How to make software development decisions based on facts

We love to hear stories about the many and varied ways our customers use the tools that we develop, but in our earnest search for stories and feedback, we’d rather forgotten that some of our keenest users are fellow RedGaters, in the same building.

It was almost by chance that we discovered how the SQL Source Control team were using SmartAssembly. As it happens, there is a separate account (here on Simple-Talk) of how SmartAssembly was used to support the Early Access program; by providing answers to specific questions about how the SQL Source Control product was used. But what really got us all grinning was how valuable the SQL Source Control team found the reports that SmartAssembly was quickly and painlessly providing.

So gather round, my friends, and I’ll tell you the Tale Of The Framework Upgrade .

<strange mirage effect to denote a flashback. A subtle background string of music starts playing in minor key>

Kevin and his team were undecided. They weren’t sure whether they could move their software product from .NET 2 to .NET 3.5 , let alone to .NET 4. You see, they were faced with having to guess what version of .NET was already installed on the average user’s machine, which I’m sure you’ll agree is no easy task. Upgrading their code to .NET 3.5 might put a barrier to people trying the tool, which was the last thing Kevin wanted: “what if our users have to download X, Y, and Z before being able to open the application?” he asked. That fear of users having to do half an hour of downloads (.followed by at least ten minutes of installation. followed by a five minute restart) meant that Kevin’s team couldn’t take advantage of WCF (Windows Communication Foundation). This made them sad, because WCF would have allowed them to write their code in a much simpler way, and in hours instead of days (as was the case with .NET 2).

Oh sure, they had a gut feeling that this probably wasn’t the case, 3.5 had been out for so many years, but they weren’t sure.

<background music switches to major key>

SmartAssembly Feature Usage Reporting gave Kevin and his team exactly what they needed: hard data on their users’ systems, both hardware and software. I was there, I saw it happen, and that’s not the sort of thing a woman quickly forgets. I’ll always remember his last words (before he went to lunch): “You get lots of free information by just checking a box in SmartAssembly” is what he said. For example, they could see how many CPU cores their customers were using, and found out that they should be making use of parallelism to take advantage of available cores.

But crucially, (and this is the moral of my tale, dear reader), Kevin saw that 99% of SQL Source Control’s users were on .NET 3.5 or above.

So he knew that they could make the switch and that is was safe to do so. With this reassurance, they could use WCF to not only make development easier, but to also give them a really nice way to do inter-process communication between the Source Control and the SQL Compare products. To have done that on .NET 2.0 was certainly possible <knowing chuckle>, but Microsoft have made it a lot easier with WCF.

<strange mirage effect to denote end of flashback>

So you see, with Feature Usage Reporting, they finally got the hard evidence they needed to safely make the switch to .NET 3.5, knowing it would not inconvenience their users. And that, my friends, is just the sort of thing we like to hear.