Where should I ask for help?

Over the years, I’ve added comments and provided advice on a number of topics, but obviously primarily related to Workflow development. So what’s the best place for people to go to ask for Workflow help?

AFAIK there are only three places where you can ask for help – I’ll give my (slightly biased!) analysis of each here.

Obviously, I’m going to be biased here, since it’s my baby! There are a couple of advantages that asking for help here gives you:

1 – It’s not linked in to Oracle in any way, which means that some of the advice that you can get here may be more open than you might find elsewhere. I’m not above critisising the product when it lets you down, and will highlight limitations / problems with the product that I find (see this thread for an example!)

2 – There is a growing community on the site, with more and more developers joining in with comments, advice, guidance (and problems!).

3 – You can upload code! If you use the other support forums, you can describe your problem, but if you want to display a Workflow diagram, you need to try and convert it to text to type in – this is a major flaw in their implementation. If you can’t upload the .wft file or SQL code, then it makes getting support a lot harder – particularly if English isn’t your first language.

So what’s wrong with WorkflowFAQ?

1 – In theory, the backup that you can expect is pretty limited. In a perfect world, if you ask Oracle for help, then the whole of Oracle is there to resolve your issues (that’s way you’re paying them a big support fee for, isn’t it?) whereas an independent forum doesn’t have that muscle behind it. Of course (as my comments on Metalink below show), that isn’t really the case. I’m not convinced that the quality of the response from Metalink is any better than on WFFAQ.

2 – It’s not particularly well publicised. Well that’s where you can help!! If you’re reading this, then tell someone about it. Tell someone about the forum. Tell someone about the book (PLEASE!). The more people that get involved with the forum, the better it becomes, and the more likely it is to continue. Since I started the website, I’ve posted more comments to OTN than I have to my own site, but traffic is increasing – please help it to get better.

Hmmm… What can I say about Oracle Metalink. There are two places that you can start – either raise a TAR, or use the Metalink forums. I’m going to disregard raising a TAR at the moment, because it’s not something that I can post to, and just focus on the forums. So let’s start with the positives:

1 – It’s occasionally monitored by someone from Oracle who knows a bit about Workflow. There are some good guys in the BDE team at Oracle who have written some useful scripts and know quite a bit about Workflow development, and occasionally they have time to post some entries here to help people out.

That’s the positives out of the way – let’s look at what’s wrong with Metalink.

1 – You have to pay Oracle Support to get access to the site. There are a number of posts that I’ve made over the years under different user names depending on who I was working for at the time. When my current contract runs out, I’ll be silent on the forums there for a while until I can get another user ID. So unless you are paying for it, you can’t use it (always a bad idea when all you want is to occasionally ask for a bit of advice!).

2 – If the problem requires any input from Oracle that is more than a throwaway comment, they will invariably respond with a “raise a TAR about this” message – this gets the message out of the way, and if they are lucky you’ll just give up and find your own workaround. IMHO, the level of support that Oracle provides through the forums is pretty poor – for many years there were only 2 regular contributors from Oracle in the forum: myself and a guy in New York called Satish Paul. Neither of us work for Oracle any more…

3 – You can’t upload any examples here – if you need to upload code then you need to raise a TAR or cut and paste into the post. The site is good for asking straight forward questions, but not good for anything that involves explaining a detailed scenario when an example of the workflow file and code would help explain things clearly

OTN Workflow Forum

The OTN forums are pretty good, to be honest. There is a quite a large community involved, considering that Workflow is still perceived by many as a niche product. The forum so far has averaged 320 threads a year, which isn’t that much to be honest, which averages at something like 5 or 6 new posts a day in the threads.

So, what’s good about it?
1 – It’s free! I’m all for having free discussion and support sites. A recent presentation by Ray Lane (former President of Oracle) highlighted that somewhere in the region of 30% of customers felt that they were paying for bug fixes. This seems low to me, given some of the products I’ve worked with in the past…

2 – It’s reasonably well published. OTN has a wide range of forums, which are free to join, and there are direct links from a number of pages on the Oracle site. This is one of the problems that I have with WorkflowFAQ – how do I get it out there so that people are aware of it? The OTN forums are at least well published.

And what’s wrong with it?

1 – Easy one again – you can’t upload code samples! And if you don’t use their mark-up to show that your post should be in a fixed-width font, it “helpfully” strips out all the padding you put in with spaces. So if you spend time converting your .wft file to an ASCII representation of the diagram, the forum will remove all the “unecessary” spaces for you – d’oh!

2 – The people that tend to post there are the “same old faces” again. The most active member in the forum is (perhaps unsurprisingly) WorkflowFAQ.com! Of the top 10 contributors to the forum, half of the names work in Oracle product development for Workflow. Their most recent contribution was June 22nd, 2005. The product manager hasn’t posted anything here since 2003! (Contrast this with Mark Drake, the product manager for XML DB in that forum!) I’m not sure why the Workflow product development team are not interested in the forum, but it would be great if they helped out!

So where should you post your questions?
I tend to be reasonably active on all three of the above sites. Obviously my own takes the priority, then the OTN forums, then Metalink (since I’m relying on someone else to give me a login!) That’s the order that I would post in, because I think that that is the order of support sites where you are most likely to get an answer to your problems.

No doubt there are more positives and negatives to each of the sites above, but it’s just my thoughts on the quality of each site. Please feel free to comment and rate the article.


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