If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

By ├ćndrew Rininsland

Dear University of Calgary Information Technologies department,

Stop breaking shit.

I’m serious. Stop messing with online services. You keep breaking them. It may appear I’m being dramatic, but let’s recount the last two “upgrades” you’ve made.

The first is the ever-beloved change from the InfoNet to PeopleSoft. Can I be frank and ask a question? How much did this cost? What additional functionality has been gained from this upgrade? Security? I’m sure I’m just the most recent in a long list of complainers, but if my own personal experiences and those I’ve read about are any indicator, it seems that functionality has actually decreased by several goddamned orders of magnitude.

The number of people who are happy with the PeopleSoft upgrade can probably be counted on one hand, and they’re probably PeopleSoft execs. Seriously, in most aspects of technology, I’m an early adopter and am willing to put up with the idiosyncrasies of even “alpha” software. I run development versions of Linux for Chrissakes. Yet if even I am pissed off with the move to this poorly-designed and worse-implemented piece of cruft, I feel for all the n00bs out there. The fact it uses blink tags to announce it’s “processing” whenever you click a link should have been an indicator of how bad this all is. Do you know of any sane programmer who uses blink tags? Do you?

Furthermore, the fact it uses its own proprietary coding language (“PeopleCode”) should have been another obvious sign all is not well. The reason why the majority of popular Web 2.0-era applications use PHP and Ruby is because troubleshooting is easy when it breaks down. Since PeopleCode is a specialized language, only a small subset of the IT department can actually understand what they’re looking at.

The move to PeopleSoft was supposed to avoid the downtime of InfoNet, a predictable eight hours between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., if I’m not mistaken. Yet, it seems we’ve traded that predictable downtime for unpredictable server issues. I’ll be honest: The time I accessed it when writing this is the first time the PeopleSoft Student Center has actually worked for me in the last three or so times I’ve attempted to use it. Even then, it is considerably slower than InfoNet. I seriously pity the poor professors and support staff who have to use this damnable thing on a daily basis.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Have you actually tried to use the Degree Navigator recently? I did. I was helping a fellow student figure out which major to switch to. Or at least, I tried. It is now impossible to look at other degrees without using the incredibly clumsy and very slow search form. I’m going to ask this question again, and I’m sure you’re sick of it by now, but where’s the additional functionality? At risk of sounding like a Luddite, everything I can do in Degree Navigator 4 I could do in the original Degree Navigator, except I could do it twice as efficiently in the old version. Yes, the new version looks prettier, but really, is functionality the price we should pay for aesthetics?

There are two functional pieces of online university software I use on a weekly basis. The first is Blackboard and the second is webmail. Please, I’m begging you, do not touch these. Yes, Squirrelmail (The application used for webmail) is slow and unwieldy, but unlike the first two items I’ve mentioned, it actually works. Blackboard is also good. Ugly, yes. Annoying at times? Definitely. However, I’d much, much rather deal with these inconveniences than have to fight with another PeopleSoft clone.

I like new software. Really, I do. When a new version of the Linux kernel comes out, I’m the first to recompile. I laugh at warnings telling me development software is unstable and likely to blow up in my face. Sourceforge is my homepage. Yet when you’re dealing with an institution of 30,000 people–the vast majority of whom aren’t MCSE certified–you have to weigh the trade-offs between the novelty of the latest beta and the fact the old, crusty, stable version currently implemented works fine, along with the fact that everyone already knows how to use it. Unless there are definite security issues in a script, it shouldn’t be replaced just because switching to PeopleSoft is the trendy thing to do. Administration, take note.

There’s an old saying, and it’s an old saying because it’s true: Don’t fix what ain’t broken.

Sorry for the harshness. IT’s a hard gig, I know this myself. But dagnabbit, it had to be said.

Sincerely yours,

├ćndrew Rininsland

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