Tuesday, 18 March 2014

A Match Made in Heaven - RapidReporter and Baretail

Synergy is one of those words which is drastically overused in the workplace. No set of Buzzword Bingo cards would be complete without the word synergy in there somewhere. It describes a system involving multiple actors or components which achieve a greater, or funamentally different, effect than if each were working in isolation. Whilst a staple word in management waffle, synergy is an appropriate word to use when you encounter a scenario where people, organisations or tools combine to create a greater outcome than if each were operating alone. I think that, for me personally at least, I have encountered an excellent example of synergy recently. See if you agree...

Synergy of Bees and Flowers

Rapid Reporter

I really like RapidReporter. Schmuel Gershon originally wrote it as a tool to take notes in Session Based Exploratory Testing. As I mention in my entry on in in my tools page, I don't actually use Rapid Reporter for testing note taking, however I do find it useful for other note taking such as static code or document reviews, as well as taking notes in conference calls.

For me one of the greatest features the tool, its unobtrusive operating size, is also the source of one of its limitations. You cannot easily refer back to the notes that you have taken previously in that meeting or session. Whilst it is possible to view previous notes in the context menu this is not in an easy format to review and does not differentiate between entry types. The only other option is to open the working folder and view the notes. As the instructions readme suggests, this is the least favourable option:

“Open working folder” from context menu and look at the notes directly from the *.CSV file. This is not recommended because some apps will lock the file access, which would cause an error message to appear.
When I'm taking notes during a phone conference, for example, I find it useful to be able to refer back to decisions and actions that have come up so that I can raise appropriate questions or summarise the meeting and actions for attendees at the end.

Baretail

I also like BareTail. It is a Windows tool that emulates the basic behaviour of tail with the -f follow flag in Linux in its ability to display the contents of a file as it gets written to. It also has some other useful features, such as the ability to highlight lines in a file that it is tracing based on the content of the line. While a useful tool for testing in many contexts, I have not historically used it that often for the simple reason that I don't have the need to track files on Windows very often.

Greater than the sum

Whilst taking notes during web conference meeting using RapidReporter last year and I found that I was repeatedly opening the notes to refer back to previous entries. It occurred to me that what I was missing was exactly the functionality that BareTail could provide. I needed to have something running in the background that I could just refer to quickly if I needed to review a previous comment. BareTail could give me this, plus the added benefit of highlighting key entries like Actions and Decisions.

I set up some custom note types to use when calling RapidReporter

RapidReporter.exe NOTE ACTION DECISION QUESTION

I then added the last three as custom highlights in BareTail.


BareTail Highlighting configuration
The final step was to knock up a simple script which would automatically track the csv file generated by RapidReporter once it was fired up. This is not as easy as it could be as the output files generated by RapidReporter are not controllable, however it is fairly simple to track the output directory for csv files and then call Baretail once one has appeared. (I use cygwin to provide bash scripting capabilities on my Windows laptop)

Simple Cygwin script to combine RapidReporter with Baretail

(An interesting testing aside here - the RapidReporter output file is only generated after entering a session reporter and charter. This means that it is possible to exit the Reporter without generating a file, hence the need to track that both RapidReporter is running and that the csv output exists in the tracking loop.)

Is it synergy?

By combining the use of these tools I have the advantages of RapidReporter in its unobtrusive ability to take notes, combined with a reference window in BareTail which I can minimize for most of the session but which actively tracks the report output without having to reload or refresh. It also highlights important decisions, actions and questions to allow review during the session. If I want to review the output again later for a follow up review, e.g. when writing up meeting notes, I open the CSV with BareTail in the Windows context menu to view the highlighted output.

In a similar way this could be used for test sessions with highlights for ISSUE, FOLLOW UP or BUG to allow simple session reviews, either individually or in peer review.

RapidReport and Baretail combined

For me this constitutes a synergistic relationship. The use and value of the tools combined for me is different from, and more valuable than their separate use. If for you they are not, at least I've provided the opportunity to complete your Buzzword Bingo card for today.

Both of these tools, along with other tools that I use in my work, can be found on my Testers Toolkit page.

Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/14646075@N03/3929252341/sizes/l/

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