The Winds of Change are a Blowin’

For six years I have been an avid and outspoken fan and paying customer of SourceGear products…from Vault to Dragnet to Fortress and on to Vault Professional, but that is all changing now.  Not the fan part, but the paying customer part.  I’m still a huge fan.  I think that SourceGear does a great job with their product and support has been fantastic when needed (which is not very often).  I think that Eric Sink has done a fine job building a quality company and products, and I appreciate his contributions to the tech community through this blogging and books.  I still think their products are high quality and do a fantastic job of what they do.  But there’s the rub…what they do is no longer enough for me.

As I have rebuilt our development team over the last couple of years, and we have begun to investigate Scrum and Kanban, I realize that I need more visibility into the progress of the team.  I need better project management tools, and this is where Vault Professional lags behind several other tools.  Granted, in the latest release (Vault 6.0) they added a nice time tracking feature, but I want more.  (Note, I did contact SourceGear about my quest for more, but apparently, the rest of their customer base has not been clamoring for this and so they have not built it.  Granted, I wasn’t clamoring for it either until just recently, but unfortunately for SourceGear, I want it now and don’t want to wait for them to build it into their system.)

Ironically, it was SourceGear themselves who started to turn me on to the possibilities of other tools.  They built a limited integration with Axosoft OnTime which I read about several times on their support site (I used to regularly read and occasionally comment on their Support Forum).  I decided to check out OnTime and was very impressed with the tool for work item tracking and project management (not to mention their great Scrum Master in 10 Minutes video).  I fell in love with the capabilities of OnTime.  Unfortunately, the integration with Vault for source control management was, as I mentioned, limited.  I could have forfeited the integration between work items and source code, but there is too much benefit to linking check-ins to work items for me to give that up.  So then I did what was previously unthinkable for me, I considered switching not just the work tracking tool, but also the source code management tool.  This was really stepping outside my comfort zone because source code is Gold, and not to be trifled with.  When you find a good weapon to protect your gold, stick with it.

I looked at Git and Tortoise SVN, but the integration methods for those was pretty rough compared to what I was used to.  The recommended tool from Axosoft’s point of view appeared to be RocketSVN, but I really wasn’t sure I wanted to go the “flavor of Subversion” route.  Then I started thinking about that other tool I liked back when I first chose to go with Vault, but couldn’t afford:  Team Foundation Server.  And what do you know…Microsoft has not only radically improved it over that version from back in 2006, but they also came to their senses about how it should be licensed, and it is much more affordable now.  So I started looking into the latest capabilities in the 2012 version, and I fell in love all over again.

I really went deep on checking out the tools.  I watched numerous webcasts from Microsoft partners, went to a beta preview on Microsoft’s campus, and watched a lot of Channel 9 videos on the new ALM features (oooh…shiny).  Frankly, I was very impressed with the capabilities of the newest version, and figured this was probably our direction.  As an interesting twist of fate, one of my employees crossed paths with an ALM Consultant from Northwest Cadence, a local Microsoft Partner, and one of the companies that produced several of the webcasts that I had been watching.  So I gave Bryon a call and started grilling him to see if he really knew anything or was just another guy who couldn’t find a job so he called himself a consultant.  It turns out Bryon actually knows a lot, especially in an area that was becoming a frustration point for us: Branching strategies and automated builds (that’s probably a whole separate blog entry).  As we talked, Bryon suggested we look into doing a DTDPS (Developer Tools Deployment Planning Services) session with his company.  This is a service that can be paid for by Microsoft Enterprise Agreement planning services credits or SA training benefits, and, again, coincidentally, we had several that were just about to expire, so I put them to good use.

The DTDPS sessions were great; and Bryon, Rick, and the rest of the folks at Northwest Cadence have been a pleasure to work with.  We have just purchased a new server for our TFS rollout and are planning the steps and options right now.  This is still a big project ahead of us to not only install and configure TFS, but also to load all of our source code (many different systems, not just one program) and transition to the new way of life with TFS, but I am convinced that it is the right move for my team at this point in time.  We need the new capabilities that are in alignment with Scrum and Kanban methodologies in order to more efficiently manage all the different projects that we have going on at one time.

I would still wholeheartedly endorse SourceGear’s products and Axosoft’s OnTime for those whose needs are met by those tools, but for me and my team, I think that TFS is the right fit, and I am looking forward to the change.

posted @ Saturday, September 01, 2012 10:57 PM

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# re: The Winds of Change are a Blowin’

Left by Jon Atkinson at 9/9/2012 4:30 AM
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An interesting post. Our company is in a similar situation.

I'm a satisfied user of Vault for many years and still recommend it to our clients. We were early adopters when SourceGear introduced Fortress (now Vault Professional) to benefit from the ALM enhancements.

TFS didn't have these tools then, and early versions were too cumbersome to manage (for DR etc.) for a company with a small focussed team. We're a UK Software House that develops and supports bespoke Web applications with ASP.Net MVC and C#.

But, the latest TFS version has more to offer what our development company needs. There are noticeable enhancements that developers, analysts and project manager will benefit from. It's also much easier to manage now.

By introducing TFS Express (a free version of TFS for up to 5 users but you are tied to using SQLServer Express for the database), they've also made it easier to evaluate.

# re: The Winds of Change are a Blowin’

Left by AjarnMark at 9/9/2012 1:45 PM
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Jon, I'm not a licensing expert, but I think the licensing is even more beneficial. If you're already using Visual Studio Premium with MSDN, I think that includes a license for TFS along with a full SQL Server Standard instance. But check with your local MS license specialist to be sure.

# re: The Winds of Change are a Blowin’

Left by My blog at 10/3/2012 1:00 PM
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I don't understand much about licensing issues but all I can say is TFS 2012 is just wonderful. We had a chance to use the webservices which are listening on work item changes. Now, it is extremely easy to configure for every specific coding need without delving into XML.
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