Friday, March 17, 2006
On occasion I am fortunate enough to participate in various Vendors early adopter programs in getting bits of products before they are publicly available.  WIFM is by the time the product goes mainstream, I will have had a number of pilot projects under my belt and be ahead of the technology adoption curve, which is what keeps me employed.
Of course the Vendors want something in return, usually a customer reference as the idea is to have a partner work with a customer to use the early software bits as a pilot project.  The good news is that you and the customer get to see a real early and generally working view of the product.  The bad news in being a bloody beta tester is that more often than not you jump through (sometimes massive) hoops, cause the product simply aint ready yet.  Thats the trade off.  However, Vendors could do more for their Beta testers as we will see.
The amount of time it takes to install these products and get them configured right, particularly when various dependant products are also in various Beta stages, makes it a necessity to use Virtual PC (VPC).  Virtual PC allows you to run a software emulated computer in your host OS.  So I am running XP as my host OS and the VPC image is Windows 2003 Server configured as an App Server, along with SQL Server 2005, VS2005, WinFX 3.0 Beta 2, Community Technical Previews (CTP) of various other bits and pieces.  The list goes on and on.  Something like a dozen items over two days to get it installed and it has to be done in a certain order.  Dear Mr. Vendor, would it be so hard to have all of the software on one DVD and a single button that says install this scenario, just like you have in SQL Server and VS 2005.  How hard can it be?  Btw, the VPC lifespan is about one month as new Betas and CTPs will appear, making your image obsoleto as it may (read: will) not be upgradeable as we shall see.
VPC works great, but you spend a lot of time loading ISO images and restarting the (virtual) computer.  Of course the VPC software emulation (even with 2 gigs RAM) is much slower than your host OS, but the advantage is that you can take snapshots of your VPC image after each item is installed and if things go wrong, you can copy your previously working image and be up again very quickly.  One problem is that our image is now 16 gigs in size and takes a while to copy across the network.  The other major advantage is that all of the developers are working on the same VPC image, which if your code does not work on someone elses image, its your code thats broke, not the config, which makes our requirement for single unit under test condition true.
Now enter the Beta product I have been testing. We have been working on Beta 1 for a little while and it took a while to get the image running right.  There also is little documentation.  Which is a bit unusual from this particular vendor cause generally they are very good on docs and code samples.  Dear Vendor, please at least have how the tools work documented so we can at least try them out and not guess how they work.
Then comes along a Beta 1 refresh.   This is the Vendors response from the crush of feedback for Beta 1, coming to the realization that we cant wait for Beta 2, so lets give em a refresh, which really means, whats the latest known good build, ok, ship it!  The documentation says that there is no upgrade path.  No upgrade path to this Beta 1 version nor will there be an upgrade path for future versions.  Now I know this is Beta software, but I think it is a bit inexcusable when the end user (the developers in this case, including me) need to go through massive hoops of uninstalling the previous version, including other add-on bits like WinFX, etc., and then installing the newer version, only to be told that you still have not removed enough of the old version to continue, even though according to Add and Remove Programs it looks like I have already uninstalled everything.  Argh!
So now what?  Back to a previous VPC snapshot, that now needs Windows updates, a restart , plus a newer version of WinFX with a restart, plus I needed a virtual DVD software emulator to mount the ISO images, in the virtual PC, (wha?) and man, on it goes and I have not even got to the new Refresh install!  Which by the way the refresh has a list of 20 components!
During the installation process on a restart, I got a message that said, Since Windows was first activated on this computer, the hardware on the computer has changed significantly (authors note no it has not).  Due to these changes, Windows must be reactivated in 3 days.  Do you wish to reactivate now?  I said yes, first to find out on-line that the number of licenses has been exceeded.  Then I was given a number to call which an automated attendant asked me to read a sequence of 40 characters (took forever) and then was told that this was not right and that I need to talk to a customer service representative (ooooohh a human being, how rare).  The customer support rep, who was very nice and gave me another 40 characters to enter in (after I read my characters back to him) and activate my version of Windows.  Btw, this was done before I uninstalled all of the previous Beta 1 software and tried installing the new products Refresh only to be told I had not uninstalled everything previously.  So I just trashed the entire image.  So much for the activation.  Double aarrgghh!!
So now I am installing everything under another VPC that I had saved off that does not have any of the original products Beta 1 bits on it for sure or the rest of the software I need for that matter.  I hope I dont get that reactivation message again.  Dear Vendor, if there is no upgrade process, please provide an uninstaller tool that can completely removes the Beta or CTP product thoroughly with absolutely nothing lingering around.  Would have saved me days of effort.  Triple aaarrrggghhh!!!
So what about the Refresh install?  It is almost growing season here in BC, maybe I will get a job picking grapes because it will be much easier and far less bloody than this!