Sunday, June 24, 2007

More on MindManager

Thank you for the comments on my previous MindManager blog entry!

Granted, performance issues can certainly depend on many different factors. According to my information the majority of the users don't seem to have performance issues. But there also seem to be a non-negligible number of users who did experience those issues.

However it is no help to the latter group of users if the former group of user have performance issues.

In my particular case when I observed the performance problems
  • There was enough free memory (hundreds of MBytes)
  • There was enough free hard disk space
  • CPU usage was less than 10%
  • No network usage
  • No disk I/O

That basically indicates that probably more than one thread is running and a lock conflict is happening with one thread waiting for the other. Eventually a time-out will occur and the software continues to run. This is just a guess based on my observations, and the real issue might be a completely different one.

If you have used and developed professionally many different software products over 15 years then you start to get a sense for when a software has an issue. If a promise is given several times ("Update and the performance issues are resolved...") then I simply stop believing it. Instead of asking me to pay for an upgrade that solves an issues I would prefer to get a properly working version in the first place.

Anyways. Too many words already spent on the subject. I will consider giving version 7 a try.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

MindManager, Performance, and Other Issues

For gathering new, complex, and broad areas of knowledge I found mind maps to be a very efficient tool. Although drawing on paper is often faster, an electronic version has it's advantages, too. As a product I use MindManager.

I have been using MindManager from MindJet for a several years now. Performance has always been an issue, but admittedly the featureset has improved over time. Each time there was a new version the company promised that the performance issue would be addressed.

I can't remember which version I started with. I upgraded several times, and currently the version number is 6.2.399 Service Pack 2. The performance with a map of reasonable size is poor. My laptop has no CPU usage, no I/O, plenty of free memory, and no network activity. When pressing the "Insert" key to add a new topic, it is as if the product doesn't do anything at all. It can take many, many seconds until it does something.

Of course I did complain to technical support. The people were very responsive. They suggested to switch off hardware acceleration for the graphics adapter. I tried that, and it helps. Sometimes.

Some observations:

  • Suggesting to switch off hardware acceleration is basically like saying "Yes, sure did you buy the Ferrari, but adding our add-on allows for driving in first gear only." I didn't pay for a laptop with graphics hardware acceleration just to hear from a software vendor that I shouldn't use parts of it. That's not what I would call protection of my existing investments.
  • Why is it that other software vendors are able to write software that has no issue with hardware acceleration?
  • When I disconnect from the network and/or run the computer with batteries, the performance becomes even worse. I have had instances where MindManager didn't respond to user input for 15 minutes or more. By then I decided to kill the program. What has the network to do with graphics hardware acceleration?

A more "minor" issue is the function "Balance Map". If I could only figure out, what it is good for... When I click it, it rearranges the topics, but I can't find that the map is more balanced... Usually I have to print it on larger sheets, or I have to use a zoom of 38% instead of 50% or so.

Now, MindJet has made available version 7, and they encourage me to upgrade. Of course I have to pay for the upgrade. Why should I trust them that the tool has really been improved? Why should I pay for an upgrade if I cannot even get the existing version in a status that allows me to fully use it?

Given my experience I might just go for an open source tool or try a competitor. Maybe there are competitive cross-update offerings... Maybe I try FreeMind. They even claim that their software is faster to use than MindManager.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

And another story

Let's see who thinks this time that I'm telling his/her story...

Again, I met a friend, let's call him Peter. Does he really exist? I don't care as that is completely besides the point. It is more about the story which, again, I have heard more than once from different people. In this case the first and the last account are several years apart.

The story goes like this: Peter is working for a consulting company. They developed and delivered a system that collects certain information across large geographical area. Part of the solution is using mobile devices for this, and once per day the data is transferred back to the head quarter to a central server.

The problems started when they started to work on the part of the software that deals with the transfer of the data to the central location. The firewall settings and the security policy of the company didn't allow for a direct connection, not using SSL (or any other secure means) and not even to a server in the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone). Then Peter asked whether they could sent the data via email, e.g. as an attachment which could then be picked up by a server. This solution wasn't acceptable either. Peter's client started internal discussions, and the went on and on.

At some point the delivery date of the project was at risk, and Peter couldn't wait any longer for a decision to be made. He had to come up with a solution.

Peter discussed the problem with his team. After some lengthy discussion, back and forth, they found the solution:
  • Print the data
  • Fax the data
  • Enter the data

Yes, you are right! Faxing was ok. And then some people in the headquarter of Peter's customer would take the received faxes and enter the data manually! Crazy, but it saved the delivery date for the overall system.

Update: In the meantime the customer has settled on a much better solution and the data is now transferred via SSL to the DMZ, where it is picked up and transferred to the server within the firewall.

Morale: Sometimes you have to be very creative and adaptive to make the deadline. I think Peter and his team were very agile!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Where my stories come from

Once in a while people ask me where I get my stories from. Well, there are many different sources but most of the time they develop as I talk to friends.

All the stories I tell in this blog are inspired by true facts and data. However, in order to protect people and companies, I never tell a story that is based on a single account only. I know people working for over 25 different companies from all over the world. Only when I hear a similar story at least twice from different companies I assume a pattern. Then I take the information and use it as an inspiration for my blog.

Sometimes there is also a large difference in terms of when I have heard the different stories. One story I might have heard many years ago, while a different one I just came across recently. Together they may suggest a pattern. One story might have been from a very small compay, and a different one may come from a very large one. One story might be from Europe, and the other from India or Australia. These stories are particularly interesting as they may reveal cross-cultural patterns.

I ask you for your understanding that to protect my sources I will not reveal any names, locations, times, or other specifics that can be used to identify a company or a person or a source. Only where I have the expressed permission from a person or company I can give more specific details. Generally the names I use are not the real names.

Or as they say at the end of the movies: all my stories are inspired by real facts and data, but any resemblance with actual people, companies or events is pure coincidence.
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