Handling Development in a Medical Device World (Part 5)

RELEASING SOFTWARE
When software is released it is typically given some kind of version number (e.g., 1.0). This is good, but it doesn’t tell us the specifics of what went into that build. It’s a good idea to include the Subversion changeset number somewhere in the release so that we always know EXACTLY what went into the build. I would include a build.xml (or build.prop) file somewhere that includes the version number of the release, the Subversion changeset number and the date of the build. As far as the last two values, these can (and should) be generated automatically by your build scripts.

As far as actually using Subversion, within Linux/Unix all commands are available from the command line. When working in Windows, I really like using TortoiseSVN. It integrates with Windows File Explorer, showing icons that indicate the status of any versioned file. It also provides a nice interface for viewing file differences (even differences of your Word documents!) and repository history.

TICKETING AND ISSUE TRACKING
For too long we’ve thought of our ticketing systems as “bug trackers.” One of the previously most popular open source tools, Bugzilla, even used the word “bug” in its name. But issue tracking does not need to imply that it is only useful for tracking software defects. On the contrary! It can be used for everything in software design and development, from addressing documentation needs to capturing software requirements to handling software defect reporting.

(On this note, I would like to add something that may require an entire post. I think it might be best to get away from using standard documents for the capture of software use cases, requirements, hazards and so on. By capturing everything related to a software project in our issue tracking tool we can leverage the power of a tool like Trac or Redmine to enhance team collaboration and project tracing. But I won’t bite off more than I can chew right now.)

When I first began writing all of these thoughts of mine down I was going to use Trac as my example (http://trac.edgewall.org/). Trac is a great tool, but there’s something better now, and that something is Redmine (http://www.redmine.org/).

The principal shortfall of Trac is the fact that it doesn’t lend itself well (at all) to handling multiple projects. One installation of Trac can be integrated with only single Subversion repository, and the ticketing system can only handle a single project. I still like the way Trac can be used to group tickets into sprints, but using subprojects in Redmine, a similar grouping can be achieved. In the past, if a tool was used at all, we used Bugzilla or Clearquest to handle our issue tracking. These tools were very good at the time, but they did not integrate well with other tools, nor did they include features like wikis, calendars or Gantt charts. (Admittedly, I have not used Clearquest in many years, so I really have no idea whether or not it has since addressed some of these needs.)

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