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The Product That Wont Die


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The problem is not new

* Excerpts from "The Product That Won't Die", by Tom Spitzer (February 1997):

"Everything that happened between 1992 and the end of 1995 promoted Microsoft's core database and tools strategy and increasingly marginalized Visual FoxPro, which was released late and was not promoted outside of the FoxPro community."

"After the initial release of Visual FoxPro, application developers complained about the product's performance and stability, as well as about Microsoft's unwillingness to recommend it as a serious solution at general developer conferences and in corporate marketing presentations. A simmering situation reached the boiling point in early 1996 with the publication of several articles that indicated that Microsoft would withdraw the product entirely. I believe that Microsoft would have loved to eliminate the product right then and there and leaked the news of its impending demise as a trial balloon. I further believe that the ensuing firestorm in the FoxPro development community included credible threats of legal action if Microsoft had chosen to orphan some significant users. The way I read the situation, this threat forced Microsoft instead to continue with the VFP 5.0 development. Why would Microsoft want to kill Visual FoxPro? From a resource standpoint, there is a group of extremely talented people on the FoxPro team who could be deployed far more strategically."

"For VFP developers, the integration of language and engine makes for a series of extremely productive design surfaces. VFP gives developers an environment where they can build reusable application components and use those components to reduce the time it takes to complete and deploy custom applications."

* Excerpts from "Microsoft's Best-kept Database Secret", by Les Pinter (October 25, 2000):

"I've been developing database applications for more years than I care to admit. I'm about to share my best database secret with you. If you go to Microsoft's database seminars, those all-day sales presentations about how to use Microsoft products to build databases, you won't hear a word about FoxPro. I can't say why Microsoft doesn't mention FoxPro, but go to one and see for yourself. No F-word."

"If you've already tried to build database applications in another language, you're in for a pleasant surprise. FoxPro development typically takes about half as long as it does in VB, and it's much easier to learn. I can't say why Microsoft doesn't include FoxPro in its database seminars. Perhaps it's a secret. Maybe it's hidden in this article, like an anagram. But you already own FoxPro, so give it a test drive. You'll be impressed."

The problem is recurring

In the last 2-3 weeks (today is september 2, 2002) there were some very active threads in the UT about an annoying and recurring subject: the death and poor marketing of FoxPro by Microsoft. That encouraged me to start this Wiki topic.

The central point is: Microsoft doesn't market FoxPro as it should/could do (this is what most FoxPro developers think) and how long it will take before Microsoft discontinues the product. Will the next VFP 8.0 (codename Toledo) be the last version? Will there be a VFP 9.0?

I've been watching and participating in many of these threads since I started attending FoxPro forums about a year ago. It seemed to me that many FoxPro developers are very concerned with the above issue, and its impact on their careers. Should they start learning a new language? Should they think about leaving FoxPro? Should they develop new apps using another tool and keeping FoxPro for just their old ones? Should they convert old FoxPro apps to a new language? Should they wait and see what happens? What should they do?

The anguish caused by all these questions has a direct impact on the decisions they'll have to make, and will affect their way to make money to feed their families and it, therefore, helps fuel discussions about what should/could happen to FoxPro.

Before you go any further

At this point, I must explain that what I'm trying to do is not to write another text complaining about FoxPro's dark destiny. If that was my intention, then I would not have chosen the title "The Product That Won't Die". On the other hand, I am not saying that FoxPro will never die. One day it will, sooner or later, but (in my opinion) not in the way we think it will.

The purpose of this page, therefore, is to look at the problem (the anguish and angriness that this situation is causing) from another perspective. I don't want to fuel even more of those discussions and it is not my intention to criticize or offend anybody.

Who's complaining? Who'll lose?

I can see that all those discussions have many points in common, that is, the arguments and the explanations given by FoxPro developers and Microsoft (VFP team guys). Also I could notice many people that are frequently participating in those discussions, but I never realized before (and that's the new thing about it) who are those people that don't get involved (or don't complain). I'm not meaning any person in special, but the profile of those that don't get involved. Of course I don't see any problem with that. That made me remember the Eggs Bacon Principle : who is just participating and who is committed (in keeping FoxPro alive).

In other words: those that have been complaining about FoxPro's destiny don't seem to me to be those ones that will have the bigger "losses" if it gets killed. But these are the most passionate complainers.

On the other hand, it seems to me that those companies committed (most deeplly involved) with FoxPro will suffer the bigger losses ("I further believe that the ensuing firestorm in the FoxPro development community included credible threats of legal action if Microsoft had chosen to orphan some significant users." - as quoted before). That's the point!

This apparent paradox brought some questions to me, that I'll tell you about in the next section (Some questions).

I'll outline the FoxPro community (by kind of involvement) for you to understand what I'm trying to say. Look at the outline below and rank the level of involvement/commitment and dependency each group has. Try to figure out what it would take (time and money) for each group to reorganize its activities if FoxPro fades and finally gets discontinued. Then try to realize each group's losses.
Of course this is not the complete range of activities the FoxPro community is involved with, but think may serve to the purpose of clarifying the idea.

Looking at the above list, and recalling those people that are more actively involved in complaints (no offense here), it seems to me that the bigger the "operation" less the complaint. Or should I say: less concerned with the problem (at least people that are part of these companies don't use to participate in threads discussing that subject). Or less worried.

The problem, to me, seems to be more serious to a company that produces and sells something to a FoxPro developer than to the developer that buys its product. The developer can shift to another tool quickier than that company getting out of the FoxPro market, for example.

Some questions

What the bigger operations (be it individuals or companies) involved with FoxPro know that the smaller operations (be it individuals or companies) don't? Why they are not complaining (at least publicly)?

Why some people, without anybody asking them, rush to help Microsoft answer some questions regarding FoxPro's future?

If its true that those that may suffer the bigger losses complain less (maybe are less worried with the problem), have they realized a way to deal with that problem? Or there is no problem at all? (If so, that send us to the first question)

Why Microsoft hasn't yet discontinued FoxPro? Or, Will Microsoft discontinue FoxPro? Or, will FoxPro become a new product in the future?

Why Microsoft, having so many tools (C++ C#, VB, VB.net, Access, J++ and maybe some others that I'm not aware), and launching others from time to time, don't have a place for FoxPro? If that's true (there is no place for FoxPro), it take us to the previous question.

My point here is not to get the answers to the above questions (albeit I would like to have them), rather to wonder that if I'm worried (and anguished) with what could happen to FoxPro, there are many other people that can suffer bigger losses with a decision made by Microsoft to kill FoxPro, than me, and are not (at least publicly) complaining.

The Future of FoxPro

I don't believe FoxPro will be discontinued, ever. Not in the sense of the word "discontinued", as we understand it, may guess or believe. Think it will turn into "something else". That's why I chose the title "The Product That Won't Die" for this page.

It won't die the way DOS doesn't die.... people will go in using the last standard release for years, but useage will tail off exponentially until only a few are using it. My predicition is that Visual FoxPro development will cease sometime between 5 and 10 years from now, if not sooner, probably about the time the next WinOS comes out. Longhorn, isn't it? The new OS will be so different that Visual FoxPro won't fit in at all. To use Visual FoxPro folks will have to stay with XP or Win 2 K or Win9X, something that MS is forcing people NOT to do by means of 'security' patches. data format changes, etc..., or update to .NET compatible languages and interfaces. By then all the 3rd party links to .NET will have gone beyond the embrace and extend mode, and into the extinquish mode, leaving .NET developers totally in a pay per use licensing scheme.

Microsoft's commitment to Visual FoxPro can be measured in their whitepapers advocating Visual FoxPro as a business solution, the size of their advertizing budget, and the targets of their Visual FoxPro PR campaigns. So far, the principal target is the Visual FoxPro community, which is a way to appear to advertize and not spend much time or money on it.

From my POV their efforts with the Visual FoxPro community are such that they are treating the Visual FoxPro community as geriatrics and the Universal Thread forum as a 'nursing home', attended by some big name nurses, where some patients will die and others will move to .NET & C# (get well). That is what CoDe is all about too.

I estimate we will be using Visual FoxPro 6.0 in the development mode for maybe another five years, and in the support mode for five more years. By 2012 Visual FoxPro will be history here, if not sooner. - JerryKreps

So, if you're just giving the eggs (and still complaining) think about those that are participating in this "breakfast" giving their own bacon (and seems that are not even worried about), and calm down.

One possible take is not that the bacon participants don't complain, just that for many reasons they tend to do so less publicly. The bacon participants are more likely to have closer access through friendships with Microsoft employees, or through contact with Microsoft employees at conferences and other events. I certainly agree that on balance the bacon participants are publicly less vocal about VFP marketing but I submit that nobody with stakes in VFP, including most if not all of the people involved with VFP at Microsoft, is happy with the promotion and marketing resources allocated to VFP. The root of this whole problem, I think, is the VFP Revenue Model.-- Steven Black

Reality check
It would be an understatment to say that if you are banking on MS to market VFP effectivly in the future you are being grossly irresponsible to anyone relying on your income. Even if it is around for another 5 versions, the market share is dropping off quite fast. Chekc out the Roadmap MS laid out on their MSDN site. I know it is about VS.NET, but how many times have we heard how great VFP interops with .NET? Would have been nice to mention this.

Also the mind of your customer has to be kept in the forefront. Imagine your the buyer of a new car. The dealer tells you " BTW, if you want anyone to fix the car, you have to bring it to a monk living in the Himalyan mountains. Also, there are virtually no repair manuals for this car." Does this give you, the buyer, the warm fussies? I don't think so.

When MS tells us, "well we have no control over what the publishers choose to print, either for books or in magazines." Baloney! Publishers choose what to print based on the importance that MS puts behind their own products. Its not a mistake that publishers are cranking out a 1000 books on .NET. MS is marketing that methodology to the max. If MS attached any importance to VFP, sales would increase thereby driving a need for more books/magazines.

Marketing soley to the current customer base and relying on product upgrades to sustain the product line is not a viable long term business practice. This is a formula for attrition, plain and simple.

I really hope more can be done in marketing. But if that is not going to happen, start learning .NET now. It may take a few years!
Harold




Originator: Fernando Alvares
Category 3 Star Topics Category VFP Marketing
( Topic last updated: 2002.10.03 11:23:16 AM )