Saturday, October 6, 2007

Don’t change my toys!

I had this picture taken as it really shows me in my “other office” – 15A. As most of you have figured out by now, I spend a lot of time out of the office – at events, seminars, and with clients. I am more at home over a coffee table these days, with a writing pad, sketching out configurations, than doing just about anything else.

I have arrived in Brighton for the Euro ITUG event and if you take a closer look at this photo you may recognize that this is one of the newer models of the blackberry PDA. But what I don’t think you will be able to tell is that it’s not the one I usually use. I had to borrow it from my wife, as I had left my PDA / Phone on the kitchen counter-top.

Some of you have commented in your emails to me that it looks like I am loosing weight – and yes, it’s true. Probably in another blog posting I will get into the background for this – but it’s enough to know that I had to change belts before I left on this trip. The exercise of replacing the belt, literally as I was walking out the door, meant that I walked out of the house without the blackberry. I am now out of the country with no PDA and no phone!

I am extremely grateful that my wife is letting me use her blackberry but any time you are presented with a new device, the first thing that hits you is the human interface. Even without a change of manufacturers, using an “upgraded” device doesn’t always translate into something you’re familiar with, or find easy to use. My wife watched in frustration as I had at it, banging away at different function keys muttering all the time “this thing is a pain”! Followed usually by “why couldn’t they just leave it the way it was”!

On the other hand, accessing the web today is incredibly simple as the browser interface has become ubiquitous. Why doesn't business follow this model more aggressively? Why can't all data be accessed via services as easy to learn as is supported by applications on the web?

I retreated to the hotel foyer for coffee and to watch the sidewalk; Brighton is a very popular tourist destination for the English. Next door to the hotel is the Brighton Conference Center where we will be holding the ITUG event. The Center is used throughout the year for exhibitions and concerts. Last night the Scottish comedian, Billy Connelly, was performing. I didn’t see the show but I recalled seeing billboards promoting his upcoming appearance.

Sitting having coffee, slightly elevated above the hotel entrance and just watching pedestrians passing by, I had a good view of all that was going on. Well, to my surprise Billy steps out and walks around to a new Supercharged Range Rover. The full-size one – and it was a loaner! This became pretty obvious, as he had someone lean in through the passenger-side window and walk him through the functions of all the controls. Instructions followed on how to adjust the climate controls, change the radio station, and key in destinations on the navigation screen.

Billy tried his best to follow – but didn’t give me any confidence that it was sinking in. It was hilarious just watching the level of his frustration rise. Finally, Billy just drove off, but I could tell he wasn’t confident that he could stay warm, listen to his music, or find his way back!

While my frustrations over using a different PDA probably weren’t as big an issue as Billy’s trying to use all the “enhanced features” found in today’s modern cars – it makes me begin to wonder. Has ease-of-use become over-engineering abuse? Have the folks in charge of simplifying our lives fallen in love with the engineering itself, and have our perceived needs to be entertained overridden important basic functions? I want to make a phone call! I just want to drive the car!

Before I joined GoldenGate I was engaged at my previous employer at looking at open source usage, and whether the company could standardize on just one open source “stack”, or framework. Following a number of acquisitions, as well as the move to languages like Java and C++, the company found itself with developers using a collection of different tools and frameworks. Theses developers were a pretty decent lot, but it was getting tough for even the best of them to adjust to the peculiarities that are inherent with each framework they came up against. Standardizing on just one would surely make their lives a lot better!

As I looked at the options, it quickly became obvious to me that there was no easy answer – each framework brought with it different sets of problems. There were licensing issues – GPL, LGPL, ASL, etc. There were different OS requirements – moving outside of Linux opened a whole truckload of issues. And finding support for all the different file structures and data bases in use across the company product line turned out to be extremely difficult.

Programmers are comfortable working with frameworks they have used for some time. When they first encounter a new platform the first thing they check out is the tools and frameworks that it supports. The learning curve is considerable before you can get the full value from any tool or framework – productivity gains come with the experience of constant re-use. Since you know an environment, and how to wring the most from it, there are occasions where you overlook a platform simply because it doesn’t support the tools and frameworks with which you are most comfortable.

The frameworks that are familiar to the graduates coming out of school often aren’t an option for the NonStop platform. Sure, you can mandate that development will use .NET or a Java model like Eclipse – but today, many packages we look at pre-requisite a framework running on the target server itself. The third party is familiar with them and their support organizations depend on them. Enthusiasm for that platform can then wane quickly.

Billy is not only a funny comic but he’s pretty smart as well, and for him to struggle as he did was something to see! Just as I was uncomfortable with a different PDA, Billy wrestled with the complexities he found in today’s modern car, and so it is that most of us take time to figure out how to use a tool or leverage a framework. Shouldn’t we be spending our time addressing the requirements of our business more than re-working our code? Shouldn’t our NonStop servers be transparent to the graduates out of school wanting to develop solutions?

I just want to drive the car! I just want to be warm and listen to my music. And I really want to be able to get back! Do I really need to master a new interface and be restricted in what I can do because of a car’s layout and the knowledge that’s needed to sort through all the nuances that each manufacturer has developed?

Why is it that the more we try to be clever, the more our execution ends up being dumb! It’s time we worked harder on pushing our systems back behind simplified, more broadly-accepted industry-standard frameworks so that we can bring the NonStop server into play and to address our business problems!

There is much anticipation that with web services and increased support of Services-Oriented Architecture (SOA) the interface into any application, even those running on NonStop, will be greatly simplified. The ease with which we navigate the web, and retrieve data today, should be replicated across all business environments and in so doing, help dummies like me get to what I need to see.

I just want to be doing my job, and not spend time getting familiar with yet another set of tools, particularly one that is unlikely to be found anywhere else!


Jimbo said...

your post:Shouldn’t we be spending our time addressing the requirements of our business more than re-working our code? Shouldn’t our NonStop servers be transparent to the graduates out of school wanting to develop solutions?

This is the reason the buzz you hear now is all BPM and SOA.This is not unique to our industry or our NonStops.
We are spending tremendous energy and money to make the systems (toys) we use make sense to more of us. Just further evidence to me that the hardware is reaching it's limits and has far outstripped the soft side of IT. Now it's time for the software vendors to step up again. And on the cycle goes.

RT Writer said...


That's a bit bold - the hardware is reaching its limits. Ummm ... I think there's a lot more to come.

But your point about software vendors (need) to step up again. Not sure what you mean here - functionality, I assume? But is there more?

Finally, yes, our NonStop servers should become transparent and a lot of what we are doing in the frameworks and tools area I sense will help this accelerate.

Anonymous said...

I have to take issue with this. It is all about time and age.

The software industry is still in its infancy. It was less than 70 years ago when ENIAC appeared on the scene, less than 60 years since the transistor, less than 50 years since the first attempt at a common language, COBOL, less than 40 years since the development of the POSIX standard. We are still "babes in the woods."

We are just beginning to feel the first waves of compressed time in a rapidly changing world. Platforms, environments, UI's cannot and will not remain the same... unless we want stagnation. Get used to it.

I suggest reading John Brunner's Future Shock. Some will keep up, and some will fall behind. It is just the way of the world.

Palmer King