Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Seamless Desktop: No More "Cntrl C" and 'Cntrl V"

The desktop of the future - or even the one available in the immediate future - will be one which would not need Cntrl-C and Cntrl-V keys. Information will be available, within ones context, within ones application, within ones document and spreadsheet, with a single click, allowing one to work with an uninterrupted thought flow.

And it will be happen sooner, than later. The time for the Future Desktop, the one they call by different names - Desktop 2.0, Business mash-ups etc - the desktop user interface that has no boundaries for an information seeker, is NOW.

There are already glimpses of it from the technology world. There are several I have looked at and liked, such as the Google Desktop. Some I have seen a sneak preview/screenshot of - such as Windows Vista Sidebar and gadgets. Some of these technolgies have been around for some time - though they did not have the "Desktop 2.0" tag with them, such as desktop assistant, and even our own, Extensio Desktop Extender.

Clearly, the seamless desktop, a need long felt, is now upon us. It is early days yet to say how it would look and whether it would finally meet the "information on finger tip" promise, but it sure promises to be an exciting time.

- Sangeeta

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Just take this Duet Quiz!

I came across this interesting quiz on Duet. It tells you a lot of facts about Duet that are sometimes glossed over in sales colleterals and demos. There are some interesting ones as well.

Just to share - I got 8 out of the 10 questions right! Duet-watcher as I am, I still discovered a few things. Like I did not know that Duet required 1G of disk space.

Well well, we live and learn, don't we?

- Sangeeta

Friday, June 30, 2006

Office 2007 slips again...

Microsoft has announced another delay in the shipment date of Office 2007.

The news article quotes Michaie Silver, a Gartner analyst, on an important point - a point that must be a source of considerable heartburn for enterprise who bought the 'future" story of Microsoft:

"Gartner analyst Michael Silver noted that the delay in Office could hit some businesses hard, particularly those that signed volume license contracts in late 2003. Such Enterprise Agreement or Software Assurance contracts offer, among other things, the right to any new versions of the product that come out over a period of time, typically three years.

"Each month they miss is another group of customers that renewed EA or SA in 2003 that got no new version of Office for their payments," Silver said. "It was just March when Microsoft emphatically stated that Office 2007 would be on the October price list. Even at close range, they can't forecast this stuff."

In other words, people paid money to Microsoft for an upgrade that they never got. Boy, it must be making them- oh so mad.

One rule that I have learnt the hard way. Avoid paying for anything that is going to be delivered in the future. Even if the person who is promising you the future is the biggest software company in the world. Pay post delivery. Pay now for what you get Now.

Poeple who think about buying Duet which would deliver more value packs in the future than it does today, may want to consider the past record of one of the Duet members.

- Sangeeta

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Things Vendors do - Hope that does not happen with Duet

Check out this link for a strip from Dilbert Comic. What a take on vendors and lock-ins!

Let us see the product road map for Duet. Value packs to be delivered in the future, Development tools to be delivered in the future, Excel connectivity to be delivered in the future...Hmmmmm, Makes one uncomfortable, does it not?

- Sangeeta

Monday, June 19, 2006

FAQ about Duet: As heard at SAP Summit, Mumbai

Last week I was at the SAP Summit in Mumbai, India. Great event, with some 2000 people participating, maybe about 60/70% of attendees were SAP customers or actively considering SAP for their ERP application.

All the three presentations on Duet were enthusiastically attended, some 400 people, with several people standing and crowding at the doors. The speaker faced a barrage of questions - here is what got frequently asked, across multiple sessions, sometimes by more than one person:

Q1. Can Duet be extended to other business processes?
Ans 1: Not at this time. It is right now limited to the four scenarios we have. Later we will build value packs.

Q2: Can I build my own Duet scenarios? Can I build links to MS Office for myself?
Ans: Not at this time. A Duet development toolkit is currently being created and will be given out to partner companies later this year. GA would follow. Another option being announced by Microsoft is LOBI program, which uses Office as a front-end interface and provides development interfaces to developers. Details are not yet out at this time.

Q3: Will I need to buy SAP license for Duet even if my user has a SAP license and a domain license and a Office license?
Ans: Yes. ( Disbelief from the audience)
Q3- repeated by the same person: Maybe you did not hear me right. I said I already have a SAP user license, and have a Office license. Would I still need to buy ANOTHER Duet license?
Ans: Yes.

Q4: What about Excel? Will Duet include Excel? Or will that be a seperate license?
Ans: Yes, Excel will be included in Duet. Dates to be announced soon.

Q5: Why do you need SQL Server in Duet?
Ans: Duet needs SQL Server to store its repository. You need what is known as Lean SQL Server (I think thats what the guy said)

Q6: The current scenarios are more for project companie, and only for employee processes. What about manufacturing companies? Can I use Duet for my SCM application and create Outlook processes with my vendors?
Ans: The SCM scenario using SAP is planned in value pack 2. If you have some other SCM application, Duet would not work against that.

I walked out at this juncture. I could sense the feeling in the room, of Duet being not being what they thought it was.

Outside, a bunch of CIOs were sharing notes. One CIO said that he would wait for the next upgrade cycle for the desktops. Maybe by then, Vista would have shipped, several more value packs would be out, and maybe the development tools would be out as well. One said that he did not see himself spending on Office upgrades to get this level of functionality, and for only one application SAP. Another CIO lamented that he had hoped Duet would hekp him reduce his licensing by providing SAP access on Office. Alas, this was not to be! Another CIO wondered - Would this reduce my TCO, how? One CIO looked puzzled, "This thin delivery is so unlike SAP..."

It is.

- Sangeeta

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

People wise up to see the upgrade agenda in Duet

As recently pointed out, Duet enables Microsoft to push upgrades.

One can understand why Microsoft is doing it, but the reasons for the other Duet partner to do it continue to escape me.

- Sangeeta

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Why Write a Blog on Duet?

Duet is a category creator kind of product in the area of desktop connectivity, an issue close to my heart, and one that I am invested in, in multiple ways. I like the fact that industry chiefs, SAP and Microsoft, have recognized this end-user pain, and that some of the issues I have seen end-users battling with, would be resolved in the future. Several folks from the blogosphere have wondered here and here why I have chosen to write a blog about a specific product.

I write about Duet because I have serious misgivings about the way it is composed. The way Duet is created, it would have the world believe that end-users can ONLY achieve desktop connectivity if they did the “n” things that Duet asked them to do – ie Upgrade desktops, install huge middleware, upgrade SAP itself etc. But this is not so.

I know. We have done it with much much less.

Knowing what I do, I cannot but speak about how a technology product is being crafted and architected in a manner by industry leaders that pushes additional priced components to an unsuspecting customer. Duet is the almost the first BIG product in this category, and customers don’t really know that desktop connectivity can be done any other way except the Duet-way. And hence, this blog on Duet.

Incidentally, it is not that the flaws pointed out by me have been unnoticed by others. I have, in fact blogged here about how I felt when I found like-minded folks saying the things I have known about Duet – about limited scenarios, about it being too-much-for-too-little, about its lack of legacy support, and its lack of development tools.

I must add that I do admire SAP for its market insight and its astuteness in recognizing the need of end-users, and creating Duet. With Duet, SAP has built a serious competitive differentiation vis-à-vis Oracle. Jeff, brilliant moves here by you and the anti-Oracle team of SAP, by crafting this competitive strategy. Some day, if and when Oracle falls behind, it may find Duet had a lot to do with it. For those who are interested, here is my take on the desktop connectivity battle here and how it may affect the enterprise vendors in the future.

On technology side, I like the SAP side of the Duet middleware architecture, with its Netweaver middleware based on ESA framework, even though I struggle to understand its reason to upgrade to mySAP ERP versions. But what I really dislike is the way Microsoft has pushed in its own upgrade agenda by choosing an IBF based framework, while responding to desktop connectivity problem. Whatever Duet’s functionality is, SAP could have delivered the same without involving Microsoft. Adding Microsoft to the desktop connectivity solution has muddied the picture – added upgrades, created the need for giving piece-meal value packs, tied it up Microsoft development plans – worst, took away the development framework and tools. Including Microsoft in this project adds no value to SAP customers.

I cannot see why SAP had to do this. I asked Dennis Moore, the “father” of Duet about why SAP chose Microsoft’s IBF as its development platform here, and I have not heard from him yet.


Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Evolve Ads of Microsoft

Here is one of the Evolve ads of Microsoft I spoke about in my last post. They are, ummmm, rude.

Rude to people who do not bite the carrot for the unnecesarry upgrade. People who do not want to shell out more money to keep on doing the same stuff.

Calling your own customers dinosaurs - how can that be nice ? Looks like customers need to be called filthy dirty names, complete with pre-historic pictures to jolt them into upgrading to the new versions. Microsoft sounds desperate. For more rudeness, check out the Evolve flash movie from the Microsoft site.

The recent people ready ad, though completely inane, is at least not humilating.

And SAP agrees to be a party to this kick-butt way of selling things, and wants to sing Duets about it? Why should it?


Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Wanna sing? Enroll for an upgrade first!

I asked a question in Jason Wood’s blog some days back to Dennis Moore, General Manager, SAP and the father of Duet. I asked him why SAP chose to use IBF framework from Microsoft to build Duet, when there were existing, stable alternatives such as Office Add-in interfaces that could be coupled easily with SAPs ESA framework for providing MS Office integration. No answer yet.

I am not surprised by his silence. It is a tough one,

By choosing IBF as the development platform for Office connectivity, SAP paved way for a solid win for Microsoft. IBF is supported only on Office 2003+ Professional editions and with IBF based Duet, Microsoft would be able to force its upgrades down the throats of enterprise users – and consequently, Microsoft can share the spoils from Duet. SAP wins because it expands its user base right into the desktop space, installs and deploys it middleware, and Microsoft wins because it gets its desktop upgrades - the one thing that enterprise users have stubbornly resisted, because Office 2000+ itself is “good enough” for them.

Net net, SAP and Microsoft win. But what about the customer? What does he get for all that expensive upgrade he has to do for Duet? Firstly, he gets Office 2003 professional on his desktop, which he did not want in the first place. And he gets the fairly limited scenarios from SAP, with a promise to get more, which no doubt SAP would deliver in the fullness of time. I simply cannot see CIOs or CFOs happy about this pay-now-get-benefits later buy.

It is easy to see why Microsoft is willing to push down its own MBS team and push for Duet from external SAP. After all, Duet might - just might - achieve what its Evolve marketing program could not do. Kick butt of Office 2000+ enterprise users and get them to upgrade.

But, it is hard to see why SAP felt the need to force its customers with MS Office upgrades. Just why would SAP want to do that??

- Sangeeta

Friday, May 26, 2006

The 'Don't Touch Me" Duet from SAP/MSFT vs "Build It As You Please" from others

As pointed out by Josh Greenbaum of ZDnet in this post, Project Harmony from IBM connects Notes to SAP and multiple other data sources. Is'nt that great? I mean, how many customers have no other application system other than SAP? That any desktop application technology should be multi-rooted, and connect to several data sources, is surely a no-brainer.

Better, Harmony can be changed out customer site, using Lotus tools - as declared by Rocky Oliver here. As Rocky observes " Duet is a "closed" application, meaning that you cannot modify it at all - you either use it as-is, or you don't use it. " Without doubt, the approach followed by IBM, and my firm, Extensio for desktop integration, that come along with its development tools, is far more extensible and flexible than Duet. Although Harmony works only on Notes, and that makes it unusable by most enterprise users who are on MS Office, it certainly is built better.

I was amused by the comparison of effort required by Duet and Harmony. Rocky claims Harmony was done by two/three engineers - while Duet took 2 whole years with hundreds of engineers in the making. But that is another story.


Thursday, May 25, 2006

Connected Excel: Different perspectives

Connected Excel means different things to different people.

Most vendors when quizzed whether they connect with Excel would nod their heads vigorously in the affirmative. Sure, they connect with Excel. Have done it for years. Piece of cake. Easy-peasy.

But they could be meaning any of these things:
Type #1 Creating reports in Excel format: Most vendors provide an option in thier reporting application to dump the report in Excel. Once those reports are created, they are spat out on the users file system. Thats it. Done. The Excel file, then, is the usual frozen-in-time Excel file, disconnected with any application, incapable of being refreshed with fresh data.

A variant of this is when the reports are mailed out using some e-mail server to users mailboxes at specified time intervals. The

Type #2 Taking in Excel files as input: Most vendors also provide options for importing data from Excel files. Provided the excel file is in the format specified by them. Provided it lies in a specific directory. Provided it contains no other data. Not your everyday use Excel files, but files specifically created for data input purposes. You could have as well created a flat file.

Type #3 Talking to only "their own" Excel files: Some BI vendors give birth to Excel spreadsheets from their applications, with their VB code in it. This VB code acts like an umblical cord between these Born-to-BI spreadsheets and the mother BI applications. In these spreadsheets, you can refresh data from the mother app, sometimes even upload data to the mother - but these spreadsheets cannot be tampered with. They are special - and you need to take care to let them be pristine. You cannot play with them, cannot put other data into them, nothing.

Type #4 Providing web service interfaces for Excel: For Excel 2003+, vendors claim that they have web services interfaces that can be called using the web query feature of Excel. And vendors actually expect end-users, the average Joe, to make sense out of XML LOL!

There were no credible options to connect Excel with enterprise applications. Not after Extensio came in though!

There are some voices heard about Excel connectivity in SAP's and Microsoft's Duet (formerly Mendocino) , but as far as I could see in the current release, all they do at this time is provide the Type #1 type of connectivity - ie create Excel files - and with its e-mail variant. With the hype that is created and the promises I see in the Duet Colleteral, that was a bit of a let down, but I am hopeful. Surely, biggies such as SAP and Microsoft have more for this 400M strong user application!

- Sangeeta

Value Packs - The piecemeal delivery of Duet

SAP announced the delivery of forthcoming value packs on Duet. And they were received enthusiastically. Or so they said.

Why do I find that so difficult to believe?

How can any customer be enthusiastic when the money that he pays for something (Office connectivity to SAP) is paid upfront, while the value is delivered in future via scheduled value packs?

More importantly, how can a customer in this time and age be enthusiastic when he is given no tools to build his own links to MS Office? Isnt this an age of web services and build-and-deploy-your- own technology, and when power-to-the-developer is critical for any purchase decision?

Folks, anyone who is evaluating Duet for implementation in their companies - take a hard look. There is plenty that is not told to you!

- Sangeeta

Voices from the Blogosphere about Duet after SAPPHIRE'06

It has been interesting, reading the Blogoshpere post about Duet after the Sapphire. I found some of my observations on Duet shared by other fellow bloggers.

Jason Wood posted this incisive blog on hurdles in the path of Duet adoption, with a critical one being of whether Duet would allow other parties, and data sources to get involved in providing Office connectivity. With only a "duet", when end-users are likely to want a orchestra, this Duet might just sing flat!

Ismael Ghalimi posted about how it could become really important for support for legacy SAP and MS Office to drive adoption of MS-Office connectivity. His excitement about the possibility to extend Duet using web services interfaces may however come a cropper. With the public trouble brewing between Microsoft Snap-ins and Duet, I wonder if SAP and Microsoft would invite other third parties to add to the chaos. Duet is likely to end up being a severely restricted bridge, with only "value packs" travelling on it.

My guess is, Duet is a heavy marketing and sales driven initiative, with each of the parties salivating about the huge upgrade revenues, and the additional user licenses. The fact that the end-user gets value in such a limited way , which I posted about earlier, does not bother any of them.

Hopefully, the customer will know better.

- Sangeeta

Monday, May 15, 2006

Connected Desktop? Wazzat?

What I define as "The Desktop" is the machine that sits on our tables, is used almost exlusively by us, and the runs Windows and MS Office. I know, I know, there are plenty of other non-Microsoft users, but most people - as it is for me - this desktop-microsoft linkage is a given.

Our desktop has two spaces - a personal one, and a public one. The personal one is intensely private and has its own, quite often self created, word documents, spreadsheets, text document or any other such desktop applications. This space is barricaded inside out desktop. We want no one snooping in there. The other public one is our window to the world, looks outward, and talks to the other information entities around us - internet, enterprise applications and such like.

These two worlds talk to each other using the magic keys of Cntrl-C and Cntrl-V. With these magic keys, we take data from one space to the other, without violating its boundaries. When the data moves into our personal space, it freezes - while the public world keeps on changes, keeing synch with the changed reality.

Keeping our personal space frozen in time is irksome. To make our personal space reflect real world. we need to use the Magic Keys. We need to get up, switch windows, start another application window, get what we want from the internet or any other such data source, select the required information, use the Magic keys, format it in properly and then put it in back in our personal space. And then, do the same over and over again if we wanted the latest. Aaarrgghhhhh....

Enter the Connected Desktop. A technology need born out of the necessity of keeping our personal desktop space up-to- date with the real time world, minimizing the need to open and close windows and using the magic keys. A mechanism that lets our personal documents in Word, Excel and others be refreshed with the latest data available from the public space.

Isn't it time that we use other ways than the old Cntrl-C and Cntrl- V magic keys?
Duet is built like a turnip. Scantily leaved at the top, real heavy in the middle, and tapered off root.

Duet connects up with Office at few interfaces - some links with Outlook, some promised ones with Excel, some in workflow - points of connectivity at several places, with a .net client fanning out the leafy fingers at "select" Office interface. And not just any Office - but Office 2003+ onwards.

Duet's middle consists of a stack of really heavy middleware that runs only on Windows servers- Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft .net Server, Microsoft SQL server, Active Directory, SAP Netweaver, SAP Composite Application Runtime...Whoa! That is some middle!

Duets root is what is really really thin. It can talk to only SAP, and that too only for a few transactions. Can't go into any soil, except mySAP ERP 2004+.

How would Duet meet the expectations of a Office user, built this way? Office users need roots like a banyan tree - to all data sources inside their enterprises. Need it to be like a full blown tree at the top, so that it can bring data from all back-ends to all their interfaces and branches. And they want the trunk to be strong, and something that can grow roots of its own.

Have a look at Extensio's desktop connectivity solution. Check out how it compares with Duet on the roots, the middle and the leaves.

What would you, the desktop user, rather have? A turnip or a banyan tree?

- Sangeeta
Duet is a technology AFTER its time.

So says Vinnie Mirchandani, an ex-Gartner Analyst, in his blog about Duet/Mendocino. There is no one - not users, not vendors, not buyers and not even analysts that disagree that connecting up Office with enterprise information is a need whose time has been past due. People have wanted it, asked for it and salivated for it for years.

Yet, enterprise vendors and Microsoft did not provide credible, do-able options for Office users. Not till Duet. The noise over Duet is like a collective nodding of heads. In agreement over the need to get the enterprise knowledge worker access enterprise information on his tools. Not too many people have looked beyond their nodding heads to figure out just how limited or how expensive the Duet option is. Duet is limited to SAP and Microsoft, needs upgrades in both these systems, needs a lot of expensive middleware, and will be a bear to manage and deploy.

The fact that enterprise vendors did not provide credible options is really strange. Office interfaces have been hogging mindshare and time-share of users for years and years now. To connect them up to enterprise applications is surely a no-brainer. But it did not happen. Certainly not because of technology hurdles. There were options provided even in earlier Office 2000 versions that developers could use to build bridges between Office and enterprise apps. There is a whole thriving community of vendors who did just that. However, no large enterprise vendor seriously thought about the needs of desktop users. They were too busy chasing the new devices (mobile), or the new interfaces (portals) or perhaps even architectures, or buying over other players.

The entire Office users market place has been lying fallow for years.

Duet has moved on this fallow land and staked it claim on its future harvest. With Duet, SAP and Microsoft have established an early lead in the Office interface market. This market is huge. SAP executives have said that they expect Duet to not just double, or triple - but grow its user base by FOUR times. That is some market!

The desktop interface is easily the most lucrative interface market going at this time. Every person in the enterprise is a potential user, and each one of them can potentially pay for connectivity to enterprise information. Duet is the first player, but its approach is so seriously flawed that the next entrant with a leaner, meaner and extensible technology can easily obliterate the gains made by Duet. This could happen before the next wave of "value packs", as called by the Duet team are delivered.

The browser wars are over, and irrelevant. The next war will be for the desktop interfaces. It should be fun to see how it unfolds.

I am going to talk about the chinks in the armour for Duet in a while. Watch this space!

- Sangeeta

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Not only is Excel disconnected, it is risky too!

Using Excel is risky business. There are numerous examples of the risks shouldered by Excel usage documented at length at, a worldwide interest group focussed on this very issue.

One of the major reasons for the risks of Excel is the risks of having bad data. While this is a risk for any application (Remember the old principle of GIGO - Garbage in, Garbage out), this risk is very large in Excel, because Excel is largely populated by hand. Worse, there are no audit trails, as there are in enterprise applications. Once the data is entered in Excel, it just sits there and is emailed around.

No one knows who put the data in Excel, no one knows if someone changed it, no one knows if it is current.

A connected Excel can solve this problem in a big way. If Excel can be connected to data sources, and in a manner that does not need to user to learn complex SQL or XML, a single refresh can take away all the data risks for Excel. I presented a paper on this problem in the EuSpRIG conference last year. My co-author and I had suggested a mechanism of connecting Excel to back-end sources that can reduce the data risks of Excel to a large degree. We did build out most of what we had said. Check it out.

I heard that Microsoft is getting into the act and creating what is called as the "Excel Server" to mitigate some of the risks, and serve this very large user community. Not many details are out at this time though. It is slated for release sometime in the next few quarters.

- Sangeeta

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Why Mendocino/Duet from SAP and Microsoft

Who needs Duet (Formerly called Mendocino) anyway?

Can't be business users. Can't imagine them getting excited about automating their leave application process. Which is what the current implementation does. But extend the possibilites of working with enterprise application within MS Office, the user interface of choice by business users, and it begins to make perfect sense.

Makes sense only when one "extends" the possibilities of connecting Office beyond leave applications, beyond budget management and beyond SAP. Extends the desktop interface to interact with all enterprise applictions, the internet and the intranet. In a manner that is secure. And which does need one to throw away what one has and buy another piece of software.

None of this is what Duet does. Duet connects to only SAP, only a few transactions, only on Outlook, only on Office 2003 or Office 12, only for mySAP ERP 2004...

Its the ONLY that begs that question - Why do Duet, if it gives back so little for so much?

Why listen to a Duet, when you need to listen to full bodied symphony, with mutliple singers, multiple voices and multiple instruments?

- Sangeeta

Friday, February 17, 2006

Excel: The Data Island

Not that this needs to be said, but here it is anyway. Excel is one of the most popular tools to be used on a Microsoft desktop. If someone is using a desktop, and is working on it for more than three hours in a day, besides using the browser, Excel is perhaps what is being used.

Using this wonderful piece of software, people build their portfolios, their contact lists, their business model, their companys financial results, their production plan, their home accounts- the list is endless. The users puts the data that needs to be worked on into Excel and get cracking. This wonderful piece of software sits there, on the desktop, smug, completly oblivious to the fact that there is a teeming world of information out there. Excel with its pristine, neatly laid out rows and columns, gleaming white, waits for its users to populate it. The users love its scratch-pad like flexibility so much that they spend their time heavy lifting the data from multiple sources, or worse, typing it all in, never mind working the fingers to death. And all this in times when the information superhighway is zipping by, carrying loads and loads of information. Even in these times, if you are a Excel user, YOU are the one who is going to do the work for getting the data into it. No, siree, no other options!

Amazing, isnt it? I mean, if it had'nt been for the fact that we are "used" to Excel being this way, this is the first thing we would notice about Excel, right? That it is not connected to the "rest of the world". Its a data island.

And it has stayed that way. For years and years. At least till date. Barring users who can write complex SQL queries and know XML, getting data into Excel is as manual a process as it used to be, back in the information stone age. This, for a software that is HUGELY popular and perhaps contains about 25% of the worlds data!

Ok, ok. Maybe I exagerrate. Maybe there is 5% of the worlds data in Excel files. Maybe it is 30%. Who knows - there aren't any studies that tell you where people keep their data. But most of us know intuitively know that if a day dawned when the Excel application stops reading our XLS files, it would be a bad day indeed. Very bad. For some of us, disastrous.

So, how come we don't have Excel connected to the "rest of the world"? How come we can't download our data straight into Excel, whichever the source? How come it is still so painful to populate our Excel file? How come we love the fact that we have to only type a URL to get the data we need in a browser, and continue to be resigned to the painful Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V where Excel is concerned?

Makes one muse, does'nt it?