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Debunking Anti-WatiN bullshit marketing from SWEA

In a previous post, I talked in a closing comment about how some tool vendors are trying to piggyback on WatiN to promote their inferior tools. Well there have been a couple of comments on my blog since from SWEA evangelist, Alex at a Hotmail address.

SWEA is much better product than WATIN. It can save days on test development and maintenance. Any small UI change will require change in the WATIN scripts, but SWEA scripts are more resilient to the UI changes – the control binding is separated from the script code. WATIN is just thin wrapper around HTML DOM, but SWEA is complex automation framework.

You can also try SWExplorerAutomation (SWEA) from webiussoft. SWEA is not free but provides more functionality (Recorder, Data Extractors, internal support for AJAX, more resilient to UI changes scripts) than WATIN.

Ok first things first. This is my blog and not a public forum. If you want to advertise on my blog, you can pay for your adds via Google. It is for this reason that I have deleted these comments.

Let’s debunk these claims one at at time.

Claim #1 SWEA is much better product than WATIN.

Dictionary.com defines a product as “the totality of goods or services that a company makes available.” WatiN is free and not produced by a company. So I will concede that point SWEA is a better “product” than WatiN, simply because WatiN is not a product at all.

Claim #2 SWEA scripts are more resilient to the UI changes … any small UI change will require change in the WATIN scripts

Now that is complete BULLSHIT. Good script design and development practices have significantly more impact on how resilient a script is to UI changes than the underlying tool does. WatiN supports controls defined as .net regular expressions. Using WatiN Attributes in a control class, allows controls to be defined in a single location and called consistently regardless of how WatiN finds the control. Couple that with Visual Studio 2005’s refactoring support and I am working in UI change nirvana with WatiN. If anyone needs to know how good script design should be done, please feel free to follow my blog post series and learn how to do it properly.

Claim #3 SWEA is not free …

That one is true.

Claim #4 SWEA is not free but provides more functionality (Recorder, Data Extractors, internal support for AJAX …

You can get WatiNRecorder from here, so that is an outright lie.

I honestly don’t know what a “Data Extractor” is, nor why I would need one.

WatiN does support AJAX, and yes there are some issues, however they are well know and being improved every day, so that is another lie as well.

Claim #5 WATIN is just thin wrapper around HTML DOM, but SWEA is complex automation framework.

WatiN is a thin wrapper around Internet Explorer, not just the HTML DOM. One of the key reasons WatiN and Watir do so well are their elegance, simplicity and speed. I personally would not be quoting complexity as a feature or any application.

Honestly, SWEA may be an OK product, however if it was so good, webiussoft wouldn’t need to leave comments on every WatiN related blog post they can find, pleading for people to try their products instead.

I’ll leave the last word on this to a comment one one of my posts from Petey in regard to test tool companies that resort to blog spam marketing : “Don’t forget SWEA. It is so annoying!”

If that isn’t a great reason to not try a tool, I don’t know what is.

General Testing Watin3 comments

IE developer toolbar

If you are developing websites or web automation the Microsoft IE Developer Toolbar is a great tool. It is ideal for identifying controls in a HTML page when rendered at runtime which is great for debugging layout issues.

General0 comments

The simple things in life … the top 10 things that all junior developers need to know.

Way back in June 2004, I blogged about how a developer should be aware of their ability and actively push to increase their knowledge. Well working back with some junior developers again has prompted me to blog about the simple, basic things that all good developers just seem to know, and most developers starting out either don’t know or don’t care about. I am going to assume that most just don’t know, and I am hoping help rectify that situation. With a my list of the top 10 things (in no particular order) that all junior developers need to know.

1. Code layout matters. The layout of code is a significant factor in the maintainability of your code. Good layout with correct indenting and an appropriate amount of whitespace makes a huge difference in the amount of time it takes to analyse and understand the intent of code. For example, what the heck does this code do ?

public static bool Ckpal ( string str ){
bool found = true;
char[] chars = str.ToCharArray();
int i = 0;
int j = (chars.Length -1);
while ( (i != j) && (i != j-1)) {
if (chars[i] != chars[j])
found = false;
i++;j--;
if (chars[i] != chars[j])
found = false; }
return found;}
No idea? I wrote this (then modified it for this example), and even I have trouble understanding it. Layout should clearly show the control flow of the code. Here is a modified version that is formatted with improved layout.
public static bool Ckpal ( string str )
{
    bool found = true;
    char[] chars = str.ToCharArray();
    int i = 0;
    int j = (chars.Length -1);
    while ( (i != j) && (i != j-1))
    {
        if (chars[i] != chars[j])
        {
            found = false;
        }
        i++;j--;
        if (chars[i] != chars[j])
        {
            found = false;
        }
    }
    return found;
}
That is a lot better, but far from understandable, which conveniently leads me to point 2, naming. For more details on code layout, refer to: Code Complete, Chapter 31: layout and Style.

2. Use good naming rules for variables, methods and classes.

The goal with the names of your variables is that the intent should be clear and your code should be self documenting. The subject of naming and style can quickly head in to a religious war, about abbreviations, Hungarian notation, and Pascal case vs. Camel case. I am not going to go there, other than to highlight that with the code completion of modern editors, there is really no reason to use abbreviations. Another key point is that the intent of your variables and constants should be clear from their name, and that you should have an agreed standard that you use when more than one developer is working on the same code. To illustrate this, I have altered the code in the previous example by using good names.

public static bool CheckForPalindrome ( string StringToCheck )
{
    bool stringIsAPalindrome = true;
    char[] characterArray = StringToCheck.ToCharArray();
    int i = 0;
    int j = (characterArray.Length -1);
    while ( (i != j) && (i != j-1))
    {
        if (characterArray[i] != characterArray[j])
        {
            stringIsAPalindrome = false;
        }
        i++;j--;
        if (characterArray[i] != characterArray[j])
        {
            stringIsAPalindrome = false;
        }
    }
    return stringIsAPalindrome;
}
The intent if this code should be a lot clearer now, but it is still pretty complex, so let’s add some comments.
// This method checks if a string is a palindrome
public static bool CheckForPalindrome ( string StringToCheck )
{
    bool stringIsAPalindrome = true;
    // Convert the input string into an array of characters.
    char[] characterArray = StringToCheck.ToCharArray();
    // Traverse through the array from each end simultaneously.
    // Comparing the characters as we go.
    int i = 0;
    int j = (characterArray.Length -1);
    while ( (i != j) && (i != j-1))
    {
        if (characterArray[i] != characterArray[j])
        {
            stringIsAPalindrome = false;
        }
        i++;j--;
        if (characterArray[i] != characterArray[j])
        {
            stringIsAPalindrome = false;
        }
    }
    return stringIsAPalindrome;
}
For more details on good names, refer to Code Complete, Chapter 11: The power of variable names.

3. If you can’t build it, you can’t ship it.

If you can’t compile, deploy test your entire application at least once a day, you are kidding yourself if you think you will ever ship it, without major pain. Your application should be ready to release to your customers every day, the only difference from one day to the next should be the number of bugs, and the features that have been completed. Any application that spends every days on end in “pieces on the floor”, will most likely never see the light of day. For more details refer to: Dynamics of Software Development, Rule # 32, If you build it, it will ship.

4. Be aware of the impacts of change.

The second that a public method gets saved into a shared code base, there is a chance that someone else may use that code. At one point I was managing a team, working on three sites with a shared codebase. Some of the most painful moments were when a developer in Melbourne, changed one of the methods in the common library without any concern for what the code in the other two development sites was doing. When class is built with public methods, you should be very careful before you just go and change a method by adding, removing or changing parameters. Ideally, for all your public methods you should use ndoc to produce MSDN style documentation, including examples of how the code should be used.

5. Don’t manage change with optional parameters.

I have recently come to the conclusion that I really don’t like Visual Basic 6. Ironically it is the things that you can do in VB that you can’t do in C# that I don’t like. The main culprit is optional parameters. Optional parameters make it too easy to slap some code together and just add another parameter on your function when you need to extend it. This however is fraught with danger as it can introduce some strange run time errors when you are calling the same function in different ways from different locations in your code base. The other thing that optional parameters let’s you do is extend a function by adding just one more parameter for that special case. Then another when the second special case, comes along. Without optional parameters, you will have to think and consider options like re-factoring, adding another overload or adding a facade to your existing function.

6. Design before you code. Building a house is easy, if you have never done it, all you need to do is grab some bricks, and start laying them on a slab, until you are done. That’s how it’s done isn’t it? Um, no. There is one great example of a house that was built with no plans. The Winchester mystery house. It has 160 rooms, had 7 stories, has 467 doors, (some open to blank walls and steep drops), and took 38 years to build. No sane person would build a house this way, yet some developers do exactly that every day when they write code. A significant number of developers don’t take the time to learn about design patterns, UML and other design techniques, such a Test Driven Development. For .net developers, you should be a regular visitor to the Microsoft patterns and practices site.

7. Understand application support and software testing.

When I look back at the 15 years I have spent working in IT, I feel that the time that I spent working in various support and testing roles, has helped make me a significantly better developer than I would otherwise have been. If you ever find yourself asking to install development tools into a testing environment so you can diagnose a problem, that is a sure sign that you need to improve the supportability of you application. There is nothing like being on the front line supporting buggy software to appreciate the difference that good logging, error handling and supporting documentation make. When I switch gears in to developer mode, I probably spend 30% of my time writing defensive code that is designed to protect my app from the tricks that I would throw at it if I was testing. I usually then unit tests and throw it at the code anyway. The types of things I am talking about here are passing empty strings, negative numbers, boundary tests etc.

8. Learn how to estimate.

Ok here is an exercise. Estimate the number of seconds that it will take to read point 9 in this post. Record your estimate. Ok read point 9 below at your normal reading speed, timing how long you take. Don’t worry I’ll be waiting here for you when you get back. Ok, how did your estimate compare to your actual. When I did this test I thought it would take 20 seconds, but it took one 1 min 15 secs. Ok, now estimate how long point 10 will take to read, record it and measure the time it takes. See you soon. I estimated a minute and it took me 48 seconds. Where am I going with this. If you take the time to estimate your tasks before you do them, record it and then record the result, you will start to learn how long it really takes you to do things. You will then be able to provide estimates that will be some what realistic instead of just guess-timates.

9. Clarify requirements with assumptions.

Assume there are two developers, Bill and Ben. Both of them get a dodgy requirement: “Implement spell checking.” Bill throws up his hands and fires off an email to the customer. “I don’t have enough information to implement this requirement, please provide more details.” Ben on the other hand, has a think about how he would expect it to work, documents his assumptions and asks the customer to clarify them. “I assume that you want spell checking to work as follows: The F7 key will open the spell check window. All misspelt words will have a red line underneath them. I am also going to assume that we can use the third party Superspell component from Superspell software, and that we don’t need to support non-english languages.” Can you clarify these assumptions for me please.

The difference in these two approaches is subtle, but they will yield a huge difference in response. If the customer does not know what they want, Bill may not get a response for weeks as they go off and research what they want. Ben may get a response much sooner, saying no they don’t want red lines, but they do want to support non-english languages, but not until release 2. Ben has also already started to manage expectations and help define the product. Bill on the other hand, if he repeats this approach, may be viewed as being a hindrance to delivering the product, even if he is only trying to get the information he needs to do his job properly.

10. It’s only a job.

Most people in IT can tell you of at least one project where they had to work very long hours, weekends and late nights. They can tell you that it was just expected of them, and at the end of it all they got was some overtime pay and a thank you. I hear stores like this time and time again. My advice to young players, is that you really need to balance your work life and your home life. You don’t want to look back when you are older and wish you hadn’t spent 15 hours a day, 7 days a week at work for the last three years and burnt yourself out. Don’t misunderstand me that you shouldn’t work hard, however, you need to work hard and smart.

We can waste a lot of time without even realising it at work, maybe surfing the web, maybe using instant messenger for a 15 minute conversation when we could have spent 2 minutes on the phone instead. Look at ways of making your work day 8 hours a day at work at 100%, instead of spending 12 hours a day at 66%. Developer productivity tools like CodeRush can make a huge difference for this type of thing. If your employer won’t buy tools like CodeRush, then buy it yourself. Once you are producing more in less time, you should be able to spend less time at work for the same result. If your employer still expects you to still spend 12 hours a day, every day of the year, you should consider changing jobs.

Fundamentals General Opinion1 comment