Posts Tagged ‘tools’

Getting it right or “You can’t fix stupid”

May 15, 2010

As a sailor, I know that if you try to cross an ocean in a boat that is not seaworthy (i.e. safe) you are likely to die. No reasonable person would ever dream of leaving port without at least attempting to make his vessel as prepared as time and resources permit.

Why is it that so many businesses routinely try to skate by with obsolete and or inadequate software? Is it that they somehow feel that the consequences of failure are not as dire (Heck, if we go bankrupt our employees don’t die and besides most of them will end up getting jobs elsewhere; sooner or later)? Or is it that they think it just doesn’t matter (Heck our programmers and systems don’t help us get customers or make money so why waste resources on them)?

In my case I can’t afford to go bankrupt, and without software I have no customers, so I guess I am in a different league. That is why I love software and systems that just work. I don’t mean “kinda sorta work” or “works most of the time”; I mean stuff that I can count on and allows me to do world class work.

Allow me to give you a couple of examples of what I am talking about.

First I generally write software that works with the Microsoft Windows family (web servers and Windows clients). If I were programming for iPhones or Unix I would use different tools, but that is not where I focus. Since I live or die in a Microsoft environment, it only makes sense to have the best tools for that environment. Fortunately Microsoft makes that extremely cheap and easy for me via their Bizspark program. My development computer is running Windows 7, Visual Studio 2010 ultimate edition and Office 2010. It’s quite simply a no brainer for me. Yet I routinely speak with developers working for large companies (who could easily afford these tools for their developers) who are saddled with seven year old compilers (Visual Studio 2003) and incapable of producing software meeting current standards. They often ask “But do you really need tools that good, after all we are not trying to produce world class software at our company, it is for internal use and management only wants ‘good enough’”. My response is that if all you want is mediocrity and are happy giving your profits and market share to your competitors (who choose to be more than mediocre), then I hope you have saved a lot of money in the bank because your job is not secure. Bottom line, Bizspark is a great program, join it if you can, and use the best tools available.

Another invaluable tool is Beyond Compare, a FTP client from Scooter Software. I have the pro version which costs $50 and worth every penny. Now I know many of you are thinking “Aren’t there lots of free FTP clients and besides isn’t FTP support built into Windows?” The answer is yes on both counts! So why pay $50 for something I already had for free in Windows? Because Beyond Compare has the best error handling and recovery for FTP I have ever found. You only have to start uploading a set of files (such as for a new website) to a server once or twice where it dies in the middle of an hour long session to see the value of using a product you can set and forget, knowing that when you come back from lunch it will have succeeded perfectly. Another great feature of this product is Scooter Software. This is all they do, and when you contact them with a question you get an answer from the developer who writes it, not some clueless technician in a far off land for whom English is a second language.

Lest you think I am advocating solely for paid software allow me to mention a great product that is available for free beta testing: namely Chrometa. What this simple program does is run unobtrusively in the background and log what you do on your computer. It’s primary purpose is for people who need to bill their time and need to track it by client or project. The primary benefit for me is being able to go back and “re-discover” what I found previously. For example, “What was the URL of the website I went to yesterday that had the sample code for LZW compression?” It’s all there in the history, a real life saver when you need to find something again.

Anyway I have two computers on my desk, and use browsers on both of them. Because of this to answer a question like this I need to look at Chrometa’s history log on both computers (Heck, if I can’t remember the URL am I going to remember computer I used to find it!). Anyway I submitted a question asking if they had considered a feature allowing one to view logs consolidated across multiple computers. I was pleasantly surprised when I got an email back from JP Ren, the co-founder and product manager explaining that that feature was currently under development!

Is it smart to run your company/business/life on software that is obsolete and no longer supported (Think old versions of Microsoft Windows that are no longer being maintained)? I don’t think so. For me, having the best products available (note that I did not say most expensive) coupled with reasonable access to meaningful product support is the only way to turn out world class software products and service.

So a big thank you to these three firms, large and small,that provide the tools that permit me to do the best job possible.

Do you work for a company that doesn’t give you the tools you need to do a great job? Well I guess it’s like they say, you can’t fix stupid. Rest assured that in the long run smart beats stupid though.