Why Free Training Is Good

Back in the good old days, when MS Office simply was Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access, we all knew what Office was and why we needed it.  It was similar with other market leading programs such as WordPerfect and Lotus 123, Photoshop, QuickBooks or PeachTree, etc.

By my list of software above you may be trying to figure out what I mean by "way back when".  Let’s pinpoint this time period as cerca 1995.

The world was great.  Well, not great, but it was less confusing. :)  For the general consumer there was only a few operating systems to choose from, one or two office packages, etc.

Back then we knew we needed Microsoft Word or Word Perfect.  We knew we needed Excel or Lotus 123.  If we wanted to know how to use it we bought a book, took a class, or (gasp!) read the manual.  Yeah, manuals were actual paper books bundled with the software back then too.  This meant that companies could charge for in-depth books and training programs for their software.  It was the "if you build it people will pay to learn how to use it" era.

Now come back to the present.  It’s a lot more complicated.  Do I use Office Home and Student, Standard, Small Business, Professional or Ultimate?  What about this Open Office thing I keep hearing about?  What in the world is Groove, InfoPath, OneNote and why do I care?  People keep telling me that OneNote changed their entire work process.  How?

Notice I’m just sticking to the MS family (except for the Open Office reference I threw in there).  It seems like with every new version Microsoft throws a new product or two into the Office family.  If I were to list all the non-MS alternatives this post would be a mile long.

So, what’s Microsoft’s answer?  As you probably have noticed much of the Office website (and really any major Microsoft product site these days) is mostly devoted to helping you understand what each product does and how to use it.  It’s still pretty confusing, but there is a wealth of how-to articles, videos, webinars, trial demos and sometimes even online interactive demos.  All free.

It’s not like the world woke up and suddenly Microsoft realized they needed to convince us why to buy their product.  That has always been the case.  It’s just now they are freely telling us how to actually use it.  That’s great. 

This is definitely more of an industry trend.  Most software companies offer free product demos, videos and training on their website.  In fact, if a new product can’t show me in a 5 minute video why I would want to use their software I tend to move on.

It’s nice to be able to spend a half an hour in the morning beefing up on a new product.  I’m trying to set this as a weekly (perhaps daily) habit.  Currently I’m a OneNote training junkie.  🙂

ESRI’s ArcGIS still in the 80’s

This is an argument I’ve had ever since using the ESRI products almost 3 years ago.

ESRI by far is the leader in GIS software. They literally helped to make the industry what it is today.

Unfortunately a lot of the code base still is back in the stone-age (technically speaking).

The ESRI products are your typical “kitchen sink” set of applications. They do anything and everything for everyone. The software we use at our school district is the exact same software used by small business, big business, emergency services, utility services and military. The only differentiation is our data and plug-ins.

That’s nice in one sense. I really like having the power of the “big guys” at my finger tips when I want to use it. However, that’s a problem for customer service and developer support. ESRI makes money by developing the new hot features requested by their customers. When Google Maps came on the scene ESRI had to play catch-up really quick to offer an AJAX ready online product. They still haven’t met the mark but they’re trying.

Anyway, the problem is that no one (AFAIK) is maintaining the old code base. This means that the old bugs and usability issues are going untouched. Unless there is a bug or UI problem that is really significant it is put on the “do later” pile.

This is most evident in performance. We are getting ready to install ArcGIS 9.3 on a new set of servers when it is released in the next month or so. So at the last User Conference in San Diego I asked some of the ESRI techs what our server specs should be. They replied “lots and lots of RAM and a high-end CPU”. Notice that CPU was singular. The ESRI code base has been untouched other than bug fixes for years. Even when they moved to higher precision data storage in 9.2 they didn’t go back and update any of the original foundation code. The tech confirmed that ArcGIS products take no advantage of multiple cores or multiple CPUs at all. Ugh!

There is some performance gains if you use a SQL backend for your data or through your web server since these do have multiprocessor support. But as for actual GIS processing, no such luck.

This last comment is helping to fuel our interest in SQL 2008. If you know anything about me, then you probably know I’ve been playing with the new spatial features of SQL 2008 for several months now. ESRI is going to support SQL 2008 when it launches. Hopefully this means that ESRI will be pushing a lot of the processing work back onto the native SQL platform rather than on my desktop.

We’ll see and I’ll keep you updated as we progress.

If you’re going to the ESRI User Conference this year drop me an email and we can meet up.

ReSharper 4.0 Released!

It’s official!!!!  ReSharper 4.0 has just been released.

This is by far one of the best (and coolest) tools available for Visual Studio.  If you have never heard of, or had a chance to experience, ReSharper then you owe it to yourself to click the link below and check it out.  This tool has made me a better developer both in quality and performance.  I’m definitely a student of TDD, refactoring, patterns, etc.  ReSharper makes using these practices so incredibly easy it just becomes a part of your work.

ReSharper is one of those tools that when you work on someone else’s machine you feel like you’re in the stone age.  Or if you see a presentation and the presenter doesn’t have ReSharper you constantly think "Come on man!  I could have coded that in half the time!"

There’s no way to do it justice here.  Just check it out.

I’ve been using JetBrains software since IntelliJ back when I was a Java programmer.  Every Java dev has their favorite IDE and IntelliJ was mine.  I was sold the instant I ran it.  When I moved over to .Net, honestly, one of the biggest sore points was loosing IntelliJ.  Now with VS 2008 and ReSharper I feel at home again.

Boy, this really sounded like a commercial, huh?  sorry about that.  I’ll try and keep it to a minimum next time.  But if you’re a ReSharper user already I’m sure you understand. 🙂

ReSharper:: The Most Intelligent Add-In To Visual Studio


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ShowMyPC.com – Instant Desktop Sharing and Access Remote PC Free

I just found out about ShowMyPC.  I had to call into support for one of our app servers at work and  the tech used this software to remotely control my machine.

That’s no big deal.  I’m sure most of us have done this.  What got me was that this was totally free.

Since I don’t really consult anymore 90% of my remote troubleshooting calls are from customers like "wife", "mom" or "mother-in-law".  🙂 I don’t like the idea of spending a monthly subscription fee so that I can help troubleshoot my family and friends.

So my current strategy is I have hamachi installed on all my personal machines and those of my families.  I then use RealVNC to jump in whenever they need me.  It’s been working great.  however, the setup is a pain, especially if the user needs help right away.

The next time I’ll be trying ShowMyPC.  As the website says it’s a free alternative to GoToMyPC and such. 

To use it just go to their website.  For your users they click on the top link:


You simply click on the 2nd link (it’s really just the same target):


Once you click Run you get the following dialog:


Your user clicks the Show My PC Now button and a random password is generated. They tell you this password over the phone.

You click the View a Remote PC button, type in the password, and that’s it!

This is a great tool for quickly helping out simple problems and impromptu calls.

Of course they do have premium features that they charge for, such as branding, using your own secure SSH server, etc.  But for helping out with a quick and dirty question like "my printer isn’t working" this is great.

I still like my hamachi setup for when I need to get into a computer that is unattended or for more advanced features.  I’m sure others of you have similar setups with your program of choice.  But maybe the next time your 4th cousin who doesn’t know how to use the digital camera your 3rd cousin just got them, you can start up ShowMyPC and get them up and running.

ShowMyPC.com – Instant Desktop Sharing and Access Remote PC Free

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Interviews on TechZulu

I just found out about TechZulu because Geoffrey Emery is involved.  He ended up interviewing a lot of us at the SQL 2008 Firestarter event in Irvine, CA. 

 Swing on by as they have a lot of great interviews from developers and other contributers to technology.

I know that James Johson is really pulling for them to video our IE .Net User Group MVP event in July.  So, Geoffrey, Efren and the rest, come on and do it! 🙂

 Here’s a list of interviews from the Firestarter event (in no particular order – well maybe all except mine):

Matt Penner (your’s truly)
James Johnson (IE .Net UG President)
Lynn Langit (MS Developer Evangelist)
Joey Snow (IT Pro Evangelist)
Stephen Rose (MS MVP)

Searching for a past committed file in SVN

Recently a colleague asked me how to search for a file in SVN. Apparently someone on the team had deleted it and then committed the project. Unfortunately no one knew who or when and it was now causing a problem.

If you use TortoiseSVN there is a really great way to get a lot of information on your revisions, including searching for files.

Simply right-click on the project folder (not the repository folder), go to the TortoiseSVN menu and click Show Log.


This will bring up a log browser for every revision on the project. You can select a revision in the top pane, see the log messages in the middle pane and all files modified for that particular revision in the bottom pane.

What’s even better is on the top right is a search textbox.


My friend typed the name of the file in the textbox and voila! Any revision that had an action on that file showed up. They were able to easily find out exactly when the file was deleted and who deleted it.

<promotion author:self type:shameless>

I’ll be doing a quick intro on using SVN and TortoiseSVN at the IE .Net User’s Group in Riverside on July 8th. If you’ve ever wondered about using SVN or version control in general stop on by!