Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Tools for the Development Team - SourceForge


SourceForgeSourceForge ( was the real contender against Jira and we took a good hard look at it, putting it through its paces. The price (free for less than 15 users) was a compelling argument, as was its document storage and version control of those documents. We installed it on a server here and the team had a play. The following are our findings.

Initially we found SourceForge (SF) very slow. This was perhaps related to the fact it was set up as a virtual machine. This also meant that it was many gigs to download.

There was a small learning curve, same as any new product I suppose. The one thing that threw me immediately was that Tasks is not the area you place issues. Within a project, you can "create" new Trackers, and its in that new tracker area off the Main Menu where you can now track issues, or "Artifacts" as SF calls them. I'm not sure that I like the term 'artifact' as I don't want issues buried for centuries for some scientist to dig up to find out how we performed our work.

You create fields or use the defaults, you can categorise tracker items and the items are also colour coded to show their priority. You can even ask tracker to auto assign different categories to different people. While the auto assignments worked very well, I wanted to auto assign depending on the development process - e.g. auto assign to me all new issues and I can then distribute them to the available team member, then auto assign to QA when the issue is resolved. However, this is another system and what it offers is good.

SourceForge has several areas of concentration:

  • Tracker - an issues register
  • Documents - a document control system where company and technical documents can be stored, and a sort of version control is applied (more about that shortly)
  • Tasks - These are project tasks as opposed to software issues.
  • Source Code - links to Subversion or other source/version control systems
  • Discussion - a nice discussion forum with threaded messages
  • Reports
  • Release Packages
  • Wiki
  • Project Admin


The document control was a really nice feature that we gave high marks to. I can add folders and sub folders and place documents in them, just like Windows. The main difference here is that when I go back and add updated files into the same folders, instead of overwriting the files as Windows does, SF treats the newer files as new versions of the older files. I can then review previous versions, almost like I was in a Version Control program.


The SF discussion forums were a nice touch. You can associate a discussion with a tracker artifact, people can reply to discussions and you

can select to "watch" a particular discussion to get an email when someone adds to the discussion. You can also have it automatically sending out to a mailing list.

There were a couple of downsides to the discussions. When replying to a comment, you can not see the discussion you are replying to. This will surely cause a lot of mis-quoting. Also, it seems that the user is unable to edit their own discussion after posting so even if they find they have misquoted, they can't edit that to change it. While I can understand not being able to change a comment if another has replied, surely you can edit to change that spelling mistake or typo you noticed in that frozen moment after you press save and before it was redisplayed.

File Releases

It is a convenient tool to package files in a patch set. You could upload all the files needed for a patch and when pressing the downloading release button, it saves all files into a zip file. Good for patches but I'm uncertain for major releases.


Reports can be defined to report on any searchable criteria. A standard report of a graphical summary and the report detail will then be generated. Reports can be on Tasks (project) or Tracker Artifacts.


The Wiki was a disappointment. It was a simple and very basic Wiki without even the ability to add graphics other than as a URL. It has a different command set than I was used to but as it was so limiting, it wouldn't take long to learn.


It had a nice interface and some nice additions when compared with Jira, however when even after 2 weeks the company still could not reply to even a standard sales enquiry (sent by two of us separately), we were left wondering about the likelihood of any response to a real support query. That was the real clincher as far as we were concerned. Sadly, we dropped SourceForge from our list.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Tools for the Development Team (2)

coffeeprocessTo continue where I left off, the management team, of which I am a member, looked at Jira in a totally different manner. Each person had their own needs for a tool ever so slightly different to Jira. This caused some problems as I was then asked to evaluate a number of other tools that, perhaps with some compromise, everyone can use. Some suggestions were forthcoming and I dutifully took at look at each one.

The problem with the approach that I made to the management team was that I had obviously failed to impress what the development team needed in the tool. You see, I was out to sell the tool to the rest of the company and in doing so I was focusing on their needs instead of the development team's. This meant that instead of learning how the development team were going to contribute and communicate better, they were thinking "how can I use this new tool", which invariably led to "I need this tool to do X, and I know one that does X much better than this". Of course, that meant that they were thinking of their own needs and Jira just didn't cut it for them. Dang, I missed the plot there.

I got suggestions to consider like Phpaga ( This is an excellent tool for contacts, invoices, financials, and billing tasks, but it has little to nothing to do with the development process. After discussing this and writing up a small review for the management team I suggested that a CRM package was more in line. They have one so will look again at using it effectively.

Almost all applications I looked at served a single particular purpose, and added some other purposes somewhere along the scale of between "ok" and "that really sucks".

So lesson learned. What I should have done is sold it as a development tool. I could have shown the management team how much better the development team was going to be, how much more accountable, how they will now get both statistics and answers from this bunch of strange speaking weirdos that did things magical and totally unknown things that produced the final products. Now they might understand what's going on there and the tool will be well supported.

As I stated in my last post, I have a number of tools that I will touch on briefly over the next few posts, but as you might have guessed, we have finally decided on Jira. Surprisingly that decision was not made by me. The development team were also asked to review a few of the more successful tools and give their feedback but it was their own decision that we should go with Jira. While Jira did not have the nicest interface or the best reports, and it was only an issues register, it was voted in as the tool to use.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Tools for the Development Team

We placed Jira onto our live server and began using it for real about 2 weeks ago now. So how's it going? Rather well as it turns out.

(Jira is from Atlassian ( and is an issue tracker tool, see earlier posts for discussions.)

I did a demo for the Development Team and they took to it like a duck to water, now that they understood what it's used for and how. I did the same for the rest of the Management Team and they took to it as well, but in a different way.

Initially it was not used as well as I'd have liked so I put a little pressure on the team by being a bit of a pain in the neck for a couple of days..

Me: "What are you working on?"

Developer: "I'm updating xyz here that needs a new abc because Freda from WxyCorp has found a glitch with it"

Me: "I don't see this in Jira, have you added it?"

Developer: "Um... (ticidatacida) .. I have now (grin)"

Me: "Oh, OK then. You know that if you are working on anything, no matter what it is, it .."

Developer: ".. yea yea, I know, - ..'it needs to be in Jira' (sigh)"

The developers are good guys and they really understood the reasons for putting everything in Jira but being developers, they wanted to just develop. Now I note that no-one is working on anything without a Jira issue and they themselves police that nicely by suggesting that others create a Jira issue before they can start on any work. Nice.

This means of course, that all work is logged and reporting and reviewing can be carried out. Issues are assigned to others with questions when more information is needed, and they get an email to tell them when the issue is reassigned back to them with the answer. Once the have completed the work, they "Resolve" the issue and assign it to the QA Manager. Only the QA Manager and myself as Administrator, can "Close" an issue.

The Management Team has been impressed with Jira but they all have their own ideas of other tools that would work better for what they want to do. Some other tools that I have looked at are...

Other areas I have also look at with a mind to solving some other issues here, they include...

and I'll hope to have others added to that list soon.

I'll talk on each of those and our eventual decisions as I go along in other posts. In the meantime, I'd like to hear what tools you are using with your team or even on your own to help with development and running a software team.