Why You Shouldn’t Listen to Me, and Why You Should

Ah, Karma, you rise up at the least convenient times. (This blog post is not meant to imply a belief in preordained futures, divine intervention, or the existence of the Perfectly Normal Beast.)

Yesterday, I had somebody ask me not to speak about something at the Springboard Virtual Round Table. I didn’t react particularly well to this particular piece of … erm … guidance, so in retribution Karma decided to pair me up with a completely drained car battery and an emergency service technician with the world’s worst sense of direction. Which of course gave me plenty of time to think about things.

And I concluded that you shouldn’t listen to me, or, really, anybody. And, at the same time, you should.

(Perhaps I should have put the fact that you should first, to avoid losing readers.)

So, what happened?

I demonstrated Access 2007 and Access 2003 running side by side. What you didn’t see is that I also sequenced (and yes, ran on Windows 7) Access 2.0. Hello 1994. If you ever attend my talks at conferences, you may see me occasionally do something like that – a quick firing up of an app that brings back a wave of nostalgia that sends approximately 5% (max) of the people in the room on a trip down memory lane, and is done quickly enough that the 95% who don’t remember that ancient piece of software aren’t annoyed. Seeing it again positively delighted me, while making me wonder how we possibly ever thought that was good. (Teal with blue shadows? Seriously?)

But I was told (not asked) flat out that I could not run that. It gives the wrong impression. We are trying to convince people that App-V is not an app compat solution, and if it doesn’t run natively on the OS we don’t want to show it running in App-V, because that applies that App-V is a remediation solution.

The engineer in me thought that, while I certainly don’t want to mislead people into thinking App-V is an app compat solution of any significant merit, if you try to make things cut and dry, then you’ll be disappointed. Because the reality we’re trying to portray with messaging collides rather inconveniently with the actual reality where App-V does fix the one problem that keeps Access 2.0 from running natively on Windows 7, and you’d have to apply RunAsAdmin, CorrectFilePaths, or loosen ACLs to get it running without App-V. You see, in my world, the theory never gets to win, it’s reality that gets to win, and reality had spoken loud and clear via my perfectly functional and incredibly silly demo.

But here’s the problem with that thinking: in my world, it’s my job 100% of the time to understand the system top to bottom. I have time to understand subtlety. I have the ability to dive as deep as I want, so long as it helps solve somebody’s problem somewhere. But for the rest of the world, you just want to get done. You don’t have the same luxury of time that I do. And, if my demos were the only information you ever received about App-V because you never had any more time to learn about this one little niche of technology, you’d come out having watched with your own eyes one app not being fixed by it, one app being fixed by it, and you wouldn’t know what the h*ll to think, you’d conclude that we’re all mental, and you’d go off and become a sheep farmer.

As a result, it’s really important that, if we’re the only message you see, we don’t self-contradict (even though the contradiction exists only because we haven’t gone deep enough to resolve the paradox), and we give you the one high-level message that helps you make the best decision, even if the abstraction we give you is a leaky one. We’d rather err on the side of whatever approximation saves you the most time, money, and heartache if we have to approximate.

The same is true of tools. I’ve looked at all kinds of output that suggests that something might have gone wrong, only to find that it works perfectly well. Believe me, the people who make these tools know that they’ll get some things wrong – they just want to get the high-level numbers that you depend on to make decisions right just as often as they can.

I have the same problem when building a hypothesis while debugging an application. I use my imperfect knowledge of a huge system to make what is, hopefully, a pretty good guess about what’s going to happen next, but I’ve concluded and believed stuff really strongly countless times when one small failed assumption along the way led me to the completely wrong conclusion and I wasted a ton of my time.

So, keep in mind that, while we’re always working really hard to distill this enormously complex and sometimes fiercely non-deterministic system into a set of rules you can use to actually get done with your job before we release Windows 14, that rule can be an oversimplification that isn’t always true. No matter how clever the source, nothing should trump what you see with your own eyes. A good source should always lead you to saved time, but in this world you always have to trust but verify.

Also, if you ever have somebody tell you something that you don’t initially agree with, you should spend the time right then and there to understand why they believe so strongly in what they’re saying, in a respectful manner. Unless you like hanging out in parking lots waiting for service vehicles.

Comments (6)

  1. Dale says:

    "App-V is not an app compat solution, and if it doesn’t run natively on the OS we don’t want to show it running in App-V, because that applies that App-V is a remediation solution."

    Wearing my tech hat, it’s cool that App-V can do that.

    Wearing my customer-tech hat, "Arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!  Do you know the grief it causes when you want a customer to migrate off a product when it’s out of support, and not even supported on the OS the customer wants to go to.  And some then character goes ‘this is how to do it’"

    Had this problem with an NT4 -> WinXP migration.  Outlook 97 long out of support.  Wouldn’t work on Windows XP.  Some character said "Hack this, and change that."  And the customer was stuck on Outlook 97 for another 2 years.

  2. cjacks says:

    @Dale – yes, I totally get that. I’ve had customers say, "um … can you please never tell anybody that you could fix that, so we can retire it?" In the end, it becomes a business decision, not a technical one. I then try to guide them towards business decisions that are the best idea long term, which certainly would NOT be to keep Access 2.0 around 1 second longer!

  3. Greg says:

    I feel your pain brother… one of the challenges here is to remember, "who is the client?" My boss or the customer…

  4. anonymous says:

    I got Internet Hearts and Internet Reversi from XP to work in Windows 7 using App-V. I badly wanted to get Windows Meeting Space working but that doesn’t have a "setup" to monitor.

  5. I have Windows XP Pro, I think it is update to 3.5. Can I just install over XP/Ubunti… Two systems . Do I have to uninstall or can I just install over it . My Ram is getting Low as well. Will Vers 7 work on both sytems… I am fairly new and not real sure. Thanks and have a Good Day.

  6. I am still confused as to if it will even work as of today.