New Microsoft Visual FoxPro 8.0 Driven By Customer Feedback

REDMOND, Wash., April 21, 2003 — When Pal’s Sudden Service, a restaurant chain with 18 locations throughout Tennessee, started looking for software that could manage virtually every aspect of its operations, the company had a tall order to fill. The software had to be flexible, scalable, interoperable — and it had to adapt to the diverse operational requirements of the restaurant industry.

Released in February, Visual FoxPro 8.0 provides new support for XML Web services. Click on the image for a high resolution photo

Fortunately, Pal’s and its development partner, Silver Creek Technologies, LLC, had the right recipe. Silver Creek created a comprehensive restaurant management software system called SysDine that has helped Pal’s more than double its market share since 1994, achieve customer quality scores of nearly 96 percent, fulfill orders 30 percent faster and drastically reduce transaction errors.

Among the key technology ingredients in the SysDine system: Microsoft Visual FoxPro, a development tool for creating database solutions of all sizes. Building upon the benefits they’ve already achieved, Pal’s and Silver Creek are now upgrading SysDine to take advantage of new usability development features included Visual FoxPro 8.0, which Microsoft released in February.

“SysDine has always been visually attractive, and its forms have been well organized and easy to use,”
says Gene Maddox, chairman and chief technology officer of Silver Creek Technologies, and developer of SysDine.
“Visual FoxPro 8.0’s support for Windows XP Themes, its advanced controls and its enhanced image support will help us move these aspects of SysDine to a new level.”

Input from customers and developers has guided Microsoft’s evolution of Visual FoxPro since the company acquired it in 1992 — never more strongly than in the latest release.

Visual FoxPro 8.0 Continues to Match Developers’ Evolving Demands

Microsoft has enhanced the Visual FoxPro development environment to keep pace with rapid changes in business today.

“Many of the new features in Visual FoxPro 8.0 were taken directly from customer feedback,”
says Eric Rudder, senior vice president of the Developer and Platform Evangelism Division at Microsoft.
“We view the Visual FoxPro community as a great example of developers and Microsoft working together.”

Visual FoxPro 8.0 is the most advanced and reliable version of FoxPro ever released, and is compatible with Visual FoxPro 7.0, which makes upgrading easy. Developers can even create applications with Visual FoxPro 8.0 and deploy them using the Visual FoxPro 7.0 runtime, as long as no new commands and features are implemented in the distributed application. This allows developers and teams to upgrade to Visual FoxPro 8.0 and benefit from the wealth of new productivity features while transitioning existing applications to the newer runtime engine.

“Throughout its history, including [the] recently released version 8.0, Visual FoxPro has been an extremely robust and mature development environment that has kept pace with our needs, and more important, the needs of our defense planners,”
says Brian Jones, vice president of DPRA Inc., in Manhattan, Kan.
“Competitively, Visual FoxPro is the secret weapon used by our software development team.”

DPRA developed the Joint Flow and Analysis System for Transportation (JFAST) which has served the U.S. Department of Defense since Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990s. The application, built with Visual FoxPro, determines transportation requirements, provides course of action analysis, and constructs project delivery profiles of troops and equipment by land, sea, and air. JFAST systems are now being adapted to meet the need for global collaborative solutions.

Visual FoxPro 8.0 offers a local cursor engine, tight coupling between language and data and other powerful features, offers developers a data-centric, object-oriented language and a robust set of tools for building database applications for the desktop, client-server environments or the Web. This allows developers to more easily organize tables of information, run queries, create an integrated relational database management system (DBMS), and program a fully-developed data management application for end users.

“Many developers are saying that Visual FoxPro 8.0 is the best update since Visual FoxPro 3.0,”
says Ken Levy, Visual FoxPro product manager at Microsoft.

For developers, new important features in Visual FoxPro 8.0 fall into five areas:

  • Expanded XML support for thoroughly modern applications in Visual FoxPro 8.0 make it a premier Microsoft .NET-compatible XML Web services development tool.

  • Visual FoxPro 8.0 includes a new CursorAdapter class for unified data access to native Visual FoxPro tables, XML, Microsoft SQL Server 2000, and Open Database Connectivity (ODBC) or Object Linking & Embedding Database (OLE DB) data sources.

  • Object-oriented base classes dramatically increase application flexibility. For example, developers can easily subclass member classes, such as pages in page frames, headers and columns in grids.

  • New interface development environment (IDE) features within Visual FoxPro 8.0 increase developer productivity.

  • Support for Windows XP Themes gives Visual FoxPro applications modern user interface capabilities; this support extends beyond the basic window dressing to include virtually all bundled controls at the form and container levels.

XML and Web Services Support Helps Customers Gain Competitive Edge

While many database tools are only now adding rudimentary Web publishing capabilities to their offerings, Visual FoxPro is bringing its developer base into the XML Web services era.

“People in the Visual FoxPro community told us they wanted the tool to support XML Web services, so we made Visual FoxPro 8.0 compatible with Visual Studio .NET in the area of XML Web services, XML support, VFP OLE DB provider and more,”
says Levy.

“Many developers are saying that Visual FoxPro 8.0 is the best update since Visual FoxPro 3.0. Visual FoxPro and Visual Studio .NET are complementary tools that work great together. A great example is the ability to use Visual FoxPro 8.0 plus ASP.NET for adding WebForm front ends and mobile device front ends to Visual FoxPro applications.”

New data-centric features, broader database connectivity, and added XML and XML Web services support developers’ desire for extensive interoperability in Visual FoxPro 8.0. Support of Web services, developers say, gives Visual FoxPro shops a sharp competitive edge over previous versions of Visual FoxPro.

“A theme we’re seeing throughout our prospects and our customer base is that of connectivity,”
says Maddox.
“[We] must communicate with everything from point-of-sale devices to custom applications. SysDine must facilitate the exchange of data between individual restaurants and headquarters, and between restaurants and vendors. Visual FoxPro 8.0 provides us with an arsenal of tools for moving toward a future heavily based on XML and Web services.”

While adding these new capabilities, Microsoft also heeded the developer community’s call to make Visual FoxPro 8.0 compatible with previous versions as well as with other Microsoft development tools. Visual FoxPro 8.0 does not use or install the Windows .NET Framework and is fully compatible with previous versions of Visual FoxPro. XML Web services created with Visual FoxPro 8.0 can be consumed by XML Web service clients of Visual Studio .NET, and XML Web services created with Visual Studio .NET, and any other standards-based Web service, can be consumed by Visual FoxPro 8.0.

When Pal’s partnered with the Silver Creek development team to create the initial build of the SysDine system, the complexity of building tools to manage virtually every area of restaurant management presented some unique challenges. Its underlying data structures and business logic — supporting human resources, employee training and testing, work force scheduling, quality assurance, customer satisfaction, inventories, orders, recipes and food costs — were exceedingly complex. The software had to provide Pal’s employees with an interface that made it easy to access all this information efficiently. Perhaps most importantly, SysDine had to be developed within the confines of a rapid schedule and tight budget.

“The design and construction of SysDine presented extraordinary challenges to our group,”
says Maddox, who served as lead developer on the project.
“Visual FoxPro helped us to succeed in each and every one of these project areas. We’ll be adding a continuing stream of improvements to SysDine, to better serve our customers and to stay ahead of our competitors.”

Since 1994, Pal’s has doubled its market share and maintained high-quality customer service and reduced its employee turnover rate by nearly half. In the past year, employee productivity has improved by 20 percent, all numbers that Pal’s credits in part to the SysDine restaurant management software.

The software helped Pal’s win two coveted quality awards in recent years. It became the first restaurant company to win the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in 2001. In 2003, QSR Magazine — one of the leading publications in the fast-food restaurant industry — gave SysDine its Applied Technology Award.

The SysDine solution is now being made available to other restaurateurs. This means developers now face the dreaded
word: customization. Maddox says his group is undaunted, thanks to Visual FoxPro’s capabilities.

“We’re finding many customers want us to provide customization services in order to make SysDine fit their operations even more tightly,”
he says.
“Our developers will have to be more effective and productive than ever before. New Visual FoxPro 8.0 tools, such as the Task Pane, the Toolbox, the more powerful base classes and structured error handling will help us accomplish this.”

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