Sunday, May 27, 2018

Microsoft's Office Productivity Software

An Unexpected Surprise

Some time after we released PK Harmony at Synex, several of the people I had known there left, and went to work for Microsoft.

One day, I got an unexpected package in the mail from Microsoft. It was a pretty big box.  In it was software diskettes and user guides for two products. One was Microsoft Excel version 3.0 and the other was Microsoft Word 1.2.

They both came with hard cover user guides that were about the size of a standard letter sized paper sheet.  They had complete descriptions of all the commands and options in the books.

Vastly Improved Word Processing

Prior to getting these programs, I had Lotus 1-2-3 for spreadsheet work, and when I needed to create documentation, I used a primitive program called RUNOFF which had been ported to Microdata.

At Synex, we had people doing technical writing using products like Pagemaker and Ventura Publisher, so I was familiar with WYSIWYG editors, but they were expensive and I didn't have one myself. That all changed when I got MS Word.  I got some great pointers from our technical writers on how to leverage styles, which I use to this day.

In high school I had taken a typing course, largely to fill in a gap, but because I thought it would be cool. The result was that I was one of the few programmers who actually knew how to type (most did chop-sticks typing - two index fingers) and as a result I could type very quickly.

Microsoft Office Suite

In a few short years, Microsoft bundled Word, Excel, PowerPoint and for the professional version, Access, all in a single bundle called Microsoft Office.  Microsoft continued to send me free versions to work with, including a standalone Word 6.0 version that could install on DOS or OS/2 Presentation Manager. (You didn't actually need Windows to run early versions of MS Word.)

Because of PK Harmony, and the need to support Mail-merge and other automation features, I began to become quite expert in these desktop productivity products, like Lotus 1-2-3, WordPerfect and others.  We did a lot of macro programming to automate loading data into these programs from people's Business BASIC and PICK systems.

I could write technical documentation and get it 75% of the way there. The technical writers did the last 25% of the formatting and cleanup, giving it that professional shine.

Object Linking and Embedding and Component Object Model

As Microsoft developed their operating system platform, a new approach to integrating applications began to appear.  Through Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) and Component Object Model (COM) an application could expose its functionality so that another program could easily integrate with it.

Just a few years ago, I used the Microsoft Excel COM automation libraries to write a C# program to extract insurance rate data from an Excel spreadsheet that the executive had used to model their next period's rates, and push it into their multivalued mvBase database that ran their insurance line of business. The program I wrote ran through and validated that the spreadsheet had the right tabs, that the tabs had the right columns, and that the columns had the right data and that the data relationships made sense.  If anything was wrong we reported a highly descriptive and detailed error and stopped. If all was good, we used our own libraries, licensed by the user, to construct multivalued records and write them to the appropriate staging file (all done in C# - we had a library of multivalue dynamic array handling methods written in C#). The customer would check that file and validate it before replacing the live file with the data we uploaded.

Before OLE and COM, we would have required access to the source code for Excel, or would have had to export the data using a macro, or most likely would have hired someone to data enter it all.

Microsoft Office Today

Today, we have Office 365. While you get access to fat-client programs that you install and run on your device, you can store your data in the cloud, and use slightly limited web versions of the software from anywhere.  What's more, my subscription allows me to have Word and Excel running on my laptop, my Mac, my iPad and my iPhone, and they can access data on OneDrive, so they can all access the same information. I can switch where I'm working and continue where I left off!

As you may have guessed, I'm a great fan of the Microsoft Office suite of products.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Microsoft MVP Reconnect

A New Community from Microsoft

The other day, my colleague, who is a current Microsoft MVP, told me about a program that Microsoft was putting together to bring past MVPs together in a community. The program is called MVP Reconnect.

I was awarded Microsoft MVP status for two different areas: The first area was ODBC, the second was for Win32.  Both of these are far enough back that Microsoft doesn't have records, so I had to pull up and email them scans of the various letters I had received in 1995 and in 2000 for my MVP awards.  About a week ago (May 2018) I was accepted in the MVP Reconnect community.

® Microsoft is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries.

MVP for ODBC Contributions

Back in 1995 when the Microsoft ODBC forum was hosted on the Compuserve network, I found that I answered more questions than I asked when I was on there. As a person who developed and deployed ODBC based solutions, and write ODBC drivers and back-end server software to serve the SQL syntax that was key to ODBC, I found that I had a unique understanding of how the middleware worked, so I was able to help many people with answers, regardless what driver or applications they were using.

Back in the day, some of the most prolific members of that forum included Microsoft employees: Murali Venkatrao, and Mike Pizzo, and non-Microsoft people: Lee Fesperman, Ronald Laeremans, Charles, McDevitt, Rob Macdonald, Mark Edwards and Dale Hunscher.  And many more whose names don't come to me now.  Between us we helped a lot of people in the early days of ODBC.

Microsoft release ODBC 1.0 in 1992. Unfortunately, the first ODBC-compatible versions of their Office suite really didn't play well with anyone else's ODBC drivers. Their applications only supported their own drivers. It was the next version of Office that finally provided real ODBC connectivity.

By 1995, my contributions were recognized, and I became an MVP (the program started in 1993, I believe.)  This award continued until they moved all Microsoft forums from Compuserve to MSN in 1998.  Unfortunately, I was running on Windows NT, and you needed Windows 95 to access MSN, which had a proprietary front-end application, so I got knocked off the network. Even if I had had access, no one posted any questions to the MSN network.  I continued to respond on the Compuserve network and the ODBC forum owners gave me free access for several years beyond that because of my contributions.

MVP for Win32

Then in 2000, I was awarded MVP status again, because of contributions I was making to Win32 developer forums.  That was before .NET was released, and I was doing a lot of C++ development.

MVP Reconnect

With all the attendant perks, and the chance to reconnect with some community minded industry experts, this was a pleasant surprise! I'm looking forward to interacting with this community!