Archive for October, 2009

Toleration and resources

Thursday, 29th October, 2009

I found the replies to that recent post about Excel-l really interesting.

At first I thought maybe I was a bit more tolerant than some of you (which  would make you pretty bloody intolerant, as I am hardly the crown prince elect of tolerance!)

It seems far more likely that just different things drive us away from various resources because we hear the noise/signal ratio differently.

Friday humour on the Excel-l doesn’t bother me, as don’t most of the cliquey to and fro banter. Some I read, some I don’t. It being an email list doesn’t bother me, although email is a crap way to collaborate like that.

On other forums though I find the excessive hyperlinks, ad tat, massive personal logo things, bullshit titles, and aggressive commercialisation a major put off. Without mentioning any names, many of the forums others are involved with just annoy me. Some I won’t even follow google links too (must get around to excluding them from my search results), not because the content is poor. More because all the stuff around that content is distracting and irritating.

Anyone else find that?

I was wondering about hosting a forum at codematic for Excel/Access/VBA/Visual Studio devs, but I didn’t want to further fragment the community. And how to make it more valuable than current alternatives? Do advances in indexing and searching mean many of these forums are of limited value going forward?

I was also wondering about something like a google group where people can upload their files and we could all work directly on them – maybe I should wait for the Office 2010 web apps (imaginatively now officially called Web Apps (TM probably)).

Do you see any value in another Excel dev forum? What would make it a must visit/must join resource?



Ubuntu gets prime time Beeb coverage

Wednesday, 28th October, 2009

I’m delighted to see Ubuntu has got some decent coverage on the Beeb for the latest release 9.10 Karmic Koala.

One of my worse predictions for 2009 was the more widespread adoption of Ubuntu and other mainstream disties by netbook vendors. Seems I was well wrong and somehow they now mainly only come with Windows. Like all those full blown laptops Dell so briefly offered with a non Microsoft OS. I wanted to buy one recently and could not find a UK notebook without Windows on the Dell site.

Hopefully the BBC will follow up their brief business coverage with a bit more of an in depth technical review once 9.10 is released on Thurs. Perhaps a bit more open minded than the sidebar from their tech correspondent.

I’ll probably upgrade next week, ideally though I’d like a hardware upgrade too. Fat chance of getting that past the budget committee.

Linux does seem to be picking up on the codematic web stats which I always find odd as the site is pretty much dedicated to Excel on Windows.

When will you try 9.10?



Quality Pays

Monday, 26th October, 2009

I was somewhat amused to read today that Barclays Banks’ computer systems have gone titsup again. In fact looking at El Regs stories it seems like an almost monthly occurrence.

Barclays have been very aggressive on forcing rate cuts on contractors in the past and are currently in the midst of another round of IT layoffs.

It’s hard [doh – edit] not to believe their sole focus on cost and ignoring quality and experience has had  no impact on their less than stellar performance these last few months.

I assume senior management bonuses are unaffected by the cost cutting…



Most important system

Thursday, 22nd October, 2009

Q: what is your organisations most important software product or system?

A: Excel – almost certainly for a massive proportion of organisations.

Q: Name a not-very-important system.

A: Web based expenses tracking

Q: In which system did the users get the most training?

A: Never Excel!

I see and hear this patter repeated and repeated. Excel is mission critical for the whole of the financial services industry yet most people get more training on how to reclaim their 80 quid flea pit hotel room mini bar charges than building testable, reliable spreadsheets.

If you don’t think Excel is the most important, then what do you think is? And does it have a dedicated team to look after it? (Could we agree Excel (or, increasingly another spreadsheet app) is one of the most important?)

Even if Excel doesn’t appear to be the most important, it often seems the case that Excel is implicated in the loading or manipulating of data between other core systems.

At the recent Excel User conf quite a few people came up asking where they could get training in Excel and VBA. So the will is there, whether the budget is I guess is another question.



How many U’s in Microsoft?

Wednesday, 21st October, 2009

Or should that be Micr-U-soft?

VBA out of MacOffice – U-Turn – VBA back in VNext of MacOffice

MacOffice 2004 out of mainstream support – U-Turn – 2.5 more years of mainstream support

Windows XP out of mainstream support – U-Turn – XP back in mainstream support for years for netbooks

User user interface customisation out in Office 2007 – U-Turn – User customisation back in in 2010.

Vista is the best OS – U-Turn – Win 7 will be the best OS

We are buying Yahoo! – U-Turn – We aren’t buying Yahoo!

I guess many of these are a good thing in the end, and better than the brutal slaying of VB6 with no regard for the billions of lines of now broken business code, and less sight of a U-Turn than our very own Baroness Thatcher the milk snatcher. So at least they are learning and improving.

I think its great that they (eventually) listen and make things right, I just wish they would not go so hopelessly wrong in the first place. But there is more coming. Help has been deteriorating in Office for ever and basically unusable since 2003. Their solution? analyse clicks on the on-line help! God knows what unrepresentative minuscule proportion of the user base that is, probably at least as bad as the CEIP data rubbish that caused the ribbon fiasco. (psst! Microsoft! we don’t use your stinkin’ help because its rraabbiisshh – we all use google!)

MS need to put their marketing numpties back in the box and get the product teams back in the feature list driving seat, and then get them out with real users. If they sacked the ribbon team they could allocate all that money to visiting real customers around the world. Sack the margeteers too and they could travel business class (well first class probably knowing how highly margeteers value themselves).

The pattern I am seeing is alarming. Are you seeing the same thing?

What other MS U-Turns have you spotted?

Obviously I’m just a little one man band, what do I know? Thats why I rarely post about MS business. But I am actually quite shocked by the frequency of these U-Turns – they are nearly as bad as Codematic!



A tech that is harder than VBA

Tuesday, 20th October, 2009

Last week I highlighted how embarrassingly deathproof VBA has proven to be. Especially compared to its alleged big brother VB6 that died with barely a murmur back in the day. I say dead, there are still plenty of us still actively coding VB6 – there is nothing better for a whole raft of applications and scenarios – I mean dead as in off Microsofts support map. No reprieves, extensions or back pedalling for VB6.

These last few days I have be working in a technology that has been threatened with retirement lots of times, and continued as a core product feature regardless, the real Daddy of technology:


why? because of the gaping holes in COM/VBA coverage of the Excel OM.

  • Number of printed pages? – not with VBA (ignoring app.executeXL4 of course)
  • Connect to Dlls when you don’t know the path at release time – not with VBA (not without some grotty virus-like code generation anyway
  • Some protection/function registration combos – not with VBA
  • Some mildly esoteric chart stuff – not with VBA (or 2007 probably!)
  • And some other stuff I forgot
  • And some stuff I don’t know about I’m sure

At one point I even fired up my old Excel 5 lapper because I needed to record some XLM to fix a syntax problem I was having.

They have been trying to kill off XLM since Excel 5 in 1995 and its still alive and kicking in 2010. So even if its gone in vNext that’s still 20 years of healthily cheating death. Fair play.

So yeah VBA is hard alright but XLM is harder.

I totally accept that some of those golden oldie languages like cobol and smalltalk and fortran, and even C are still ticking along, in fact isn’t fortran about to be relaunched into the limelight as F# for .net? (yep its in VS 2010 beta 1). But these non vendor specific languages are much more steady (lifecycle wise) I would say. Would you?

I’m really highlighting the longevity of VBA rather than any affection I might have for the language. (I have none, I would rather work in almost anything else (except XLM) – if it were as effective).



Cloud Farce

Monday, 19th October, 2009

Last week, or the one before, Sidekick users lost all their server based cloudy data after some data centre catastrophe (the cleaner unplugged the servers to plug in the hoover I heard ;-) probably).

T’intarwebs lit up with ‘the end of the cloud is nigh etc’. There seemed lots of commentary suggesting that Microsoft/Danger and T-Mobile were all in big trouble with a capital T.

I’m no cloud fanboi but I didn’t join in the assassinations because I didn’t think it was that big a deal – you put yout data in the cloud, of course you are going to lose it – seems obvious to me. But others seem somewhat shocked.

Bearing in mind the apparent miraculous recovery of data reported over the weekend has turned somewhat farcical, what do you think about it? Is it a disaster for cloud computing credibility?

Do you have a sidekick?

I don’t, but if I lost my Blackberry (which I am doing, 1 button/function per drop) I would barely notice. Laptop loss on the other hand would be a major PITA.

What about you?



Office 2010 web apps survey

Sunday, 18th October, 2009

Whilst I have been happily reviewing the full version of 2010 as time permits for a while now I have little interest in the web based version. (A bit pointless at best corporate suicide at worst would be my take.)

I was therefore somewhat surprised when I recently got a request to participate in a feedback survey based on my experiences with the recently released tech preview of the imaginitivly named web apps.

I guess my subconscious must have been helping me out by ignoring the invite email. That or its another false positive casuality of my email spam filters.

I think they are still under NDA as are the server components (not yet released (I think?)) so I won’t ask what others think of the technology.

What I will ask though is do you see much value in webbified versions of MS Office. I know they already made the UI in the real office very clumsy so the web version wouldn’t look too bad, but I’m still struggling to see the value.

How will the web apps increase MS revenue?



Excel 2007 Print_Area annoyance

Thursday, 15th October, 2009

Has anyone experienced the joy of opening .xls file that worked fine in 2000, in Excel 2007, only to find they have a modal, seemingly unavoidable, unprogrammable dialog box block?

Don't pass go, don't collect 200 quid

Don't pass go, don't collect 200 quid

This is somehat of a reet PITA if you are automating opening a few thousand files looking for something and closing. And each one throws up this message, on open, but before the on open event, which doesn’t seem to accept sendkeys (or at least how could you program them?). And appears with no warning, and doesn’t seem to be a testable state (eg ready mode, edit mode, point mode, blocking the user for fun mode).

Anyone else seen this?

Anyone got a fix or workaround? (to allow the automation to continue, and to open the file, and close without saving changes)

I’m pretty sure I saw this years ago too, possibly with a 97 to 2003 move? I think in this current case the files were previously edited in 2000. I’d like to imagine that if I found a workaround last time around, a. I’d remember, and b. I’d know which dusty laptop to fire up and search. But I don’t, Have you got any ideas?



Who is the hardest?

Tuesday, 13th October, 2009

Legend tells of one my old school mates who was as hard as.

Out drinking (underage of course) one night, the semi peace of a saturday night in a northern mill town pub was broken by a huge crash.

A giant barged through the door and demanded in that special Saturday night aggressive tone “who is the hardest ‘kker here?”. Heads were bowed as he was clearly looking for a fight, and it was going to hurt. No one moved, definitely no one made eye contact.

Except Dyksey: “I am – and if there’s any fighting I’m on your side!” he declared jumping up.

Dyksey was always the guy you wanted on your side when things went bad.

A bit like VBA I’d suggest, once again laughing in the face of death, thumbing it’s nose at twenty years of ‘progress’. Microsoft have just announced (on the day of its retirement) that they will extend support for Mac Office 2004 for another 3 years because of the gaping hole where VBA used to be, in Mac Office 2008.

Having read that story I might have to go and watch Shaun of the Dead.

VBA really does seem unkillable – and its getting stronger by the day as more and more business critical code gets implemented in it.

What technologies do you think could beat VBA in a pub brawl?