Been a While

It has been years since I last wrote, way back in 2012 to be exact, when I was writing for a former employer. When I left that job, I got caught up in my new work, and writing was no longer a priority for me, or I should say my work had me so busy that I just did not have any energy to write. A lot has happened since then – just to name a couple: we moved across the country to Flagstaff, Arizona; our kids both moved out and they are both in college. My current job has taken me back into the technical side of my work, and I’ve discovered that I have fallen well behind on current technologies. As I am catching up, I am the beneficiary of many people’s blogs and forum posts, and this is inspiring me to start writing again and share this knowledge.

To get this started, I re-published the most interesting articles that I’ve written for my former employer. These were all added December 22, 2015, and the original publish date are at the bottom of the article.

I am in the middle of re-working this website, so there will be some changes. The plan is to start with a focus mainly on Microsoft Dynamics NAV, and I will expand into anything that I think is worth sharing. I’ll share articles that speak to me, like for instance this one by Bill Gates about his favorite books in 2015. I’ll share my thoughts about books, which can be newly discovered classics like Stephen Covey’s book about highly effective people, or more recent ones like Andrew Davis’s book ‘Brandscaping’. I saw Andrew at a business event last year, and he is a great speaker too.

Then there is the ever expanding list of things to figure out, such as how to make Windows shortcut keys work in VMWare Fusion on a MacBook, how to stop underscores to auto-format to italics (drove me absolutely crazy!), or where to find the Powershell ISE in Windows 8. Some of these things are surprisingly hard to figure out (for me at least), so hopefully sharing them will help some folks.

The goal is to make this website a body of knowledge of all the things that I pick up along the way. Hopefully it will be of some benefit for you, the reader, and if not then at least I can search this one site for stuff that I’ve collected. Enjoy the read and let me know what you think. Have a great day!

NAS on the Service Tier

If you have made heavy investments in automated solutions that run in NAS you can breathe easy, because chances are that it still works in NAV 2013!!

When Microsoft first came out with the news that the Classic Client was history, and that a number of object types were going to be discontinued, there was a LOT of speculation in the NAV world. Most of this speculation was based on unverified rumors, baseless “common sense” applied to unverified assumptions. One of these assumptions was “the Classic Client will be gone, so therefore NAS will be gone too”. Technically, these people were right of course. With a few minor restrictions (no forms, no dataports, no user input, no dialog boxes), NAS was nothing but a Classic Client without a user interface that runs as a Windows Service. Because the Classic Client no longer exists, NAS as we knew it is indeed gone.

What many of these people don’t realize is that the NAV team actually cares a great deal about making the life of the NAV partner channel easier. Everyone that knows about NAS knows how many products are built around it, even standard NAV functionality is implemented through the use of NAS (Job Queue, ADCS, to name a couple). It was in everyone’s interest to have a good alternative for NAS, and I believe the result is a very solid way to provide the ability to automate just about any user task in NAV. Coupled with the ability to create NAV sessions programatically, I believe that there are even more possibilities.

One aspect of your existing NAS implementation may cause some difficulties, and that is the fact that COM is no longer supported in NAV 2013. For instance, the “CP Timer” no longer works, the “Bus Adapters” no longer exist, and many other automation components will no longer work. For every use of COM you will need to find an alternative, whether this is .NET interoperability or whether you will need to find an alternative component. If you have existing NAS solutions, and you are thinking about upgrading to NAV 2013, please get in touch with your partner and start investigating what needs to happen (if anything) to keep your NAS solution running.

For a long time I’ve known about NAS on the Service Tier, and I’ve been looking forward to the time that I would finally be able to share this information. So sit back and relax, grab a cup of coffee and start the video. I’ll explain how to set up an instance of the Service Tier for NAS Services, and I’ll show you a number of ways that you can implement NAS on the Service Tier.

First published August 8, 2012

SQL Setup Essentials for NAV

The way that SQL Server is set up can greatly affect the performance of your NAV database. People often ask me about how to properly set up SQL Server for NAV databases, and it is a common topic in the online forums. I’ve posted a clip on YouTube in which I cover the essential elements of how to properly set up SQL Server for NAV.

First published April 18, 2012

Import Flat Files with XMLPorts

After reading this blog and watching this YouTube video, you should have enough information to start figuring out how to use XMLPorts to import flat text files, even when this file contains data for multiple tables.

When I first got started as a NAV developer, I was assigned a senior whose job it was to educate me about what it takes to be an effective NAV developer. Whenever I had a question he would always challenge me to figure it out myself, while maybe giving me a tiny little push in the right direction. At first I thought that was very annoying, but it forced me to develop what is probably the most important skill as a developer: the skill of “figuring out how stuff works”. Once he was satisfied that I had spent an adequate amount of time and brainpower to a problem, he would take the time to give me a lesson. Sometimes he would make these lessons up on the spot, because he had to figure it out himself. Those lessons are my favorite memories of my time learning how to be a NAV developer, and oddly enough most of them weren’t even about syntax or objects, but about “how to figure stuff out”.

Every day, I make my rounds through the online communities, in search of questions to answer. Sometimes, I find a question that makes me wonder myself how something works. When this happens, I take a standard NAV database, and spend some time in the evening hours to figure it out. The past few days there’s been a question about how to import data for multiple tables into the RTC from a flat file, using an XMLPort. Now, at my work, all the developers attend a weekly conference call. On these weekly calls one of us presents a technology, or some tips on how to do certain things. We had recently held one about XMLPorts for the RTC, so I felt confident that this one would not be too big of a problem for me.

While my wife took my daughter to dance class, I worked on a couple of XMLPorts for the RTC, to import Purchase Invoice information into NAV. The YouTube clip below describes the results of those efforts. Hopefully this will help you understand how this works.

First published April 24, 2012

NAV2013 Beta – OData Introduction

With NAV 2013, Microsoft has added the capability to expose data from your NAV system as OData Web Services. Where that differs from regular Web Services (which in the NAV Server management snap-in is now identified as ‘SOAP Services’), is that OData only exposes data feeds, and within the context of Dynamics NAV is read-only. Click here to read all about OData, and here for an overview of OData in NAV 2013.

I’ve put together a new YouTube clip to show you where to find the OData Web Services in the NAV Server Management tool and the Web Wervices table from the RTC, as well as a couple of examples of how to consume them. As you will find out fairly quickly in this video, I have a LOT to learn about OData. I wanted to share what I do know though, and give you an idea of where to start looking.

This provides a new way to expose data from NAV, in an industry standard way, although I am sure that true OData experts will find missing pieces. It is another possibility for us to expand the reach of the ERP application that we know and love. I hope you enjoy the video, and that you will be inspired to start learning about it, and maybe even get some ideas about how to use them for your business.

First published May 23, 2012

New and Improved Page Design in NAV 2013

In NAV 2013, Microsoft has introduced some very nice new features to make designing Page objects for the RTC much easier than we were used to in NAV 2009.

Remember the good old days, when we had a wysiwyg designer for the Form objects, and we could put anything we want, anywhere on the form? This made for some really ‘creative’ (ahem) solutions, but essentially we were used to having complete control over the look and feel of the forms. When the RTC was introduced, we got the first step into a completely independent display target. Instead of defining x and y positions, display elements are now defined by metadata, and the display target should then be smart enough to interpret the metadata when the object is rendered. The intention was to ultimately have a situation in which it doesn’t matter where the page is displayed. The page object itself can be identical, and the display target then decides how to display certain elements based on the capabilities of the display target. For instance, the RTC displays exactly the same page as the Web Client or the Sharepoint Client, they just display the same page differently.

Unfortunately, when all you see is metadata, developing Pages becomes a very abstract exercise. Since there is no direct connection between the development tool and the rendered object, what we had to do was save the object, and hope for the best from there. We had to actually run the page to see what it would look like, and finding individual elements was a very painful thing to do. Lucky for us, the NAV team in Denmark cares a great deal (a GREAT deal) about what we think of the product, and they are VERY proud of the tools. When they were receiving many complaints about the Page Designer, they decided to enhance the development experience in NAV 2013 and address some of the most-frequently-complained-about issues. In my opinion the result is a HUGE improvement over NAV 2009.

What I want to do is focus on two new capabilities in the Page Designer. The first one is the ability to preview the Page right from the Page Designer, without saving the object first. My favorite feature of this capability is that there is a link between the ‘metadata designer’ and the ‘page previewer’. When you click on an element in the ‘metadata designer’, it is highlighted in the preview, and vice versa. You can see a rendered version of the metadata before saving it, and have a visual clue of what you are doing. The second (there is an ‘A’ and a ‘B’ here) is the ability to add columns to the Page object, through a Grid Layout and/or a Fixed Layout. These two new types of group elements make it possible to display multiple columns on the Page.

The NAV 2013 online help has a lot of good information about Page design, with walkthroughs and other tutorials. I’ve created a YouTube video in which I take you through the various screen elements of the NAV 2013 RTC, and then into the Page Designer to show you these new capabilities. I hope you’ll enjoy the video, and hopefully you’ll feel a bit more confident in using the Page Designer.

First published May 31, 2012

Debugging NAV 2013 is Easy

We’ve never had a debugger quite this powerful and versatile. Debugging NAV 2013 is Easy!

By nature I am a pessimist. In any situation I tend to look for problems and point them out to everyone. Since my goal of pointing out the problems is always to SOLVE them, and leave the situation in a better state than I found it, I personally consider my natural pessimism a very positive attribute. One of the things that feeds this pessimism is previous, similar situations. One example of such a situation is the release of a new version of NAV. When this happens, the NAV developers are always hoping that the tools have improved, and for well over a decade, one especially sore point has been the debugger.

When I first started as a Navision developer, version 2.5 had just come out, and most of the customers I worked on were still on earlier versions. The debugger in those days was TERRIBLE. Even then, coming out of a job as a VBA developer, I knew that there were much better alternatives, and I was always surprised just how bad the debugging experience in Navision was. Granted, there have been significant improvements since the 2.5 days, but the worst day in NAV development history surely must have been when NAV 2009 came out, and the only way to “debug” the RTC was the workaround with the Visual Studio debugger (see this video on how to make that work). Given all of these previous experiences, let’s just say that I was realistically pessimistic for the NAV 2013 debugger, and my expectation was actually a continuation of this downward trend ;).

As I’ve said many times before, the NAV team actually cares a great deal about the development experience, and for years they had been wanting to address the development tools. They were well aware of the problems, but the priority to do anything about it was always too low to make it into a new release. With the discontinuation of all the Classic components, however, this changed and there finally was ample priority for a new debugger. The results of years of very hard work are very impressive, and in my opinion the NAV team has delivered something that is well beyond anyone’s reasonable expectations. The new debugger is a great tool, one that gives the NAV developer a lot of flexibility. Not only can we break into any type of session on any Service Tier (given the proper setup), we can even change the appearance of the debugger, and customize it to our own personal preferences.

This is another one of those things that I’ve been very anxious to share, and I am very happy that I finally had some time to put together a YouTube video and write this blog entry. Please enjoy the debugger, and I hope you are as happy with it as I am.

First published August 14, 2012

Debugging the NAV 2009 RTC

Not too long ago, one of my customers had an issue with the RTC that we needed to debug. Instead of using the Visual Studio debugger, this customer was used to reproducing the problem in the Classic client, and debug the process there. The perception was that running the Visual Studio debugger was very difficult, and they would not be able to read the C# code. I showed them how easy it is to enable the debugger, and how the C/AL code is always part of the C# code in the form of comments. As I was talking to folks at NAVUG Forum and Convergence, I was very surprised to hear that even seasoned NAV professionals are still not using the Visual Studio tools.

The information about how to use the debugger is available here in MSDN online, and it has been discussed many times in the online forums. Since I’m a visual learner, I decided to make a YouTube clip that shows you how to enable the Service Tier for debugging, and how to attach the Visual Studio debugger to the server process.

First published April 27, 2012

Installing NAV 2013 Beta

Finally, NDA has been lifted, and I can FINALLY start sharing what I know about the new version of the product that we all know and love. Well most of us actually DON’T know it, which is why I love sharing this with you :). I’ve been very fortunate to have the opportunity to attend some TAP events in Copenhagen, and get access to early CTP versions of the new version of Dynamics NAV. As I was attending these events, I was getting VERY excited about the new technologies. The reason is that the NAV team has worked incredibly hard to address all of the painpoints that we feel in the current version of the product.

Not only that, they have also completed development for the new Sharepoint client, which provides almost all of the standard functionality to Sharepoint. Not only that, they have also completed development for the new Web Client, in which almost all standard NAV functionality is now available through a regular web browser. Not only that, NAV is the first Microsoft ERP system that can be deployed in the cloud on Windows Azure and SQL Azure. Not only that, we now also have a way to expose regular SOAP webservices as well as OData webservices. Not only that, we now have a host of new technological capabilities, such as a solid RTC debugger that we can actually modify ourselves, such as a new Query object that will allow us to define SQL queries as an NAV object type. Not to mention the new testability feature, which gives us the ability to completely automate testing. Not to mention a completely redeveloped data stack. I could go on, but hopefully you are getting my point :). It’s been a long time coming, but personally I think it is absolutely worth the wait. I am absolutely convinced that NAV 2013 has taken a HUGE step forward in maturity for our product, and I think it will provide a LOT of benefits for existing customers as well as new customers.

My plan is to create many YouTube clips to show you as many features as I can, and the first one is where I recorded the installion of the NAV 2013 Beta version into a Virtual Machine. In this video I talk about some of the prerequisites, the various components of a regular RTC installation, and I show you some of the features. It covers the RTC, the development environment, and I quickly go into the server management console. Enjoy and please leave your feedback in a comment.

First published May 17, 2012

Performance on NAV 2013

The first performance impressions are in and it looks like NAV 2013 is the first version on SQL Server that is going to outperform the native database server.

When talking about whether to upgrade to NAV 2013, one of the things that my customers are interested in most is whether it will perform at acceptable levels. I’ve been wanting to do something elaborate and use the new testability capabilities in NAV 2013 to do a benchmark test for performance specifically. As often happens, plans don’t always come together, and by the time I started forming some ideas, other people have gone and done a much better job than I could have. So, what I thought I’d do is compile a number of links to performance related content that I’ve found so far.

First off, my fellow MVP Jörg Stryk wrote a very technical article about his impressions of NAV 2013 from a SQL Server point of view. He shares his sources, he’s done some comparisons between his own T-SQL and the queries that are generated by NAV 2013. Very interesting to read his train of thought, and, if you can keep up with him, you will learn a thing or two about SQL Server. Some of the key things that I picked up on are the modified locking mechanism, the promise of the query object, and the annoying fact that individual users cannot be identified from the SQL Profiler anymore.

Next, my coworker Faithie writes about some changes that were made to how Dimensions are handled in NAV 2013. This one has a huge potential to help improve performance. I work with customers that have millions of ledger entries, with hundreds of millions of ledger entry dimensions, and the prospect of eliminating pretty much all of those is a very compelling one.

Next up, another fellow MVP, Vjekoslav Babić, who lists his top 5 SQL Server improvements. With NAV 2013 being the first version on SQL Server only, we can finally start letting go of certain “SQL improvements” from previous versions, which were really just things to make NAV on SQL behave the same way as the native database server. If I were to list what I take away from this article, I would list all 5, so I’ll spare you and just refer you to the article itself.

Where it gets interesting is when mergetool.com‘s Per Mogensen puts together a couple of videos (here and here) to demonstrate how NAV 2013 stacks up against NAV 2009. These videos then inspired Vjeko to take it a couple of steps further, and put together his own test, and he even shares his test objects. This is turning into a real community effort!

With NAV 2013, it looks at though the potential is definitely there to get performance up to native database server expectations, which was always the argument against using SQL Server. What I am very much excited about is that finally the NAV team can let go of artificially making NAV on SQL Server behave the same way as the native database server and let SQL Server do what it is good at. I personally think that they have only just scratched the surface, and a ton of further improvements are possible. I think the query object will prove one of the most potent weapons against performance problems, and, hopefully, we’ll see a tighter integration of SQL Server capabilities from C/SIDE.

First published June 25, 2012