Saturday, November 22, 2008

The end of Monolithic Office suites?

In previous post I compared Microsoft's Office 3.1 Word to Microsoft's Office 2003 Word.

Many people would argue that the comparison is meaningless: IT is evolving and a version ten years younger is surely better. It includes enhancements based on experience and users requirements and bug fixes and evolution of the vendor's infrastructure and techniques.

Let us ask another question: Which Microsoft Windows Operating System is better XP or Vista?
I am not sure that experts will agree that the newer Vista is better. I would suspect that even the vendor's experts opinions vary: some Microsoft's experts probably will argue that XP is a better operating system. The popularity of a downgrade option to XP is another indication that Vista may not always be better than XP.

The speculations about Microsoft's intention to skip Vista's evolution and release Windows 7 earlier than planned could sustain my thesis: Newer products versions are not necessarily better than their predecessor.

Limitations of new Office versions
A new version implies new income by user license upgrades; therefore Microsoft releases new versions in cycle of about 2 or 3 years between versions.
But in order to release a new version, a vendor needs a significant product change which can justify it.
A significant change is in most cases enhancements: new functionality in existing components or new product in a suit.
New functionality or new product implies additional code lines.

It is easier to add functionality than to omit unused functionality; therefore omitting functionality, included in previous version, is a rare procedure.
The result is code lines number increase and complexity and gradual increase of maintenance difficulty.
According to research the number of bugs is roughly proportional to the number of code lines.

Complexity means instability and errors.
We as application suits users paying the price of this vicious circle.
Isn't it the time for a model change?

An Alternative model by example
The poor Spell Checker discussed in previous posts Microsoft's Word: 3.1 vs. Word 2003 and Zen and the Art of MS Office Problem Determination could serve as an example of an alternative model.

I need only English and Hebrew support in at least 99% of the time I am using Word.

I would guess that many other users need only dual language support: usually their native language and another language.

I do not need an abending Spell Checker sending error messages about Portuguese support, a language which unfortunately I do not know and do not use.

I need a Service based model instead of a product. Word should include only core functionality and definition of services and an easy standard way to plug them into the core functionality.

In that case I could use Microsoft's Spell Checker with Microsoft's Word or another Spell Checker developed by one of the vendor's partners. SOA based design will enable replacement of one Sell Checker by another almost transparently.

I would expect that a service by a partner which supports only the two languages I need will be better than Microsoft's service supporting many languages, but as long as Microsoft's service will be good enough many people will prefer to use it instead of a marginally better service by another company or Open Source.

Benefits of the Alternative model
The benefits are very similar to some of SOA benefits:
1. Easier maintenance – the vendor will be able allocate less resources and produce better artifacts due to the reduced complexity.
2. Users could install or use in a SaaS model only services they need.
3. Competition is a trigger for better quality with reduced costs for users.
4. Flexibility: instead of one size fits all products, availability of more specific services for specific requirements types.

Concluding Remarks
  • You can easily extrapolate this discussion to other applications such as SAP applications or Oracle Applications.
  • I hope that this post provides some insights of SOA benefits for Application Suits.
  • Application Vendors are building SOA Ecosystems replacing the traditional ERP and CRM systems, which were built for efficient Operation and not for Agility.

Friday, November 14, 2008

: Microsoft's Word: 3.1 vs. Microsft's Word 2003

The question which Microsoft Word product is better seems ridiculous.

We expect an evolution and improvement of a software product.

Microsoft produced Office 95, Office 97, Office 2000 and Office XP. All these versions followed Office 3.1 (which was produced in the beginning of the nineties under Windows 3.1 Operating System).

The answer is not as simple as the question. Probably Word 2003 is better unless you use a spelling checker for documents including text in more than one language.

Maybe Word 3.1 spelling checker is functionally limited and not user friendly but at least it is doing the job.

Using spelling checker in Word 2003 could lead to unpredictable results: Sometimes it will do the job and sometimes a buffer overflow will cause abnormal end of Word.

The post titled Zen and the Art of MS Office Problem Determination in my blog was relatively popular and some of the readers added comments. The reason for the relatively large number of readers is simple: many people experienced the cited above problem and no patch by Microsoft solved it.

I thought that bypassing the problem by excluding the dictionary and the spell checker is not the best solution. When using this bypass, spell checking procedure included the following steps:

1. Select the whole Word document.

2. Cut it.

3. Pace it into another application e.g. as draft post in Blogger.

4. Execute Spell Checking.

5. Correct spelling errors.

6. Copy the text back to Word.

The most common ways to solve a problem in Windows without problem determination are: apply updates, boot and install again.

Those of you who read my Zen and the Art of MS Office Problem Determination post, know that booting and installing patches did not address the problem. Ii tried reinstalling Office.

As long as the spell checker was deactivated Word was functioning perfectly. Even after activating it and checking an English document it was still functioning according to my expectations. However, when I opened a mixed English and Hebrew document it immediately abended. It was a partially predictable result; any time I opened this document Word immediately abended.

My Take

After succeeding to circumvent the problem, I can summarize my insights as follows:

  • Reinstalling did not solve the problem.

  • I was not able to find the common denominator for the documents causing Word ABEND. All of them include text in English and Hebrew but no ABEND occurred while opening other English and Hebrew documents. I assume that there is a positive correlation between document size and ABEND occurrence.·
  • Does changing Options to activate or deactivate the spell checker is affecting only the open document or all Word documents in a computer?

I do not know. After activating this option in one document other documents abended. Deactivating

this option after opening a document which abended does not help. After opening the first document in

which the activation occurred and deactivating spell checker, no dual language document cause ABENDs.

  • You can safely spell check an English document, but do not forget to reset this option after correcting the spelling mistakes.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Oracle's BEA acquisition SOA perspective – Revisited again

It is a presentation on SOA products strategy as well as to other related products strategy.
The approach is to define mix of BEA and Oracle products as strategic components composing Oracle's SOA platform.

The leading brand name is Oracle Fusion., however in some areas Oracle offerings include two competing products: Oracle's and BEA's. In other cases one of product is a preferred solution.
The most relevant slide is presented above. This slide presents a SOA suit.

In my opinion, although quantitatively more Oracle components are included, the most significant elements are BEA's products. The ESB is BEA's Aqua Logic and Complex Events handling is based upon BEA's product.

It should be noted that not all SOA infrastructure products are included in this slide. The missing parts include Repository and Registry, SOA Governance tools, Data Integration and Application Server and Portal.
According to my understanding of the keynote presentation slides, the directions are:
  • BPM suite is based upon Aqualogic BPM suit for Design and Execution. BPEL, BAM and Business Rules are based on Oracle's product.
  • Application Server suite is labeled Oracle WebLogic Suite. No doubt that BEA's WebLogic Application Server is the strategic solution although oracle Application Server is included in the suite.

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