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Update News for March 2012
Here is a quick run-down on what you will find in this bulletin:
In Data Entry Conversion
These topics will be dealt with in more detail throughout this bulletin.
This bulletin, and the next few monthly bulletins, may be of little importance for many subscribers. We are currently focussed on making changes to the software that we use to maintain the data in our system. If all goes well you should not notice anything for the next few months, perhaps a year.
So why bother you with any this? The reason is that we don't want you to think that we have slipped into a coma or gone on an extended vacation. We remain quite busy advancing and improving the software. The problem is that the work that we are doing now is not something that you will see any benefits from for a longer time, perhaps a year. So for those who are curious, we will try to let you know how it's going. For those who don't care; please carry on. If we do make a change to the software you use, it will be at the front of future bulletins.
In that regard the first small step of the data entry overhaul has been completed. We have taken our old DOS rate entry tool, and have now re-compiled it and have it running in a Windows 32 / Windows 64 environment.
That's right, I said our old "DOS" rate entry tool.
As I have tried to explain previously, most of our work over the past 15 years has been to enhance and modernize the quotation program(s) that our subscribers use. The main program is Windows based (GOWIN.EXE) and already runs quite nicely on Windows 32 (Windows XP and Windows 7) and Windows 64 systems (Windows 7 only). We also support Windows and Linux servers for the Internet version of Compulife.
By contrast, the tools that we ourselves use to enter and maintain the data files have largely remain DOS based. There was no pressing need to upgrade those because they have been working quite well. The old rule, "If it isn't broke don't fix it", applied quite nicely. However, it only makes sense to upgrade those old data entry tools at the same time as we are doing a major overhaul to the data structure. The overhaul necessitates major changes to the software, and requiring our programmer to make those changes using old development systems and tools is just the wrong way to go. No one wants to go back to a manual tools after getting used to working with power tools.
So the first objective was to get those old data entry programs re-compiled and operating under Windows 32 so that they will run on both Windows 32 and Windows 64. In that regard our old DOS software will not run in Windows 64, and because our programmer's development system works best in Windows 64, we needed to do an intermediate step. Conversely, the new Windows 32 version of the DOS software, which now runs in Windows 64, will not run in DOS. Therefore, the change that we are making means the new software will require us to say goodbye to running anything on a DOS based system.
No doubt you will think "it's about time" but for those who are familiar with the historical versions of Compulife, we still need/want to have the ability to work and function in DOS.
The reason is that all our oldest historical programs are DOS based. If we were to move everything to Windows 64 systems internally, we would not be able to do anything with those historical files.
You have the same problem if you were to order our historical CD for $99, which gives you monthly copies of Compulife back to the early 1990's. If you are running Windows 64, you cannot use/run those old DOS programs on a Windows 64 machine. Why? Because Windows 64 will not run DOS software which is why I personally still run Windows 32. Windows 64 can run Windows 32 software, but Windows 64 software will not run on a Windows 32 computer.
Our programmer runs Windows 64 because the latest development tools work better in that environment. And there is no doubt that all equipment will someday be Windows 64, so the time is right to move our data entry software to Windows 32, so that it will work in Windows 64. It is also easy to move Windows 32 software, to Windows 64 software, if or when that day ever comes.
Knowing that all this was coming, I had personally moved from a DOS based machine for basic data entry, to a Windows based machine, over 2 years ago. That Windows machine is a Windows 32 machine which happily runs the old DOS software. That system will remain Windows 32 until it has to be pried it from my cold dead fingers. That will let me work and operate in both the old and new world. Once everything is Windows 64, the old DOS stuff will be dead. I will have to keep some old computers around to run it.
On another side note, you should also know that our data entry system is isolated from the web. That is to ensure that nothing can get at it. Apart from protecting ourselves from theft of software, we are anxious to ensure that there are NO viruses in Compulife. Virtually all computer viruses today are web based and web transmitted. By isolating that machine from the web it means nothing can get to it.
The process of re-compiling software for a different operating system is always a pain in the butt simply because the code that was written for one OS (operating system such as DOS) always ends up being somewhat different for another OS (such as Windows 32). What we try to do with the various products that we support is to refine our code so that we make it as "generic" or "vanilla" as possible. That way, whether we are compiling for Windows, Linux or whatever, it requires few if any changes. It also ensures that the next operating system we choose to move on to is as pain free a transition as possible.
Of course that kind of refining has not been going on with the DOS based data entry program that we use in-house. In-house we control the operating system environment and don't have to worry about having multiple variations for multiple OS. Even so, now that we are going to convert from one data structure to another, it is important to upgrade our data entry program so that we can now use the latest language tools and compilers that we are now using for the Windows program that you receive. It also means less tools our programmer is forced to use, making his job much easier and resulting in higher productivity.
So the first step we decided to take was to convert the existing DOS tools to Windows 32. That is now done. But the new program really looks like the old program because it uses the same old-style DOS interface (the stuff that you see on the screen).
This takes us to the second step, where we replace the DOS interface with a new Windows interface (what we will see on the screen). This will take much longer, as menus and screens have to be re-constructed from scratch in a completely different environment. And this is the part where we slow down and take our time because the new Windows interface will let us reorganize the way that we work with the data on the computer screen. That will make the addition or change of companies and products much easier.
This re-organization is also important to get right as it will be the bridge between the old and new data structure (from the human point of view). When we do the third and final step in conversion of the data entry tools, the look and feel will remain the same. We will have the new look talking to the old data structure, and the same new look talking to the new data structure. The third step will change the way that the numbers are stored and managed internally.
We will also have a conversion system, letting us convert old files to new. But we can't trust one time conversions to include everything or be bug free out of the can. So, we will continue to maintain the old data, convert it, then make sure it works properly with the new program. Then, we have to test and ensure the new data tools, talk to the new data, and ensure there are no bugs there. Only after a few months of that process can we be comfortable in abandoning the old system.
Incidentally, the current (old) software is called GOWIN.EXE. The new software will be called CQS.EXE. CQS will do everything GOWIN does now but it will do it talking to completely different data files. For a period of time you will actually have both systems on your computer and we will maintain both, until we are completely certain that CQS is working flawlessly, and that the new data entry tools work perfectly.
As I have tried to explain, none of this will produce any change in what you currently have or see. The goal, in converting from old to new, is to ensure the integrity of everything that we have now, and to ensure that none of that is disrupted or lost when we move to the new system.
Once the changeover has occurred, our job of maintaining the data will be much easier. The new structure will then serve as the foundation for adding a lot of new feature and capabilities that will make the software better for you.
Some of the early benefits will seem subtle but you will find them helpful. For example, sometimes we have to duplicate a product entry to deal with state specific variations. With the new system such redundancy will be eliminated. State variations will be something that we can better control internally within a single product entry. Currently we can only manage maximum ages on a state by state basis, whereas the new system will eventually allow us to handle all sorts of variations by state. The benefit for you will be shorter/tighter lists of products without cryptic notes indicating the differences between the multiples of products stored.
Preferred plus product entries will be completely joined to preferred and regular product entries, cutting down the number of product entries in the system. While we have partially disguised this with our "product family" concept, there are still multiple product entries when reviewing lists of products and/or working with state/province approvals. That will be streamlined with the new software program.
The new data structure will also focus on eliminating rate duplication. In the U.S. YRT renewal tables are currently stored for each and every term product, even though many of those renewal premiums may be the same YRT tables for 10, 15, 20 and 30 year versions of term policies. Those YRT tables will eventually have their own storage system, and will be co-shared by multiple products, thereby cutting down duplication and storage. This means our rate tables will shrink significantly, making premium lookups much quicker.
I realize that some of this talk about "faster" may sound silly, given how well our software already performs, but as more and more of our software is used on internet servers, with multiple requests for quotes happening at the same time, the tighter and faster that we can make our data, the faster the software will run and perform, even under high demand situations. At the end of the day, no one likes to wait for something to be calculated and we intend to keep our software super fast.
Of course if anything needs to be addressed in the current Windows program, during this infrastructure transition period, we will see that it gets our immediate attention. But you can appreciate that right now we are not looking to make significant changes or enhancements to the software until the data has been fully converted.