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FUD in the House of SaaS – More on Suites

Recently I wrote about the evergreen Best-of-breed vs. Integrated All-in-One Suite debate again, arguing:

Call me “old school”, but I also believe in the value of having one tightly integrated system for most business needs, and I believe it’s true not only for large corporations but much smaller businesses.  I don’t have CIO’s to back it up, but that’s exactly the point: I am talking about small businesses that don’t have CIO’s at all – in fact they  likely don’t even have full time IT stuff ( a good reason for SaaS in the first place), so they clearly lack the bandwidth to deal with integration issues and multiple system providers.

It wasn’t just hypothetical speculation, what really prompted my post ( and hence the reference to CIOs) was a study conducted by Brian Sommer who contacted several large corporate CIOs about SaaS implementations, and found that despite improvements in technology, and easy integration by firms like Boomi, Pervasive ..etc, CIOs still prefer to buy an integrated suite of applications and deal with one vendor for most of their needs.   It’s not what we think, it’s what they do – and they are the customers.  Says Brian:

But, customers will do what customers want to do.

Amen. But my post attracted a detailed comment from a PR professional (a fact that took a little digging to discover):

… the Suite approach requires the business to make compromises in areas of the business, and only works if you can run your whole business on that one suite – as soon as you need some other specialist system, or acquire another operation that you need to integrate, you’re in trouble because Suites, by definition, are not designed to make integration easy…

…Force.com essentially brings cloud apps together as a Suite by offering exactly the combination of tight integration, common interface and flexibility. Many businesses can already find everything they need on the platform, even the last critical element required for a serious business system: enterprise-class finance 😉 Many companies, especially smaller ones, don’t need a full ERP suite. They need a handful of critical applications that can grow with them.

Wow… where do I even start?   Perhaps by the only statement I can agree with:

Many companies, especially smaller ones, don’t need a full ERP suite. They need a handful of critical applications that can grow with them.

Yes, of course I agree.  In fact I am a small business myself, and guess what, not only I don’t need ERP, I don’t even need or use a CRM system, or one for business accounting.  The only lightweight business system I use is invoicing (happens to be Zoho Invoice), but frankly, I could get away without it.  Yes, some small businesses will want Accounting, and Accounting only, others will need CRM and nothing else – there are many good choices for them. And yes, FinancialForce.com (which the commenter represents) is great, and we’ve given it ample coverage @ CloudAve.

But that’s where reality ends, and plain old FUD begins. There’s nothing inherent in the “Suite approach” that would prevent customization, integration with additional systems, extension by third party apps.  In fact the key difference between an integrated Suite or discrete  point applications is just how much of the core business they cover natively before  add-ons are required.

And here’s the ultimate irony: I was reading these “ex-cathedra” statements (that’s nicer words for BS) while sitting at NetSuite’s SuiteCloud conference, that was all about working with development partners, releasing a new version of SuiteCloud, the app development and integration platform along with SuiteFlow, a graphical modeling and customization tool, and a bunch of other  announcements all geared to making and maintaining a thriving partner ecosystem, that builds on the core NetSuite functionality and delivers additional value to customers.

In fact the evening before the conference, CEO Zach Nelson spent an hour busting industry myths.  Now look at the slide above: he did not talk about NetSuite specifically, he was advocating Cloud Computing / SaaS in general.  That’s the somewhat usual formula:  myth spread by defenders of the “old model” busted by the innovators – who would have expected the old-time FUD served up by a PR flak for another SaaS provider… 🙁

At the conference itself I saw several customers presentations, like that of Campus Villages which replaced 38 instances of MYOB + Intuit MRI with NetSuite OneWorld, including extensions like Nolan Fixed Assets and Electronic Payments, Celigo Smartclient, and are currently evaluating Adaptive Planning.   Those are functions not provided by NetSuite, so guess what – they add third party apps, just like they would to Coda or any other system.

The key criteria for any software company trying to penetrate the SMB market will be vertical industry epxerience, and NetSuite has clearly stated their industry experience is Software and Services – everything else is open to the ecosystem.  Case in point is manufacturing:

NetSuite RootStock MRP

Suites are not customizable?  Just look at  Rootstock, a third-party developer house that created an entire MRP system on the  SuiteCloud platform.  If that’s not living proof of the system’s expandability, then I don’t know what is…

A key difference between the Force.com / Appexchange and NetSuite / SuiteCloud approach is that the former facilitates the creation of any product / utility that you can pick up from a marketplace, while programs developed on SuiteCloude all tie into the NetSuite system very closely – not only on the data but also on the UI level – i.e. the additional business functionality becomes available within the NetSuite UI. In other words they run so smoothly, the fact that parts of the system were written by a 3rd party is hardly transparent to the end user – which is just the way it should be.

So in the end, there is no hard rule that says Suites are inflexible, non-expandable: there only well-written and poorly written Suites, just like well-written and poorly-written point applications.  There will be businesses who only need a few point apps, and should not think of a Suite, and others who will benefit from the All-in-One approach.  It’s their choice.  What they need is honest information, not FUD.

(Cross-posted @ CloudAve)

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Are Suites Really Sour? The Best of Breed vs. Integrated Suite Debate.

The evergreen Best-of-breed vs. Integrated All-in-One Suite debate is back again. This will be a somewhat long post, so let’s sit back and start with some entertainment first.

Episode 2, “Suites Are Sour”  is from the mini-series SuiteMates, which I admit I find hilariously entertaining, albeit rather pointless.  Why?  It’s run by supply chain solution provider Kinaxis, but I don’t see much direct benefit to them. I’m reminded the Bill Gates – Seinfeld commercials: what’s the point?  But hey, we’re being entertained:-)

Now, back to those Suites.. are all Suites really Sour?  Fellow Enterprise Irregular Brian Summer clearly does not think so, his money is on the Suites, here’s why:

One of the biggest value drivers behind a customer’s move to SaaS is the reduced internal IT support cost a company has when using SaaS products. In the SaaS world, the vendor maintains the application not the customer. But, in a best of breed SaaS world, the customer is back to maintaining interfaces and integration aspects across a number of (SaaS) applications.

If the argument sounds familiar, it is – it was the same in the good old on-premise world, but much of it holds true in the Cloud, too.  Besides, this isn’t simply Brian’s own opinion, he has conducted a poll of large corporate CIO’s and most expressed strong preference for integrated business solutions, a.k.a.  “one throat to choke” (well, not exactly with those words…).

Call me “old school”, but I also believe in the value of having one tightly integrated system for most business needs, and I believe it’s true not only for large corporations but much smaller businesses.  I don’t have CIO’s to back it up, but that’s exactly the point: I am talking about small businesses that don’t have CIO’s at all – in fact they  likely don’t even have full time IT stuff ( a good reason for SaaS in the first place), so they clearly lack the bandwidth to deal with integration issues and multiple system providers.

This is not a popular view, after all the Millenial World View is all about open standards and APIs where best-of-breed cloud services that can seamlessly integrate and work together well.  I’m all for innovation, and hope we will get there one day – but for now the existing examples are all one-off, individual integrations between specific systems, or at best, ecosystem “satellites” centered around force.com, the Google Apps Marketplace and the like.  These are great solutions, but not enough to run a complete business on them.  In the meantime businesses are looking for available (Cloud-based) solutions NOW.  So yes,  I admit, my view is less visionary, more constrained by market realities today.

Brian cites WorkDay as a potential SaaS Suite provider: they have the right DNA, coming from the Founder who built once-successful PeopleSoft, and they are building truly Millenial Software from the grounds up as Phil Wainwright eloquently points out – but for now they still have a Human Resources / Finance focus only.  Far from a complete solution, just like the other successful SaaS players in the Enterprise arena, like SuccessFactors, RightNow, ServiceNow, and the like.

Yes, I hear you… I missed a big name: Salesforce.com, the GrandDaddy of SaaS or the Cloud or whatever the next fashionable name will be.  An amazingly successful company, and true innovators – having started as CRM company, moving on to as Platform provider, and who knows, tomorrow it may be a Media company? 🙂  As long as the keep on moving to hot new areas, always picking the low-hanging fruit, the company and it’s stock price will remain hot.  Again, a great company from an Investor’s point of view.  Just not a Complete Business Solution.

One and a half SaaS Suite players

I can count the number of SaaS Business Suites that actually reached significant traction on one hand.  In fact the exact number is 1.5.  Yes, one and a half – and for now they mostly cater for the SMB segment, with undeniable ambitions to “grow up”.

netsuite The “One” in  that 1.5 is NetSuite.  Having started as NetLedger, the company has developed an integrated All-in-One solution, encompassing ERP, CRM, e-Commerce .. you name it.  Those acronyms are becoming quite useless – in that respect I agree with Dennis Howlett who says we should “dump the  disciplines formerly known as CRM/SCRM/SCM/ERP/3PL/HR/HCM/E2.0….etc” – hence I stick to the term All-in-One. Or Business Suite:-)  It’s been a long (and winding?) road for NetSuite: developing a full suite of apps you can run a business on is by far more complex than throwing out point applications.

The company also learned the hard way that with business complexity (please note, I am not talking about Software, but Business complexity) comes a more difficult, stretched out sales process.  The fact is, as much as I am a fan of the click-to-try-click-to-buy pull model, the more business areas (and stakeholders) are involved, the less feasible the fully pull model becomes.  A Business Suite is not something you simply pick up from an App Store:-)
So NetSuite experimented with more direct sales model first, gradually building towards a more channel-based model, to the recently announced SP100 program in which partner VARs get the entire first year subscription revenue.  Along the way they grew functional richness as well as market penetration, to the point that they often compete with Enterprise giant SAP directly.  Now, let’s quickly qualify that: NetSuite is not comparable to the SAP Business Suite, but it is often an ideal satellite solution for smaller divisions of large companies, many of which just got acquired and are facing the choice of a long SAP implementation vs. a SaaS solution from NetSuite (see Ray Wang’s post on two-tier ERP strategy)

I should probably mention that way back, before their IPO and the fame that came with it (from the times of NetWho?) I was an early NetSuite customer, picking it over the market leading CRM (and I mean that as a stock symbol), simply because it had a better process flow, even for Sales, which I was heading at the time. (Yes, we got p***ed learning we’d have to create Sales Orders outside the other system, even though we had quotes in the system, only to come back and re-enter the data manually).  NetSuite was simply a better CRM system, even before considering other business areas.

Parallel to our NetSuite implementation we introduced a Wiki, JotSpot, which just launched in those days (since acquired by Google) and soon we realized a lot of the support information for Sales could either reside in NetSuite or in the Wiki.  This has been bugging me ever since:

Why do structured, process-oriented systems and unstructured  collaboration tools live in different worlds?

Like I’ve said, I’m all for Suites, but the true Suite in my definition includes integrated collaboration and communication tools – I’m still waiting for that … perhaps not for long 🙂

Now, if NetSuite was the “one”, who is the “half”?   It’s SAP’s very capable, but dormant Business ByDesign – which may just come to life later this year.  But I’ve been torturing you long enough, so let’s leave that to another discussion.

(Cross-posted @ CloudAve)

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US Army Wikified

WetPaint is one of my early “discoveries”, three years ago I called them the “wiki-less” wiki, as it blended wiki-like, forum-like and blog-like features long before it became fashionable.   I haven’t followed them closely, but apparently they’ve been growing nicely, and today I saw this post:

The US Army on Wetpaint! – hm .. let’s see.  The PE350 Wiki is a Virtual Classroom, set up by Major Mark Rea, who put his Cadets’ physical education plan online.  This is cool on so many levels, I don’t even know where to begin…

First of all, it’s a truly professionally maintained wiki, with a Wiki 101 for new users, then details of the Syllabus, Lessons and Assignements, Cadet Fitness Challenge..etc.  They use text, photos, videos, podcasts – you name it, this is a fully featured interactive social site.

Second, I grew up in a country where anything even remotely related to the Army was surrounded with utmost secrecy, and I am still somewhat amazed at the level on information publicly available about the US military.  Granted, there are no strategic plans or weapons specs in this wiki, but still … smile_wink

Third… quick IM reaction from the first person I shared this news with:

Cool. Why is US Army resorting to free sites? Credit crunch

What a perfect fit for the Power of Less theme I just wrote about earlier today, in my Web 2.0 Expo post.  Major Rea and his cadets are using Wetpaint instead of Blackboard, the market leader commercial software for Education.   No, the US Army as a whole did not replace Blackboard with Wetpaint – but this particular unit did.  It’s a good start – just like corporations using Google Apps or Zoho Business services here and there … usage grows, initially it may just be leverage in licence negotiations with Blackboard, Microsoft and the like… but one day, who knows…smile_tongue.  It’s nice to see the US Army SaaS-ified. 

Oh, and for that Power of Less: it’s certainly less when it comes to what hey have to spend on software – but I’m not even sure it’s less when it comes to usability, participation.  Could this also become the case of Less is More?

(from the PE350 video page)

 

(Cross-posted from CloudAve.  To stay abreast of news, analysis and just plain opinion on Cloud Computing, SaaS, Business grab the CloudAve Feed here.)

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Email is Still Not Dead, and Won’t Be For a While

I can’t believe the email is dead theme, popped up again, this time on SocialMediaToday, originally on OnlineMarketerBlog.   I responded in detail on CloudAve.

Image credit: CrunchGear.

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Email is Not in Danger, Thank You

Yet-another-email-is-dead (OK, just in danger) article, this time by Alex Iskold @ ReadWriteWeb.  Alex adds Twitter‘s increasing popularity to the standard “reusable” arguments: teenagers using IM, or increasingly SMS, and most recently Facebook instead of email which they find cumbersome, slow and unreliable – hence email usage will decline.

I beg to disagree as I did before, and before.  Sure, I also get frustrated by the occasional rapid-fire exchange of one-line emails when by the 15th round we both realize the conversation should have started on IM. Most of teenagers’ interaction is social, immediate, and SMS works perfectly well in those situations. However, we all enter business, get a job..etc sooner or later, like it or not…smile_wink Our communication style changes along with that – often requiring a build-up of logical structure, sequence, or simply a written record of facts, and email is vital for this type of communication.  As much fun Twitter may be, I rarely have (or see) serious ongoing discussions there  – in other words Tweets are in addition, instead of email.

Email in business is being “attacked” from another direction though: for project teams, planning activity, collaboratively designing a document, staging an event… etc email is a real wasteful medium. Or should I say, it’s the perfect place for information to get buried. This type of communication is most effective using a wiki, or an increasing number of online tools supporting native collaboration.  Yesterday I reviewed a startup CEO’s ppt deck, and it took us 4 rounds of emailed versions of the same presentation – it would have been a lot easier to collaborate on just one “master” presentation in Zoho Show.

So yes, I agree with Alex, even in business we’re offloading stuff off email.  But email is far from dead, or even in danger, and it won’t be any time soon. We just have to learn to use the right tool in the right situation. As usual, Rod Boothby says it better in a single chart:

Rod’s chart is almost two years old, but still valid – perhaps I would update it to say “Wiki and collaborative documents”.  My own post here is a slightly updated version of an older one from last year, which in turn was an almost verbatim reprint of another one from July 2006. I rarely re-post old stuff, but in this case I felt it still made a valid point.  Next year, when someone brings up the “is email dead?” question, I’ll dust it off again. smile_tongue

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Wiki Review or Rant?

I am deeply interested in wikis, and business oriented ones in particular, in fact was considering doing a fairly detailed comparative study, so I got really excited seeing on twitter that Tom Raftery posted an Enterprise wiki review. Too bad it’s not a review; it’s a rant that lacks any methodology or real comparison.

He goes at length describing the installation nightmare:

The setup of the Confluence wiki was far from straightforward. It took two of us the best part of a day to simply install it. Remember that as I was doing this for [email protected], this was not billable time. I was installing it on my own server and because Confluence requires TomCat as its webserver it had to run on a separate port to Apache. This meant several people couldn’t view it in their organisations.

Sounds to me like a case of bad platform choice. Now, I am by far not as technically inclined as Tom is, and am biased: I won’t touch anything that needs to be installed. That’s what Software as a Service is for. Which, incidentally is an available option for Confluence, so how Tom got into comparing “hard-to-install” Confluence with hosted PBwiki and Socialtext is beyond me – it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison. And there’s not much of a comparison either… here’s all he has to say about two other products:

By the way, I did also try out DekiWiki and Twiki but I ruled them out quite early on.

That’s not a very detailed review, if you ask me. DekiWiki is downloaded about 3000 times a day (!), so some people must like it… even though their acquisition of SocialText was just an April 1 joke. smile_regular

Joke apart, a word on picking the right tool for the right job: perhaps you don’t even need an “enterprise class” wiki for a conference. The official Oracle Wiki is based on Wetpaint, a decidedly consumer and community-focused platform.

My personal takeaway from this to me is to look at PBWiki: when I last checked it out, it was a baby-wiki for some reason popular in geek circles; apparently it has grown up. I’m not sure I will get to do the wiki review I’ve been planning, but in the meantime if Tom decides to write a real one, I am looking forward to reading it.

Update: Tom responded in a comment below. The hosted version of Confluence is NOT available under the community license. He ruled out DekiWiki as when he figured he could not to create Groups. There’s more, please read his comment.

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Is GSpot (Google + JotSpot) Release Imminent?

This is a speculative post.   As it is widely known, JotSpot, a very user-friendly wiki and application-platform-wannabe was acquired by Google in October 2006, only to be closed for new users for a long time. Existing users could continue to access their information free.

There was a lot of speculation as to when it would re-surface and in what shape.  I certainly liked the wiki before they “disappeared”, and was hoping The Goog would take the opportunity to do more than just re-label it and make it more scalable:

I hope that means they rethought everything and integrated JotSpot well into a number of offerings.

  • It could provide for much better document management than the current Docs &­ Spreadsheets UI. 
  • It overlaps with Page Creator, also with the simplified version found in Google Groups – in fact Groups which is no longer just email lists but a rudimentary collaboration platform and JotSpot could very well be merged / integrated.
  • Finally JotSpot tried to provide primitive applications (spreadsheet, calendar..etc) all of which have a better Google counterpart, so one would hope they will be replaced, too.

Perhaps we’re getting close to the re-emergence of JotSpot (yes, I know it won’t be called GSpot, but why not have some fun?). Obviously this is the speculative part, but several users report that JotSpot wikis disappear from the net.  Users are understandably getting excited:

Is it over? Just like this? Without notice?

I just finished a major rework on the site. And 4 hours after it:
boom, it disappeared.

Any help?
Where is all the data gone?

The main jot.com page displays a Network Solutions domain capture page. 

I can still access www.jot.com, which displays the standard notification about the Google transaction, and, more importantly I can get into my jot account using the direct URL:  account.jot.com.  I am using OpenDNS.  Perhaps the difference is a matter of DNS propagation, and they are changing in preparation of the Google Wiki launch?

My previous coverage:

(Hat tip: Isaac Garcia, CEO of Central Desktop)

Update (2/6):  Mashable list 14 of what they call Online Spreadsheet Applications (clearly, not all are) and surprise, surprise, JotSpot is one of them.  That’s a joke. As much as Iiked JotSpot as a wiki, it failed to become an application platform, and it certainly isn’t (hasn’t been) a spreadsheet.  Like I wrote before:

Just because a page looks like an application, it does not mean it really is. Try to import an Excel spreadsheet into a Jot Spreadsheet page, you’ll get a warning that it does not import formulas. Well, I’m sorry, but what else is there in a spreadsheet but formulas? The previous name, Tracker was fair: it’s a table where you track lists, but not a spreadsheet. (more)

But whatever we think of the former JotSpot Tracker capabilities, it’s hard to see it left intact once Google releases what they turned JotSpot into.   Google themselves have a much better online spreadsheet, I certainly hope for their sake that they will integrate their apps with JotSpot, and kill off the overlap.

(FYI: The real online spreadsheets out of Mashable’s 14 are Google , Zoho, EditGrid, ThinkFree.  )

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25 Tips for a Better Wiki Deployment + 1 Tip on How to NOT Use Presentations

Thanks to Stewart Mader I found this presentation on 25 Tips for a Better Wiki Deployment. As someone deeply interested in wikis and their use in business, I attempted to read through, but grew increasingly frustrated. Not because of the content, which is good, but the format. Why on earth have they (who?) delivered this in a presentation format?

All slides in this deck are divided in two half, one textual, the other graphical. Consequently they all show signs of the two cardinal sins of “committing” presentations.

1. – There’s way too much text. If you want me to read a story, you might as well type it up, use paragraphs, title fonts, bullet-points…etc, but don’t pretend it’s a presentation.

2. – Visuals are supposed to illustrate your point, capture my attention, shocking me, entertain me – whatever, just do something! This slide deck uses identical (rather boring, but that’s beyond the point) graphics on all 25 slides, which is just as good as no graphics at all.

In summary, the textual half of each slide is way too busy, the graphical half is a missed opportunity: this is NOT a presentation.

What’s a good presentation like? Enjoy the winners of the World’s Best Presentation Contest on Slideshare (hat tip: Guy Kawasaki)

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Email is Still Not Dead

Yet-another-email-is-dead-article, this time on Slate. It’s the same old argument: teenagers using IM, or increasingly SMS, and most recently Facebook instead of email which they find cumbersome, slow and unreliable – hence email usage will decline.

I beg to disagree. Sure, I also get frustrated by the occasional rapid-fire exchange of one-line emails when by the 15th round we both realize the conversation should have started on IM. Most of teenagers’ interaction is social, immediate, and SMS works perfectly well in those situations. However, we all enter business, get a job..etc sooner or later, like it or not…smile_wink Our communication style changes along with that – often requiring a build-up of logical structure, sequence, or simply a written record of facts, and email is vital for this type of communication.

Email in business is being “attacked” from another direction though: for project teams, planning activity, collaboratively designing a document, staging an event… etc email is a real wasteful medium. Or should I say, it’s the perfect place for information to get buried. This type of communication is most effective using a wiki. No, email is not dead, and it won’t be any time soon. But we all have to learn to use the right tool in the right situation. As usual, Rod Boothby says it better in a single chart:

(The above post is an almost verbatim reprint of an older one from July 2006. I rarely re-post old stuff, but in this case I felt it was still a valid point. And it still will be, next year when someone declares email dead again. smile_tongue)

Related posts: mathewingram.com/work, Techdirt, Fractals of Change, Don Dodge, WebProNews, Thomas Hawk’s Digital …, Andrew Hyde and This is going to be BIG., Rev2.org, CrunchGear, A VC , Good Morning Silicon Valley, Socialtext Enterprise … , Between the Lines, Publishing 2.0, Jonathan Nolen

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Beating Social Media’s 90:9:1 Rule in the Enterprise

The 80/20 rule is out (so last century), 90:9:1 is in: the rule of participation in public communities, social networks, wikis:

  • 90% of users are lurkers (i.e., read or observe, but don’t contribute).
  • 9% of users contribute from time to time, but other priorities dominate their time.
  • 1% of users participate a lot and account for most contributions: it can seem as if they don’t have lives because they often post just minutes after whatever event they’re commenting on occurs.

90:9:1 is a pretty good fit for most public wikis, starting with Wikipedia. Ben Gardner observed very different numbers: 50:25:x (he does not specify “x”). The interesting number here is 25, or it’s relationship to 50, meaning:

When the same question was asked about our corporate wiki ~50% of those present had used it but about ~50% of those had edited it.

Active participation in a corporate environment is much higher than in the public domain – this is not really a surprise, since the corporate wiki is used by people of real identities and reputations, and most importantly, shared objectives. This is also why Prof. Andrew McAfee hasn’t seen vandalism – a plague of public wikis – in the corporate world at all.

I suspect that 25% can go a lot higher, depending on the purpose of the wiki. When after the initial “grassroots movement” management fully embraces the wiki not as an optional, after-the-fact knowledge-sharing tool, but the primary facility to conduct work, it becomes the fabric of everyday business, where people create, collaborate, and in the process capture information. When the wiki is the primary work / collaboration platform, participation is no longer optional. Not when the answer to almost any question is “it’s on the wiki.” smile_wink

My earlier posts on this subject:

(hat tip: Stewart Mader)