I went to a great gig in London last Friday with my good buddy John Conners. In a bizarre twist on the traditional format for these things, it was actually a presentation on project management software for software teams, rather than a music gig. If you think that sounds boring, then you’d be right. Fortunately, the person giving the presentation was none other than A-list celebrity software blogger Joel Spolsky of Joel on Software fame. Joel and Fog Creek Software co-founder Michael Pryor were in town to promote the latest version (6.0) of FogBugz, which increasingly embodies Joel’s philosophies on different aspects of the software development process.
The venue was the conference centre at the British Library, which was jam-packed with geeks—mainly male, it has to be said. Joel gave his presentation which included a FogBugz demo, then the floor was opened to questions and finally Joel and Michael stuck around afterwards to answer questions on a more informal basis from the throngs of developers that surrounded them.
The most interesting new feature in FogBugz 6.0 is Evidence Based Scheduling (EBS). Joel himself would probably characterise it as a hand-wavy sounding feature, but from watching his demonstration it actually looks practical and useful. What it boils down to is this: FogBugz makes it as painless as possible for developers to record what they’re working on and then over time it uses statistical modelling techniques to generate fancy charts that tell you a percentage probably of when your team will ship, or how accurate individual developers have been at estimating their work. Joel blogged about the feature in depth a while ago.
FogBugz 6.0 also includes a handy wiki feature that serves as a central project documentation repository. What’s interesting to me about how they’ve implemented this is that it only has a WYSIWYG editing mode i.e. you can’t get at the markup that’s generated under the covers. I suspect that Fog Creek have learned from their experience with CityDesk here, which had all sorts of problems when you switched back and forth between the editor view and the markup view. Joel actually touched on this during the Q & A when someone asked if WYSIWYG is a leaky abstraction: the short answer is that it is.
What I found most useful from a FogBugz point of view was getting a leg-up on how to use the software effectively. I’ve been using the hosted version for a while for AssetsGraphed, but I knew that I wasn’t getting the most out of it. I had trouble coming to terms with the FogBugz model whereby everything is essentially a case within the system, even e-mail. That’s all a lot clearer now and I shall shortly be hooking up the AssetsGraphed contact screen to FogBugz, so that any feedback I receive from users is properly categorised and managed. After that I’ll hook up the crash reporting system, which means that new cases will get created automatically on those rare occasions when the application crashes, instead of the present system which simply e-mails me the details. The beauty of it being that FogBugz is smart enough to recognise when incoming crash details are the same as previous crash details and so won’t create lots of duplicate cases, but rather will append to an existing case.
I’ve also developed an appreciation of what a sophisticated AJAX application FogBugz now is! I think this is something of a well-kept secret because FogBugz doesn’t advertise its use of AJAX in a flashy way, it just makes the experience of using the software faster and more pleasant. One feature that I certainly was aware of from the previous version is the great keyboard support, which is far superior to any other web application I’ve seen. Just as one thing Microsoft got right with Windows from the start was the ability to drive the user interface using only a keyboard, you can get around FogBugz in the same manner.
Joel turned out to be exactly how I expected, which is to say an entertaining and interesting speaker who answered everyone’s questions with patience and charm. Talking of questions, I was a bit surprised that some people used the occasion to glean information that can be easily found on Fog Creek’s website. I guess there were quite a few people there who wanted to find out about FogBugz straight from the source rather than attending because they’re JoS fans. We certainly did find out all about the latest version of FogBugz and very impressive it is too. My only slight disappointment with the event was that there was no FogBugz World Tour 2007 merchandise for sale, such as T-shirts with a list of tour dates on the back. Not very rock ‘n’ roll, Joel!