November 1, 1998
By Scott Lewis
Those of you following along on my development of a new 32 bit version of my client/server application will be disappointed to know that I missed my deadline. The project was supposed to be completed by the end of October. I am hoping to complete it by the end of the first week of November.
I am not too concerned with the delay. Most of it is due to a lack of requirements. If you recall, I built this new application without any requirements (and now we see a big reason why). But once the application was given approval to go into production, I have been asking for input from the project sponsors.
As usual, they are dragging things out so much that they only gave me incomplete requirements two days before the deadline. Go figure. I should be able to get pretty close to finished with what I have, but I may not be able to finish it before the end of the first week of November.
This will not be good. I am going to Oracle Open World in San Francisco the second week of November. Needless to say (but obviously I am saying it anyway), November is going to be a very busy month.
Converting help 32 Bit
Part of converting the application to 32 Bit meant converting the help file over to 32 Bit. We use a product called Help Magician. We are running version 4.0 (now). Unfortunately Help Magician could not convert its own files over from the 16 Bit version. I ended up loading both versions on a computer and running them side by side to copy and paste each page on the help file. Over 200 pages. Not fun.
This did not go easy either. Help Magician would error after every paste operation that had a link in it. It required me to shut down both versions of the tool, and restart them. Sometimes it would require me to reboot the computer as well. It took a long time. But at least it worked, finally.
Maintenance of the help file is left with out project sponsors, since it is their content. They have not done the greatest job maintaining the file. I had to correct a lot of things, add a lot of stuff that has been missing for a while, and add a lot of information to reflect the new application. I am leaving a lot of topics something like this... "Stuff on Blah Blah Blah goes here." When I complete the structure of the help file, I will turn it back over to the sponsors to complete the wording of many things. Heck, they would change my wording anyway, so why bother.
Help Magician is a true WYSIWYG help development tool. However, there is no index for finding your way around. Each topic is a page in the tool. And it is up to you to know where you left stuff. I am up to 260 pages, and still going. I may top 300. This is difficult to manage, and we will be looking at Robo Help in the near future. Robo Help 5.2 (the latest version I could see) has a great Explorer like tree for all its topics. This makes finding things easy. However, you are left editing the RTF file in Word alongside Robo Help. If you have ever seen the RTF file as needed to compile a Windows Help file, you know that you are looking at a lot of cryptic code along with your content. Trust me, I would rather build/maintain a 260+ web site in hand coded HTML than work on an RTF file to be compiled into a Windows Help.
Supposedly Robo Help 6.0, the current version, is a true WYSIWYG tool. We will buy a copy, as well as get the latest version of Help Magician, now at 4.5, and compare them. May the best tool win. Once we decide which tool to use, we will have our sponsors buy a few copies so they can take over maintaining the help file again. This evaluation will probably take place in January. I'll let you know what I think then.
I mentioned earlier that I will be attending Oracle Open World. The event is taking place in San Francisco Nov. 8 - 12. I plan on attending as many OLAP (Online Analytical Processing) sessions related to the Oracles Express product line, with most of my emphasis on bring that to the web.
I will be spending the rest of the year building an Intranet site that will gradually replace my client/server application. It will be an uphill climb, but I am looking forward to it.
I was hoping to tell you how many workstations we pushed through SMS. Unfortunately we haven't received the updated list of users yet. We have performed a number of installs by pulling the installation. I keep a backup copy of the entire installation on the LAN drive that holds our project files. Since users must map this drive, it is easy to do a quick pull when necessary.
When pulling the application to a couple of the workstations I found a slight problem with the load for Windows NT. It seams that WinInstall capture the shortcut to the Windows help engine incorrectly. WinInstall saw the icon created with the path to the help engine as C:\WINNT. WinInstall replaced this with its own variable. Well this variable got put into the final icon, and Windows NT does not recognize this variable. I manually edited the shortcut in the WinInstall load, and solved the problem.
Not bad as far as installs go. The package will still need to be refreshed on the SMS servers, but that should not be much of a problem. Next month I should be able to let you know how well everything goes through SMS.
I snagged a new computer at work. We hired a consultant to help us convert our databases from version 5.01 to 6.2 of Express Server. He will also help me build our Intranet site. My manager requested a computer for him to use. They setup a new 400 MHz Pentium II with 128 MB RAM, 5 GB hard drive, and 19" Monitor. Before the consultant could get to the computer, I switched the computer with my own. I had a Pentium 166 MHz with 64 MB RAM, 4 GB hard drive, and a 21" Monitor. Yes, I kept my monitor. No need to downgrade anything.
The new computer is blazingly fast compared to the old one. It has made compiling my help file a huge improvement. I love a new machine. When I get back from Open World I will start bugging my manager for a new laptop. The lease is up on it in January or February, and it takes six weeks to get another. So he should order the replacement before the end of the year. I think we are getting 300 MHz Pentium II units for high end laptops on our leasing program. That will be nice. I'll let you know how that goes.
One neat thing about the new computer is the mouse. It is and IBM machine and the mouse says IBM on the top, but I think it was made by Logitech. It has a little scroll pointer between the buttons. It feels like the pointing device on IBM's ThinkPad computers. With drivers installed it will scroll almost any application. It would similar to the Microsoft Intellimouse, but a little better in some ways. Since it is a pressure sensitive stick, you don't have to keep scolling your finger. Just maintain pressure on the pointer and you keep scrolling. Scrolling speed is dependent how much pressure is applied. Another plus is the ability to scroll left and right. I know it won't be used much, but like they say... it's nice to know it's there.
A Little on Windows 98
I was planning on telling you more about Windows 98. But I just don't have much to tell. I like its Active Desktop, and I run a small Stock Ticker on it. Next month I will give you the HTML document to use yourself. I hacked it from Microsoft's site, and it works pretty well. I will explain more next month.
I am looking for a news service that can has a good news ticker that can be put into a page by itself. Then I could add it to my Active Desktop. I will start looking after Open World.
Other than that, I don't have much to say about Windows 98. I like the status indicator when coping/moving multiple files. It should one progress for all the files, instead of resetting the progress indicator for each file. It has been very stable for me, and it does shut down really fast.
The following move tease is from last month...
One last note: We are moving again. I know, they just reconfigured (compressed) our workstations. Well they are doing it again, except we are moving to another section of the building. Next month I will tell you about the move and tell you how many times I have moved since being with the company. Anyone want to guess how many times I have moved. Here are two clues... 1) I have been here a little more than 4 years, and 2) I have moved more than 4 times. Send guesses here. The person that guesses correctly will win the distinction of being mention in this column next month.
No one guessed the right number. What is it? 6. But that's OK, since we didn't move this time. The day before the move, word game down that we were staying, at least for the moment. We did hear that a large area is moving off campus. Our company is expanding at such a great rate they are running out of places to put people.
This might affect me. The unit we were on loan to for over a year is part of the area to move off campus. This means one of three things. 1) They may want us to move with them. 2) They may have the other unit stay behind. 3) They will split us up, and we will no longer be able to leverage each others experience.
Well that about does it. I need to start planning the Open World trip, and finish the new briefing. Stay tuned, next month will be a dandy.