< Back to Blog

Our new approach to documenation

Industry

Documentation always seems to come last at our company. First, it can't be written until the code is done. Then the programmer(s) involved are on to the next thing on their schedule while the documentation person needs to get a brain dump from then – after it has gone through testing and they have a build.

We also have a fundamental problem that we do not save up new features and then release all of them at once every 9 months. About 2 years ago we decided to release new features when they were completed – we had something we had added that one of our customers desperately needed and telling them to wait 5 months would not help anyone. With the program a constantly moving target, the documentation also became a moving target.

So we switched our whole approach – and it's working great. The documentation is now all in a wiki at wiki.windwardreports.com. All Windward employees and a number of our customers can edit it at any time (anyone can add a comment at the bottom of any page). So now when a developer checks in the final code for a new feature, they are required to document it in the wiki. So we now document a feature before we ship it. And the person who implemented it writes it up when it is totally fresh. (BTW – I grew up in Hawaii and that's the Honolulu Airport wiki-wiki bus.)

This has made a tremendous difference. The level of detail and description of why you would use a new feature as well as how has jumped substantially. It's human nature, when a developer has checked in their code they are the proud parent of that feature and want to describe it in detail. And at that point they retain every detail of it and that all goes in. The old way they would be asked about it several weeks later when they are busy on a new feature and so their focus and memory is elsewhere.

The documentation person gets an email whenever a page changes. So she then goes in and cleans up the new documentation. A lot of developers do not write the clearest documentation, but it's enough that she can turn it in to something very clear and complete, occasionally asking the developer for some clarification.

Incorporating the Wiki

Now the wiki is great, but what about when you click help in the program? Well it will first try to go to the appropriate wiki page for that help. So clicking help gets you the latest information if you are connected to the Internet. The biggest problem with this is you may read of a feature that your older version does not have. But that is just an indication that if you need that feature, grab the latest version.

And if you're not connected to the Internet? About every 9 months we bump the version number by 1, and then copy all the wiki content to html files. We ship those files with the program. So if the wiki cannot be connected to, it will pull up the local file instead. These files do slowly get out of date, up to 6 months so, because making a local copy is very labor intensive (basically 1 week's effort by an intern).

The code behind this generally works fast. The Windows call InternetGetConnectedState will return instantly if a system is connected to the Internet. If it is we request the HEAD for the desired page as that's the fastest way to determine if we can get the page. This will take a couple of seconds if it will fail, but failure is very unlikely.

But wait, there's more

We've had videos for some time for some basic training. But we are now in the process of adding videos to demonstrate how to perform any action that we get repeated questions on. These videos will require a connection to the Internet because users do not want us installing hundreds of megabytes of videos to their system. But the links to the videos are being incorporated throughout the wiki so a video to demonstrate a concept will always be a click away.

We are also adding Computer Based Training. We are creating interactive videos where it is showing the system, explaining what to do, highlighting the next step, and then the viewer has to perform that operation. So it guides you through performing each step of the action you wish to accomplish.

We also had one person come up with a very clever idea. The first time you run Office after installing AutoTag, it opens on a document we created. That document is both a tutorial and a report template. So it explains a concept, then has that concept as a set of tags there in the document. You can at that time tell AutoTag to run the template you are in and see the generated report. I like how it's both tutorial and template all in one – something we can only do because it's design in Office.

The code:

[DllImport("wininet.dll", CharSet = CharSet.None)]
[return: MarshalAs(UnmanagedType.Bool)]
private static extern bool InternetGetConnectedState(out uint lpdwFlags, uint dwReserved);


/// <summary>
/// Determines if can access a webite. First checks connection state (that is fast). Requests the HEAD to verify.
/// </summary>
/// <param name="uri">The uri to look for.</param>
/// <param name="timeout">The timeout in milliseconds. Reccomend 10000</param>
/// <returns></returns>
public static bool CanLikelyAccessWebSite(Uri uri, int timeout)
{
uint unused;
if (!InternetGetConnectedState(out unused, 0U))
 return false;

try
{
 HttpWebRequest request = (HttpWebRequest)WebRequest.Create(uri);
 request.Method = "HEAD";
 request.Timeout = timeout;
 using (HttpWebResponse response = (HttpWebResponse)request.GetResponse())
 {
  return response != null;
 }
}
catch (WebException)
{
 return false;
}
}

What Next?

No idea. But one thing I have learned, documentation can always be better.

Tags Start & End

Tags Can Start & End Anywhere

Appendix B

.NET code for multi-page image output

Appendix A

Java code for multi-page image output

Data Bin Search

The Data Bin can now be searched to find a table, column, node or other piece of data without scrolling through it all.

Shrink to Fit

This will shrink the contents of a cell until it fits the defined cell size.

Time Zone Conversion

A new Windward macro has been added to help with converting dates and times from UTC time to the local time zone.

Image Output Format

New image output formats added.

PostScript Output Format

PostScript, commonly used with printers and printing companies, has been added as an additional output format.

New and Improved Datasets (Designer, Java Engine, .NET Engine)

Datasets have been re-written from scratch to be more powerful and easier to use.

Stored Procedure Wizard (Designer)

This works for all tag types that are connected to a SQL-based data source (Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, MySQL, or DB2).

Boolean Conditional Wizard (Designer)

Before, conditional statements could only be written manually. Now they can also be built using our intuitive Wizard interface.

Reorganized Ribbon

The ribbon menus have been re-organized and consolidated to improve the report design workflow.

XPath 2.0 as Data Source

Adds various capabilities such as inequalities,descending sort, joins, and other functions.

SQL Select Debugger

SQL Select  Debugger

  • The look and feel was improved
  • Stored Procedure Wizard
  • Improved Exceptions pane

Tag Editor/Tag Selector

Added a Query tab as a field for typing or pasting in a select statement

  • Color Coding of Keywords
  • TypeAhead
  • Evaluate is now "Preview"

Rename a Datasource

All tags using that Data source will be automatically updated with that name.

Connecting to a Data Source

New single interface to replace 2 separate dialog boxes

Tag Tree

Provides a display of all the tags in the template, structures as they are placed in the template. Provides an easy way to see the structure, go to any tag, and see the properties of a tag.

Added Javelin into the RESTful Engine

Support for Google Application Engine Integration

The ability to integrate the Windward Engine into Google’s cloud computing platform for developing and hosting web applications dubbed Google Applications Engine (GAE).

Additional Refinement for HTML Output

  • Improved indentation for ordered and unordered lists
  • Better handling of template header and footer images
  • Better handling for background images and colors

Redesigned PDF Output Support

This new  integration will allow for processing of complex scripts and bi-directional  text such as Arabic.  Your PDF output  will be much tighter and more closely match your template, and we’ll be able  to respond rapidly to PDF requests and fixes.

PowerPoint Support

Includes support for new ForEach and slide break handling, table header row repeat across slide breaks, and native Microsoft support for charts and images.

Tags are Color Coded

Tags are color coded in the template by type, making it easy to visually identify them.

Increased Performance

Version 13’s core code has been reworked and optimized to offer a reduced memory footprint, faster PDF generation and full documentation of supported features and limitations in the specifications for DOCX, XLSX and PPTX.

Advanced Image Properties

Documents can include advanced Word image properties such as shadows, borders, and styles.

Improved HTML Output

Windward has updated HTML output to reflect changing HTML standards.

Version 13 New Data Sources

Windward now works with a slew of new datasources: MongoDB, JSON, Cassandra, OData, Salesforce.com

Generate Code

Designer (fka AutoTag) Generate Code tool allows you to open an existing template and, with a click of a button, automatically create a window with the code needed to run your current template with all data sources and variables in your .NET or Java project. The process is quick, shortens delivery time and helps alleviate any bumps in the road.

Pivot Tables Adjusted in Output

Any pivot tables in the template are carried over to XLSX output. The ranges in the pivot ranges are adjusted to match the generated output. So your final XLSX will be pivot tables set as expected in the generated file.

Imported Template Can be Set to Match the Parent Styles

In an imported sub-template, if its properties for a style (ex. Normal) differ from the parent template's properties for the style, the use in the sub-template can be set to either use the properties in the sub-template, ot the properties in the parent.

Tags can be Placed in Text Boxes

Tags can be placed in text boxes. Including linked text boxes. This gives you the ability to set the text in a textbox from your data.

Tags can be Placed in Shapes & Smart Art

Tags can be placed in shapes & smart art. This gives you the ability to set the text in a shape from your data.

HTML Output Supports Embedded Images

When generating HTML output, the engine can either write bitmaps as distinct files the generate HTML references, or it can embed the images in the HTML providing a single file for the output.

Footnotes & Endnotes can Have Tags

You can place tags in pretty much any part of a template, including in footnotes & endnotes.

Document Locking Supported in DOCX & XLSX

Any parts of a DOCX or XLSX (PowerPoint does not support this) file that are locked in the template, will be locked the same in the output.

Specify Font Substitution

If a font used in the template does not exist on the server generating a report, the font to substitute can be specified.
In addition, if a glyph to be rendered does not exist in the font specified, you can specify the replacement font. This can be set distinctly for European, Bi-Directional, and Far East fonts.

Process Multiple Datasources Simultaneously

When Windward is merging the data into a template, it process the template handling each tag in order, and the tags can pull from different datasources. This allows the select in a tag to use data from other datasources in the select.

David Thielen

President/CEO at Windward Studios

From his early years as a Senior Developer at Microsoft, to legendary designer of the popular Enemy Nations strategy game, to reporting and document generation guru, Dave has never lost his passion for building superb software and teams.

david@windward.nethttps://www.linkedin.com/in/davethielen/

For over 10 years, Windward has lead the industry with our world-class document generation platform that creates visually stunning, data-powered documents designed exactly the way users want and are created in a fraction of the time and cost compared to existing solutions. Proudly located in Boulder, Colorado, Windward Studios is the premier solution for developers and business users adding reporting and document generation capabilities to their applications in over 70 countries around the world.

© 2019 Windward Studios Inc.

Contact

Got questions about reporting and document generation? We've got answers—let's connect!
Send a note