Friday, 11 December 2015

OneNote disappointment

As the CBS team member who looks after the office equipment and ensures that all our business data is accessible, moving from just using a local area network for work data to using Cloud storage has not exactly been a straightforward journey. Once upon a time we used Google Drive as a secondary back up to our network drive. Then SkyDrive turned up morphed into OneDrive and we had computers on Windows 7 and 8.1, and theere were glitches because they didn't work quite in the same way. Then the big upgrade of everything to Windows 10 took place, but this didn't solve all the problems, but rather masked earlier problems which we thought we'd dealt with, but not quite. 

Eventually, with a little extra concentration and graft, we sorted this out. Also, I migrated our client dataset across to Libre Office Base to future proof its handling with software that has a reliable tested upgrade path. This I felt was necessary, as we've used MS Works database, dating from prior to 2000 since I set about building the CBS database in 2010. Although Works database is perfectly reliable, I don't quite trust Microsoft not to depart one day from its software backwards compatibility policy with an operating system upgrade installed automatically. 

Microsoft, over the years has retained dominance with its various file formats, and imposed changes through various versions of its MS Office software, driving people to spend on upgrading and the inevitable extra learning required that obstructs the flow of business. I'm a fan of the well recognised Open Document file format of the Open Source Software community, and Microsoft's resistance to accepting universally recognised file formats not its own is far from good for a global communications network medium. One could say the same about the many competing audio and video formats as well, but thankfully there are many software engineers worldwide developing workarounds and alternative solutions.

I moan about these things yet again because Julie our CBS administrator discovered a problem which hadn't earlier been noticed with the migration of data to Libre Office. Almost everything works well, apart from the large data fields containing commentary and notes attached to each client record. Some seem to have exceeded limits of which we were unaware, and created a cascade of errors affecting only these large fields, which we'd decided in any case to store in separate records. While the main body of data is completely intact, the notes are a mess, and don't even display well in any form I've been able to desire. No wonder good database engineers are well paid to deliver their product! So, we've continued to update the MS Works file as a repository for notes until we find a solution.

This afternoon, we tried out the Windows 10 app OneNote, which is a respository for various kinds of note taking which can also store links to files and images. Potentially useful but immediately we found its imitations. You cannot import any data into it. If you try cutting and pasting from a spreadsheet or a database it crashes the app. You can search by keyword, but not sort. It only gives information inputted in date order. It looks pretty, but it's not that powerful, and feels a bit like a bright designer idea which is more a work in progress than a finished product, despite its appearance.

After half an hour's annoyance with the app, we gave up on it in the office, but I returned to it later when I got home, to see if I'd missed out on anything. That was when  found it will accept unformatted texts pasted from a text editor, and that you can then add to any time you want, so with a few hours manual labour it would be possible to use this for storage of client notes, though it wouldn't be in a proper database. So, keep looking, I guess. There'll be something better out there to discover.

After supper we went to Chapter for a concert given by folk singer and story teller Robin Williamson and his wife Bina. Both are still going strong in their mid seventies, performing on stage for two hours, very lively and engaging. We met them when I was at St John's. They did a winter concert for us there and I remember it was freezing because the central heating wasn't working properly. The audience was smaller than it was this evening, but they are brave and hardly people, undaunted by the experience, and we've kept in touch with them since then. They had a young teenage daughter performing shyly with them when we first met. Now she's a graduate and a lawyer, working in Bristol. Time passes.

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