Thursday, November 30, 2006

Comparing MS Project and TeamDirection Project

Now that we've released TeamDirection Project, it's time to answer the elephant in the room: How does TeamDirection Project compare to Microsoft Project?

Well, we do pair a task grid on the left with a gantt chart on the right. And I personally think TeamDirection Project is much prettier. But really, our focus is on the small to medium business, 5 - 50 employees, that would like an easy way to structure, schedule and share projects in a team environment.

When you don't have limitless resources, you need the right tool for the job. You can't give everyone a scalpel and expect surgery to be successful. You don't give everyone the tiller and expect docking to be smooth. Any non-trivial project requires a group of people to interact, do their part and communicate their issues as efficiently as possible.

That's what TeamDirection brings.

Microsoft Project is a great product. You can plan canals, nuclear reactors and hospitals with it. You have an array of tools at your disposal: resource pools, 10 or more working shifts per day, PERT and WBS structures, critical path analysis and a gazillion more features a skilled project manager wants, and might even need.

We think that's great. But the ability to level resources, find critical paths and adjust level of effort is lost on the person who is just making an image for the website. They only need to report when they're done, attach the image for people to see and comment how it synthesizes Bauhaus post-modernism and consumer durable gooods.

TeamDirection bridges these two worlds. It lets the project manager have all the power, and it lets the team members execute their tasks, see and connect with their team members online to resolve issues and report progress.

One product can't make everyone happy. But one product can bridge the divide between planning and execution, allow users the tools that fit their needs and focus on sharing information-- among the team, and with just a little bit of direction.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

TeamDirection Project 2007 Released

How about that!

A simple, elegant, intuitive, IntelliGantt(!) project tool that makes it easy for project managers to connect with their teams, easy for teams to execute projects and easy for MS Project and MindManager to work with SharePoint and Groove.

I've been wearing a marketing hat for a while, but now I get to try on a sales hat. No its not tall and pointy :) It's only uncomfortable because I don't consider myself a salesman.

But, being an owner of TeamDirection means I want to know how everything is working, from developmet through marketing and ultimately sales. And I will do my best to make sure everything is coming together for our customers.

What this means for you, aside from great project management software, is you might just get a call from me some day. For the first few recipients, I apologize in advance for my stuttering and stammering-- I'll eventually sound smooth and polished on the phone.

But know also I won't be just talking, I'll be listening too. And the things you have to say have a great chance of making their way into our product.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

I Survived Thanksgiving

Though most of the world has some sort of celebration at the end the year, here in the US we like to have a clear start and finish. Our holiday schedule officially kicks of with Thanksgiving and culminates, after a brutal test of good cheer, at least one journey of biblical proportions (lost tribes, anyone?) and rampant consumerism, with Christmas. Each year that goes by the dropped guantlet seems larger, the span between holidays feels shorter and the urge to migrate more intense.

This year, I capitulate right now. I actually capitulated a couple of days ago, but only now have I recovered sufficiently to state my capitulation for the record.

Let's see:

1) Seven and a half hour drive from Seattle to Portland
a) With two sick kids
b) And a dog (not sick, but not enjoying 7+ hours in the car, either)

2) One sick family descending upon heretofore healthy relatives
a) Throw in one pregnant relative ('You didn't tell me you were sick!")

3) One set of relatives who got diagnosed with exanthem (highly contagious kids disease) the day before Thanksgiving.
a) Bright spot-- at least they knew before they infected everyone else

4) Another set of relatives we couldn't visit because we were so sick and major surgery is close at hand.
a) Bright spot -- I am so glad they won't get sick because of us and miss surgery.

5) One night with all of us in a room, exchanging various methods of rousing the others from peaceful slumber.
a) Bright spot -- dog seemed to have no trouble sleeping through it all

Thankfully we had the foresight, in hindsight, to call the whole thing off and head back home. Convalescing the last few days has been done in the comfort of our own bedrooms, and the dog even got a walk.

However, I do notice we put up a Christmas tree today.

Perhaps we're not quite ready to capitulate this year.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Microsoft Groove Case Study with TeamDirection

Microsoft has just posted a somewhat repackaged case study for Groove, TeamDirection and Steelcase. It's actually based on the Groove 3.x system, but its been a nice customer solution for everyone involved.

The bottom line:

Steelcase groups using Groove Virtual Office (and TeamDirection!) saved up to 10 percent on project costs by reducing travel expenses and increasing productivity.

I think the same type of solution will also work very well for SharePoint users too.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Wrapping My Head Around Social Networking

I've noticed a nifty avatar appearing besides reader's comments at sites like Read/WriteWeb and TechCrunch. Then this vertical list of most recent users, with avatars again, started appearing in the margins. It's from a new service called MyBlogLog.

'OK,' I thought, 'I can be a happening dude. Let's check it out.'

So there I am.

Now what? Is this what I have to aspire to? Is it weird to feel weird about inviting people to be my online friend? Do I really want to be a 'Hot Member?'

It all reminds me of first grade. In fact, the first day of first grade. You know, the day where you clutch your father's leg with the strength of 5 six year olds? Promising to eat your vegies.
Swearing off television for your forseeable future until dad leaves and your forced to sit at a desk.

That's when you turn to your new classmate and ask 'want to be friends?' And the other kid is so happy you asked first.

But back in first grade you got to go have recess together. What's the online equivalent?

Installing Desktop Apps vs. Installing Web Apps

Who wants to download a 15MB installation file and take 5 minutes to install a classic desktop application? Especially when its so easy to point a web browser to a super spiffy web application. For instance, I could download and install a desktop collaboration tool like Groove-- which used to come in around 30MB or so before it became 'Officized.' Or I could just use a SharePoint server and my browser, which saves me the trouble, right?

Right. But did you ever wonder how many bytes that web application might take? IE7 has a nifty feature that allows you to save a web page to your local disk in a single file that contains everything the web page needs to render. I tried it on the standard SharePoint 2003 entry page for a document workspace. I saved it and noted it took 715K. Other than about 10 members, this was basically a stock document workspace page. 715K.

Let's see, 30MB / 715K == about 42. Other than being a most amazing coincidence in the universe of Douglas Adams, it means once I've look at a SharePoint document workspace page 43 times I've actually downloaded more bytes than it would have taken to install a comparable desktop based collaboration tool.


What do you think the sum byte total of all web application page views are? Doesn't it strike you as similar to uninstalling an old mini-app and installing new mini-application with each URL click? Could there be a tipping point where it actually makes more sense to install a desktop app? Perhaps Douglas Adams knew something we didn't and 42 really is the answer.

For whatever reason, the browser has been able to better define application installation/uninstallation than the operating system. And its such a huge, overwhelming advantage that entire industries are making fortunes exploiting the gap.

Sooner or later the old dog will have to learn a new trick.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

I Resemble That Remark

Anne Zelenka posted a good commentary on her site yesterday regarding her preference for everything to be in the browser. I've been reading Anne's blog for a while now and I respect her opinions, so much so that I asked her to review our soon-to-be-released hybrid application. I hope she reviews it even more now because I think it might just change her mind.

But on to Anne's arguments. Among her points are:

  • Most exciting innovations are taking place in the browser

  • Browsers are the only way to develop cross-platform

  • Browsers go beyond data and integrates information

  • Browser experience can be made consistent

  • The Browser is about me

Which leads her to predict:

"The browser will be extended to give us offline connectivity and access to desktop resources. The browser and its context provides what we need for mobile access. The browser is where it’s at, not the desktop."

Let's ignore the fact that a web browser is a desktop application for the time being because we should always strive to avoid tautologies. Instead, I believe we can reduce Anne's arguments to:

  • Accessibilty

  • Personalization

But let's examine Anne's points first.

1. Most exciting innovations are taking place in the browser

I'm not sure if Anne means the browser itself, or the web sites a browser points to. If its the browser itself, then true, there is a battle raging between Mozilla and Internet Explorer, but I disagree that better tabbing and RSS integration represent the pinnacle of innovation.

If its the web sites a browser points to, then I think its a push. This is the classic desktop versus webtop argument which usually reduces to what you prefer for what task. For instance, some people may be fine with Writely, some people may require FrameMaker. I gave GMail a try, I prefer Thunderbird right now. I'll probably test Outlook 2007 when it comes out, or maybe GMail will add some offline support, which is critical for me.

What I will agree with is its easier for people to try out innovation if they can get to it with a browser-- which is why I categorize this argument under Accessibility.

2. The only way to develop cross-platform.

Cross platform development has been one of those holy grails that seem more like the Easter Bunny than an actual chalice. How many cross-platform 'solutions' have come and gone? Anne acknowledges its not Java (totally agree), but there's a whole litany of attempts (anybody remember Galaxy? We almost bankrupted a previous company with that one).

I will agree there are not many choices, but that's because most companies don't want there to be many choices. As long as you have that tension, I doubt HTML will turn into a silver bullet. Because of that tension, codes extensions certainly will not. A Firefox extension will not work with IE or Safari. Same for IE or Safari add-ons. In a sense, web browsers already mirror operation systems in their lines of code demarkation.

Two additional thoughts:

2a. I do think Adobe has a shot at cross platform development with Apollo, though perhaps not so much for the 'classic' browser on the desktop, but for the mini-browser on the mobile device.

2b. I think the other possibility may be .NET. I mention this in an earlier post, but I believe Mono was the major reason Microsoft worked out a partnership with Novell.

3. Browsers go beyond data and integrate information

What about a CRM applications? That seems to integrate a lot of information. Or placing Access data tables within you MS Office documents. Or what about the latest Visual Studio development environment that maintains a rich set of constantly updating reference material online?

Two nice things about desktop applications that are designed to integrate information: a) They understand the information type so you don't have to and b) someone has designed the information layout and flow so you don't have to.

I think the issue here is really about personalization. If you don't agree with how an app lays out information, it can be arduous or impossible to change. Web browsers make it very easy to create your own, personalized mess dashboard.

4. Browser experience can be made consistent

This I just disagree with. Are all blogs consistent? Are all web apps consistent? Hardly. Maybe Anne means consistency in terms of deploying an application to users. In this case, sure, but then its more an accessibility issue (how easy is it to deploy a desktop app versus a desktop app) than an intrisic consistency issue.

5. The Browser is about me

This is Anne's most powerful point. It speaks to what's wrong with desktop software-- or even software in general. And the reason the 'browser is about me' and not the desktop app is because the web application is forced to be simple. Both the newnewss of web solutions and the constraints of the HTML world dictate simple implementations. Desktop applications, on the other hand, have rocketed past human comprehension and make people feel lost in space.

I look at a lot of the online solutions out there and I'm convinced that, while accessibility is appealing, simplicity is the real selling point. Simplicity in what you can do, in how you can personalize and, most importantly, in why one office worker can explain it to another.

I agree wholeheartedly with Anne on this point, but believe its more accidental then designed. And, if the world truly did adopt web applications exclusively, then web apps would complicate themselves so inexplicably that they would no longer be about anyone.

Another Prediction

What do I think the future is? I do think browsers will develop offline capabiity, but the real solution is software that allows for the right tool for the audience. As I said earlier, writers may need FrameMaker to write their books, but an editor would only need a PDF reader to edit it. Architects may need Autocad, but contractors may only need Visio and framers may only need a printout of their wall.

I only see one thing standing in the way-- installation that doesn't involve the user. If the browser can do it, I see no reason why the OS can't; and I'd argue .NET takes us some of the way there. Once that is solved, then installing the right application-- be it desktop, browser extension or web-- will be no different than sending a drawing to a printer. People in different roles need different views of data in different presentations. It will be the ability of *any* software to use desktop, extension or webtop effectively to address the proper presentation for distinct audiences that will determine success in the future.

So what do you think, Anne; would you still like to try my desk/web hybrid app?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

A Face For Radio, A Voice For Writing

Just created a couple of flash demos for our beta narrated by yours truly. It was fun. Trying to distill an incredibly powerful feature into 20 or so shots with a crisp storyline and helpful commentary was a bit more difficult than I thought. Throw in a sore throat, lots of tea and a few lozenges and you get two demos.

Sorry about the voice, though. Would you believe I took an acting class while in college? Amazingly enough, I actually remembered a few of the ennunciation exercises. Who knew it would come in handy as a senior architect at a software firm.

Demo #1 shows TeamDirection publishing MindManager topics and subtopics to a SharePoint server-- and a hosted one at that (free publicity for you, Apptix). Team members then use their browser to update an assigned task in the task list. TeamDirection gathers the latest data and reports back to MindManager. We still have to package it nicely with our site layout, but you can get a direct, sneak peak here.

Demo #2 is similar, but this time TeamDirection publishes MS Project tasks and subtasks to a Groove workspace. Groove doesn't actually ship with a Task List, so TeamDirection provides one for you. It's similar to the SharePoint Task List, and only people with proper permissions can update their tasks. Once again, TeamDirection gathers the latest data and reports back to MS Project. Again, nice packaging to follow, but you can get a direct, sneak peak here.

These demos show TeamDirection Project Plus 2007. If you like what you see, go download the beta here and share a task or topic today.

And to show our appreciation for taking the time try out our beta, we are providing a special discount. Its weighted such that the sooner you try the beta, the better the discount will be when you purchase.

I know it will start at 30% on Nov 6, and decrease 1 basis point per day until we release. I'll update this post as soon as I know the link.

Thanks to everyone for making this a great product!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Microsoft and Novell Acrobatics with .NET

When I heard the news Microsoft inked a partnership with Novell, it had a certain surrealness about it. So much so that I half expected ignoring the news would somehow evaporate it by the end of the day. There just didn't seem to be enough depth to what should have been a shocking announcement. The best people could muster was 'former rivals.'

I see that C|Net is struggling with an adequate take as well. Is Microsoft pre-empting a fractured Oracle/Red Hat Anti-Alliance? Please. Microsoft hasn't been worried about Oracle for... ever. I think we can dismiss that one. Red Hat's revenues are a rounding error of an MS division. I'm not even seeing two sticks of wood, let alone smoke with that one.

It's got to be in the patents. So the question is why Novell and Suse? What makes it different from the other linux distros? The netware bogeyman has been beaten so thoroughly its barely even a rumor.

I think Microsoft has caught Mono.

A Little COMmiseration

When I started cutting my chops on programming, OLE, COM and Automation were the Next Big Thing. So I duitifully bought books, bravely fiddled with IDL and generally scratched my head at how unintelligible the Next Big Thing turned out to be. After a string of late night sessions trying to make object embedding work across applications for a customer, visions of Bill Gates in a flowing robe, and hat of moon and stars, sucking the aggregate programming energy of any potential competitor would flit across my bleary vision. Up until then I had never actually seen a hammer turned into a screwdriver. It's no wonder Java appeared on the scene.

But this isn't a comparison of programming models as much as admiration for how Microsoft has the ability, albeit when nudged, to right the ship and produce something great. Say what you want about Windows, Office, SQL Server and any other product, the one area Microsoft has always excelled in is developer tools.

Microsoft was nudged by Java. That's the one thing you can thank Scott McNealy for. And the result was they hired one of the best, if not the best, programming language designers in the world. Not only did they hire the best, but they inspired them too. Maybe it was money, or maybe it was a free hand to build the languages they wanted. Whatever the root, the result is the best development environment, the best development language and maybe even the best runtime.

In fact they did a bang-up job, and then shared the .NET runtime specification.

About Face

Even though .NET has been out for several years now, the office applications have been conscipously .NET free zones. It's very understandble: legacy code making billions of dollars that no one wants to touch. But now comes the need to take business productivity to the Web 2.0 era. Ray Ozzie has an excellent vision for melding the desktop with the web. It's time for the Office apps to move to a better platform.

Except that the last thing MS wants to see is their Office apps running on .NET. Or more precisely, running on .NET on a platform they can't influence. Yes they have produced software for Apple. MS Office for Apple even generates a nice amount of revenue. But Microsoft gets to decide what MS Office for Apple is and how it runs. If MS moved Office en masse to .NET, and if there's a .NET framework that can run on Apple or any other NIX, then users would get the exact same office experience regardless of platform.

The Mono project sponsored by Novell does exactly this. This would have the unfortunate effect of reducing the value of the Vista investment and their Windows cash engine. The underlying tension is between moving productivity apps into the future versus maximizing brand and return on investment.

While Microsoft once may have dismissed Linux in particular and open source in general, they now hold them with high regard. The last thing Microsoft would want is to open another front in a battle to maintain control of the desktop. Though it might seem far-fetched to view Mono being as large a threat today as Linux was yesterday, Microsoft can not afford to be wrong.

So Microsoft and Novell get together and on the surface talk about patents. However, my guess is it has more to do with .NET and Mono and keeping a genie in a bottle.