Why my blog changed…

Despite not posting since the beginning of the year my traffic has actually gone up every month since.  Interesting.. Thanx for your interest.

So why have I not been posting ?  It’s kind of based on the old saying that “If you can’t say something nice don’t say nothing at all”. Perhaps the change in name of this blog explains everything.

Simply put, I believe that Microsoft has finally come up with a great way to get rid of the bad smell that is Microsoft Access.  The changes in Access 2013 and their continued complete denial of any future for Access as a client-side tool for use with SQL Server means that maybe it’s time to move on.  In addition it is getting harder and harder to get approval to use SQL Server for our solutions anyway as DBA’s work very hard to keep us out.

Access is now offically an end-user app and good luck to them on that.  But the complete lack of any interest on their part in developers, and in the Client-Server capabiliies of the product that works so well for us, means that finally they will be able to get rid of that pesky product that doesn’t fit anywhere in Microsoft’s grand scheme of a VBScript run HTML5, SQL Azure world.  Let’s not kid ourselves anymore.

On the other hand the new version of Excel 2013 is a DREAM  !!!

Finally the Excel Team has pushed the product to a level where not only does it become a serious player in the BI “space”, but it should finally drive traditional spreadsheet developers to learn how “data” really works, where it lives, and how they need to rethink their use of Excel to a great new advantage.  But wait… Microsoft has come up with several cool ways to prevent that from happening….

1. The “official” developer story for Excel 2013 is focused on the ability to automate spreadsheets using  the domain of “Professional Developers” using Visual Studio.  The day of the VBA macro-driven spreadsheet is over even before it really got a chance to mature IMHO.  I remember saying publicly that while VBA was definitely more powerful than Lotus 1-2-3 macros, VBA was actually probably over-kill (I still think XLM macros were pretty cool ;-) ) .  In the end VBA’s complexity has lead to less and less spreadsheet automation, as I predicted all those years ago.  I have not seen anywhere the growth in automated Excel solutions overall despite the growth in the number of people with Excel on their desktops since that time.  I remember ten years ago sitting in a meeting in Redmond and hearing the biggest name in Office development say “There are no Office Developers anymore.” But I was there.  I wish I’d listened to him then frankly.

Now if we are driven to using VBScript and automating the product through VS and focus on publishing those brain-dead Office Web solutions, the only people who will be able to automate Excel will be people who actually hate Excel and have no interest in doing so at all (nor any appreciation or experience in actually developing Excel spreadsheets).  Yet another good move Microsoft.

2. Excel 2013 is the first openly “Data-Centric” version of Excel.  Oh sure there’s always been data capabilities in the product, but this is the first version where the entire new capability of the version is driven toward data-centric spreadsheets and away from the “traditional” spreadsheet paradigm.

Ironically, probably because of the fact that most of this new technology has come from the SQL Server Team at Microsoft, the main focus for promotion and testing of the new cersion of Excel has been through the SQL Server BI MDX “gurus”, a small group of mostly men around the world who have only one interest – and that is promoting themselves and keeping everything so complex and out of reach that they can get ALL the business.

3. Last year I wrote a letter to Microsoft telling them how excited I was about the data capabilites in Excel 2013 and  suggesting that if they really want to get people that actually USE this new capability they should be going out and promoting the new Data-Centric design realities of Excel 2013.  My theory was that this market is HUGE and many, many times the size of the BI “guru” class.   If they were to promote this to the long-time, long-suffering Excel poweruser the concepts, joys and productivity gained by understanding how to properly use “data”, how to get to that data and how they need to have an entirely new paradygm for spreadsheet design they would be a HUGE success and mre impritantly for them they would lock people into Excel forever.  I also pointed out that without this, all their efforts in PowerPivot, PowerView and SharePoint will be for naught but that I would be willing to help them turn it around ….

Cue the sound of crickets now …

4. This means that large parts of the Business World are going to continue to be run for the near future on badly designed, inefficient, downright dangerous user-designed and usually non-supported, crappy spreadsheets.

We who understand and really appreciate the way to build good spreadsheets that are first and foremost spreadsheets and that now will allow us to even better integrate corporate data into them will be able to scrape by and hopefully some of you will finally be able to move out of your parents’ basement (just kidding on that one).

Excel 2013 is exciting despite the fact that we will still have to function as “Lone Wolves” out there as the big consulting firms will continue to cut us out at every turn with their promises of Nirvana.  Wow, if I could only get a fraction of the money I have seen spent on these failed boon-doggles that replaced my good work over the years I’d be able to retire now and you would definitely not be reading this ;-).

So away we go … Lots of exciting new Excel BI technology for us to tinker with. Too bad that most of us actually fall in the category of “believers” who really like doing Excel and really understand the value it CAN provide to companies.  Yet in actual fact we should all go do something else I’m afraid.

Feel free to post here or to reach out to me privately at dick@plogic.ca .  I will keep any direct correspondence strictly private.

Dick

About Biggus Dickus

Dick is a consultant in London, ON Canada who specializes in Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Office Development.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Why my blog changed…

  1. Giorgio says:

    Hi Dick, Access integration with SQL Server has progressively got better and better so why do you say there isn’t any future for Access as a client-side tool for use with SQL Server? And why are DBA’s blocking solutions using SQL Server? We currently use SQL Server in my company and it doesn’t seem to be on the verge of being superseded by anything else. I think there’s an inherent limit to trying to turn Excel into a more data-centric application and that limit is overcome when you make Access and Excel work together, which they do seamlessly the vast majority of times.

    • Dick Moffat says:

      Oh so the way your company works is representative of all companies … Come back when you’ve worked for 100+ companies over the entire 20 years Access has existed.

      Yes Access has dramatically enhanced it’s capabilities over the last years. Think i don’t know that and don’t appreciate that? My point is that Microsoft has never been cpable of talking about this and now they simply don’t want to talk about client server … Cloud, cloud, cloud …. Think about what you say before you post – ok? Or before you suggest Access for your company’s solutions going forward.

      As far as using Access and Excel together I have been one of the biggest supporters of this concept ever since the day Access shipped in 1992 20 years ago – You? I dont think I’ve ever found a client who was capable of appreciating that skill so I am alwsys an Access guy OR and Excel guy and Microsoft has NEVER been able to link the two – probably because of their culture where even in the Office Team they are encoouraged to compete every day .. Oh they talk about collaboration but have you EVER seen any sincere effort to link the capabilities of Access as a source for Excel? Not me… Go figure.

      Dick Moffat Sent from my iPhone

  2. Chris Webb says:

    “Ironically, probably because of the fact that most of this new technology has come from the SQL Server Team at Microsoft, the main focus for promotion and testing of the new cersion of Excel has been through the SQL Server BI MDX “gurus”, a small group of mostly men around the world who have only one interest – and that is promoting themselves and keeping everything so complex and out of reach that they can get ALL the business.”

    Dick, this is not fair. I guess I’m one of the people you’re referring to here, and I’m not sure what I’ve done to deserve this barb – I can tell you I do not have a vested interest in keeping things complex to keep out everyone else. If anything it’s the opposite: the more people use Excel BI the better, as far as I’m concerned.

    • Biggus Dickus says:

      Then you are a uniquely wonderful person I guess ….

    • Biggus Dickus says:

      Chris:

      You know I wasn’t talking about YOU, I was talking about just about every BI guy I have ever met though. Sure that’s not a scientific survey but from my experience there are more self-important BI people than just about any group (except maybe DBAs).

      I have spent 30 years promoting spreadsheets in a positive way and there are people all over the world who would agree with that statement… But there is a trend today that reflects the fact that NOBODY can possibly know EVERYTHING (or actually ENOUGH) and it so seems there are many young men (mostly all men and all young in fact) whose biggest fear is having someone realize they don’t know something – to the point of lying and deflecting.

      An example was only a few weeks ago. I was in a meeting at a Major Bank where in the course of the meeting one DBA person said “If only you could do that in Excel I’d suggest we use Excel for …..” So I immediately said, in a positive and helpful voice, “Yes you can do that in Excel and here’s how I do it.” And proceeded to show this guy a very simple fact about Excel that he had missed. I don’t think I have ever seen so much hate in the eyes of somebody I tried to help. This guy was DEVASTATED that I would point out that HE didn’t know something. It did not matter that by showing him that their company COULD have used Excel, no, no, no … He was furious that by trying to help I had shown him to not know something. And I have to work with this guy to this day despite the fact that I’bd rather poke my eyes out with pins…

      And believe me I have had exactly the same thing (but not quite as bad) all over the world.

      After 30 years of this kinda crap I have decided not to accept it anymore. That attitude is going to bury us all and is allowing people to make technology decisions every day everywhere that are completely wrong and will cost their companies incredible sums of wasted money, while so much of it could just be done in Excel (but of course not all ….) if only they weren’t so bloody self-important. I do not believe I believe that I have a hammer named “Excel” and that everything looks like a nail to me … I know what it can and cannot do. But I know it can do a whole lot more than it is anywhere today, and the stuff in Excel 2013 ups the ante even more. Who knows maybe it will be so good that IT departments will decide it’s dangerous and try to ban the use of the PowerPivot and PowerView add-ins in 20103 … mark my words … believe me Ive seen that too.

      So let’s get out there and work together to make people appreciate what great technology this is, despite all the forces working against us (and believe me there are many).

      • Chris Webb says:

        FWIW, Dick, you and I agree on more points that you might think (except maybe on the evils of BI pros…); for example I agree with you that DAX is way too difficult – see this post I wrote last year http://cwebbbi.wordpress.com/2011/06/06/the-problem-of-power-users-dax-and-difficult-calculations/ which even links to you. If the likes of me do end up being the ‘gods’ of Excel then Microsoft really will have failed…

      • Biggus Dickus says:

        It’s not “evil”, it’s that I find that many in our business have a myopic vision of the world that what they do is EVERYTHING. In my travels I have determined that people that “specialize” in BI are the nerdiest of the nerds (along with my beloved DBAs) .. and that’s fine and it’s probably necessary because it requires a smart, focused person to get BI at a high level.

        But getting them to USE the new Excel would be a really good thing but don’t just push this new data technology in Excel at them. there are millions (literally) who could get great value out of an Excel with PowerPivot “baked in” and with the capabilities of PowerView. Missing that would not only be a disservice to the shareholders of Microsoft (as it would drive “lock-in” that is something they are sooo worried about) and us who make our living helping companies get value out of this technology (trying anyway) but to the millions of Excel users and their clients or bosses who are not getting what they should be getting out of the product.

        That’s my point in all this. The tone of my comments are designed to get a rise out of people after years and years and years of trying to be “nice” and kissing asses and being a good team player. Actually I think I AM being a team player here – just one who is willing to risk everything to make a difference. There was no other way. Otherwise guys like me are out of business anyway.

        Dick

  3. Boyan Penev says:

    Oh, no! Shocking! The Microsoft BI conspiracy just got exposed!

    • Biggus Dickus says:

      I get it … very funny !

      I am not saying anything is a conspiracy, I just don’t agree with some decisions that have been made recently is all. And I guess I shouldn’t say anything because it’s not my company, but in a way it is … My business for the past 25 years has been entirely Microsoft Software, I have gone out of my way to support the company at my own expense fro years and years. But what do you do when you see opportunities missed that we could all help with and all make some money on (as well as Microsoft)? Not a conspiracy, just a wrong turn IMO…

      Dick

  4. Marco Russo says:

    Just my 2 cents: I understand Dick’s comment about people who are scared of change and that can see Excel as a danger for their job. This is not something that happens in many conditions, not only related to software and not only related to Excel.
    Like Chris, I don’t agree there is an MDX lobby. In my experience, MDX is hard enough that it doesn’t require any form of protection for MDX gurus. I think that everything I’ve seen is written somewhere these days and there is simply too much to learn in order to master this language.
    MDX complexity is one of the reasons why DAX has been designed for Tabular and PowerPivot. DAX is still not so simple, but it’s certainly easier than MDX.

    • Biggus Dickus says:

      Hey Marco …

      I agree that MDX and I’m sorry to tell you but DAX is fricking difficult too and a turnoff to the vast majority of people who would be possible users of Excel 2013′s data capabilities.

      But my point is that if Microsoft focuses only on the traditional Business Intelligence capabilities of Excel 2013 they’re going to miss a MUCH larger market in people who just want to bring in corporate data from multiple sources and merge it together to create Business “Information” …. By that I’m talking about business reporting of production, sales, inventory, even accounting data at month-ends. This is analysis of Business Information where the most complex part is the logic behind the data and the relationships involved in pulling all that together so they can do their Querytables or their Pivottables or even just bring in data that they can summarize in freeform using VLookups (if they still want to) or SUMIFS and COUNTIFS and even the incredible CUBE functions. But none of these require anything more than standard accounting knowledge and a understanding of the complexities of their particular business.

      None of that needs MDX or DAX and if the new “Gods” of Excel are going to be a bunch of guys who come from the SQL Server MDX cadre with very little understanding of what Excel is or can REALLY do for REAL people trying to do REAL work every day then there is a HUGE market many times larger than the traditional BI “space” that is going to be missed and that pisses me right off.

      And don’t forget that without all of this first there is no way you can ever sell standard Excel users on your DAX and such later. Without the data and without knowledge of Excel your stuff can only be done by you and your BI “gurus”.

      Don’t get me wrong …. There will be a market for your BI and your DAX – you will make money of course. But I think we have to walk before we can run on this and we will be walking in a HUGE market that’s just waiting for this technology and doesn’t even realize it. And then if you get more people using the data capabilities of Excel for their daily analysis there will be a HUGE opportunity THEN to show them how much they can get from your BI.

      Dick

  5. Biggus Dickus says:

    Yes Data Explorer looks like a useful tool.

    In the end though what MOST Excel users really need is then to pull that data into Excel to be presented in Pivot Tables or Querytables or used in the various ways that Excel can use the data natively (and now take advantage of the cache provided by PowerPivot and the presentation capabilities of PowerView – without a single DAX formula anywhere to be seen.

    Doesn’t sound like you got my message but that’s ok – I’m used to that :-)

    • Biggus Dickus says:

      Marco … Sorry if I sounded snippy there .. Please forgive me – sincerely.

      I have just gotten very tired of people not understanding what I am saying here … 25 years of trying to get people to understand and I’m tired … very tired. And now the greatest version of a spreadsheet I’ve seen comes out I don’t see any opportunity for me in it.

  6. Marco Russo says:

    Don’t worry, it’s good having different point of views.
    However, you actually can use Power View without DAX formulas, you just import Excel tables into the data model – where is the limitation for that?

    • Biggus Dickus says:

      Absolutely !! Lots of people will be able to get value from PowerView without adding DAX functionality… then when you get to the point where you can get value out of DAX and your data sources are good and stable DAX can be used to go even further… !!

  7. sam says:

    Dick,
    The way Microsoft looks at Office has changed since 2002. Office 2002 was the last version that had a “Developer Edition” apart from the Professional Edition. From 2003 they dropped the Developer Edition and everything started moving towards VS and Cloud.

    Office Productivity is also something that’s taken a backstage, the difficult to customize Ribbon Interface from 2007 is a proof of this.

    I agree with you on DAX its an opportunity missed. If they want regular Excel users to start writing DAX measures or Calculated fields, they have to go away from traditional database “tabular”(Columunar) calculations and introduce the concept of “Cell” references, introduce absolute, relative and mixed referencing.
    It is so so difficult to do something in DAX that can be done in a couple of seconds via a Excel formula.

    MS also seems to have made it a practice to keep “real” products hidden in the “labs”
    Take for Example the Fuzzy Lookp Addin from MS (which works in 2007 as well despite they claiming it to be for 2010 and above) http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=15011

    I have been using since I first read it on the Contextures blog last year http://blog.contextures.com/archives/2011/05/06/fuzzy-lookup-add-in-for-excel-2010/

    Here is a product capable of saying that Bill Gates and Gates, Bill are the same and much more.
    To me this is fantastic. It can save countless hours for “real” Excel users every where.
    Yet this it lies buried in some remote corner of some difficult to find location with absolutely no publicity from the Office team, not even a mention on the “Office Blog”

    • Biggus Dickus says:

      “It is so so difficult to do something in DAX that can be done in a couple of seconds via a Excel formula.” And yet the PowerPivot technology can be the provider of the data being referenced in those same formulae. It’s a win win to me :-).

      I believe that most if not all of the functionality of DAX can be accomplished by putting some effort into the data side on the backend using Relational database capabilities in Access or SQL or whatever data source. I believe it is more “responsible” to do the joining (both inner and outer) and a lot of pre-aggregation back in the source rather than inside the spreadsheet. This means that these data sources can be used from multiple front ends with one exposed, manageable version of the truth as the source.

      No doubt that this can be done with DAX, but I believe where possible one should use the right tool for the right job and I lean toward doing the data “machinations” in a database tool itself in the “backend” and then using Excel to funnel these results to the workbooks where Excel then does the analysis as is intended to do. Just my bias I guess.

      My theory is that this is approachable not only for traditional Excel users but also for traditional database users and devs. Not all database developers are schooled in the joys of OLAP (unlike me who did his first OLAP Excel solution back in 1994 – seriously). If they can get value out of Excel 2013 initially by leveraging what they already know I cant see why that is a problem ;-).

      Dick

  8. periodic pg says:

    It is curious that no Access-focused (other than Giorgio) devs or Microsoft folks posted in response to your blog change.

    Giorgio wrote “Access integration with SQL Server has progressively got better and better so why do you say there isn’t any future for Access as a client-side tool for use with SQL Server”. I can’t see any shred of attention given to Access-SQL Server in recent versions, so I wonder what Giorgio was referring to? ADP was a serious move in that direction but that is over now after a long quiet sunset.

    Giorgio, apparently you have not had exposure yet, but know that in the wider world many/most IT depts and DBAs work really hard at keeping any new software OUT, and in particular custom software.

    It is a really sad thing how things have worked out with Access. Microsoft has opened a lot of doors for myself and for many others by making good productivity development software at points, and I always remember that with appreciation. But when I think of the flood of foolish moves they’ve made to defeat those very initiatives, it makes me realize that the people that make the big decisions there are highly disconnected from the reality that I and all other developers I know live in. What a pity, what missed opportunities.

    Dick, your Access related blogs will be missed.

    • Biggus Dickus says:

      Thanx for this post whatever your name is ;-) ….

      Yes it’s pretty sad that the energy around Access is just leaking away and being replaced by nothing. I am tired of fighting the good fight on this but it’s good to hear this kind of sentiment from other Access “True Believers”.

      Dick

  9. Mark says:

    Its my opinion that software houses are increasing straying from the plot.
    Rather than being in the business of reducing costs for businesses increasingly they focused on maintaining revenues.

    For a long time they have made great steps in reducing costs for organisations reducing the need for duplication increasing speed of transactions and transmissions and reducing deterioration of information while improving distribution. Weren’t computers created to hold information that can be copied essentially for free with 100% accuracy? Isn’t data and software held on them a complete analogy to bacteria? What else lasts for significant periods without change through thick and thin maintaining their information with low levels of maintenance and error while their environment expands and contracts.

    Surely then software has the potential to become ubiqutous, expendable 100% maintainable and awkwardly for software houses immortal.

    I argue that the objective of a software house should be to put themselves out of business. To make a product that is so good that they can move onto a different arena and create another product that is so good that it cannot be beaten. I am also of the opinion that the founding fathers of software created the discipline with that in mind.

    Up until now many houses have been doing a good job of this as well.

    Present day the easy wins are away new products regularly focus on usability and distribution and reimplementation of features which for older hands were always there (albeit in different guise).

    Neither is it just a Microsoft problem I constantly see software houses trying to transform themselves into service providers.
    ESRI (ArcView)
    Adobe
    Alpha 5
    and its not just software houses either IBM have significant income from services on demand section.

    I maintain that when this is marred with software provision I think this is in direct contradiction to why software was originally created and therein lies the problem.

    Service provision is an erosion of customer rights and not an increase in it. It is making the landlord into a tenant no wonder it’s a difficult sell.

    Why else is open source gaining ground? Because those with intelligence inherintely recognise the fact that although they are power users the products being offered to them just aren’t doing what they want. What’s more sometimes increased usability in one feature may be at the expense of reduced functionality in another. They don’t want to be a tenant and would prefer to be the landlord.

    I appreciate the work that Microsoft has done and many of their brilliant tools. I just think if Microsoft want to make money out of software hone their products then get those developers to build software specific applications out of their environment. Its not as if sections of the organisation aren’t trying to do this. XBox and Kinnect have all been great demonstrations of the benefits of essentially that. At some point the marginal improvements from polishing will only serve to focus demand for open source solutions rather than towards their products.

    Who knows exactly how this will pan out but one thing I am convinced at – at some point secondhand software will be as valuable as new software as the incremental improvement in usability will be minimal and because of the immortality of everything digital there will be for all intensive purposes no age difference between either.

    I look forward to supporting microsoft in the future and see no reason to stop that using tools that continue to be excellent. I will however be very cautious about becoming their slave.

    • Biggus Dickus says:

      Wow !!! Great comment !!!

      “The old if it ain’t broke … break it anyway !!”

      I never consciously thought of the software biz exactly that way but you have now filled in a whole lotta gaps in my thinking where things hadn’t quite jelled.

      Of course you are right but also of course our thoughts will have no affect on Microsoft nor any other technology company for exacty the reasons you describe.

      I can add to your thoughts that I did consciously realize about 15 years ago that I got the distinct impression that Microsoft felt that I should consider THEM my client rather than my actual clients of my services. That has nagged me in the back of my mind ever since.

      I never did go over to Open-Source, probably because I came to this industry from the business side rather than the tech side and frnkly Microsoft software (ehich I love btw) is on those Desktops. But I am probably the kind of guy who should have gone that route some time ago.

      Thanx for this.

      Dick

  10. Mark says:

    I fully expect Artificial Intelligent to evolve naturally sometime in June 2017 when in a small café in Maidenhead an updated terminal which has more computing power that the worlds computers of 1985 finally gets pissed off at being sworn at for doing exactly what its told to and swears back at its owner by printing out 500 sheets titled F*** Y**

    1993 working on crappy spreadsheets in Lotus 1-2-3
    2013 working on crappy spreadsheets in the cloud.

    Don’t sweat it Dick we’re all safe till 2017

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s