Monday, March 24, 1997

Groupware This!

Editor's NOTE: This is a moldie oldie that I pulled from a text dump archive. None of the links will work anymore (or 99% won't) - but the names and companies have NOT changed.

Before we get to this installation, I need to clarify statements some people think I made in my last column.

It seems that a number of folks CHOOSE the Windows platform as their "tool of choice" (see our last issue) and by naming our fictitious examples with the name of an apparently popular Intel supplier, I alluded that the Windows platform was less than stellar. This was not my intention - people, the focus was supposed to be "Managers - wake up! Let your folks use the tool that works for them [regardless of platform]" - and not "...Windows sucks." Just so there's no confusion - in the future if I mean to say "Windows sucks", I'll say "Windows sucks."

Onward and upward...

So what's up with "groupware?" I mean, the newest version of Netscape Navigator (behemoth bloatware that it is) boasts newer, better "groupware" communications. Oh, it also requires that you have a Cray supercomputer to run it... but hey, you can "collaborate" with people in your "work group." Huh?

Ten years ago you put your 19 cent stamp on your latest work, dropped it in the mail and waited for the phone to ring. "Groupware" meant that your client would call in two or three days, and go over any changes on the phone. You would then redo the work, and "fire it off" with another cover letter, padded envelope with "DO NOT BEND" written all over it, affix a spiffy a hand-addressed label, and wait for two or three more days.

Not long after that the "groupware" application of choice was next day delivery. I mean, rather than dealing with the mail you could get the same stuff to your customer the very next DAY! Of course it cost a little more (read: finance a small country for a year), but that was the price of that day's "fast-moving" technology.

Then, three or four years ago (when a fax machine cost $1,000 and a fax modem [the absolute bleeding edge of technology] cost about $500), "groupware" meant communicating by fax. You know, "I'll fax it right over..." and you get a curly piece of non-biodegradable toilet paper that was useless to write on - but hey, it worked. You then copied that (on a copy machine, no less!), made YOUR changes, then re-faxed it back. Then the person on the other side would copy YOUR fax, make changes and fax it back... and so on.

In the past year "groupware" means communicating by means of the wonderful world of .hqx, ftp, www, and the most immediate form of communication "email." Ah email. I wonder how I ever got along without it. It's now possible to completely consume my ENTIRE day with "newsgroups", mailing lists, recipes, dirty jokes, chain letters, press releases, announcements, spam (and anti-spam) and more - all at the click of a button.

The term "I'll FedEx it to you" is no longer met with "Great!" or "WOW, really?" but, "Is your email server down?" We've grown to call sending something sent via "regular" mail - "snail mail", and the only time I get a fax is when THEIR email server is down.

Not that this is bad - I've met LOTS more people (at least via email) - and have had great "conversations" with people all over the world. At trade shows, or other "analog" gatherings people introduce themselves and I have no idea who they are - UNTIL I ask their email address: "Oh, you're '' - nice to meet you. By the way check your email when you get back to your hotel the stuff you asked for has been uploaded to our ftp server..."

Do we need "groupware"... probably not. Are we going to get it whether we like it or not? Yes. Will we look back on the days email and laugh at the arcane (and slow) way we used to communicate? Yes. Will we ever get the damn 12:00 to stop blinking on our VCR's? No, never. That's technology...

Thursday, March 06, 1997

Tool Time from Hell

Editor's NOTE: This is a moldie oldie that I pulled from a text dump archive. None of the links will work anymore (or 99% won't) - but the names and companies have NOT changed.

Judging from all the email we received from our last issue from poor, hapless souls trapped in "...huge multi-national corporation...", the Mac spirit is alive - although the body is slowly dying in Corporate America.

Numerous people wrote in (from many different companies) saying that they love the Mac (and FileMaker) but are being forced into dumping their "toy" in favor of a bean-counter-approved Windows box, and trade in FileMaker for the "standard" - Microsoft Access. AAAAAHHHHHH!

Let me share my views on this - it SUCKS, is short-sighted, and just plain won't work.

The thing that some folks don't seem to understand is that computers and software are tools that were created to help us get our work done - so that we can go home and see our significant others and have some real fun. I mean, how many of you want to go back to keeping all of your contacts on 3 x 5 index cards?

That being said, it's plain stupid to force people into working with a tool they're unfamiliar with, don't want, don't need, and that will actually stop them from getting their work done.

Let's say you're using a regular hammer to pound nails - that's your job - "Director of Corporate Nail Pounding." Now imagine if the "powers that be" decide in their infinite wisdom that you should stop using that "outdated", underpowered tool because they got a great deal on 50 pound sledge hammers. Besides, they drone, it's easier for the guys in tool maintenance to maintain 50 pound sledge hammers, and they don't want to deal with "non-standard", regular hammers.

Absurd? Nope - reality.

Since you have no choice or voice in the decision (god-forbid that the people actually pounding nails have a say in what tool they use), you "buckle up", put on a happy face, and try to use your brand new 50 pound sledge hammer to pound your nails... the only problem is that you can't lift it. So, being the conscientious worker you are, you decide to call down to tool maintenance, and have one of their "technicians" come and help you.

YOU: Hello, tool department? I have a question about my new 50 pound sledge hammer...

TECHNICIAN: Are you using the Compaq5000, Compaq5000 R5 DLX, Compaq5001, or the Compaq5001 R8 DLS?

YOU: Uh... I don't know, how do I tell?

TECHNICIAN: (heavy sigh) It's very easy - anyone who knows anything about sledge hammers would know. I can't help you until you tell me which model you're using.

YOU: I understand, but I have just a quick question...

TECHNICIAN: No model number, no helpie.

YOU: Yes, but I just need to know how to pick it up... you see, I have 100 nails to pound before the end of the day.. and I just can't get it to work...

TECHNICIAN: Pounding nails??? Do you have the special "nail pounding adapter?"

YOU: I don't know, what does it look like?

TECHNICIAN: (another heavy sigh) Well, if you don't know, we can't help you. They're probably on backorder, but once they come in we'll have to reconfigure your tool to accept the new adapter. Since everyone else got new tools, we're backlogged until six weeks from Tuesday. Thank you for calling tool maintenance. "CLICK";

Faced with an impending deadline, you proceed to pound the first 50 nails using your stapler, and write a memo detailing why you won't be able to meet the deadline. "Management" dismisses this as an "isolated" incident since "no one else" seems to be having problems.

READER EXERCISE: Requisition a really, really good dust cover for your new tool and blow the dust off the old typewriter in the corner - at least then you can get your work done.

MANAGER EXERCISE: Stop bitching about "non standard" equipment - and give your people the tools that they need to remain productive. You'll save a ton of money, keep morale high, and stay in business.

Oh, by the way, FileMaker Pro was just declared the #2 Windows Database...

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