Wednesday 30 January 2008

AccuRev - another story how to screw UI

A few days ago I found an article about new AccuRev plugin for VS 2005 and by the way I decided to describe the pain I've experienced using AccuRev. In general I love AccuRev or to be more precise I love its back-end. The whole AccuRev architecture is based on streams that are structured as a tree. Every stream except the root has a single parent stream and 0 or many child streams. Click at the image to see more details.

A child stream inherits content from its parent which makes branching/merging a non-issue. Let's say you have the production version of a product in the main stream and all the new features are being implemented as child streams. Whenever there is a code change (bug fix, small improvement) in the main stream all child streams get it automatically. Developers don't even have to think explicitly about merging. They just update their workspace, get changes from the parent stream and resolve simple conflicts and that's it. I said simple conflicts because the more often you merge the less time you spend on it. Additionally, in most cases all inherited changes are incorporated seamlessly because AccuRev does a really good job at merging.
If you need to include an external dependency (which is exposed as a stream as well) you just need to create a link between your stream and the stream where the dependency is. This means that if you have a data access component then the New Feature 1 stream can consume version 1.0 of it whereas the New Feature 2 stream can upgrade to version 2.0 in complete isolation. As you can see AccuRev is powerful and there is no doubt about that.
The only problem is that all described features are exposed to the end user by a crappy UI. The UI has been written in the way that makes it useless in so many cases that it's not even funny. I'm going to show a few examples how you must not write UI. All of them made the AccuRev adoption in my company very hard. Fortunately we have a brilliant build team which basically created a new web based UI that sits on top of AccuRev and hides many of the "innovative" ideas you will see.
The order of the list does not matter because different people hate passionately different AccuRev UI "features". The list is based on version 4.5.4 of AccuRev.

  1. UI is based on Eclipse which is written in Java. I have nothing against Java but I haven't seen a really good UI written in that language. The AccuRev UI is not as responsive as the average native Windows app. From time to time it starts rendering everything in gray. Click at the image to see more details.
  2. AccuRev comes with its own vocabulary that describes the source code management. 
    Common term AccuRev term
    update update & populate
    check in/commit promote
    delete defunct
    move cut & paste
    conflict overlap
  3. In order to make sure that you've got all recent changes you need to update and populate your workspace. Of course there is no single button that does both of them in one go. What is more both actions are launched in two completely different ways. The update button is the best hidden button I've ever seen. Nearly every single developer that starts using AccuRev can not find it. Note that the update action is accessible neither from the main menu nor the context menu.
  4. Whenever AccuRev can not update your workspace because there is something wrong with it you get a cryptic error message. In most cases it is the same error message. Click at the image to see more details.
  5. When someone promotes changes to the parent stream then all children get it by inheritance. From time to time the changes introduce conflicts that need to be resolved. The problem is that in order to find them you need to look for them using two different searches - overlap and deep overlap. I know why there are two different types of them but I don't get why this is so explicitly exposed to the end user.
  6. As I said before you can include other streams into you stream. The problem is that the window that lists all available streams is just a list view without any way of filtering items in the current view. I can spend 15 minutes trying to find the stream I'm interested in. Click at the image to see more details.
  7. Whenever you edit a text box the Ctrl-Z shortcut does not work.
  8. Let's say you are done with your task and you want to promote all your changes. In order to do this you need to remember to execute 3 different searches(external, modified, pending) to find all your changes. Again there is no single search that can do this for you. Needless to say that you can not define your own searches. 
  9. There are always some files that are part of your workspace but you never want to add them to the repository. The obj and bin folders are a good example. Unfortunately the AccuRev UI does not let you exclude neither files nor folders. Instead you need to create an environment variable where you specify all patterns for files and folders that AccuRev should ignore. What a user friendly solution. Even free TortoiseSvn has that feature built in.
  10. When you want to move a file that is already in the repository you need to right click on it, choose cut, navigate to the new location, right click and choose paste.  Why is there no explicit move command?
  11. Until recently the AccuRev integration with Visual Studio has been very poor and only recently AccuRev has released a plugin that more or less works with VS 2005(what about 2008?). My biggest problem with AccuRev plugin is the fact that from time to time when I compile my solution it does something in the background that causes the compilation process to freeze for a few seconds. From my perspective this is unacceptable behaviour. I don't mind if the plugin does its housekeeping when the IDE is idle but it must not interfere in the compilation process.
I see the current AccuRev UI as a low level API that should be completely hidden and should be used only to build a higher level abstraction that is simple and user friendly. Our build guys should sell their system back to AccuRev because it fixes many of the current AccuRev UI shortcomings. At the end I want to emphasize that as I said before the AccuRev back-end is great but its front-end makes you think that the whole product is half-baked to say the least.
Since recently a happy AccuRev user :).

Saturday 26 January 2008

Irish weather enables people to build energy efficient data centres

Two guys(Tom and Adam) are building a data centre in Cork. To be honest I was surprised that Cork needs a data centre but apparently there is none outside of Dublin and some companies need to use 2 data centres that are at least 30 miles far from each other. The next thing that was kind of new to me is that you can build such a facility in a completely transparent way that your customers know exactly what they pay for. And the last but the least surprise was that Irish weather plus a bit of innovative thinking can give such huge savings in terms of power consumption. From now on if someone complains about Irish weather I will tell him/her the story of that efficient data centre. It might help :).

Tuesday 15 January 2008

LINQ query versus compiled LINQ query

Rico Mariani changed his position a few months ago but he still manages to provide his Performance Quizzes from time to time. Today he explains the difference between LINQ queries and compiled LINQ queries. It's obvious that one should cache as much as possible because in most cases is better to pay a high price once then a slightly reduced one many times. But the interesting part of the post is the way how Microsoft came up with their current implementation of compiled LINQ queries. Nearly every good performance solution is a matter of realizing that being very generic doesn't pay off. Crazy about performance topics? Go and solve Rico latest quiz. Once you are done check if you are right.

Friday 4 January 2008

Ireland is not a hero?

It looks like there will not be a launch event of Visual Studio 2008, Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008 in Dublin. The registration page does not list Ireland and I suppose that this years is someone else turn.