Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Writing Hiatus

I've taken a writing hiatus as RPMSCloud and other projects have consumed my time.

I still have random thoughts that should be posted, but only periodic time to write. Look for new (albeit still irregular) postings in the Fall of 2013.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Whence Microsoft?

Two years ago I wrote about purchasing my daughter a Linux-based laptop, and what it might mean for the future of Microsoft:
When Microsoft's new, rewritten operating system appears in five years or more, they will find a vastly different audience than exists even today. It will be very, very interesting to see whether they can move the market one more time.
Today I ran across an article that I think you should read:


This spring I purchased a powerful new desktop computer, with Windows 7 (64 bit) and I'm very pleased with it to date. But I'm a programmer.

My daughter brought that Linux netbook out to visit in Colorado, and she hooked right up to our wireless network, managed her E-Mail, posted some college work, and probably made a number of Facebook updates.

There will certainly be a place for desktop computers in the future. But as developers, there is no way to ignore the appeal of that little Linux notebook. Mind you, disconnected from the Internet her machine has limited appeal. But actually, my own desktop has the same problem.

Oh, I can code without an Internet connection, and can write in Word, or update an Excel spreadsheet. I can even write E-Mails, or blog articles, and save them to post when I am connected. But truthfully, without an Internet connection, I feel cut off.

I bet I'm not alone. So if we've all made that jump - where a fast Internet connection is just something that we HAVE to have, all the time - then I postulate that we are FAR more willing to consider Internet-based software than we were a few years ago. Where the software resides makes little or no difference to us. Performance, price, and suitability to task become the only measuring sticks.

I think that Microsoft will have some staying power in small and large offices. You will find Windows boxes in rep firms for many years to come. But if an application vendor ten years from now tells you that the best way to run their app locally is on a Chrome machine, that won't be nearly the issue that say Windows vs. Mac is today.

You will have employees that run Chrome computers. And you'll have a few Windows computers in your shop too. And of course, you'll have at least one sales rep that clings stubbornly to her Mac. And you will rightfully expect that your software providers be able to work with any or all of them.

As an application provider, writing multiple versions of a software solution for several operating systems is not terribly efficient. The obvious refuge is a web server, or cloud-based system that shields the developer from the vagaries of any particular local OS.

When the day comes that you can buy a Dell computer with Chrome or Linux for far less money than one with a Windows operating system, software companies without some sort of Internet-based solution will be swimming upstream.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

RPMS Version 8

The initial copies of RPMS Version 8 will begin shipping this month.

In Stage I, as I've described in various newsletters and E-Mails, we will replace the reliable but elderly Btrieve 6.15 with Pervasive PSL V10. It also represents our first Software as a Service (SaaS) offering.

It is an awesome upgrade.

We will ship the new version out slowly at first, to single-user installations, and then gradually increase the pace as we become more comfortable supporting the conversion process.

The conversion process does require that you have applied RPMS Version 7.9.10 or greater, available as of September 2009. If you're not up to that version, you'll have to go to the most recent V7 first, then apply the V8 upgrade.

Conversions are always interesting, and can be somewhat painful. We've gone through three major file system conversions over the years.

  • In 2005 we did a massive conversion for former RK Systems users to RPMS
  • In 2001 we moved our entire installation base from RPMS Versions 5 and 6 to RPMS Version 7
  • In 1988 we moved from Realia Cobol indexed files to Btrieve files as we migrated from RPMS Version 1 to Version 2.
We did many file utilities, fix-ups, patches, and file or index additions during those times to the database. For the most part those were fairly painless. 

The other major version changes to RPMS generally left the underlying file structures in place - it was just a matter of replacing a dated interface or adding new capabilities or systems. Here's the history of our major updates, as best I can remember and/or piece together:
  • RPMS Version 1 - First shipped in 1984 for PC DOS and MS DOS versions 2 or higher. This system had a black and white full screen character driven menu interface. It was largely based on what our service bureau operators used with their Singer mini computer.
  • RPMS Version 2 - 1987 - We added order management and orange color boundaries to the black screens because now we could reference VGA! I guess we liked Halloween or something.
  • RPMS Version 3 - This was our conversion to Btrieve sometime in 1988, and represented our first multi-user capable system. It was the worst and most painful conversion ever, according to the technicians, but by golly, two users could be in the system at the same time. The war with Unix for the PC desktop turned in favor of DOS.
  • RPMS Version 4 - Sometime in late 1989 or early 1990 we changed to a single file handling system. It was a big deal because it gave us more room internally to do some things within the 640K limit that DOS imposed. I remember that we could print in more places than before, because we had the memory to call the programs.
  • RPMS Version 5 - In 1992 we went to blue screens with drop down menus, completely replacing the old menu number interface with a more modern DOS look. I hand-designed all the forms on 80x25 character block paper. Sheets and sheets of it. We made users learn where the ALT key was. The drop down menus had drop-shadows. It was 3D. Sort of. But they looked pretty cool for DOS.
  • RPMS Version 6 - This was our first Windows version that shipped in 1996, and required Windows 95. We wrote it with Visual Realia, a now defunct variant of Basic, because it played nicely with Realia Cobol. Unfortunately, VR was owned by Computer Associates. They didn't play nicely with anyone.
  • RPMS Version 7 - First shipped in 2001, this was a ground-up rewrite with an all new interface and all new database. It took a long time, but was worth it  - very stable and very easy to support.
  • RPMS Version 8 - Shipping now for single users, and in the weeks ahead for all users. 
Sorry for the trip down memory lane, but I'd been meaning to write it down somewhere anyway, and the occasion of Version 8 seemed as good a reason as any.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Getting What You Pay For

As you might expect, I have several computers for which I am responsible. Counting all of them at our company, my personal machine, my wife's computer and our children's machines, I think there are seventeen total.

One that I have is a Pentium computer that I purchased through a reseller from Dash, a local computer distributor here in Kansas City, back in late 2000. It is still running flawlessly. Even so, given it's advanced age, older software and operating system, and relative lack of giddy-up, I've reduced its workload to doing one thing only - it writes and compiles VB6 code for updates to the soon-to-be-replaced  RPMS Version 7.

In fact, I'm pretty sure that machine is the second oldest computer in our domain. The oldest is a 486 that runs an ancient Novell 3.12 network to which we can still connect. We changed over to a Microsoft server back in 2003, but kept the Novell machine running "just in case." I keep thinking that I will take it down and junk it, but now it has become sort of a longevity test. It just sits in the closet with it's monochrome monitor switched off, patiently waiting for the Microsoft server to die. I'm pretty sure that Novell box is from Dash too, and dates back to 1993 or 1994.

I HAD another computer at the office that I used for E-Mail, documents, accounting, and .NET development. But I now have to replace that four-year-old Dell XPS that ran Windows XP. The motherboard went south back in January, and it cost me $75 with my local computer tech to figure that out. That was better than a bad hard drive I guess, but getting a new board is hardly worth the time and trouble, and might necessitate a reformat of my drive anyway. So bottom line, I'm in the market for another computer.

(I've temporarily replaced the XPS with a Dell Vista laptop that our bookkeeper no longer uses. It's fine, but VERY slow to boot and shut down, which Vista seems to want it to do for updates about weekly.)

I'm not a computer reseller, so I can't go to Dash directly, but I would really like to go back to them one way or another for my new Windows 7 computer. Read this article, especially if you're one of our many electronic components reps:


Who knew?  I used to get computers from resellers that went through Dash all the time, back in the eighties and nineties. But then I stopped. I suppose it was just a dollars and cents thing, because the PC had seemed to become a commodity, with one more or less the same as another. I thought the battle was really about the best software or network.

And now I've re-discovered that the computer really does matter. It's just that it will take you a couple of years to figure that out.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Protectionism and the Balance of Trade

I read a new post by Pat Buchanon titled The Disemboweling of America. As is his wont, Mr. Buchanon rails against free trade, cementing his position in some circles as our chief xenophobe. Let me summarize:

  • Nations seem to rise to power while protecting their industry - Great Britain, the US, Stalin's Russia, postwar Japan, and China today
  • Nations appear to decline in power as they embrace free trade - see the above list, and consider Great Britain, and the state of the US economy since NAFTA
I've always been a free trade guy. But I also always thought that the Balance of Trade said a lot more about our nation's relative fiscal strength than the trade deficit. Service businesses like mine don't count when we tabulate the so-called 'trade deficit'. Even though we sell a little software and support to Canada, Mexico, and a few other countries, we're not included in that trade measurement.

And that is true for innumerable US businesses. If you work for a company that provides engineering services internationally; or you educate foreign students in our country (or run an American school overseas); or provide sales representation or distribution for a Chinese manufacturer, you don't count. 

I've always been mildly irritated by that. When pundits decry the trade deficit to make some political point or another, I always wonder why they don't look at the Balance of Trade. Shouldn't what any of us sell internationally count?

So because of Buchanon's article, I thought I'd have a look at it. I found the Bureau of Economic Analysis site, and downloaded a couple of their spreadsheets.

In 2009 we exported a shade over a trillion dollars worth of goods (that's a thousand billion, by the way) and imported just over 1.5 trillion or so. That's about on par with what Buchanon said it would be - a 500 billion dollar trade deficit. 

I figured that we'd more or less make it up in services. I figured wrong. In services, yes, we exported half a trillion. But we imported better than 370 billion. And that made our Current BOT deficit 380 billion for 2009! 

How in the world (literally) did we import more than 370 billion dollars of services? Like this:
  • 72.6 billion of travel
  • 25.5 billion of passenger fares
  • 54.2 billion of other transportation
  • 24.5 billion of royalties and license fees
  • 153.8 billion of other private services
  • 35.8 billion of direct defense expenditures
  • 4.7 billion of government miscellaneous services
The one that sticks out like a sore thumb is Other Private Services. You know what those services are, even if you didn't know that's what they were called. Here's a sample of Other Private Services:
Help desk with Indian accent: - "Thank you for calling technical support, my name is Maverick, how may I assist you today?" 
Me: "Well, hello there Maverick, what's your last name?"
Help desk: "I don't know, they haven't given it to me yet." 
I really wanted to ask him how Ice Man was doing, but I bit my witty tongue. And there's more to private services of course, but the international outsourcing of tech support, computer programming, engineering, telecom, radiology, and plenty of other services, aided by the the Internet, has put my old stand-by Balance of Trade argument out to pasture. The Balance of Trade now sucks too, and it has for a while.

Our imports of foreign services overall have increased 210 percent in the last 17 years. But the segment called Other Private Services has by itself increased over 500% in that same time! It is by far the fastest growing segment of our services imports, and it means one major thing:


When we travel to foreign countries, we give piecemeal financial support to other nations. And I've always thought that's fine. It's neat to travel, and it's great that international tourists come here too. And if I buy some software from a German company that is the best suited for what we want to do, and that helps my American product work better in Italy - well, that's the upside for my customers of me paying a license fee to a foreign company.

But should we out-source our programming and technical support jobs because it is cheaper?

Henry Ford understood that the employees of his company would and should also be his best customers. And further, those employees would then have the means to purchase any number of product created in the American Industrial age.

I don't think that we should force companies to 'hire American.' But I would sure like to see us do two things to quit killing ourselves in the Balance of Trade for these Other Private Services.

  • First, eliminate federal and state minimum wage laws. Those laws are job killers, plain and simple. We would shrink the labor pool so fast and put more Americans to work with that one measure than virtually any other thing we could do. 
  • Second, require employers that import labor via Other Private Services to pay employer social security and medicare tax on those purchases. The employer tax is essentially a government tariff on our domestic labor pool. If we don't have the political will to get rid of it, at least impose it on internationals that want to work over here via the Internet and telephone. I know that isn't a very 'free trade' idea - but it has more political potential than asking our government to eliminate that tax.
Otherwise, if all of us in this digital age purchase our Other Private Services from overseas, instead of hiring local workers, what exactly will America become? 

Friday, December 11, 2009

New Ideas for January 2010

We're going to pop in another quick update in January. We've had some nice new ideas that we're going to incorporate.
  • Multi-value snapshots will now export to a single Excel worksheet, or multiple sheets with formulas - your choice.
  • Sales reps names will be loaded onto the lists for the customer list and, if not split among multiple reps, the commission reconciliation list
  • The reorganization of the sales history file (RPYTDSA) will automatically delete history transaction records for years that have no values. This should reduce the number of zero value entities reported on summary, history, and snapshot reports.
We've had a lot of good feedback on the Imap system. The number one request has been to add product and/or point of sale to the system. We'll try to squeeze that one in for January also.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Excuse the Mess

Sorry for the trouble with the blog. I deleted an old gmail address, not knowing that to do so would irrevocably delete my older blog sites.

Ouch. Fortunately (or not, depending on whether you like to read what I write) the sites and the various blogs were indexed by google, among others, so I have been able to re-capture the content, and will re-post it over time.

My old blog site for business, RPMSLLC.blogspot.com, is now therefore in some sort of limbo, so I can't use it right now. But even that has a silver lining, as due to some corporate re-structuring the company name RPMS LLC is no longer how we're known. Nowadays Uncle Sam, Kansas, and our bank knows us as RepSoft LLC. Thus, the new domain for the blog.

Short lesson - be careful when you delete your @gmail E-Mail addresses. You only think you know what you're doing.