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All in all, it's been a pretty good year. The hundreds of clients you've developed applications for are all happy. The software development division has grown by leaps and bounds. Then, just when it looks like you've reached the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, trouble comes calling. It's been brought to your attention that some clients aren't getting the upgraded versions of their orders. Some complain that they're receiving versions that seemed to be fine-tuned for someone else. Still more disturbing is the fact that the documentation enclosed with the software isn't always up to date. When you investigate, you discover a whole new layer of problems. It seems that when changes are made to suit the needs of the customer, not everyone is told about it on time. The software development teams are not "talking" to each other regarding which changes are made to which applications. The technical writers aren't being kept up to speed on what documentation needs to be rewritten. The people in shipping aren't always sure which version is which, and that accounts for the embarrassing problem of wrong software being delivered to customers.

A system that enables developers to keep everyone else updated on changes made to your products is needed - something that everyone can access from his or her desktop system and that's tied into the same database.

ClearQuest from Rational Software is a Change Request Management (CRM) product designed specifically for the modern software development business. With it, a team is quickly able to track and manage changes and customizations to queries, fields and activities. It makes the process of managing change easy for everyone involved to implement, deploy and maintain.

System Requirements and Installation
I installed ClearQuest on two machines, one as a server and another on the network as user (this is the best way to test the software). Both machines were equipped with a Cyrix 150 and 64 MB of RAM. Installation went smoothly on both machines.

Although the documentation I received didn't specify a minimum processor speed, it did list some other requirements:

  • Windows 95 or NT 4.0 with Service Pack 3; if you're using NT, you must install ClearQuest Designer
  • One of the following databases: Microsoft SQL Server 6.5 with Server Service Pack 3 or Microsoft Access (the current version of the database engine is installed with ClearQuest)
  • MDAC (also supplied on the installation CD-ROM)
  • About 45 MB of disk space (up to 20 MB on your system drive and 25 MB on the drive where the programs will be installed)
  • An additional 15 MB of database space on the database server for each thousand records you plan to generate
  • 32 MB of RAM
To install ClearQuest as the administrator, take the following steps:
  1. Set up the database. I used Access, so I had to create a share for the databases. I did this by making a UNC-style path: \machine name\share name\ pathname\filename\. During installation ClearQuest creates and initializes an Access database in this directory. It's important to remember this path as it will be needed during installation.
  2. Install MDAC, found in the \MDAC directory on the installation CD-ROM.
When Setup.exe is executed on the CD-ROM, you get the familiar installation wizard. You will, however, be prompted for the following information during setup:
  • Server name and database name for the schema repository
  • DBO login account and password for schema repository
  • Read-only login account for schema repository
  • Server name and database name for the SAMPL database (path if you're using Access)
  • DBO login account and password for SAMPL database
  • Ordinary login account and password for SAMPL database

Figure 1
Figure 1:  The standard logon box

To install ClearQuest as a user is even simpler:

  1. Install MDAC from the CD-ROM.
  2. Click setup.exe on the CD-ROM.
During installation it's necessary to know the schema-repository database type.

Using ClearQuest
ClearQuest is opened by selecting it from the Start menu, just as any other application in Win95. You'll be greeted by a login screen asking for the user name and password, and there's a drop-down list to select which database will be utilized.

The main window, consisting of three sections, will then appear. On the left-hand side of the screen is the workspace, which lists all available queries, charts and reports. In the top center is the Query Builder, where it's possible to create queries and view all query results. When a record is clicked, its data is displayed in the third section - the Record Form - which covers the bottom of the window. Here it's possible to modify any query, chart or report. Once modified, the changes can be saved in a personal queries folder. New folders can be created here as well.

Suppose a customer has pointed out a slight defect in one of your products. It's now your job to make a record of the implemented changes. This process is begun by clicking "New Defect" on the tool bar at the top of the screen. It's a good idea to assign a Priority and Severity level to the change you're about to make, with No. 1 being the highest priority. It's even possible to e-mail other members of the development team automatically to inform them of the change request.

As the change to the software progresses, ClearQuest moves the change requests through various "states." When a request is first submitted, for example, it's in the "Submitted" state, where it's possible to assign the project to a specific team member. Doing so will automatically change the state to "Assigned." When the team member actually starts working on the project, the state can be changed to "Opened," indicating that someone is now hard at work on the project.

This makes it effortless to see if defects have been reported and, if so, how far along you are on the road to recovery. There's even a Query Wizard that streamlines the process of creating new queries.

ClearQuest makes it possible to monitor the progress of changes in many different ways. For example, to see which developers have the most responsibility, a bar can be pulled up that graphically represents the workload for each engineer. The graph will also show defects by State and Severity. Charts may be modified by using the chart Edit Properties menu, or the Query Editor can be used to filter the records included in the chart.

ClearQuest Designer: Making Administration Tasks Simpler
The life of an administrator is never easy, so the ClearQuest Designer is formatted to streamline many tasks. Upon opening, the Open Schema dialog is displayed. It's not necessary to examine a schema unless modifications are planned. One of the many tasks the Designer can tackle is administering to users and user groups. By merely clicking the user groups icon, an administrator can quickly open dialogs to perform the following tasks:

  • Define new user groups and assign users to these groups. By customizing the schema, access can be restricted to specific actions on the basis of user groups.
  • Change passwords.
  • Modify access and privileges. Users can be given the ability to add more users to a specific group. It's even possible to give users Schema Builder permission, and, if necessary, the user can be given the status of a Super User, which includes the ability to add and delete databases.

Figure 2
Figure 2:  Looking just like the user-end application,
ClearQuest Designer simplifies many administrative tasks

The task of adding and updating databases is included in the Designer as well. This is as simple as selecting the new database and supplying the requested information. ClearQuest recognizes each database by a five-character tag that is part of the ID of the records in that database. If desired, a more "user recognizable" name can be added for quick identification. Deletion of a database doesn't remove the database from the server, but merely removes it from ClearQuest's list of known databases.

Other Features

  • Compatibility with Visual Basic: ClearQuest comes packaged with some Visual Basic scripts, which can be used as "hooks" to perform various tasks, and edited for more complex tasks.
  • Web access: Anyone with this feature can modify change requests, generate reports or run queries.
  • Integration with ClearCase SCM (Software Configuration Manager): Enables users to determine which versions of source code were modified and in what order. It's available for purchase bundled with ClearCase.
New in ClearQuest 1.1
  • Stronger integration with Rational ClearCase, including support for ClearCase users on UNIX.
  • New integration with Microsoft Visual SourceSafe and Developer Studio.
  • New support for Oracle and SQL Anywhere databases.
  • Improved Web interface adds more Windows client functionality.
After using ClearQuest, I must say that I was pretty impressed with it. If you're a single developer who services one or two clients at a time, this product is obviously not for you. For larger businesses, however, the organization and ease that the product offers makes it well worth the investment. It could be just what you need to weave your way through the chaos.

About the Author
Edward Zebrowski is a technical writer based in the Orlando, Florida, area. Ed runs his own Web development company, ZebraWeb, and can be reached on the net at [email protected]


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