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Southwest Fox 2006 – Day 1

VFP: Past, Present, and (most importantly) Future is the theme of this year’s conference, and was the theme of this year’s keynote.

No baloney and no marketing (with one little exception), and lots of pure fun is how I describe the keynote delivered by Craig Boyd, Doug Hennig and myself.

Craig started out the keynote with a story of how the three of us got in an accident driving over a cliff and into a ravine, and crashing into a tree. Dave Bernard and Bo Durban recall the details of the story better on the UT Coverage for the conference. The happy ending is the story was a story and Craig makes the point that fear is not good, spreading fear is definitely bad, and we should all not be fearful about our future with Visual FoxPro because it is very bright.

We did not want to focus much on the past for two reasons. People usually get all nostalgic about the past when some one dies and we all know VFP is not even close to dead. The second reason is we had more than enough future to consume the entire keynote. But we came across some super secret video via the FBI, CIA, the Department of Home Land Security to prove Microsoft has a plan to market Visual FoxPro. Well, before I start all kinds of rumors, we came across some vintage video of Fox Software marketing the all new FoxPro for DOS. Lots of gurus from the past like Walt Kennemar, George Goley, Pat Adams, Rich Grossman, Adam Green, and of course Dr. Dave Fulton (the father of FoxPro and president of Fox Software) to name a few. Listening to the video and removing some obvious references to older hardware technology, you can clearly listen to the message and hear the numerous competitive advantages mentioned and know even 16 years later that they still apply today. Fast, powerful, easy to use, fast, works on less than state of the art hardware, modern user interface, fast, extendible, backwards compatible, and many more. I personally enjoyed this video and was glad this last minute addition to the keynote was enjoyed by the Fox Folk attending the session.

The present section was also very short. Craig outlined how VFP 9 is very stable, how you have mainstream support through January 2010 and extended support though January 2015. I think it is obvious many developers have already upgraded to VFP 9 and are getting excited by SP2 and Sedna CTPs released last week.

The best part of the night was next: VFP Future.

Craig talked about Service Pack 2 and demonstrated the new reporting enhancements worked on by the Fox Team and their core contractors (Lisa and Colin Nichols). Craig show some of the really nice additions the team has added to simplify things like rotating text on a report, and some of the dynamic properties report expressions can have. I personally think the implementation is elegant and look forward to using these enhancements to make the report output be more flexible without writing any code. The new reporting extensions write all the code for you that you previously had to do under the VFP 9 release. Nice work by the reporting team. I also think we will be reading more and seeing more demos about Service Pack 2. The timing of the release days before the keynote made it hard to incorporate into the keynote, but Craig did a great job.

Next up was Sedna.

Doug showed off the My Namespace and Upsizing Wizard. If you have not seen the My Namespace, it is a class library which exposes various Windows API functionality through Intellisense. But this is only what it does initially. My is extendible (naturally, because we are talking about FoxPro here). My comes with a builder so you can add your own classes to the My Namespace. Not only can you add your own classes, but you can add classes from a any framework. Think of this as a way to include shortcuts to functionality without needing to write a lot of code.

The Upsizing Wizard is an upgrade to the existing one, but really is new and much improved. Lots of changes to simplify the steps to upsizing a VFP DBC to SQL Server (2000 or 2005). I have been testing this for a while because I integrated it into the Data Explorer for the Sedna release. It is easy to use and very fast! I upsized one of my client’s databases to SQL Server in less than 10 minutes. Granted, the database is not huge from a record count perspective, but Doug has even improved the data import speed by a factor of 10 or better using the SQLXMLBulkLoad. The engine is separate from the user interface and Doug demonstrated how you can programmatically upsize databases. This will be very handy when you are upsizing vertical market apps or implementations where you have several copies of a database. I think you will be impressed with the changes he has implemented.

Next up I gave a demonstration of the enhancements I have made to the Data Explorer. I have more than a half dozen bug fixes and almost a dozen enhancements rolled out in the current CTP. All of the enhancements came from the suggestions from the community. There are several changes to the Run Query dialog including showing ShowPlan details (Rushmore optimization via SYS(3054)) on the query results and the number of rows returned for VFP data (the row count is displayed only for SQL Server connections currently), and expose the F5 key which is in the current release, but not obvious. View nodes now have the option to display ShowPlan details (configurable on the Options dialog). There are better sorting options for the treeview so you can sort the tables, views, stored proc, etc., but the column names are now separate from the object sort feature. I also demonstrated how you can call the Upsizing Wizard direct from the Data Explorer, and previewed a couple more ideas I have been working on in the last week since the CTP was shipped including a Database Documenter feature output to HTML with cascading style sheets to control the presentation, and a copy column to the clipboard so you can build SQL Select statements or CREATE TABLE/CURSOR easier. I did not get to show all the new stuff and plan to blog more about the complete set of changes in the future.

I then covered the NET4COM object. This is a DLL helping you expose .NET framework classes to your VFP application. I have read plenty of posts online how developers have been underwhelmed by this part of Sedna. Sure some of the features in the component can be done in VFP without the “overhead” of the .NET framework. I believe those complaining are missing an important aspect of this. It is not the features exposed, it is how it is expose and the code examples of how to do this. This is designed so those with little .NET experience can see how you can take advantage of the thousands of .NET classes. For those with experience, it gives you a leg up on the exposing even more classes. So think about this as a tutorial of how you can expose functionality you can do easily in .NET that would be hard to do in VFP natively. I have only a little .NET experience and appreciate how Microsoft approached this feature.

I then talked about the cool stuff DBi Technologies is doing for the Fox Community by giving us seven commercially sold controls for free in the Sedna release. This is not part of the Community Technology Previews released to date, but is something coming in the production release. More details can be found on the Web site. A very generous company and one that has supported the Fox Community for years with some great products.

Craig then kicked into his high energy presentation of the Vista Toolkit. Most of the demonstration was done on Windows XP. This is really key to note. Much of the functionality he exposed in the toolkit was back ported to Windows XP by Microsoft. The MS Feeds (RSS) an
d Desktop Search were demonstrated. Craig showed a feed reader he wrote entirely in VFP 9 to access the feeds stored by the OS. Impressive functionality for sure. I think the Desktop Search was even more impressive. Most desktop searches today will look for strings in files. Craig demonstrated queries into the file system and email, but there are many more sources that are searchable. He also pointed out the queries executed actually have a SQL Select behind the scenes. The performance is very fox-like, extremely fast.

Craig rebooted his machine into Vista for the rest of his presentation so we took the opportunity to show some of Kevin Ragsdale’s VFP and VFPX promotional videos. Kevin did a great job with these.

Craig continued and showed VFP under Vista. He showed some of the minor user interface problems he knows the Fox Team is working on. More importantly he showed how VFP forms already work with the new Areo user interface techniques. Craig was not even running SP2 to demo this. This is a good sign of how well VFP will play in the Vista sandbox. Craig then showed how a VFP form can run XAML (Windows Presentation Foundation / Avalon) code to extend the form user interface. I personally was impressed by this and see how this opens up the possibilities for the future user interfaces for our VFP applications.

Craig finished up the Sedna portion of the keynote by demonstrating the XPS listener he is working on. This works with reports and outputs to the new XPS format. The XPS format is Microsoft’s new portable document format. It works and smells like a PDF, but is all XML. Craig discussed some of the possibilities for VFP developers to use this format and how powerful the viewer is for end users. The more I hear about this the more I am interested in this technology.

The future is in the Fox Community’s hands as Craig talked about VFPX and VFPY and how the members are working real hard in these two open source projects to create add-ons for VFP developers everywhere. I am impressed with the outpouring of support and the ongoing development of these projects. We did not get a chance to demo some of the projects going on because we already were going over the scheduled time.

Ken Levy drew the ticket for the winner of the MSDN Premium Subscription Sweet Potato Software donated as a prize for the keynote. Cathy Pountney was initially drawn as the winner, but she was ineligible because she is an MVP and MVPs already have a subscription. The winner (and I forgot his name unfortunately) was obviously very happy to have won this very valuable prize.

The last thing of the keynote was really a surprise for Doug Hennig as he was named as the third recipient of the VFP Lifetime Achievement Award (previously given to Whil Hentzen and Rick Strahl). Ken Levy hosted the announcement from Microsoft and the Fox Community. Doug was very surprise as we arranged this behind his back {g}. This was well deserved. Congratulations Doug!

Several people have told me they really enjoyed this year’s keynote. It is apparent from the feedback that we hit a home run and more importantly, got the message across that the future is indeed very bright. More to come…

2 Responses to “Southwest Fox 2006 – Day 1”

  1. Anonymous
    October 23rd, 2006 at 11:16 | #1

    Thanks for the excellent report. Yours is definitely one of my favorite blogs to read.


  2. October 31st, 2006 at 14:27 | #2


    You mentioned that you had forgotten the name of the winner of the drawing in the keynote. Just for the record, it was Kenneth Tamayo, from Mailprep Systems in Puerto Rico.


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