I'm sitting here on the plane, heading home, enjoying the glorious handwriting recognition on this build of Windows XP SP2 (remember, Tablet PC users get a nice free upgrade with SP2) and thinking about "things that just work."
At this moment, the handwriting recognition "just works" - unlike the wireless at TechEd today. If it wasn't low signal strength, it was an inability to get DHCP. I thought the promise of wireless was ubiquitous connectivity? Now, of course there were 20,000 geeks also trying to get IP addresses, but still.
I tried using BlueTooth to transfer some files to another fellow, but we couldn't get it working. The interesting thing about BlueTooth is that everyone has a BlueTooth device. I mean, they have one device, not devices. How many of you have a BlueTooth device that has never been "toothed" to another device? I would guess 75% of us.
For me, BlueTooth is about as useful as my IR port. why is that my IR port will suddenly tell me that... (insert IR six-million-dollar-man sound here) ... "Some dude you don't know is nearby" when I'm alone at Starbucks, but when Ben is sitting next to me we have to engage our IR ports in Cinemax-level soft core porn to get a signal? Of course, when we do eventually get a signal, the progress bar doesn't move, but dammit if that little IR animation doesn't keep running long after Explorer has crashed. we usually (we sure did at this conference) use a USB drive.
With ad-hoc 802.11 (seriously who uses this?) and BlueTooth and IR, why do we use Thumb Drives? They work. Madness. FTP a 20gig file? Nah, screw it... you'll get better bandwidth with 5 DVDs and FedEx. (Really, you will. Do the math. You can get like 3 megabits a sec with overnight 10am FedEx it you ship it by 3pm.) It just works.
There is a subtle (as a brick in the face) difference between "It just works" and "I got it to work."
I gave my 85-year-old cousin a laptop a while back and he's emailing family pictures all over the place. However, I recently found out how he's been saving pictures that are emailed to him. Turns out that in Juno the only way to save an attachment is with an undiscoverable (to him) right-click. But, you can print with one left-click. So, he prints out all the pictures he wants to save, then uses his scanner to scan the printouts back into the PC.
Funny, sure, but think about it. The scanner software "just works" - he can scan and automatically save with one button on the scanner. Frankly, I think it's pretty clever. (He has since learned to right-click on everything.)
Old ideas made new when "it just works."'
I had given up on simple voice over IP before Skype. You know you've tried to get Windows Messenger to show audio and video and various while sundry firewalls and nonsense have thwarted your efforts. so you said, "Screw it." Then some comes along and it just works. Google is another classic example.
Tying this back to TechEd...
So, what is the protocol if "It already works?" Visual Studio team Services includes Unit testing, Code Coverage and some workflow management stuff for assigning tasks. One could argue that "it already worked" with all the Open Source tools we know and love. We shall see if this is a value add, or maybe there's some Not Invented Here (NIH) going on? This can happen certainly between companies but it's even more interesting when it happens within one company; let me give you an example.
A Tale of Four Image Editors
How many Image Viewer/Editors do I have on my system? No, that's not interesting...how many Microsoft Image Editors do I have on my system? Well, there's Paint. And Picture and Fax Viewer. And Photo Editor (in accessories) and the Office 2003 Picture Manager. I can view pics quickly with the Picture Viewer, but can't edit. I can do red-eye fixes with the Office Manager, but not edit or composite. I can edit and composite with Paint, but not resize. None of these Just Work. Any of them could have just worked. If I were BillG or SteveB (who no doubt read this blog) I'd be on the phone immediately and nail this whole "image viewing/editing" thing down. (I didn't even mention the attempts called Microsoft Digital Image Pro or *gasp* Picture-It. I was being nice by pulling punches.)
If we can finally unify the type system by agreeing on the size of an int, then surely the Windows Media team can ship one standard viewer/editor for the most static of media. It should just work.
A Tale of Four Workflow Systems
I wanted to sneak this one in even though it's redudant. I'm not sure (please correct me) if the Visual Studio Team System's task workflow engine integrates with SharePoint or Outlook, but...it seems to me that I now have four Task-Assignment/Not-Quite-Workflow engines. Outlook's Tasks and Assign Task features, SharePoint's Task system, Microsoft Project's Task System and Visual Studio Team Editions. None of them are full-blown workflow engines for software project management. They are more "Task Applets." Hm...I wonder if they edit JPEGS?
And tying it to Web Services...
Now, WS-Security is needed, but the jury is out on the other WS*.* specs as far as their benefit/barrier-to-entry/tools ratios. But SSL just works for those who don't need intermediaries. So does IP/Sec and Smart Firewalls and Routers. For the matter, a nice XML Document with an XML Schema works fine without a SOAP:Envelope.
I love SOAP, and I enjoyed being involved in a tiny way in the WS-I Basic Profile, but I will continue with cautious otimism and use technologies that just work while following the K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple, stupid) principle. No need to thread a needle with a sledgehammer.
P.S. This whole post was done via handwriting recognition.