A StarTeam 3.0 is born
- By Andy Barnhart
Nearly every software development project requires version control, defect/change
request tracking and some form of electronic communication between team members.
These tasks are often done without any integration between the various applications
that perform them. E-mail and common directories for documentation files are
often used in lieu of any groupware collaborative communication package.
StarTeam 3.0 from StarBase Corp., Irvine, Calif., consolidates all of these functions
into a single application. The company even offers a "collaborative upgrade" to
current users of other defect-tracking or version control software. For example,
StarTeam can work in concert with existing Visual SourceSafe or PVCS databases,
allowing users to employ a single front end. This provides an easy migration path
between older versions of files stored in a previous vendor's products and ongoing
work stored in StarTeam.
StarBase offers different configurations of the software; for example, users
can purchase Version 2.0, which is simply the version control software, and
then use file-level access (multiple users are supported) to maintain a source.
The standalone version package is one of the most reasonably priced offerings
available from any major vendor.
The next level, StarTeam Workstation 3.0, provides version control, defect-tracking
and group discussion software, and uses file-level access to provide these features.
File-level access sets reasonable limits on the number of users, but requires
LAN connectivity that could pose a potential security concern. It also needs
the workstations to do all of the processing.
At the upper end of the product line is StarTeam Professional 3.0 and StarTeam
Virtual Server 3.0. StarTeam Professional has all of the capabilities of StarTeam
Workstation and can be used with file-level access. However, the product can
also interface with StarTeam Virtual Server using one of a variety of supported
protocols in a true client/server implementation. Remote access is supported
over the Internet using a browser or TCP connection (the server must be addressable
over the Internet). This is the configuration I purchased and which I recommend
AN INTEGRATED SOLUTION
Before diving into the specifics of how the application works, you might be
wondering why you need an integrated solution and group discussion software.
The answer is threefold: administration, security and linking. The administration
issue is straightforward -- only one installation per developer workstation
is needed. This means that there is only one directory (and its subdirectories)
of concern in backups, one user management interface to deal with and one support
number to call. All of the product's data is encrypted and password protected.
Linking allows users to specify a file or defect associated with a discussion
item or vice versa. It also provides tight integration of the tools.
|StarTeam can serve as a repository to store pertinent
project data. Developers can record when data was requested, and more. Discussions
can provide a good structure for capturing project requirements.
Group discussion software provides a good structure for capturing all project
requirements and design documents, as well as functionality for threaded conversations.
Because it is hierarchical, users can subdivide documents and discussions into
meaningful designations; users can also link to and from defect/change requests.
While similar in many respects to an internal newsgroup, it provides much more.
For example, using the software as a repository to store all pertinent project
information allows users to record when information was requested and who requested
If you use StarTeam Virtual Server, you will want to install it first. I installed
it under NT, but some Unix variants are also supported. After installation --
a straightforward, wizard-driven procedure -- user groups and users will need
to be added, much as you do in NT. In fact, user groups and users can be imported
from the system. A database and "vault" (StarTeam data area) will also need
to be created for the server, another wizard-driven operation. In fact, StarTeam
does a very good job of providing wizards to handle most standard procedures.
Once the server has been installed, and the initial options have been chosen,
most additional configuration work can be done from a client workstation logged
in as an administrator.
The StarTeam Virtual Server also includes some additional programs to support
browser access over the Web. The StarTeam Professional client software will
connect over the Internet using TCP and provide a higher level of functionality
as well as greater throughput. Unless you need to access the server from non-PC
hardware or from PCs that do not have the client software loaded, the additional
Web server support is not that important.
On the client side, installing and running StarTeam Professional (or Workstation
if you are not using the Virtual Server) is quite simple. Again, wizards abound.
After installing and configuring StarTeam on a workstation, users can open
a project by either opening a file or connecting to the server. An interface,
usually a window with three visible panes, will be shown. On the left is a folder
hierarchy for disk browsing that is very similar to the Windows Explorer layout.
In the upper right is a tabbed interface that lets users select between File
(version control), Change Request (defect tracking), Topic (discussion) and
Audit (a log of all activity). Once an item has been selected in the upper right-hand
pane, the details appear in the lower right-hand pane.
Views can be customized to specify what fields appear and in what order at
the top; users can also create or apply filters to limit the amount of information
shown. The file view can also be configured to show only the most current files
or to view only those open change requests assigned to a particular user.
StarTeam's version control uses the terms "check out" and "lock" in a way
that can be confusing to users of other systems. Checking out a file is simply
copying the most recent version to the local drive, it does not assign ownership
for editing. Locking assigns ownership. Merging of changes to the same file
is also supported. A separate application, Visual Diff, lets users find changes
between two versions of the same file easily. In addition, version labeling
and date stamping recreate an earlier version from previous revisions.
The product's defect/change request tracking is adequate, but not outstanding.
One drawback is that there are not many canned reports available. However, the
features are simple to understand and use, and meet the needs of most projects
Finally, the Audit tab contains detailed information about every operation
performed to add, remove or maintain files/entries in the folder being browsed.
This provides an accurate accounting of when every operation was performed and
Andy Barnhart is an 18-year-veteran software developer and project manager. He currently works as a consultant with Cii Associates, Raleigh, N.C.