Author Archive

Happy holidays!

December 24, 2009

Happy holidays from the the Mike team! The snow is falling heavily outside, I can’t remember the last white Christmas, but as you can see it looks lovely!

2009 has been very exciting for us. Taking Mike from concept to reality in a few months, adding Maven support and kicking off the beta and watching it grow! We’re even more excited about 2010 and the new features we are working on.

We’ll be away for a week, from 12pm GMT 24th December. We’ll be  spending time with our friends and families, getting into the festive spirit and re-charging ready for 2010! We’ll still check Tender periodically in case of any problems or urgent questions. Normal service will resume on 4th January 2010.

We’ve just added a new Tour page to the website. Hope you like it!

Have a happy holiday and a fantastic New Year and we’ll see you in 2010!

A chilly chat with the Build Doctor

December 18, 2009

Last week the Mike team travelled to London for the Mike & UPCO Christmas party. Before the festivities started we caught up with the Build Doctor in the Cheshire Cheese pub near the Temple. After a nice pint in the cosy pub,  Adam did a short alfresco interview, in the not so warm Temple. You can see it here. Enjoy!

Could your next development environment be in the cloud?

November 17, 2009

Your new project has been given the green light. You need to get your team up and running quickly.  Could a cloud based development environment be the answer? This blog discusses some of the options  and issues for moving to a  hosted development environment.

Cloud City

One of the first tasks for any Agile project team is to establish a robust, reliable set of development tools and associated infrastructure. Generally on any new development endeavour the following needs to be put in place:

  • Locate or create a source code repository and import your skeleton project.
  • Locate or create a continuous integration server to build your source code, run your tests and notify the team via email of any failures.
  • Locate or create a task/user story tracking server and/or issue management tool and add your project to it.
  • Locate or create your test environments for developer smoke, integration, and functional testing.

Now you might be lucky and have much of this infrastructure in place, in which case adding some extra users, a new project and associated set of build jobs might be relatively straightforward. However, if it isn’t you will need to   allocate a decent chunk of time to setting things up yourself. This may involve procurement of hardware, installation of an appropriate OS, installation of the relevant applications, providing secure access to project team members and so on. This gets more complex if the team is distributed and the infrastructure must be accessible beyond a LAN.

Often these development tools are open source, which means that while the cost of acquisition for the software may be zero, the ongoing maintenance and support will probably require specialist knowledge.  Any time your team spends doing this is time that could be spent progressing the project.

With either option, server space and administration time is required and there are obviously costs associated with this, and the costs may be disproportionately large to small and medium-sized organisations.

In the same way that SaaS offerings for email and collaboration suites (such as Google Apps) have sought over the past few years sought to turn these services into low-cost, click-and-go commodities, there are now equivalent hosted solution options available for Agile development infrastructure.

Hosted version control solutions have been available for a while and the market has expanded rapidly over the past few years. Collabnet (the people behind Subversion) and CVSdude are probably the best known. Both companies have expanded their offerings, and not only provide version control but are bundled with or integrate to a host of other tools.  These now compete with newer entrants like Beanstalk, Assembla and Unfuddle (which also does Git hosting). GitHub itself has seen huge growth over the past year, with over 400 new users and 1,000 projects being added each day.

Coming from the other direction are suppliers of Development collaboration and productivity tools, Atlassian are probably the biggest player here and their hosted JIRA studio suite based around the very popular Jira issue tracking tool was launched in May 2008.  Fogbugz is another alternative, based around an integrated Project Management, Wiki, Issue Management and Helpdesk set of tools.

Each vendor has a different focus with JIRA studio and Collabnet’s Team-Forge perhaps the most fully featured for development teams. Both offer a very comprehensive stack and are moving towards the idea of an Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) suite. It will be interesting to see how these platforms develop, and how the traditional Enterprise tool vendors (IBM Rational, Microsoft and Borland) respond.

If  a platform sounds too restrictive and you want to “pick and mix” your own set of tools you can.  There are also some great tools which focus on a specific area – Basecamp for Project Management and Lighthouse for Issue Management are a couple of well-known examples worth looking at. Most of these tools have open APIs that enable you to integrate easily with others, so getting together an integrated  set of tooling is easily achievable.

My advice here is to be clear about what you want from these tools. Some are very feature rich and developer centric while others do a great job of providing a clean and simple process and interface. So which tools suits you will depend on your project, your team, and your organisation. What is clear though is that there is growth in this sector, increased competition and greater integration between the providers. All of this can only be good for those who are happy to outsource their development environments – increased choice and competition against a backdrop of  decreasing hosting costs.

Moving on from  managing your project to testing it, the use of externalized environments that allow teams to deploy a release of a web-based application and run functional tests against it, is trickier. Depending on the nature of the application and its associated runtime dependencies this may require the creation of a bespoke environment. However, recent developments in cloud computing should soon make this much easier. Google’s App Engine for example allows you to run Java (and Python) applications on their infrastructure. So if the AppEngine is your production target, creating a test environment that is a clone of production should be a relatively straight-forward activity. More recently in August this year, SpringSource launched their Cloud Foundry which allows you to rapidly deploy a test (and also production) environment for your Java web application with a few mouse clicks and Microsoft have also weighed in with Azure. Both Google and Microsoft are promising tighter integration with the IDE, and I’ll be watching these platforms closely.

One area which is less mature is hosted continuous integration. There are currently only a small number of pioneering providers in this space, which may surprise some, as the practice of continuous integration is at the heart of the Agile development process. The SaaS multi-tenant application model does not fit easily with the requirements for continuous and often complex software builds. It is computing resource intensive activity, especially for programming languages such as Java, and this will inevitably impact the cost of such a service to the end-user. Mike CI is one of these pioneers and there is a good analysis of the others here.

Now I’m not saying trusting your code to a 3rd party is a simple decision to make. There are often legal, security and organisational hurdles to consider. It isn’t be for everyone and for many large corporates it might be a step too far. But for many people the cost, convenience and management overhead of maintaining it all yourself does not stack up. Your team is in place to write great software. For your next project, I’d recommend that you seriously consider using these low-cost, on-demand hosted services.

Behind the scenes: evolving the UI

November 6, 2009

First of an occassional series of posts describing how we do development here at Mike CI. I’m sure what we do is by no means unique, but hopefully our experiences might resonate with your own project. Or at the very least give you an opportunity to point out how we can do things better!

As you’d expect for a new product start-up we are an Agile shop.  All prospective features we get are put in our Product Backlog in Agilo, which is our Scrum tool of choice. I’ll probably do another blog at some point on how we do Scrum. At the start of each sprint we take user stories from the backlog and figure out how we will implement them during the Sprint planning meeting.

The main goal of our last sprint was to add a new component – the Account Manager. Our first release of the Account Manager includes functionality to enable users to register an account, invite other users to join them, manage their profile and change their password. Simple stuff, but a core component to the platform.

For the Account Manager we wanted a cleaner look and feel than the Control Panel. Managing your account should be easy and simple to do, and the design should reflect that. We also knew we would be adding more features here so the design had to be able to cope with that, eventually users will be able to upgrade/downgrade subscriptions, view usage and change their payment methods.

Our initial step is to story board the flow on a whiteboard and then capture the flows in Balsamiq. We’re really pleased with Balsamiq as a prototyping tool. It is incredibly quick to pick up and produces great mock-ups that convey the flow and spirit of the story without restricting the design. We then review and debate these flows in the sprint planning session. As you’d expect with a team of IT geeks professionals these debates can get quite animated! We then re-factor the mock-ups and paste the images in to the relevant user story in Agilo. The flows and mock-ups are crucial as not only do they give us the spec for development but we work our test plans from them too.

Invite a user to join Mike

Here is the first cut of the Manage Users Page from Balsamiq.

As this is a new application we decided to follow this up with some Photoshop mock-ups. We don’t always do this, but on this occasion as we weren’t constrained by the Control Panel look and feel we decided to add this step.

Manage Users Design 1

Initial Design for Account Manager

We created about six different designs, variations on a theme, but they really helped us visualise what we wanted and review and discuss the designs. This was a bit of a design smack-down, there could only be one winner!

While this was going on the developers had been implementing the functionality without the design. The application is a fairly typical Java Spring application – web pages are JSPs, we use SiteMesh and a bit of Ajax here and there. The developers coded from the back-end first giving all the screens a blank design to start with. All the key elements in the screens were given IDs which helped the skinning process later on. The most crucial stage is resolving the design on the webpages. This is another iterative cycle and often what looked good in Photoshop doesn’t necessarily work when implemented in CSS and HTML. In fact, I’d recommend not spending too long on the Photoshop design stage – the sooner you start working up the designs for real the better.

Once we’d settled on a final skin design it didn’t take long to skin the app, about a day or so, with a few impromptu reviews along the way.

Manage Users Implemented Version

Final version of Manage Users screen

This is the final version, I hope you like it. It ties in more to our website and blogs than the Control Panel and that does raise us some questions about whether or not we want to align the designs more. I’m really happy with the designs and I hope our users are too. We hope to release the initial version of the Account Manager soon – so watch this space!

After a few iterations we think we now have a pretty good process for rapidly developing Mike applications. Balsmiq has been great in enabling us to define an initial design. We can then, in parallel, work up the final designs (in Photoshop or HTML) while we progress the development. The final step is to skin the pages with the final designs. Constantly review along the way and be prepared to compromise, what looked great in Photoshop might not work for real.

I hope this has been useful, comments appreciated!

New improved demo video!

November 6, 2009

A friend of mine, Douglas Black Heaton has very kindly given us a backing track for the demo video. Doug recently composed the score for the recent Nokia Booklet launch, so we’re in very good company!

The new demo is here – enjoy!

Adding an Eclipse project to Mike

November 5, 2009

Quick video demonstrating how easy it is to add a project to Mike. This demo takes you through the build job wizard and then runs the build. The project is a Spring based Java web application. Mike generates a build from the Eclipse meta-data. We have an Eclipse plug-in which can generate a Mike compatible project and we’ll be blogging about that very soon.

The build wizard steps are real-time, the only bit I’ve edited is the build duration (which took 56 seconds)!

Mike now also has a YouTube channel where we will post demos and how to guides.


Beta launch week

October 23, 2009

It’s been an exciting week at Mike HQ this week. Announcements for the Beta have gone out on the ServerSide and the JavaLobby. We’ve also had a few enquiries and, of course, sign-ups! People are now building their projects on our platform! It’s a very exciting time for us. We hope our beta users enjoy using the platform and we’re really looking forward to the feedback.

Maven2 support is a feature a number of people have asked us about.  It is something we are working on and we’ll keep you posted as to when we will add it to the Beta programme. It’s a key feature for the platform.

We’ve also started work on the Mike registration and account management application, agreeing the screen-flows, designs and functionality. This should give users a seamless registration process and the ability to add and remove users from their Mike account. We’ve also been extending the coverage of our Selenium tests for Mike and adding them to our nightly build cycle.

Have a good weekend!

Beta launched!

October 20, 2009

I’m very happy to announce that the we are ready to launch the MikeCI private beta. We’re doing a limited private beta for a number of reasons. Firstly, we want feedback on the platform. This is a great chance for people to get on board early and try our service out and let us know what they like or don’t like. We hopefully get great feedback and you get a free CI Server!

We’re also keen to ensure we can handle the stresses and strains of lots of people running build jobs. Doing this under a private beta allows us to add users in a controlled manner and double check everything is working as it should be before we go live. Finally the beta allows us to bed down our support and admin processes before a full launch. We’re not like Google – this beta period is limited to the end of November, so please get in touch soon if you want to sign up.

Announcements will be going out this week on various sites. Please say if you want to take part.