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The Top Twenty Programmer Tips!


November 19, 2002

The programming world can be a scary place.

Acronyms abound, 1500-page books are bedtime reading, and beards and BO rulesupreme. Oh yes, its a scary place.

So, to ensure you dont get lost in the barrage of information out there,weve compiled our top twenty list of programmer tips.

Which technologies should you embrace? How does certification affect you?Should you take a night school course on mathematics or accounting? Wherecan you find solutions to those difficult problems? And how you can network inyour hometown?

Answers to all these questions and more on the very next page.

Print it and keep safe!

When the review copy of Office XP Developer landed on my desk last Tuesday,it sent shivers throughout North Warwickshire. Big thing, it is. And afteropening to find ten installation CDs and three programming manuals, thoseshivers moved to my spine.

It seems the mass of friendly, pastel-coloured marketing material was acunning disguise. This looked just a little in-depth.

I added its installation to my morning agenda. And to say it was a breezewould be a slight understatement. To be specific, a huge understatement.

In fact, if you have the time, its a whopping great massiveunderstatement, Impact font, 8192 points, bold, underlined, printed on a hugesheet of white material, currently being flown from Washington to Texas and thenback again.

Oh yes. You see it took a dozen restarts and double that number of stiffvodkas to get through the standard 310MB installation process even on avirgin Windows 2000 machine.

Still, installation finished - and a quick peruse of the newly designedOffice applications proved relatively impressive.

Aesthetically, the product looks very pleasing. Everything has the VisualStudio.NET feel, cool-looking menus, light non-intrusive toolbars. And despitesome of the features proving a little flaky, I uncovered a bundle of interestingadditions everything from Language Translation in Word through to SpeechRecognition in Excel.

But youre not here to find out about the end-user stuff. You want to know aboutall those new and supercool developer features - so, what fresh programmaticofferings can we find in Office XP Developer?

One feature attracting a lot of attention is Smart Tags, aconcept whereby Office tags certain pieces of text as having a meaning inthe real world. So, imagine youre giving an employee the push and writing hisdismissal letter. Instead of having to search for all previous warnings, youcould simply select his name and retrieve all related documents. Or find outwhere he lives. Or send him e-mail. Or whatever.

In other words, using Smart Tags, were bringing humanintelligence to computerised words. And this very feature is already present inboth Word and Excel.

Why is it important? Well, Smart Tags can be greatlyextended by developers to perhaps recognise, connect and perform actions inresponse to certain pieces of data whether its illnesses, book titles,suppliers, anything.

But watch out even though the feature is great, youll still need eitherVisual Basic or Visual C++ to make use of the bundled Smart Tag SDK. Oh, and theSDK is also available as a free 350k download from Microsoft so, good stuff,but not yet much incentive to shell out extra for the Office XP Developeredition. Oh no.

Moving on and another newly bundled tool is the CodeLibrarian. This much requested feature is essentially a huge, extendable libraryof ready-to-run code snippets.

Covering everything from automating Word through to complextrigonometry functions, this well overdue addition certainly seems to have itall covered. Plus, you can create and distribute your own libraries, allowingyou to share common code amongst your team.

Click here for a larger image.

Whilst probably not of huge interest to many of ourreaders, one greatly hyped XP Developer feature is the ability to createeffective SQL Server- and Exchange-based office workflows.

I personally gave it the once over certainly useful,plenty of document management features here, but incredibly sticky when it comesto setting up through Exchange. Yuck.

Theres also the Digital Dashboard, a new feature thatallows you to build what are effectively customised bulletin boards, a publicbrowser-based page(s) made up of numerous Web Parts. An interestingconcept one that Microsoft has been plugging for a while.

So, useful stuff. But each of these features requires a certain commitment from thestart whilst you may be able to create Smart Tags and Code Libraries on asingle machine, youll need at least one regular machine and a server toexperience the more-advanced Workflow and Dashboard features.

In addition to all the new features, youve also got thefaithful few such as the ability to create regular Office add-ins (VBA, noVB.NET jazz), the Replication Manager for synchronising Access databases, VisualSourceSafe for source code management and a greatly improved Packaging Wizard.

Ahhh, the Packaging Wizard - a big round of applausefor this top-notch addition. Simply select a file whether it be an Accessdatabase or Code Library - fill out the blanks and youve got aredistributable setup program, ready-to-run regardless of whether your end userhas Office. Top banana, very well done, much more VB-like.

Its good to see Microsoft doing more to keep Officedevelopers from being regarded as bottom-of-the-range programmers, too both the online and printed documentation include Writing Solid Codeguidelines to ensure standards are adhered to, something certainly not found inprevious versions. Definitely useful stuff.

Click here for a larger image.

Having used the core Office XP applications for a good weeknow, Im already impressed and recommend them wholeheartedly.

But on the Developer front, whilst Microsoft have certainlyintroduced a bunch of neat new features most of which weve explored inthis article - Im still left feeling these are more nice extras you can livewithout.

Dont get me wrong weve made some great advanceshere. The Packaging Wizard. The Code Librarian. Smart Tags. But theyre allfeatures we can already implement today with just a little extra work. Theydont really excite me.

So, unless youre specifically after Office XP Developerfor its time-saving Workflow or Digital Dashboard functionality, you might justwant to invest those pennies elsewhere. 

Supercool but an essential upgrade? Oh no. Sorry, Bill.

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