or: The Search For a Practical Issue Tracking Solution

I’m currently evaluating numerous issue tracking systems.  I’ve already found one that I intend using myself (FogBugz) because it “just works” (and it’s free for 1-2 users, which will do for me at least until I manage to figure out how to clone myself.  Twice).

I like stuff that “just works”.  I’ll often overlook other shortcomings of pretty much anything that does what it does well and delivers some benefit without getting in my way.

On the other hand, you could show me the most capable, feature endowed “Be-All and End-All”, but if the user experience of it is painful, unintuitive or causes me hassle in any unreasonable way shape or form, then I’ll quickly pass.

All of the “highly recommended” issue tracking systems that I have looked at have failed this “It Just Works” test.  Highly recommended in this context means “they advertise, or are alleged to have, a large user base and/or have been voted “best” or “top” in one or more polls/surveys”.

In this category are the like of OnTime, TestTrack , Codendi and even JIRA .  All of these present a frankly bewildering initial experience and in some cases just getting an evaluation system up and running was a major exercise  in systems management and configuration, taking the best part of a day to reach a point where I could start configuring a test project.

I come away from these products wondering if the user count reflects actual users or includes large numbers of customers but who aren’t actually using the software anymore.  I struggle to imagine the kind of developer that would vote for these systems, although I can easily see the attraction for management types.

In most cases I suspect that these systems have relatively few customers but that those customers each have an enormous number of user licenses.  They seem suited to large, enterprise scale applications with multiple level of management “turned on” by endless, and mostly meaningless, metrics and detailed reports that can impose an enterprise system on their departments against the protestations of those departments if necessary.

I just cannot see these systems being embraced by small, agile development teams looking for efficient and practical issue tracking with a minimum of fuss and bother.

On the face of it FogBugz is lacking a huge amount of functionality that these larger, more complex systems offer, but how much of that functionality actually adds anything of any significance to those products?

How much of that feature “bloat” is there primarily to hit some marketting “hot buttons”?

What are YOU using?  And more importantly, why?

Other Stuff That “Just Works”

Today I upgraded my blog site to the latest WordPress version.

I’ve really enjoyed WordPress from the start.  Again, it was the first blog/CMS I found that really was “plug-and-play”, allowing me to get on with creating content without having to become an expert in the blogging system itself.

I have been putting off upgrading because despite that positive experience I suspected that upgrading would prove to be a pain that I could do without.  But I decided that I really had to bite the bullet.

Yet again, WordPress came through.  The whole process of upgrading took no more than a couple of hours, and would have taken less time had I not made a few silly mistakes in following the instructions (I was upgrading from WordPress 2.2, so it was a largely manual process.  One of the reasons for upgrading was that newer versions have an automated upgrade process).

There may be better issue tracking and blog systems out there.  But FogBugz and WordPress “just work”, and that counts for a lot in my book.

11 thoughts on “Stuff That “Just Works”

  1. I’m using flyspray http://flyspray.org/ and find it fits quite well the it just works category.

    I also like that it isn’t bloated with features, has a clear interface and still provides useful things like support for wiki syntax and a plugin system.
    Finally a very big advantage is that I can host it on my own webserver so I can keep things private if I want (AFAIK you can’t do that with FOGBUGZ).

    SVN integration is also planned but not ready.

    A disadvantage however is that development is very slow and the motivation of the team seems to be decreasing, maybe because it’s free.

    Still I haven’t found any system that I like as much as flyspray.

  2. You can self-host FogBugz, but only if you pay for it. Even then, the license cost for that is far, far less than that of the “big” players in this space.

    As you may already know, FogBugz already has SVN integration as well as supporting numerous other version control systems.

  3. I have evaluated few such as: Bugzilla, Mantis, OnTime, and redmine, and have been so happy with redmine (http://www.redmine.org) because the following:

    1. It free and open source.
    2. It has more features than other free alternative like Bugzilla and mantis.
    3. Has support built in for SVN and other VCS.
    4. It’s alternative project for Trac which is widely used, but it support multi projects.

  4. We’ve just started using redmine as a replacement for a truly horrible in-house developed system. So far so good, but ask me again in a couple of months 🙂

    1. Coincidentally I evaluated Gemini today. Frankly I’m amazed they get away with charging for this system. Even “Free” is too high a price to pay imho.

      Installation and configuration is a royal PITA (e.g. having to manually edit the web.config file), run SQL scripts to create a database (one installation only able to support one database!) and having crucial installation information (initial admin account details) only provided in the knowledgebase rather than in the installation or sample database guides.

      Beyond initial installation, basic configuration also fails some basic hurdles. e.g. having to create and populate database tables using some SQL tool outside of the Gemini system itself if you wish to (e.g.) configure a “Custom Field” which is a lookup list….

      This absolutely does NOT fall into the category of “It just works”.

      Far, FAR from it.

      No, Gemini quickly found it’s way to the scrap heap I’m afraid.

  5. I use BugTracker.NET. Simple to setup. Simple to use. I like Bugzilla, but not easy to setup and manage. Doable, but probably overkill for 1 person.

    Dot Net Nuke is a really good CMS. I upgraded from 4.x to 05.01.02, and it was as simple as extracting the files over the existing files and accessing the home page. Entire process was about 2 minutes.

    1. Thanks for the suggestions. Someone else suggested bugtrack.net but a couple of things rule it out for me both personally and at work.

      1) No free version, not even for 1 user and some of what they consider “Pro” features are nothing of the sort – they are what any decent system of this sort should support (custom fields and email interface being just two).

      The higher “Pro” costs to get these features immediately makes it more expensive than fogbuz which a) includes these features at a lower cost (albeit more expensive than “standard” bugtrack) and b) is entirely free for 1-2 users.

      2) No self-hosting option.

      Again, FogBuz offers this which would suit my envisaged work use, as well as the free hosted solution which suits my personal use.

      I looked at Dot Net Nuke back when I started this blog, and frankly I just couldn’t it – or a number of others like it – working quickly enough. I needed something that I could spend my time blogging with, not learning how to operate the CMS.

      It’s something that I’ve noticed among open source/community solutions. It’s quite common to end up with a number of solutions all based on a pretty good but not quite good enough core (or inspiration) with the pet tweaks and twiddles of the people involved, but without going back to basics and addressing any core problems with the original (dot net nuke was a .net port of some earlier CMS, wasn’t it?).

      WordPress on the other hand fit the bill nicely and has continued to serve me very, very well indeed.

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