Archive for September, 2009

Is Vista the most succesful marketing ploy ever?

Wednesday, 30th September, 2009

My sister was happily plodding along on Windows XP (the luddite, right?). Until the fateful day her pc died. The replacement came with Vista – she hates it, I refuse to support it, it is just so bloody annoying.

I thought Office 2007 was ultra-frustrating the way they shuffled around the commands to make them harder to find. But Vista is way worse. We spent half an hour messing around just so she could download a program off t’intarwebs. Hello? its 2009! we download stuff off the internet! Eventually one of the bazillion settings in Internet Explorer (she uses Firefox exclusively) that I changed finally fixed it. Sadly there were no ‘That action could be a security threat, if you really want to download xxx then you should change yyy here ‘ handy warning/links.

We eventually got that working, I’m not sure how much of her life she would have wasted if I had not been able to help. Then there was some other problem, at that I had to say sorry, I have other things I need to do.

For a competent computer user Vista is a scourge. Every time I have used it (usually helping someone who has a problem they wouldn’t have in XP) I have come close to launching the pc out of the window.

So to the new era…

Everything I have read about Win 7 compares it to Vista, and often it’s to Vista as it was when it launched 3 years ago.

  • Win 7 has better driver support than Vista (had at release)
  • Win 7 has better security than Vista (had at release)
  • Win 7 has better hardware compatibility than Vista (had at release)
  • etc etc, you get the idea

By punting out a complete lemon 3 years ago MS have given themselves a fairly easy to sell ‘improvement’ story. Have you ever done that – deliberately underperformed at the initial test so you can show better improvement? (Like the folks who go the weight watchers with a pocketful of coins, and their heaviest jumper the first week.)

No one seems to be comparing Win 7 to its main competitor – a mature installation of Windows XP. So mature, any of those new features trumpeted in Win 7 will probably already be solved by some downloaded utility if needed.

Win XP is the biggest competitor by dint of the largest installed base, but Apple is probably the most dangerous competitor. A shift from any Windows to Mac OS is a big loss for anyone who sells primarily Windows software, like MS for example.

Anyway, I foresee Windows 7 getting an easier ride simply because people will be relieved that it is better than Vista. But so is almost any OS from the last 10 years.

The Codematic website still gets traffic from win 3.xx machines. Win 3.11 is a damn sight easier to use than Vista. (win xp:65%, Vista:17%, win 3.xx:1.5% in Sept 09)

Do you think that Win 7 will benefit from Vista being so crap? Do you think the boost to Win 7 sales will be enough to cover the embarrassment of Vista?

Do you think they will continue this alternate lemon/loss leader followed by acceptable product in Windows versions? do you think they will extend it to other areas of the business, or do you think they already did with Office 2007??



Will you be having a Win 7 launch party?

Tuesday, 29th September, 2009

Win 7 launch excitement.

I was hoping to, but then I saw the state of my sock drawer.

Are any of you holding one or going to one?



[edit – /. has something to say, and some links]

Excel can’t add

Friday, 25th September, 2009

I just read through a 20 or 30 comment thread/rant on a newsgroup about how Excel can’t add up because .29 – .28 doesn’t equal .01. (when you expand it out beyond Excel’s published accuracy limits (which comply with the IEEE standards)).

The original poster asserts repeatedly that even kids know .29 – .28 = .01000000.

That statement is so grossly wrong it alarms me. So much so that I was going to comment on the thread – except its a few days old and no one would notice probably.

Never mind the floating point approximation issue that flares up regularly (which was the cause of his initial rant), this is much more fundamental.

Its basic maths, accuracy and significant digits, and approximation.

.29 is the way of writing any number from .285 to less than .295

.28 is anything from .275 to less than .285

which means one minus the other can fairly be anything between (but not including) 0 and .02.

I don’t think you can justifiably have an answer to a greater precision than the inputs, can you?

I see lots of multi year projections down to the pence, it just seems total false security to me, better to be approximately right than precisely wrong (IMO). That’s why I like using =round() with a negative second argument to get round thousands, millions or billions.

Do you see much of this fantasy accuracy?



(and yes Excel can add, and take away – within its documented accuracy limitations – which should be adequate for most general purposes)

State management in Excel

Thursday, 24th September, 2009

I’ve just posted the code I use to speed up VBA execution on the codematic site here.

its just a pair of routines to turn events, screenupdating and calc off. The only thing it does which is vaguely interesting is try to maintain the calc settings as they were prior to code execution.

Public Sub speed()
On Error Resume Next
If Not mbInSpeed Then
Application.ScreenUpdating = False
Application.DisplayAlerts = False
Application.EnableEvents = False
mlCalcStatus = Application.Calculation
Application.Calculation = xlCalculationManual
mbInSpeed = True
‘we are already in speed – don’t do the settings again
End If
End Sub

I was ignoring remote requests too but that is bit of a pain if Excel crashes.

Is there anything you would add or remove?



Excel-l developers list

Tuesday, 15th September, 2009

I just wanted to call out my all time favourite Excel resource, the Excel-l Excel developer listserv email list. its hosted here.

I know lots of you are already registered, but I wanted to drum up a few more members, for a couple of reasons

  1. The main one – its a superb resource, any Excel, VBA, Access and other apps based questions will get a sensible answer here
  2. The number of registered users is declining. I don’t know what the cut off is but at some point if membership gets too low, and questions don’t get answered then even more people will leave and the best non-beginner Excel resource will disappear.

So if you are not already registered then sign up (it’s free), you’ll be able to search the archives straightaway, and maybe join in the e-mail debates, and help others out. For a few years I had mine on digest mode which means just one email a day, but now I have a bit more time I’m back to getting every email individually.

I hope the decline in numbers isn’t a sign of dwindling interest in Excel/VBA developments, although that would not be a surprise.

Do you have any explanation for the decline? do you know better resources?



IBM move to OpenOffice

Monday, 14th September, 2009

Allegedly anyway, and its actually to Symphony, which is based on OOo.

Here is a bit more info.

I bet there are a few unhappy bunnies in finance and marketing wondering how they are going to get their VBA stuff working properly in 10 days.

The main goal seems to be to move off MS file formats to ODF, which is fair enough, unless that means you need multiple versions of the same doc in different file formats, for example if customers mandate MS Office formats.

I have seen gasping reports that this could spell the end for MS Office. But to paraphrase Winnie C, I don’t think this is the end, not even the beginning of the end, it could, however, be the end of the beginning.

I’ll start investing in OOo when I see jobs on Jobserve, just like I’ll consider any tech. I do however use OOo, probably as much as MS Office for my own bits and bobs, but that Starbasic is grim.

Do you use OOo much?



Some Marketshare stats

Thursday, 10th September, 2009

I just found a link to here on el Reg.

Some really interesting info, gathered from about 10,000 volunteer machines. Of course there are plenty of arguments that the sample is not representative. What with them having to volunteer on-line, install some (never in a million years gonna get corporate approval) software, no non Windows OSes, etc.

So I’m thinking the best way to treat the data is to believe anything that backs up my personal views and assume a flawed sample for anything that might suggest I’m wrong. (don’t tell me you don’t do that?? ;-)). That and wonder why some of the charts add up to way more than 100%.

In reality I think the sample will be heavily biased to fairly (but not highly) tech savvy individuals.

The big surprise for me is how high the Office 2007 figures are, balanced in a way by how high the OOo proportion is. And Vista seems to have done better than I would expect. Both of these could be explained by the (assumed) sample bias to individuals.

What do you think? Any surprises in there for you?



The case FOR Excel Services

Wednesday, 9th September, 2009

I’ve seen plenty of disinterest and negativity towards ES. I said I would ignore it for a while, which I have. But always with this nagging doubt that maybe I’m missing something major.

Excel Services in MOSS 2007, is a way to recalculate a spreadsheet on a server. You can also get that spreadsheet to suck in data from the traditional range of data sources. You can also supply values in a manual input stylee via the browser.

First off I think the browser aspect is a complete lemon, but you knew that already right?

I guess where ES + browser makes sense is say insurance premium calculations, where there is a lot of calculation required but only a handful of input parameters. And I really think that is where the 2007 version is aimed.

It will be interesting to see where the 14 (officially twenty-ten now) version goes. If its more browser client nonsense that will be a shame, but if it is a richer interaction with a more powerful server that would be appealing. I can say with 90% certainty that ES will never run VBA, as I’m pretty sure MS have promised never to run VBA on a server. But it does do dynamic ranges – as I demoed at the UK XLUC.

But for ES to succeed IMO it needs some User accessible way to add some command based interaction. Eg running a Monte Carlo simulation 500 times on a range of inputs – users do that now in Excel/VBA – If they could move that directly to ES then I think it could take off. Perhaps VSTO/VSTA will fit in here somewhere? Or what about resurrecting XLM ?(yay! go XLM hoo-rah!) (as a server safe sub language). Whatever, but not Visual Studio as business folks are very unlikely to get access to that.

The other thought was the workflow designer from sharepoint, something like that for Excel would be great, especially if server safe.

What might also work well is being able to wrap a call to an ES workbook on some server, passing in the params and retrieving the resultset into the grid, all from a simple to write UDF, that is also simple to distribute.

As it happens I wrote a bunch of xll annuity calcs for a client a while ago, but I can see how an actuary could model it in Excel but maybe not have the time or inclination to re-write it in C# so it can run as everybody’s favourite tech – the web service.

I have done a couple of presentations on ES and there seems some real interest from business users. But there are a few systems/IT/admin roadblocks on the server/licencing side. I hope that gets sorted, even an easy to manage 3/6 month free trial would ease take up.

Anyone else working in ES?



Laser focus on Office Dev at PDC

Monday, 7th September, 2009

The next Microsoft PDC (Professional Developers Conference) happens in November. Its a 4 day geekfest, with a focus on what Microsoft thinks devs should be focusing on in the near future.

The 2009 event has a laser like focus on Office development. Of the 50 or so sessions announced so far, 1 (one), (single) relates to Office development. (I’m using laser as in narrow, as opposed to powerful, highly focused, etc)

Here is the link in case you are thinking of going.

Office generates about a third of Microsofts revenues (and contribution), and yet over 90% of the sessions will ignore it completely. Or mention it disparagingly when claiming a code based session with little or no Powerpoint.

I wonder what the VSTO team think of all their hard work in linking VS and Office?

What is doubly frustrating about this picture is that some of us have actually tried to engage with MS on this, hoping to push the developer story in Excel and Access (and the minor products (Word ppt etc ;-))).

Even more alarming – Office 2010 is due out 6 months after that PDC, and ONE crappy general Office dev session is all MS can muster by way of revving up their army of devs to leverage their latest and greatest smart client. (Its probably in the smallest room too!)

The sad reality is of course that VS devs have zero or less interst in Office dev. And of course no one is engaging with the Office devs and powerusers.

So who thinks they should have a BPDC (business prof…) that covers getting the job done with tools accessible to business devs? (That would be Excel/Access/JET/VBA).

If Microsoft hosted an event that targeted VBA dabblers and power users would you go? Would you pay? Would you feel more positive about Microsofts commitment to Office development?

Talking of events kindly hosted by Microsoft: Don’t forget if you are registered for the next (free) Excel User Conf in the UK, its coming soon, 7/8 Oct at MS London. If you are not registered then watch this space – there may be a reserve list starting up soon.



Cloud Computing Smack Down

Friday, 4th September, 2009

I’m a bit of a fan of rich client computing, so all this recent cloud buzz has left me a little cold. Sure I can see significant benefits in some areas, but I do get the feeling that those benefits are somewhat oversold, both is magnitude and applicability. And perhaps the cost and loss of control are maybe skipped over a little too lightly for my liking

Great then, to read this dose of reality.

have a good weekend