Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Report on UKOUG DE SIG 11-OCT-2007

The Oracle City office played host to the last Development Engineering SIG of the year. This meeting focused largely on the Tools aspect of the SIG's remit. I would like to thank all of the presenters for contributing to what I found an interesting and useful day.

Jeremy Duggan of Joraph started the day with an overview of Application Express. This was his first gig as a speaker, although he has been running (or co-running) the Designer SIG for a number of years(1). For a first attempt it was very good. Jeremy has a nice conversational style and a good command of his brief. He also had the right amount of content to fill the time slot without rushing the end. I liked the way Jeremy put Application Express into the context of his own IT career: that helped us to understand why he appreciated the tool. Personally I wanted to hear more about the case studies, but these things are not always easy, especially if the client has made you sign an NDA. Jeremy got confused about his role only once, when at the end of his talked he almost led off his own round of applause.

Simon Day from Borland had the next slot. Simon is another old hand from the Designer SIG. He has a great presenting style. His talk was billed as Requirements Driven Approach to Testing Oracle J2EE applications. The JDev element turned out to be in the demo, which didn't work. This gave me an opportunity for a cheap shot about not testing the demo, which I duly took. Sorry, Simon. He presented a summary of findings from the usual business analysts (Butler, Gartner et alia), which show that the top three reasons for IT projects failing are:
  1. Inaccurate requirements;
  2. Incomplete requirements;
  3. Changing requirements.

Well, durrr. We all know that. We just pretend these things aren't going to happen this time. It is this apparent inability to properly deal with the errant requirements which causes the problems: forty percent of all project work is re-work. Fortunately there is an answer and it is ... a suite of software produced by Borland. I bet you didn't see that coming. To be fair, managing requirements and the code which satisfies them and the automated tests to validate that code is a complex task, one which obviously demands a tool. I was just hoping for a solution which didn't necessitate a procurement process. I sure elongated and overly-complicated procurement processes is number four on that list.

Next up was Tim Hall, reprazentin' Oracle-Base, talking about Oracle and PHP. Previously I had tried to get a presentation on this topic from two different sources. Both had mucked me about. Then I noticed that Tim's web site was written in PHP, so I asked him if he would do a talk about it. He was reluctant at first, because he doesn't consider himself a PHP expert. But the whole point about PHP is that it allows numpties to build web sites. Er, not that I'm saying Tim is a numpty. So he took the bait. His presentational style is like that of the Cillit Bang adverts: here is a sample of code, this is what it does. Clear, concise and focused. It was just a shame that Tim's demo didn't work either. Still, at least Tim had the consolation of Nietzsche to fall back on.

After lunch we had a second presentation on Application Express. Oracle Consulting's Gus Charnell talked us through some of the New Features in ApEx3.0. This was a marvelous complement to Jeremy's talk, because we could see just how easy it can be to build and change pages with the tool. One of the questions which came up at Mike Hichwa's sessions at the UKOUG conference last year was with regard to ApEx reporting. ApEx is free but Oracle were proposing to implement reporting use the decidedly not-free XML Publisher: how did Oracle propose to resolve this licensing conundrum. Gus's talk gave us the answer. ApEx can produce simple (i.e. single query) reports using Apache FOP style sheets, but if we want anything complicated we'll have to spring for BI Publisher licences. Still, with the increasing functionality of SQL we can pack a lot of sophistication into a single query. Gus finally broke the hex on failing demos. However, it did take a bit of voodoo (changing a variable value, committing and then changing it back) to generate the PDF.

The final presentation of the day was Harvey Raja, also of Oracle Consulting. Harvey attempted to compress about a day's worth of content on JDeveloper 11g into forty-five minutes. He made a good stab at it. Java these days is a bewildering torrent of TLAs, standards and bizarrely named libraries (ICE Faces, JGoodies). On the other hand, the applications we can build are slick and flexible almost beyond belief. The cynic in me wanted to know the spec of Harvey's machine: JDeveloper never runs that fast on my PC and I don't even have the ADF version installed.

I must start thinking about the next SIG soon. It's earlier in the year than usual (last week of February) so I really need to get most of the sessions confirmed before Christmas. If anybody would like to present please contact me or Julius. We promise not to kill you, so it can only make you stronger.

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