Tuesday, June 07, 2005

FoxPro: What does the name mean to customers?

What does the word “FoxPro” mean to your customers? In the last year I have contracted to two different IT departments to assist the developers in supporting and enhancing their applications. These two clients have provided me an interesting perspective to what FoxPro means in the business community.

Customer one has a staff of five developers and several contractors working on supporting a FoxPro DOS application, which has been around since the late 1980’s. They have several applications making up the core mission critical system supporting a company of more than 500 employees and revenues which would blow your socks off. At the same time the developers are trying to migrate the application to the latest version of VFP and SQL Server. This process has been started several times and now the company has part of their application in FoxPro DOS and the other part in Visual FoxPro (sharing a common set of DBF tables).

Soon after starting at this client, I was sitting in the conference room working on a module for the VFP application. One of the employees poked his head in and asked me, “Are you the guy who has FoxPro as his license plate?” I gave him an affirmative answer and he proceeded to warn me that I should park my car somewhere else, and not in the company lot unless I wanted it damaged. I was shocked! I asked why and was told that many of the employees hated FoxPro! This was not one of the developers; this was one of the users. The users referred to the custom application as “FoxPro”, not as the application. Since there are parts of the app that are suffering from lack of attention there are users who are not 100% satisfied. In fact, some of the users wanted to take out their frustration on the FoxPro car! The users throughout the company refer to the system as FoxPro 2.6 and FoxPro 6.0, not by a custom application name or acronym.

In February this year I started working as a consultant at a multi-billion dollar, publicly traded company. The director of systems development introduced me as a “FoxPro Expert” to several people as we walked around the office. When a support call comes in and the Help Desk determines it has something to do with one of the many FoxPro applications, I get assigned to a ticket to investigate and recommend a solution. I have been assigned numerous tickets to solve. At the same time several people have popped their head into my cube or called me. The typical conversation goes something like this: “I hear you are an expert on FoxPro. I have a question to ask if you have a couple of minutes.” Now talking about FoxPro is something I really enjoy and of course was ready to help out. The users then proceeded to ask me a detailed question about some process in one of the applications. When I shrug my shoulders and tell them I will look into it, they are appalled that I did not have expertise I was allegedly hired to have and show. They too associate the name FoxPro with the company’s mission critical applications.

I have clients who know nothing about Fox or the fact they have a FoxPro application running on their computers. I have other clients who know Visual FoxPro is the tool I use to create their application, but still refer to the app by the name or acronym. Until recently my dad thought I owned “FoxPro” since it was on my license plate.

So how do your customers see the name FoxPro? Do they see it as the application they use all day, or is it just the world’s best database application development tool their developers use?


At 6/07/2005 06:23:00 PM, Blogger k.i.v. said...

My situation is almost exactly as you describe. I'm sick of it...

At 10/20/2005 04:13:00 PM, Anonymous Shawn White said...

I have spent the last few years building commercial software, not consulting for IT departments so I had almost blocked this phenomena from my mind.

Your blog made me cringe. I too have encountered the dreaded “The FoxPro app” syndrome. I believe one cause (at least a contributing cause) is that the last thing you often see when a foxpro app crashes is “Cannot Quit Visual Foxpro”. I am not sure why the Fox engineers feel a need to advertise that an App was written in VFP at the applications worst moment. I don’t recall ever seeing a similar message for VB or Delphi – though I have seen C++ advertise its runtime errors. Most people have no clue when an app was written in C++, Delphi, VB etc. In foxpro the brand name whether in a caption, a msgbox, or the fox icon, somehow ends up getting displayed to the user, forever linking VFP with a bad user experience.

Three years ago one of my clients (a multi-millionaire from his fox 2.5 app) was cursing up a storm at a bug he was encountering in his app – foxpro sucks etc. I asked him if he could travel back in time 16 years what would he have used instead? He didn’t have an answer.

Foxpro is a victim of its own success. I personally know of at least three multi-million dollar companies that run their entire business on 15 year old fox 2.5 dos apps. You don’t see many 10 year old VB programs still running in production. When the fox apps start to encounter issues from running in Windows XP or because they have hit their data limit, rather than migrate the app to VFP/MySQL the developers come up with some ridiculously convoluted table structure. Evidently FoxPro is to blame – not the sloppy developer.

At 10/21/2005 01:40:00 AM, Blogger Rick Schummer said...

Shawn, "Cannot Quit Visual FoxPro" can be removed simply using ON SHUTDOWN. My users have never seen this and I doubt my clients would know VFP 9 is under the hood if I did not tell them. It is not something I hide from my clients and it is not something I am ashamed of, or something I have to fight over with my customers.

I am proud to tell my clients that their app is powered by VFP. It just cracks me up when they refer to the app as FoxPro instead of the application name.

Thinking about "VFP" text showing in one of my custom apps...I believe the last built in item I remember seeing was the "Visual FoxPro" in the report spooler when printing a report. I think the Fox Team removed this in VFP 7.

If you have specific examples share them with Microsoft. I am sure they would be interested in correcting any oversights.

At 10/21/2005 02:21:00 PM, Anonymous Shawn White said...

Hi Rick, I agree with you. I also am aware that the fox branding can be disabled - though many legacy apps have not done this. I am proud to work in VFP, I didn't intend to imply otherwise. I was just trying to say that a crash is not the best moment to inform your users what language you use. Historically (perhaps not now) this has been one of the reasons why users think that their custom application (the one they hate) is synonymous with VFP as a whole.


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