From the labs (April 08)

Staying on the cutting edge to help you work smarter, expand your business, save time and money, and satisfy your inner geek can be a full time job. So each month we'll keep you posted on important and interesting products and services, and not just our own. In this, our inaugural edition, we think it's appropriate to talk about the next WinTOTAL. It's the product most appraisers use every day, and the next generation is truly cutting edge.

Armstrong has reached liftoff
The sixth generation of WinTOTAL, codenamed Armstrong is well under way. And like every previous version, we're working on it as we continue to improve Aurora in parallel. So as part of our team works on Armstrong, the other continues to focus on Aurora. (pq)

Armstrong is a complete, 100%, ground up rewrite. Not a single line of old code is being used. Using a house as an analogy, you can add on and remodel, but the foundation doesn't change. And it's the foundation that makes everything else you do possible... or not possible. So, we bought a new lot and are laying a new foundation out of the latest and best materials.

Programming in C#
C# (pronounced C Sharp) is the latest in programming technology. So whether you're a super geek or super appraiser, there are several reasons you'll be glad we're using it.

In plain English, there are two important things that make C# a fantastic choice. First, if you've ever wanted WinTOTAL to run faster, you'll be glad to know C# handles memory better than Visual Basic (VB), which is what the other versions of WinTOTAL have used. It makes for a much faster, lighter and more stable final product. C# also makes memory management automatic, minimizing the chance for human error.

Another important C# element is its improved function libraries. This streamlines bug fixing and makes building the product more modular. For example, there are five ways to load an image into WinTOTAL. Currently, if we want to make a change, a programmer has to manually fix it in five places. With C#, we can update the image loading module in the function library once, and it's automatically applied throughout. There are hundreds of examples of this in any program, so streamlining it is a huge step forward. The net result is we have a more easily managed code base and you have a more stable, consistent program. Overall, C# is a much better platform for us to build the next version of WinTOTAL.

An all new forms engine
The forms engine is the heart of a formfiller, and what impacts you the most. As part of the rewrite, we've built a brand new one. Previous versions of WinTOTAL, going all the way back to when we converted WinTOTAL from DOS to Windows, have been built layer upon layer using what amounts to the same forms engine. While Aurora was built using new pieces of Visual Basic .NET architecture and implemented SQL databases, it still has that same basic underlying forms engine. So going back to the house analogy, it's relied on the same foundation despite the numerous additions, remodeling and upgrades it's seen over the last 10+ years.

So why haven't we rebuilt it sooner? Why haven't you rebuilt your car's engine to get better gas mileage and more horsepower? The answer is the same. Rebuilding the engine is expensive, laborious, and complicated. The forms engine is what handles everything from the very basic (typing in a field) to the very complicated (transfers and calculations). It's the brain and the muscle behind everything, so tinkering with it isn't something done over the weekend.

But, it's time. So we bit the bullet, and started from scratch. You're going to be very pleased.

Why the codename of Armstrong?
It reminds us (and hopefully you) of what we're doing. Louis Armstrong often played in C# (according to Wikipedia anyhow), he was ground-breaking, smart and very, very cool. We think the codename Armstrong is fitting. We have no idea what its final name will be. One of the programmers suggested his name, but WinTOTAL Jimmy doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. Maybe we'll get away from the Greek goddess thing. Who knows?

Windows Vista Certification
In addition to being re-written from the ground up, we intend Armstrong to become Certified for Windows VistaTM. Our DaVinci data gathering and sketching program is the first appraisal software in America to earn this designation (click here to learn more) and we expect Armstrong to follow suit. Software that's Certified for Windows Vista:

• Is designed for ease of use and better performance
• Is tested for compatibility on Windows based PCs
• Adheres to and implements Microsoft security guidelines
• Protects your privacy
• Installs and un-installs reliably
• Ensures compatibility on 32-bit and 64-bit editions of Windows

First steps
There are going to be two "phases" in the development and release of Armstrong, which is something we've never done before. We think you'll agree that this kind of evolution makes sense.

Standard Edition
First we'll release a Standard edition of Armstrong. It will be very lightweight and basic, skipping the bells or whistles. In fact, Armstrong Standard won't have reports, comps or photo databases so it will run much faster. We've also decided to leave out the Appraisal Desktop and the Digital Workfile. Think light, simple, no frills.

There's clearly a demand for this kind of appraisal software. It's perfect for new appraisers getting into the business, trainees, use in the field, and for appraisers that only need to create WinTOTAL files part time. And the learning curve will be very minimal.

It's important to note that just because it will have fewer tools, the tools it does have will still clearly be best in class. We're not going to take an existing feature and hobble it just to make it fit the "no frills" approach to the Standard edition. Quite the opposite. If it's going to have a tool, it will be best in class or it won't be there at all.

And by doing the Standard edition first, we're ensuring a solid foundation so as we develop the Enterprise edition and begin layering on features and functionality, the whole platform will be solid and the kinks worked out.

Enterprise Edition
Of the three levels of WinTOTAL currently available, Enterprise is by far the most popular choice of our customers. It's the most fully featured and robust. We won't begin development on the Enterprise version of Armstrong until after the Standard version has been released. That means Aurora will continue to be our focus for some time.

Being a product designed and built through the lab, we'll have labs prototypes available for download just like we did with DaVinci. We'll be asking for your feedback and involvement to ensure the final product is truly representative of your needs. Feel free to contact us in the lab at any time at labs@alamode.com.

To learn more about the labs, visit www.alamode.com/labs.