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Debugging Becomes a Team Activity January 12, 2010

Posted by Peter Varhol in Software development, Software tools.
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I’ve debugged plenty of applications before.  I was evangelist for NuMega (Compuware) SoftICE, the late and unrivaled system debugger for PCs; as well as product manager for Compuware (now Micro Focus) DevPartner Studio.  I’m a longtime user of Visual Studio and other PC debugging tools (for both the Windows and Java platforms; my only bias is to find the best tool for the job).

Debugging has always been a solitary activity.  On a team, if the bug is in code that you wrote, you are responsible for finding and fixing the bug, and checking the fix back into the build.  The idea is that you know code you wrote better than anyone else, so you should know what is wrong and how to fix it.  You might be able to get someone to help on an especially difficult problem, but it would be done in an ad hoc way, looking at the screen over each other’s shoulders.

DebugLive is trying to do no less than change that debugging paradigm.  It is providing a debugger online, enabling the debugging of Microsoft applications as a service.  While “debugger-as-a-service” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, that is exactly what the company offers.  You can immediately begin debugging without installing a debugger on your local system.

At a first glance, the debugger is approximately the equivalent of Microsoft’s WinDbg.  If you’ve used WinDbg, your first question might be why you should pay to use the equivalent of a debugger that is a free download.  Well, for one thing, DebugLive takes good advantage of a Web front end to be able to create more of a menu-driven, point-and-click user interface.  While it still offers a command line, you don’t have to remember a slew of commands to do many common debugging tasks.

But the true game-changer here isn’t the debugger.  By using an online platform, DebugLive provides a unique opportunity for team debugging.  Especially appropriate for distributed teams, DebugLive lets you create and share memory dumps, screen shots, and other debugging information seamlessly between team members.  Team members can log on and share their debugging expertise to more quickly analyze and resolve issues, getting software out the door more quickly.

There are some other reasons to consider DebugLive.  Both the service itself, and the more visual user interface mean that you can effectively use the debugger on an occasional basis.  You don’t have to be a constant debugger user in order to remember commands, and you don’t have to install the debugger on your system.

In later posts, I’ll look into some of the details of debugging code using DebugLive.  I’m especially interested in looking at the features that enable team debugging, because I think this approach has a lot of value for development teams.  Debugging can now be a team sport.

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