Mylyn-Based Task-Management Layer Links Developers to ALM
Tasktop Technologies, the company behind the open-source Mylyn framework, has introduced a new version of its namesake product that provides what founder Mik Kersten calls the "missing link" between software development delivery and agile project tracking and management.
"Agile and Lean methods are promising big returns," Kersten said, "but there's no way an organization can see those returns if the developers are not working with the tools, keeping the ALM [application lifecycle management] systems updated, and tracking their work. There's a disconnect, but it's hard to blame developers when they've been told to adopt a tool that's not integrated with the way they write code. You've got manual updates, constant friction and annoyed developers."
By adding a task-management layer to the ALM stack, he explained, the newly released Tasktop Pro 1.6 links development activity with the leading change management and ALM tools.
"It takes away the developer pain associated with keeping the ALM system up-to-date with actual development activity," he said. "Automated time tracking allows Agile teams to provide realistic estimates for more accurate project tracking and visibility. When linked with the measurable productivity benefits that you get from the task-focused interface, it yields some of the biggest productivity gains since the adoption of the IDE."
Tasktop Pro is built on Mylyn, the free, open-source, task-focused ALM tool Kersten created and contributed to the Eclipse community. Mylyn is built on Java 5 and integrated into the Eclipse IDE, which accounts for a reported one million downloads per month from the Eclipse.org Web site.
Tasktop Pro 1.6 was released last month at the same time as Mylyn 3.3. The new Tasktop product adds cross-repository linking to its capabilities list, which means that managed links to an ALM system can be created to specify and share dependencies. There's also a new set of import and migration features designed to allow tasks to be moved among ALM systems and to be established as new items within an application. And there's a new automated time tracking feature designed to give developers and managers visibility into resource requirements and project progress.
The Tasktop Pro package includes Mylyn 3.3, which comes with several new features aimed at improving the usability of task-management facilities. The feature getting the most attention: support for C/C++ projects. As Tasktop puts it, "The ability to automatically link relevant information with development tasks is now fully supported for C and C++ developers using Eclipse CDT." This feature is especially useful, the company said, among mobile and embedded application developers. "C and C++ developers now get the same focused workspace and one-click multitasking as Java developers using Eclipse JDT," the company said.
"I think the primary goal here is to keep the developers developing code and staying in their IDEs as much as possible by automating all that project management stuff that developers are never very interested in doing, and so don't do very well," said Michael Coté, industry analyst at RedMonk. "Mylyn has a way of dealing with unstructured text -- your source code, your bug-tracking system -- all of this stuff that developers and development managers use to track a project in the actual code itself. It has a way of cross-linking among all these systems and providing a lot of meta-information tracking around the development process that's extremely helpful."
Kersten developed the task-focused interface during his graduate studies at the University of British Columbia in 2004. Intended to reduce the information overload developers face, the interface extends the GUI metaphor and shows only a subset of the content that is relevant to the task-at-hand.
"IDEs like Eclipse and Visual Studio make the systems you work on instantly navigable and queriable," Kersten told this site during an interview at the time. "You can roam around in the whole type hierarchy of the system. The problem is, the systems programmers work on are made up of hundreds of thousands -- sometimes millions -- of lines of code. What the IDEs have done by making all of this so easy to navigate is to leave programmers completely overloaded with information. The IDE views that they use will often contain hundreds or thousands elements. The result is that programmers will often spend more time searching and scrolling through long trees and lists, looking for the information they need, than they do actually programming."
Tasktop Pro 1.6 builds on Mylyn's capabilities with more integrations with big ALM tools, Coté said.
"As useful as ALM tools are," he said, "those tools are really more for managers and those keeping track of big projects than they are for the individual developers, or even the dev teams. And unless they're highly automated, they can actually cause problems for developers, who are required to update the darned things."
Tasktop Pro 1.6 is available now in standard and enterprise editions. The standard edition includes commercial ALM integrations, and Eclipse IDE and standalone applications for project managers; the enterprise edition includes enhanced support and additional integration for IBM Rational ClearQuest. Support for ClearCase is expected later this month.
Mylyn 3.3 is also available now. The free, open-source tool comes with community support and integrations for Bugzilla and Trac. It can be downloaded from Eclipse.org.