Thursday, 15 April 2010 16:05

Visual Studio 2010 helps take the 'smells' out of software development


Microsoft reckons Visual Studio 2010 can eliminate wasted effort in software development and maintenance, and also help fix the 'smells' that indicate that a project maybe going bad.

"Every software project gets unhappy in its own way," according to Sam Guckenheimer, group product planner for Visual Studio at Microsoft, and Visual Studio 2010 is intended to address the signs of unhappiness.

"We're trying to get rid of all that waste" associated with struggling to understand existing systems, implementation that doesn't match the design, developer/tester "ping-pong" (aka non-reproducible bug reports), and a lack of visibility into project progress.

One of the main goals of Visual Studio 2010 is "no more butterfly effects," Guckenheimer said, referring to the situation where a small change made to fix a bug in a piece of code can have a catastrophic effect elsewhere in the program.

The use of layer diagrams helps communicate the design intent and later helps check the implementation against the design. Visual Studio 2010 allows developers to jump between layer diagrams and the code, and also incorporates UML support.

Guckenheimer says that 80 to 90% of the time, maintenance programmers were not part of the original development team, so it is important that the development suite can show the relationships to help preserve the quality of the code "so people can't do bad things out of ignorance."

Page 2: how Visual Studio 2010 makes it easier for developers to fix bugs uncovered by testers.

"Bugs are real. They happen," said Guckenheimer, but he points out that good programming practices mean that any bugs that do occur are likely to be hard to find. So it is important that a tester can provide the developer with sufficient information to locate the bug.

Visual Studio 2010's IntelliTrace features achieve this by creating a screen movie of the steps followed by the tester, linked to the test script. Virtualisation technology is used to capture the state of the system under test and any associated servers, allowing the developer to step back and forth through the code to determine where the problem arose.

And once the erroneous line of code has been determined, the developer can switch to editor mode without losing his or her place in the listing, and then make the necessary changes.

"Testers are very far removed from development in many organisations", Guckenheimer told iTWire. This may be a geographical separation, or just organisational. Either way, centralised QA departments can result in locally optimised silos which lead to waste.

"It's really hard... for them to work as one Agile team," he said. "We're trying to make is easier for them to work together" even if the developers and testers are in different time zones.

"The biggest opportunity to get waste out of application lifecycle management is on the test side," Guckenheimer told iTWire. Agile development is well established, but testers have found it hard to keep up because of the difficulty of setting up test labs, another task that Visual Studio 2010 simplifies.

The suite also makes it easy for the developer to create a new test script for that bug to reduce the risk of regression.

What about project reporting? Please read on.

Visual Studio also provides improved project reporting via SQL Server, Excel or SharePoint. SharePoint can be used to generate project dashboards displaying various metrics. The internal slogan for this part of the project was "no more stakeholder surprises," Guckenheimer told iTWire.

These dashboards mean people inside and outside the project can get an early indication of what may be going wrong (eg, high levels of work in progress, or rapid code churn - things Guckenheimer labels "smells") and intervene to fix the underlying issue.

There is some prospect of such dashboards becoming prescriptive rather than merely informative. "We'll get more proactive," said Guckenheimer, but he added that there was no intention to create a new Clippy (the animated 'assistant' in Microsoft Office 97 to 2003.


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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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