OOo a little higher.



My ex new phone

Saturday, 3rd January, 2009

In what represents a most likely (personal) unassailable world record in short ownership I very briefly owned a T-mobile G1 google phone recently.

Whilst I don’t think first impressions are the be all and end all in reviews, here is what I found out in my roughly 24 hours of ownership

Battery life – pitiful. My blackberry lasts a week on a full charge. My G1 lasted less than a day. Once the battery is ‘conditioned’ that might go to 24 hours of light use. What life do others see? (One of my mates has a BB storm which is equally as poor as the G1 – maybe I’m just out of touch?)

internet – good, decent screen makes it usable.

Keyboard – good, all the useful keys are easy to find and click, on the BB some blindingly obvious keys need major digital contortion.

email – not good, I set up a pop account but the G1 has less memory than your average goldfish (that’s a nice castle…that’s a nice castle…that’s a nice castle…). It was unable to remember which emails I had downloaded and read, and just kept re-downloading and marking all as unread – poor. Poor for 2 reasons – way too much bandwidth and, poor integration with my main systems. That was with a POP account my attempts to set up an IMAP account did not succeed, I didn’t bother with Gmail as I’m not a fan.

With my Vodafone BB I point it at my pop account and it remembers what I have read etc. When I download my pop email to my desktop they also clear from my BB. I like this, and prefer it to having to maintain 2 independent email accounts (The T-mobile/Blackberry server approach).

Scrolling – freaky. Its actually the opposite way to scroll bars. It works how excel works when scroll lock is on – which creates any number of NG requests per week. When you drag down its like you grab the doc and pull it down – probably what you really want is to grab the doc and drag it up to read the next bit. Its the opposite metaphor to the usual where you interact with the view – here you interact with the doc. Not sure if either is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ but they sure are different. I guess with this grab approach you could save a few pixels by removing scrollbars. (I love the way Excel scroll bars are proportional – I like to know if I’m looking at a monster ASAP)

As I will be doing a lot of travelling in 2009 I need something that is the exact opposite of profligate data squandering. Looks like I’ll have to stick to my BB (Even though Vodo squeeze you till your pips squeak on roaming charges!). So the T-Mobile G1 had to go back.

One option I am considering is getting an unlocked G1 and a range of PAYG SIM cards for favourite destinations. At this stage though it might be worth waiting for the next G phone?

I note however that the G1 does Wifi so maybe that is an option, it would be great to have a mobile phone that actually worked at home. If there were an Android Skype client then I would find the G1 hard to resist I think.



My Acer Aspire One with Ubuntu 8.10

Thursday, 1st January, 2009

Woo Hoo.


After some significant ‘learning’ I have got my new netbook just about set up just about right.

I was going to tweak the standard Linpus Linux to get it set up right. But reading around suggested that it was a bit hacky and not the best base to build from. Also when I did the first update I got a bunch of package conflicts so I assume adding a load of new apps would make things even more fragile. So I went the Ubuntu route.

This was very useful:


Basically it installs fine, with no fatal errors. And netbook remix is a lovely interface – very easy on the eye. And the way it maximises every window is V useful on these small screens.

There seem to be 2 main areas of problems. And I think these seem to indicate that it was not just Linpus that is a little hacky. Wired networking works just fine, wireless not so. Also sound does not work right.

Wireless networking I fixed (eventually) with the backports solutions from link 2. The link one solution actually broke my wired networking so if you are doing this yourself then try

sudo aptitude install linux-backports-modules-intrepid


The sound took a lot of buggering around. There seem to be a bazillion places where you can set sound levels and they all interfere in some mysterious way. I’ve always had hassle with sound in Windows too so maybe its just me.

Anyway updating pulse and faffing around finally got sound in and out working with the recorder and Skype using an external mic. I have some other things to try to see if I can get the internal one working.

I followed the ALSA route described here and now everything works fine, incl internal mic.

There also seem to be some issues around USB sticks and SD cards, I havent bumped into those yet.

One vaguely amusing event was the next day start up when wireless networking was broken again. What a ball ache, I jumped through all sorts of hoops until I eventually switched the wireless hardware switch and it all came to life. Somehow it had started up with wireless disabled via the front switch.

All of this could have been avoided if Acer had worked with the main distros rather than creating their own Linux. It seems the issue is one of timing, the AA1 has some new hardware that the latest Ubuntu does not know how to handle, but the fixes are becoming available. I assume they will get rolled into an Ubuntu update soon enough.

I have yet to migrate fully to the netbook but I will do in the next few days. I am writing this from it though.

Summary – a bit of a challenge to get working, but interesting and educational so no bad thing in the long run. Now its working it is Very nice indeed.