By Mike Riley
In many respects, Fog Creek Software's FogBUGZ is an embodiment of Fog Creek founder Joel Spolsky's "this is how programming works in the real world" attitude. Joel is a Netizen made famous by his "Joel on Software" Web site (http://www.joelonsoftware.com), which essentially is Joel's blog site built using another Fog Creek software package named CityDesk. (CityDesk is not really considered a blogging package, but rather an online newspaper editor designed for nontechnical Web-posting enthusiasts.)
It is this "real-world" differentiator that distinguishes FogBUGZ from other Web-based software case-management packages. Rather than take the approach of packing everything into the product and let each customer decide which pieces to use, FogBUGZ is streamlined to support that 85 percent of issue-tracking features that most small- to mid-sized companies - and perhaps even some skunkworks projects in large enterprises - are most likely to use.
The product is entirely ASP-based and can store its data either in Access (recommended for groups of 10 or less) or SQL Server tables. For a forms-intensive Web product, the data-entry forms themselves are remarkably manageable and lightweight. Most fields are pre-populated dropdowns, making the addition of program feature requests, bug reports, and application inquiries almost as easy as a standard Windows Forms-based application. Reports are likewise streamlined and clutter-free.
Although the page layouts themselves won't win any awards for graphic design, they do their job well, especially for programmers who don't care about flashy user interfaces. One obvious advantage to this simplicity is the assurance that the pages display as intended on all the popular Web browser clients. Another is the fact that your software teammates might actually use the product. I've tried countless times to encourage my teams to use bug-tracking facilities, only to have them atrophy after a few weeks of enthusiasm. The most frequently cited reason for the usage decline is developers felt they were using only one or two of the 30 fields being requested. We eventually settled on an in-house Web application that behaves similarly to FogBUGZ, but its cost in development and maintenance for the number of users it supports certainly exceeds FogBUGZ's selling price.
In addition to capturing data and presenting "just the facts" roll-up reports, FogBUGZ also hooks into CVS, so double entry of program fixes and updates are unnecessary; Visual SourceSafe users, however, will have to look elsewhere. SMTP-based e-mail messaging is another useful FogBUGZ attribute that notifies team participants of system updates and postings. FogBUGZ also can poll POP3 mailboxes for incoming messages for further alert notifications.
The product is distributed with and employs several of Dart Communications' (http://www.dart.com) ActiveX components for its e-mail integration. The system uses Fog Creek's custom DLL for its security checks, particularly during the product installation which requires the purchased serial number to be validated with Fog Creek's servers. Even though the product might seem like simply a bunch of clear-text ASP files, these files won't allow program entry unless they authenticate against a valid key obtained via the online registration process. Licenses are bound to the machine ID and name of the computer, so be sure to install the product on the computer intended to be the program's host.
Like any browser-based application, FogBUGZ Achilles' heel is its inability to operate in an offline state. Thus, for distributed teams with intermittent or unpredictable connectivity, FogBUGZ is not the ideal solution. Also, those project managers looking for the Mother Ship of case-management tools and have the approved budget to buy it need not consider this product. But for the rest of the "real-world" programming crowd, FogBUGZ does the job at a reasonable price.
Mike Riley is a chief scientist with RR Donnelley, one of North America's largest printers. He participates in the company's emerging technology strategies using a wide variety of distributed network technologies, including Delphi 6. Readers may reach him at mailto:[email protected].
Web Site: http://www.fogcreek.com/FogBUGZ/
Price: Starts at $99