One of the oldest, and most beloved, fables of the slave/story-teller Aesop dating back to the 6th century B.C. was the tale of a shepherd boy who repeatedly tricked nearby villagers into thinking a wolf was attacking his flock. However, when a wolf actually did appear, the villagers did not believe the boy’s cries for help and the flock was destroyed.
Those of us who grew up listening to these simple, yet profound, tales understood that each and every tale had a “moral” that seemed to resonate with the old and young alike. The “Ass and the gardener” taught us that though we might want change, it is not always for the better (an ancient version of “the grass is always greener on the other side”, I believe). The “Wolf and the Crane” urged us not to be greedy but live life with an attitude of gratitude (sounds like a sermon I have heard at least 100 times). The “Fox and the Crow” warned us not to trust flatterers. So what of this “Boy Who Cried Wolf” fable? What is the moral of this tragic tale of sheepish proportions? To answer that question, one must wear two hats. The first hat is that of the shepherd boy. The moral for him is that he should tell the truth, knowing that if he is a habitual liar people will discard him and not take him at his word. This, of course, is social suicide and a lesson many a student has learned. The second hat is that of the villagers. The moral for them is that trust has its limits and that they need to exercise prudence when making decisions about how they should react to warnings.
As a child, I never heard the second application of the fable from the perspective of the villagers. I was only told by my parents, teachers and baby-sitters that lying has its consequences. So let’s take a few minutes and apply this latent application to none other than the behemoth Microsoft itself. Over the years, it has developed or acquired more than a handful of software applications, operating systems and languages. As time and technology naturally progresses, many of these solutions get updated or upgraded to newer versions. Microsoft is no different in this regard. Instead of supporting multiple generations of solutions (which would be practically impossible), it has to draw a line in the sand as to which ones it will support. By the mere fact that they are not supporting all the other solutions does not necessarily mean that all previous versions are substandard or obsolete.
This is where the shepherd boy cries wolf analogy comes in. You see, many waste management software sales people are like that boy crying wolf to the villagers. To better position their routing software, and denigrate the value of others, they cry out to the villagers about the competition, “their software is obsolete; it will not be supported and you cannot risk your business staying with them.” Wearing the hat of the shepherd boy, I would say that he is not telling the truth regarding the natural state of technical solutions. But I want to spend time wearing the hat of the villager, which in this case, represents those unwitting customers that do not fully understand the implications of software evolution. They, like the villagers, need to exercise prudence when making judgments, and as a result decisions, with respect to the direction they need to go technologically. Shame on the shepherd boy for his lying but shame on the villagers for listening!
To bring this a little closer to home, Alpine Technology is faced with a similar situation with respect to Visual FoxPro, a language produced by Microsoft and the language in which Alpine’s waste management software application Visual RAMS- Pro is presently written. Since the announcement that Microsoft will only support FoxPro through 2015, I have heard many a “shepherd boy” crying out to “villagers” about the inadequacies of any application written in this language and the woes of those customers that find themselves attached to this sinking ship. Though I can’t follow around such ill-informed wolf-criers I can take the opportunity to use any platform I have to address the issues. So, for the sake of those interested and prudent villagers, here are the facts:
- Fact #1– Development languages become obsolete. When Visual RAMS-Pro V6 was developed, the language du jour was Microsoft’s Visual Basic 6. VB6 moved into the “unsupported” phase in 2008, yet Microsoft still ensures the runtime is still operational in Win7. The life span of any language is dependent on the company that owns it…period. So here we are 5 years after VB6 is unsupported and it still works. In the case of FoxPro 9, 5 years after unsupported will be 2020, although this can’t be predicted with certainty. However, it is possible to continue running older systems for many years by selectively accepting updates.
- Fact #2-RAMS incorporated SQL server, a leading database solution that displaces the FoxPro tables, in its last two releases. SQL uses long life industry standards and, as a result, poses no real risk to the operations of those using Visual RAMS Pro.
- Fact #3-When is the last time you tried to get support from Microsoft anyway? The fact that Microsoft announced their removing support of Visual FoxPro by 2015 does not mean that the development language itself dies. The community of Visual Fox Pro consultants, users and developers will continue on well into the future. It is in these forums that most support is obtained anyway.
- Fact #4– Long before the announcement that Microsoft was no longer supporting Visual FoxPro, Alpine leadership was already crafting out what the next generation application would look like. Alpine, like every other leading technology provider, has to invest in R&D.
Alpine Technology Corporation has served its customers for over 34 years with stable, industry specific, feature-rich waste management software applications and intends on doing so well into the future. While I still have on my “villager” hat, I feel the need to visit the shepherd boy, show him the errors of his ways and send him on with a stern scolding. However, I know such misguided fervor will only show up in another village so this blog will have to suffice.