Saturday, June 22, 2013

Microsoft Project & Project Server 2013 and Office365 line of products: Maturity to generate and support Maturity

Before I start this post, and due to some questions presented at some of my classes, I'll make a simple statement: I'm not a Microsoft man, as much as I'm not an Oracle, or Apple man or even a Red Hat Man. I'm a technology man, with Project Management Career built on top of an Engineering background. So I like efficiency and quality. If a brand I love creates a bad product I will NOT support or recommend much as if a brand I don't like creates a good product, I WILL support, recommend and embrace-it. You see, after years working multiple technologies with multiple projects, I no longer value childish clubbing behavior. Brilliance is all over the world and all over companies...and it is a good thing that every now and then, one competitor rises above others and shines for a while, pulling responses from other drives evolution and that's my point of focus.

Having sad that, lets go into the article.
I' been using Microsoft products to support business and training since as early as Microsoft Windows 2.0... regarding Microsoft Project and Project Server (that I've been using from it's early days), my students (when asking for my honest opinion) would hear something like, Microsoft Project Professional is good, and I strongly recommend it,  Project Server however is not mature enough to justify investment so I recommend you to wait.
That however HAS changed dramatically. Ever since Project Server 2010, that product maturity just leap forward into a top-in-class product. The only flaw would be that it was built on SharePoint, and thought better, it was (in 2010) far from acceptable in my (efficiency oriented mind).
2013 is a leap to brilliance. SharePoint improved immensely  not in terms of concept (as there was noting wrong with it) but rather in terms of is lighter, more robust, just works.
This allowed for what already was a great product to be even better.

The new version of Microsoft Project Professional 2013, is not that much of a leap since the already brilliant 2010. Sure a lot of people that actually understand the software calculation routine didn't think that way (I used to be one of them during the beta trials), but then it was their fault, as the product actually improved a lot and that included the calculation routine, especially towards resource assignment and peak usage.
The most important improvement since 2013 comes from reports that are now BRILLIANT and totally flexible, and a new set of features that you really don't get to taste unless you evolve towards the SharePoint world. You see, now, you can use Project Professional 2013 to edit SharePoint task-lists, and use the brilliant "scheduling engine" in it to make those SharePoint task-lists come to life. This makes Project Professional 2013, not only the "client" app for Project Server, but also for SharePoint.

The Project Server 2013, however is an important leap since it's predecessor. If you just look at features, the comparison is almost equal, but in truth things have evolved a lot.
Project Server has been suffering a fusion with the SharePoint product. Of course this could be done at once, but it would eventually stall product evolution in terms of features that were much needed before 2010. Having reached that point, however, there was nothing to hold Microsoft back, and it shows.
Project Server 2010, used to force you to create workflows using Microsoft Visual Studio and a lot of if you think that SharePoint excels in workflow creation and maintenance simplicity, this was a "turn-down". Well, feel turn-down no more! Today's Project Server 2013 uses the same workflow engine, and as a consequence, you can create workflows visually using SharePoint Designer.
Project Server 2010 used to have 4 databases. These represent the several stages of Data inside the server. Of course that would represent a lot of shifts from database to database between saves, publishes, reports, etc. 2013, does consolidate everything into one database, allowing for better performance and control of data.
Project Server 2010 was available only as a server, so you had to license SharePoint, Windows Servers, SQL Server just to have Project Server... 2013 is offered as both the standard installation you've always had (now called on-premises) and a new service on the cloud (called on-line). This is huge as in truth, most cost of ownership, cost of growing and inability to shrink, and the cost of installation is reduced to near nothing. This is a huge step on the product ans it uses all the benefits from SharePoint and none of the drawbacks.

Microsoft Office meets the world outside Microsoft windows.
Now, Project Server always allowed you to use the web interface to use Project Web App. And that meant better support for cross-platforms and better in-company roll-out options. But if you try out the new Project Server 2013 Online with office 365, you'll experience things in a hole different level.
The new Project Web App is even better, so if the browser has total W3C compliance, it will work in just about ANY platform. Don't believe me? Ok, so I've used it in 3 different Linux types using chrome, 3 different windows versions using both Chrome and IE and even done it on Android 4.0 using Chrome:

And that was not even half the story. I've been editing PowerPoint files, from Linux  using the Web App, I've customized a Microsoft Project Server 2013 report using Excel Web App, from a Linux...

...and this, this is quite something. This is Microsoft saying, we will go cross-platform with our best products, meaning that ANYONE can use them, but there is another hidden message here that is most interesting. In order to move the most interesting software outside the Windows comfort zone, pressure is being placed on Windows team to develop more quality into the future Windows kernels. This clearly places them into a "careful with your competitors from now on, because users no longer buy your stuff because they what to use other better do it right from now on or you'll run out of clients fast".
Obviously this would never happen in the Windows Vista era...first because it was too early for the market and second because it would kill windows faster that a speeding bullet; doing it now that Windows 8 and Server 2012 have excellent kernels, does provide them some protection, but you must admire the gamble and pressure for quality that lies beneath all this "Web App".

There is also something very important in the product line evolution: Project Server 2010 introduced PSI (Project Server Interface). In truth it's a facade to allow coders to interface with Project Server and do...just about anything you can do with see Project Professional 2010, as the Project Server's Client, uses the exact same interface, so you can build a full features Project Professional and interface with Project Server. This is the EYODF (EatYourOwnDog'sFood) at its best. Now Project Server 2013 not only supports this PSI, the "On-Line" option of using it does create a new "complication" for access to database data. Enter the ODATA. ODATA is an open standard for streaming data using JSON or XML interface. Project Server 2013, allows you to use ODATA to generate reports on Microsoft Excel and them publish them on the server. It's clean, it's powerful, it's the future.

Office 365 is big, it allows you to license "as you need", being able to grow and shrink as you need, using either windows and installing the windows desktop version applications, or using the growing number of products being "webalized" into these brilliant "web Apps", allowing for just about any system to run them. Sure not all apps exist for web and it still needs to grow a bit, but you HAVE to LOVE the commitment.

It's been long since I said something like this (long is probably ever since windows NT4 and Windows Server 2003 x64) but, congratulations on a brilliant product line and strategy. Way to go Microsoft this is the culmination of an exemplar pull to mature and integrate a big and complex product. NICE WORK...if you only fix that horrible "metro" thing from both Server2012 and Windows8...