Non Volatile Technologies Pty Ltd

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"Helping others to have a future assures our own."

Background to SPInfo  (Author Kevin Loughrey) Log In Screen - Thumbnail

Peter Bryant and Lloyd Martin.  The Strata Plan Information Application was first written by Mr Lloyd Martin at the direction of Mr Peter Bryant the owner of Bryant Strata Management.  It's purpose was to provide general information on Strata Plans.  Subsequently another application was written to manage the issue of work orders for repairs and maintenance of Strata Plans.  Lloyd also wrote an application to assist in the management of Insurance Policies and Insurance Claims related to Strata Management.  The situation became untidy in that the Strata Plan information application contained data about owners, executive committees, lots, etc and the Work orders and Insurance modules had to contain the same or similar information with the addition of contractors, insurance companies and insurance brokers.  The girls came to call the modules Work Orders, Insurance and SPInfo; SPInfo standing for Strata Plan Information.  This latter name was the one that stuck when eventually all of these modules were combined into one.
Learning MS Access.  All of these applications were written in Microsoft Access 97.  When A Perfect PC Pty Ltd took over the support of Bryant Strata Management's computer systems, the modules regularly crashed and the databases needed to be compressed and repaired.  This necessitated that I learn about Access and perform minor changes to the programs.  At first it was daunting with the constant fear I would make some sort of dreadful mistake resulting in the wholesale loss of data.  Peter asked me if I could support SPInfo and the Strata Plan Insurance applications.  I had never used Microsoft Access before; my previous programming experience being with Turbo Pascal in a DOS environment.  Besides running A Perfect PC I continued in my attempts to generate interest within the investor and business community in Open Source Software and this took me to the Australian Defence Force Academy where an old friend of mine, Professor Charles Newton, was the head of the Faculty of Computing Science.  Charles mentioned he had a programmer, Matthew Luck whom he wanted to learn Access and my needs presented an excellent opportunity for him to learn whilst, at the same time, I could also pick up this skill.  This necessitated I travel from Sydney to Canberra (a distance of 600 kilometres return trip) each Friday for 6 months to work with Matthew in order to learn how to program at an advanced level in Microsoft Access. Matthew made a significant contribution to the initial development of SPInfo but eventually decided to pursue a "safe" career in the Public Service rather than take the risks attendant with working as an entrepreneur in private enterprise. (Wise decision Matthew!!)
Combining 3 Applications into One.
  In 1999, my first action was to combine the applications into one.  This necessitated combining the information relating to clients and Strata Plans.  Given there were over 300 Strata Plans, involving around 7,000 occupants, 2,500 contractors and other entities such as Real Estate Agents, Insurance Brokers and Mortgagees, this was a massive task.  It took around 12 months to achieve.  Near the end of this process, in late 2000, a decision was made to convert the application from MS Access 97 to MS Access 2000.  At that time, I had two contracted programmers assisting me.  Both left the project when it was obvious it was not going to be a good source of income and the task ahead was of epic proportions.  Another major milestone occurred in late 2002 when, in desperation, I locked myself away in a hotel room in Bundanoon for a total of 3 months to consolidate SPInfo and develop a standard form layout which has subsequently come to be known as CAFE; standing for Common Application Front End through the use of a Common Application Form Environment (sorry.... it was inspired by the Open Source Movement which delights in having acronyms within acronyms!).  During this time, A Perfect PC was left to run by itself. 
Moving towards Platform Independence.
  It was always my intention to develop a package that would run both on Linux and Windows.  The problem has always been finding a program language, other than C, in which applications could be developed to run on both platforms.  Whatever language was eventually chosen would depend to a large extent the effectiveness of the Integrated Development Environment associated with the language.  I tried Delphi when there was the prospect of a Delphi-like Linux version but dropped that because it was not the easiest of environments to work in.  So I stuck with MS Access.  As a first step towards platform independence, experimentation over a period of two years was performed to find a backend that could be driven by a Micosoft Access frontend.  PostgreSQL and Firebird SQL were both tried as backends.  This research was carried out by Michael van der Kolff, an associate of A Perfect PC, a person with extraordinary apptitude when it comes to matters of computing science and a long-time friend.  Both PostgreSQL and FirebirdSQL are excellent database engines.  The problem was one of finding an ODBC driver that would allow, in a bug-free manner, the MS Access application to communicate with any one of these databases.  Without doubt, the ODBC driver for the FirebirdSQL database was the most stable and easiest to use at that time and so the decision was made to proceed with converting the MS Access Database backend to a FirebirdSQL backend.

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