You should know ...

 

In the interest of full disclosure this section contains a collection of topics that we wish to call your attention to before you install and use H2OS. We believe it's important to convey not only our product's benefits, but its limitations and caveats as well. A happy customer is a long term customer.

 

 

Technical skills required

The H2OS operator should have basic computer usage skills, such as typing and running programs in Windows, and interacting with menu and screen selections to perform tasks.

 

Some components of H2OS are fairly complex to setup and use, such as batch customer messages and the batch machine. Use of these features is not required, of course, but if you have a person on staff with the technical skills to understand and work with these features they can be a valuable tool for increasing sales.  Not to worry though, because you can get started with H2OS now and begin to use these features over time.  

 

If you have a LAN setup, you will need a person who understands networking and can oversee and manage your installation.

 

H2OS is a sophisticated yet delicate product

 

Database programs are fundamentally more sophisticated then other methods of storing and processing your company's data because they bring together information stored in a variety of tables and files, each for a different purpose, such as your customers, jobs, employees, messages, vehicles, calendar, photos, etc.

 

Because your database can store many different types of information (and links to other types of files such as pictures and documents created by other software such as Word, Excel, etc) it can be considered an "umbrella" over all of your company's information, whether the information is stored in the database itself, or in  separate files, it all needs to be organized and managed. For example, you may wish to work with customers who have ordered blow-outs last year and have not yet scheduled a blow-out for the upcoming season. With this list, you can call or send reminders for these customers to get on the schedule, which requires collecting this information from both the customers and the jobs tables.  

 

Where's the delicate part?

 

In a word: synchronization. The same attribute that makes databases so powerful (bringing information in different files together) also creates an exposure: tables must remain where they are installed and in sync with each other. If a database table or managed file is moved, renamed, restored, deleted or changed in any way it could lead to database problems that will have to be repaired or restored from a backup before H2OS can be used with integrity.

 

H2OS is installed in a root folder (c:\h2os) and the installation will create several sub-folders within this folder,  each of which is populated with files. During operations, these and sometimes new files are added, changed and removed by H2OS. Other then by H2OS action, deleting, renaming or moving these files from their H2OS designated locations can cause problems. This is also true of commands, which if run erroneously or due to a misunderstanding.

 

What to do?

 

In a word: backups. It is a critical requirement for successful database management to have an effective backup regime in place and managed on a daily basis. Once you have a good backup system working,  the worst that can happen is that all or selected files from within your most recent backup will have to be restored. Changes made since the backup will have to be re-applied. This is a significant consideration when you decide how often to run your backups. If you only backup weekly, then a problem could require re-entry of an entire week's worth of data. If you backup twice a day (it's a single command and will run fairly quickly), the worst case will mean re-entering less then a half-day's worth of changes. In the Big Picture, the cost of making and storing backups is minuscule when compared with their value when they are needed.

 

 

H2OS product support

H2OS product support is available to all customers currently enrolled in our software maintenance plan (new customers are automatically enrolled for one year).

 

Product support consists of accepting properly prepared problem reports (typically a screenshot showing an error message and the steps to reproduce the problem) for H2OS errors, and our best effort to repair or workaround the problem.

 

Routine H2OS product support is handled by email, our website and our online customer support forum

 

Problem reports are always responded to as quickly as possible and may require telephone and remote console access to diagnose and resolve the problem.

 

Also see How to reduce your exposure to hardware problems

 

 

You are responsible for your data ... simple solution is daily (or better) backups. It's 1 command

It's very important to understand that you are at all times responsible for the data in your computer systems. We will help you in every way we can to manage your H2OS database, with some tools to help, but only yourself and your staff's discipline and diligence will make it all work.

 

Backups are as essential to computer systems as oxygen is to people. Neglect your backups at huge risk, and as time goes by the risk increases. Because modern storage devices have become so reliable, the need for backups can be pushed off. Do NOT make this mistake. The fact is that ALL computer devices will eventually fail, some just take longer then others. The one place you never want to be is with a failed storage device and no recent backups to restore from. In extreme situations, such an event can shutter a business. Don't let this happen to you. Make a backup at least once a day, more often on very busy days.

 

All the reasons for computer failure and data loss notwithstanding, if you are properly taking and managing your backups, your loss should be manageable. Over the years, we've lost computers ourselves, but because we are fastidious with the backup regime we preach, we were able to recover quickly and with the least possible data loss. This is where you want to be as well. Even if you never need to restore or recover data, you always want to be prepared to do so.

 

Several topics in this guide discuss backups and recovery. If you have any questions on this subject, please contact us.

 

Dates and times are stored in various database table records by software for various reasons. We do not and cannot guarantee these dates will be available and correct. Database tables are not secure by default and can be changed by anyone with access to the data. There can also be misunderstandings as to the meaning of a date.

 

In any and all cases, for dates that you will be needing (and need to understand values stored in these dates, how and when they are entered and when they can be changed).

 

For example, customer records contain a field named LUPDATE, and normally, most of the time, this field contains the date on which the record was last changed. All well and good, but it's possible that a utility program ran against the customers table did make some change to the record but did not change LUPDATE.

 

Not to be alarmist, but we cannot be responsible for date values in these fields.

 

What's the solution? Testing. Look at your data after it's entered and from time to time using a browse screen from time to time, and check the date fields to see if they are (a) there at all, and (b) within whatever tolerance you prescribe.

 

 

Important general safeguards

 

 

 

The mapping feature

 

The mapping feature included with H2OS depends upon the currently available, and free of charge  Microsoft Virtual Earth Mapping service. Any changes to the pricing or availability of this service will affect the cost and our (and your) use of it, so please use H2OS mapping with this understanding. If your application requires (cannot function without) mapping, and history is any teacher, then be prepared for change, most likely a charge for creating maps.

 

H2OS mapping does not work on Windows/2000 computers. Windows/XP and above is required.

 

 

 

The E-Mail feature

H2OS can send individual and bulk e-mailings. You should test these features during your free trial period to insure they work with your Internet provider. You should also check with your Internet provider as to plans the provider may have regarding changes in e-mail sending policies.

 

 

Address checking requires separately purchased data files

If you wish to use the Address Checking feature, you will need to install separately purchased copies of U.S. Postal Service database files. These files are made available for H2OS customers by our affiliate J&F LTRSHOP services, who can be reached at 718 347-9047 or by email

 

The charge is made necessary because the USPS provides these files on a paid subscription basis. The charge reflected to our customers is nominal, but necessary to cover the cost.

 

 

 

H2OS is not a secure product.

And we do not provide support for security related matters.

But we do have a great interest in helping our customers. so from time to time, we will  pass on information that may come to our attention which we consider important enough to share in the spirit of Internet community sharing, but we must be careful to point out that we assume no responsibility for the results of any action taken based on our input, particularly the security of your computer systems.

 

If your operational requirements are such that you require file security, it will have to be implemented at a higher level then the program and it's files (for example, a locked down computer environment), or we must suggest using an alternative product as we cannot meet this requirement.

 

The DBF table format

H2OS uses the standard DBF format for it's database tables. Data stored in the DBF  format can be accessed by some other programs to view database contents, which potentially exposes your database tables to unauthorized viewing and even alteration and corruption.

 

The flip side of this exposure is the benefit of being able to access tables from other programs, perhaps for viewing or importing data from our tables into another program's storage format.

 

Windows user accounts

 

Windows/XP provides for Administrator and Limited user accounts. Administrators can do anything, and Limited accounts too little to be useful, thus installing and using H2OS on Windows/XP requires the operator to have Administrator privileges.

 

Windows Vista and Windows 7 provide a Standard account, which can be used instead of Administrator on these computers. Your computer administrator will need to make these decisions and setup your accounts accordingly.

 

Your data and privacy

During the course of helping you get started and remain operational, from time to time we may request screen prints, files or a copy of your database backup for analysis.

 

We will not copy, save or distribute any or all of your data. When our analysis is completed we will erase all copies of your files from our computers.

 

 

H2OS's databases may not exceed 2 gigabytes in size.

Please see the capacities topic for more information.

 

H2OS database tables, such as your customers, job tickets, employees, vehicles, etc. cannot exceed two gigabytes in size (each).

 

If your database does or will exceed this capacity, please let us know, as we do have other options.

 

 

Database systems are vulnerable
 

Be aware that database systems are vulnerable to hardware and power problems. This is because unlike programs that work with one file at a time (such as a word processor, email system, Excel, etc.), a database system depends upon continuous, uninterrupted synchronization of multiple files that are open (in a state of change) at the same time.

 

We do deploy some defensive software techniques that are designed to prevent or mitigate problems in the event of "someone pulling the plug".  For example, we use a technique called "buffering", which means changes made to database tables are performed in memory and then committed to the hard drive in such a way as to reduce the exposure to corruption that could occur with a  non-buffered system if the plug is pulled while changes are being made to it's tables. We also create "audit trails" into which we copy duplicates of records added, changed or deleted from your customer and job tickets databases, and can be used to reconstruct most if not all changes made to one or both of these databases in the event of corruption for this or any reason.

 

Give it time! ... never "click-click-click..."

Sometimes database programs and Windows will take extra time to process selections and tasks.  If the system is busy and doesn't respond right away, give it time and do NOT re-enter typing, commands, mouse clicks, etc. This is because computers typically don't "forget" key strokes and mouse clicks, they simply queue (add them to a list) these inputs for running when the processor becomes available. If you stack up key strokes and clicks by repeatedly clicking keys, you may be inadvertently causing the system to repeat certain actions multiple times, which can create problems.  

 

Sometimes Windows itself has to perform 'housekeeping', and sometimes this can take time. This can happen in a seemingly random way or might appear to be associated with a specific sequence of events.

 

The Windows Task Manager can be used to detect software running on your computer. If a program is looping and that's causing the machine to slow down, this program can be used to detect the program (sort on the CPU column) and cancel it (click select the program and then click "end process"). You can do this with H2OS, in almost all cases without adverse affect (this is due to H2OS's use of buffering techniques that prevent important tables from becoming corrupted).

 

 

Don't be "quick to click"

 

 

When faced with a situation in H2OS that you don't understand and are given options that don't seem clear enough, stop and think for a moment, do some research and perhaps ask some questions, until you feel like you understand your choices well enough to select the right one.

 

And it's always good to take a quick screenshot (pressing the PrtScr key will copy your screen into the Windows clipboard, which can then be pasted into a Word document and send to H2OS Customer Support.

 

 

 

What is the "current customer"?

 

The current customer's name and address is shown on the left side of the main H2OS screen. Some commands and the contents of some tab pages are related to the curr, such as the Job History page (shown above). Other pages may contain other information about the current customer.

 

When H2OS is started the current customer is set to the 1st customer (viewing the customers in alphabetic order). At this time you can work with this customer, or use navigation tools to find a different customer in the database. Navigation tools include the SEARCH command, navigation buttons, and a history of previously entered commands that can be selected and re-run. Search words can include telephone numbers.

 

 

When are changes to Customer records actually saved?

 

When you locate and change a customer record, the changes you make to the record  wouldn't be saved until you navigate to another customer record (i.e. change the current customer record pointer) or quit the system. In most cases you aren't (and needn't be) aware of this, but on occasion it can be good to know.

 

It works this way because H2OS uses a "buffering" technique that significantly improves the odds of your H2OS database surviving a power or computer outage. If you've ever had a database become corrupted, you'll appreciate the significance of this built-in protection.

 

Using buffering means one or many changes can be made to a customer record over a potentially long period of time, pending a "commit" action that applies all of the changes to the record at one time.  The fact that the application of all pending changes to the record are made at once (in milliseconds), rather then over an extended period of time, during which the database is subject to an outage and possible corruption due to it's "open" status with transactions partially entered. This method dramatically reduces this exposure.

 

Without this buffering, having a change to a record of a database 'in flight' when the plug is pulled

 

Should a database become corrupted, a backup copy will need to be restored and all changes made to the database since the backup will have to be re-keyed.

 

So, buffering is a very good thing, but it does come at the small price:  that the operator is aware it works this way, and will take the extra action of moving the current record pointer (changing the current customer record on the screen) after changes, to commit those changes, before using, say, the menu to pick and run an option before the changes are committed.  

 

We recommend being in the habit of changing the current customer record after making changes to a customer's record (either the name and address block on the screen or data in the customer record that is displayed in tab pages, such as telephone numbers). Doing this will help to make sure all changes are properly actually filed in the database.

 

 

Your data is forever, if you treat it right

Are you are likely aware, your database is ultimately just a bunch of 0'1 and 1's, as are all files on your computers. Science and technology have advanced dramatically over the years, and hard drive reliability is improving continuously, but hardware failures are still a fact of life. There is also the possibility of human error or misunderstanding that damages files. In these cases you will need to restore the corrupted or missing files from a backup. The rub is that the older the backup is, the less useful it may be, depending on the volatility of the files involved, so be sure to use a backup methodology that insures you always have "relatively" recent backups.

 

Recently, when asked for a testimonial, an H2OS customers quick response was "I can't live without it". When you think about it, it's quite natural for this to happen. The benefits of using databases have been available to large companies for decades.

 

Given such a large investment, you may wonder if H2OS is the best place to store your precious information.  

 

The answer is "yes, absolutely!".  

 

How can we be so sure that your H2OS database is every bit as safe and secure as a system costing millions of dollars? It's simple. So long as you don't let garbage (as in "garbage in, garbage out")  into your database and are fastidious with your backups,  you can always use H2OS's  export feature to create copies of your data in an intermediary format (such as CSV) that can be read by other software products. For example, Microsoft Excel can read the CSV format.  This means H2OS and your database can be treated separately - and you are free to move to another compatible database management system at any time. We, of course, argue that H2OS is the best bang for your buck, and that with H2OS you retain the right to change your mind at any time. Not every database system includes this capability (you'd wonder why :)

 

.

Garbage in, garbage out

 

You've heard the saying "garbage in, garbage out:", and it's so true. The quality of information a computer can provide is directly tied to the quality of the data input to the system. It's very important that all of your operators share a common understanding and appreciation of how to "work the system" to everyone's advantage.

 

 

Dependencies

All software programs depend upon other programs, minimally Windows programs require the Windows Operating System.

 

We have designed to include many built-in features (such as ZIP compression and sending email), and we've been careful to keep H2OS naturally extendable, from the user interface to the internal design, and also the use of interfaces with other products such as QuickBooks.

 

Related to these dependences, it's important to understand that H2OS customer support does not, and cannot (we don't have the information needed) provide support for any program other then H2OS itself, regardless of how that program came to be installed. If a program that H2OS depends upon - for example, QuickBooks - isn't installed, fails, produces incorrect output, is removed from the computer, etc., you will need to contact that program's support for assistance.

 

Other dependencies are generally associated with extended features. For example a program called an "ODBC driver" is required if you will be accessing H2OS upgrades and other materials from our website.

 

This guide is informal

Given the choice between pasting an email note, a rough diagram, leaving a placeholder, etc., and waiting for polished documents, we've opted for the former. Reason: our Internet connection makes it possible to update your copy of the Customer Guide in minutes. This provides us with the much-welcome ability to grow our customer guide over time, and in particular to pay the most attention to matters of importance to you.

 

Please send your comments on this guide to me.  I will be happy to move topics of your interest to the top of the pile!

 

 

 

Using this guide

 

To get the best use this guide, we recommend that you:
 

 

 

 

 

 

Ideas and suggestions

 

Please review the topic on ideas submissions

 

Essentially, it is our policy that all ideas and suggestions submitted to H2Office Solutions become the exclusive property of H2OfficeSolutions.  If you do not agree with this policy, please do not  submit your ideas and suggestions.

 

Our policy is identical to IBM's. It is not intended to be harsh, but rather to be very up front that we need to spend our time and resources making better software and not defending our rights in court. We do have an internal "do list" containing many ideas for features and improvements that we prioritize and work off each day.

 

For competitive reasons we cannot publish this list,  but we're willing to share information with customers on a case by case basis.

 

 

Activation

 

In the Wild West world of the Internet, we are resigned to having to protect our investment with safeguards against theft, such as activation codes. We apologize for any inconvenience these safeguards may cause. We are committed to using the least intrusive means possible. When your payment is received you will receive a permanent activation code.  

 

Additionally, certain add-on features require feature activation codes, such as the QuickBooks interface. The software maintenance plan also requires an annual re-activation code.

 

 

Ancillary software disclaimer

 

From time to time, we may require (or provide, when possible) other (usually, but not always, freeware, i.e. no charge) software products that we've obtained to perform specific functions that compliment or extend H2OS functionality. An example is the open-source UltraVNC program which we use for remote technical support.

 

In every case involving such software, we have installed and tested the software to the best of our ability, but we do not have access to the source code for these programs, and therefore cannot know  exactly what that program is doing at all times. We do monitor programmer forums and technical resources on the Internet to learn of problems with this software, should the need occur. To date it has not.

 

In the last analysis, though, we are trusting our suppliers, thus we in turn must require that you either trust our supplier or not make use of the functionality it provides. An example is the VFPCompression DLL program which was provided to the development community by a well known and respecter contributor. All testing to date shows this program is working correctly. That does not however mean that it's perfect and will never fail in any circumstance. If or when such a problem should occur, we will (a) immediately notify our customers using the software, (b) remove the software from our libraries until the problem is resolved.  We will also pass this information on to other programmers, because we all share a strong common interest in problem solving.

 

Speaking from decades of experience, such occurrences are extremely rare, so long as you have a reasonably well controlled computer environment (functioning backup system; you never click an e-mail attachment, you properly restrict access to your systems, etc.), then this is a non-issue.

 

 

Legal stuff and policy statements

Here are links to these topics

 

H2OS Warranty

H2OS Website User Agreement

LIOS Privacy policy

Suggestions, ideas submission

 

 

 

Changing settings

Whenever you make a change to an H2OS option, say through Setup->Options, or elsewhere during the life of a session,  it's a good practice to Quit and restart H2OS. This is because H2OS operates in an environment that's established during startup. Some option changes have the potential to affect this environment, so as a rule the simplest and most direct way of insuring your changes are stored and taken into account with the running system is to Quit and restart. It takes only a few seconds.

 

 

Tips

Occasionally take a peek at the Tips page.  On the Tips page is a checkbox you can use to have H2OS display a tip during startup.

 

 

Using PACK to delete records

 

H2OS uses a 2-step process to delete records from the database. The 1st step is to mark one or more records as deleted, and the 2nd step is to PACK the table to permanently remove all records marked for deletion.

 

If you use the DEL command to delete customer records, and you are using a standalone workstation or running the DEL command on a LAN server (with no active workstations), then H2OS will attempt to PACK the customer and job tickets tables after deleting the customer record, and optionally the customer's job tickets.

 

If, for whatever reason, H2OS is unable to PACK one or both of these tables, it will put a message on the screen reminding you that PACK will be needed to complete the deletion process. Please see the PACK command for more information

 

 

 

The DATEPICKER control

Some H2OS forms contain date controls that look something like this:

 

 

There 2 ways to change this date, manually and using the pulldown menu.

 

To manually change the date from your keyboard works strangely, but as follows:

 

 

 

When you pulldown the menu, a calendar is brought up for selecting a date.

 

 

Select a date in the calendar by clicking it's day number.

 

You can also click the arrows on the top left and right to change the month one month at a time, the year to reveal a pulldown menu of years, and the month's name to select from a list of months.

 

 

 

It takes time

If you're new to databases, allow some time to get used to working with it. It will grow on you, especially as your database grows and the information it contains becomes more and more useful. Imagine reviewing customer records including all of the information you need about the job site, installation configurations, travel instructions, job history, backflow information, and so on.