Exploring Rapid Reporter

Eploring Rapid Reporter

This is my attempt at an exploratory essay.

I will be documenting my first exploration of a note-taking tool (Shmuel Gershon‘s free Rapid Reporter) to assist exploratory testing sessions.  That’s right, I’ll be exploring an explorer’s tool – sounds like this has the makings of a pretty meta experience.

I first heard about the tool when Shmuel gave the Rebel Alliance at Star East a sneak peek of what he was working on at the time. The Rebel Alliance was a very cool “conference within a conference” organised by Matt Heusser, with plenty of lightning talks and great discussions. You can see a video of his short talk here.

Up till now, I have been using David Gilbert’s TestExplorer, Jonathan Kohl’s Session Tester and James Bach’s Scan Tool to document my exploratory testing sessions (with miscellaneous results), so when he finally offered it to the public during the Blogstar competition (in which Shmuel was a well-deserved runner-up by the way), I knew I just had to give it a try. 

I started out by reading the user guide on the site, skimmed through the known issues list on the page and read through the short faq section. During this little theory intake, I deliberately didn’t start the tool (although I had to suppress the urge). I wanted to start using it for a first time in a proper testing session. 

Start

I fired the RapidReporter.exe, was asked to enter a name and a charter, all pretty straightforward.

*Edit: Actually, I entered a session name when prompted for a name. Later, when looking in the .csv-file, I realised that it was supposed to be my own name, the name of the reporter. It confused me, so perhaps the naming was ambiguous? Would “Reporter” be a better option? (Made a NOTE about it).  

I was ready to test a piece of newly coded software. The cool thing was that RapidExplorer stayed on top, tucked away in a place that didn’t bother visibility: no alt+Tab switching, no interrupting my flow. Note-taking went smoothly. Switching the note type by the up/down arrows was intuitive and quick.

After a short while I noticed a blue progress bar ehm… progressing and it surprised me. That’s a nice feature, it gives you a visual clue of the session’s progress, but without the actual distraction and pressure of a detailed timer. The blue bar also implied a default duration, since I hadn’t indicated any preferred session length before starting. I wondered why the default duration wasn’t asked along with the name and charter, and figured that was probably because most people use the same timebox for their sessions anyway (60-90-120 minutes, whatever). So what is the duration of the current session? It isn’t indicated on the main bar. Is there a menu of some kind? The most intuitive thing would be a right-click, I’d say. Bingo! Three menu items there: Time until end, Open working folder and About. But where do I see the duration of this very session? The only time-related entry is the first one, but this only breaks down in a menu to select either ’60-90-120 min until end’ or to ‘stop the session’. Selected menu items in comparable products often have a selection checkmark or bullet next to them (NOTE).

I opened some menu items in the application under test and noticed an inconstistency, so taking a screenshot was in order. I didn’t remember reading about hotkeys, but I tried some anyway (CTRL+S, ALT+S, S – which just entered an ‘S’ in Rapid Reporter, of course). I was afraid I would lose the expanded menu if I clicked outside the application. I eventually ended up clicking the S button, but – as I expected – the screenshot didn’t show the expanded menu items. Apparently, there is no keyboard shorcut yet, which makes it impossible to capture these kinds of phenomena (NOTE). For all the other screenshots I ended up taking, clicking the S did the trick just fine. The captures were saved as time-stamped jpegs in the startup folder. A huge improvement, since I was used to take the screenshot, paste it in MSPaint, name it & save it. By the time I got to the application, I often forgot what I was actually doing in the first place. Darned short-time memory.

I got interrupted by a phone call and wanted to pause the timer. Mmm. No pause option to be seen. I tried hitting the spacebar to pause – don’t know where that came from. Media players or games, maybe? There *was* a the stop option in the menu, so I tried that. But this actually stopped the timer and reset the progress bar to zero. Is there an option to pause and “restart” where I paused it? I can think of some occasions in which that would be useful (NOTE).

I was still pondering the timer reset, when I noticed that the progress bar started progressing again. Is the “stopped” state really a stopped state? Tried it again, but now stopping really stopped it. Maybe I started a session without knowing that first time? Maybe something intermittent? (INVESTIGATE LATER)

When time was up, this was clearly indicated by the flashing stopwatch. It was still possible to add keep working with it even when time is up, which seems like a logical and practical thing to do. I can think of many situations in which you want to continue for a bit, clean up some loose ends.

I started a new session, worked with that for a while. I was really getting used to this new kind of notetaking. I wanted to extend the length of the session, and wondered what would happen if I changed it to 120 minutes. I expected the progress bar to redraw itself (keeping in mind the time spent and time still to go), since my current session was 60 minutes. But it didn’t. Did the duration really change? Possibly, but no visual clue to confirm that (NOTE).

I was curious about what was actually being recorded during the session and opened the csv-file in the startup folder. All my notes were there, time-stamped and delimited with commas. All nice and powerful.

Stop

I stopped the session while it was still ongoing (by using the cross in the upper right corner) and got the message that an error occured when writing  the note into a file. Yes, the csv-file was still open and although I didn’t enter a note since opening the file, the application attempts to write something into the file when closing. It would be nice if the excel closed automatically instead of throwing an error when nothing changed (NOTE).

I checked the screenshots taken during the session (by clicking “S”) and the Rapid Reporter bar is in the screenshots. At first I thought this could be annoying for a tester, but then I figured that it would always be in a non-disturbing place anyway. It can also convey useful information: how far you were in the session, what the note was at the time, etc. 

I decided to try taking a screenshot the regular way (using Printscreen), and it turns out that the Rapid Reporter bar is *not* in the picture. Strange. Seems like an inconsistency, but I might not have all information here. I’ll talk to Shmuel about it (NOTE).   

Conclusion

I decided to stop my first exploration of Rapid Reporter here. It was a pretty shallow tour of some basic functionalities – I didn’t even look into the reporting possibilities yet, I’ll certainly do that next time. This little write-up just documents my first two hours of exploring a new tool. I wanted to learn about it first, not necessarily find bugs.

To round it up: I must say I’m impressed. It’s easy to use, and non-intrusive indeed. When using other Session Based Test Management tools, I often ended up spending more time in the note-taking tools than in the application under test, which is a bit of a drag. Rapid Reporter puts all focus on the software being explored. It supports exploration, while allowing testers to stay in their flow. This is important for me anyway: everytime someone interrupts my flow, God kills a kitten. Ok, not really, but you catch my drift.

Of course, I stumbled upon some issues, but they didn’t annoy me, they didn’t make me stop using it. I didn’t expect perfection – after all, the readme file explicitly mentions that it’s still buggy. I would have gotten *really*suspicious if it would have claimed it was bug-free. So its current state is perfectly okay for me. After all, it is brand new. It’s work-in-progress. The best thing Shmuel could do, was to unleash it upon an international cohort of testers. And he did. It turned out to be a great gift to the testing community.

Will definitely use again. A+++

Why you shouldn’t miss EuroSTAR 2010

10 reasons why you shouldn’t miss Eurostar 2010

Two weeks from now you will find me in trendy Copenhagen, proud home of the world’s best restaurant (Noma) and Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid. But the real reason for my trek up north is not sightseeing or spending money on Tørret kammusling og biodynamiske gryn: Copenhagen is also the host of the 18th edition of the annual EuroSTAR testing conference.

If you’re not yet familiar with Europe’s biggest software testing conference, you should definitely check them out. If you’re still hesitating about attending, there’s no need to. If you’re thinking of going, do go. Here’s why:

  • First and foremost: the Content.
    • The programme committee assembled a promising line-up, centered around the main theme “sharing the passion”. Track session categories include test management, exploratory testing, virtualisation, techniques, Scrum, inspiration, education, Lean, MBT, people and automation, among many others. L’embarras du choix.
    • Keynotes, anyone? Antony Marcano, Rob Sabourin, Bob Galen, Dino Patti and Stuart Reid. Recent history teaches us that wherever Stuart lays his hat, controversy and discussion automagically appear. I’m confident that his keynote “When Passion Obscures The Facts: The Case for Evidence-Based Testing” will be no different. 
    • I especially look forward to the tutorials. Rob Sabourin will run a full-day tutorial on “Just In Time Testing – Effective Testing Strategies“. Michael Bolton will be doing a half-day tutorial on Test Framing (read his blogpost that coins test framing here). But that’s not all. There’s Lee Copeland too. And many, many more. L’embarras du choix, revisité.   
  • Test Lab.
    James Lyndsay and Bart Knaack will run their on-site Test Lab for the second consecutive year. They will be assisted by Henrik Emilsson and Martin Jansson, 2/3 of that restless online blogging collective called The Test Eye. The other 1/3 is Rikard Edgren, who is part of the programme committee this year – I guess you could say that Eurostar is TestEye-infected. From what I experienced last year, the test lab is a really unique experience. Live testing at a testing conference! Theory put into practice, and maybe some weekend testing sessions, testing dojos or katas. Anything goes, really.
  • Inspiration.
    Hearing all these different viewpoints, new ideas, talking with the experts, engaging in discussions… It’s a savory buffet full of food for thought. Attending conferences is intellectually stimulating, and you’ll probably learn more during these couple of days than you do during most ‘regular’ training courses. I see EuroSTAR as a multi-dimensional training course that as such deserves to be on every company’s training calendar.
  • Get Primed.
    Any problems you are facing at work – you just might see them differently when you get back. Things you hear at the conference and  people you talk to often trigger other ways of thinking. Conferences tend to broaden your perspective on things.
  • Reach out to the testing community.
    This year’s theme is ‘Sharing the passion’, which should make it easy to meet like-minded people who share the same interests. In his 2009 book “The Element”, Ken Robinson calls this “finding your tribe”: connecting with people who share the same passions and commitment (your “tribe”) helps in finding and developing your “element” (which is the place where passion and skill meet). Members of a passionate community tend to stimulate each other to explore the real extent of their talents. Whenever tribes gather in the same place, the opportunities for mutual inspiration can become intense.
  • Meet Testing Tweeps.
    Twitter has been doing brilliant things for testers already, community-wise. It’s a great way to interact with testers worldwide on a daily basis. It has also proven to be a very useful, fun and informative way to cover conferences, especially for the people missing out (watch that #esconfs hashtag for some conference goodness). If you’re on twitter, EuroSTAR will also be a good opportunity to meet numerous testing tweeps in person and to take your twitter-conversations with them to the next level.
  • Hallway/Bar discussions.
    In an earlier blog post, C is for Conferring, I mentioned that conferences are for conferring, and that the most interesting things often happen in the hallways, in between sessions. Or in the bar. Or somewhere totally unexpected. Make sure there are blank spots in your busy schedule to invite serendipity.
  • One word: Copenhagen.
    ‘Nuff said. But did I mention that the place of action is the Bella center? Last year, the Bella center hosted the first sustainable, international political summit – the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) – attracting over 33,000 people. No worries, Eurostar Conferences assured me that Eurostar 2010 will be more succesful than its flunked climatic counterpart.
  • Interactive Panel Session.
    On wednesday morning, Lee Copeland will facilitate a Hot Topics Panel Session. The expert panel is there to address *your* burning issues, so if you want to ask the EuroSTAR Panel a question, you can do so via facebook. Yes, the Social Network goes testing.
  • It’s fun!
    By focusing on all the content, the learning and networking, I almost forgot to mention that above all, it’s fun. All of the above takes place in a fun and relaxed athmosphere.Fun sessions for the weary testers are foreseen as well (I’ve been told that the supertesters are something to look out for).

This concludes *my* list. Rob Lambert wrote about attending EuroSTAR too, in his post EuroSTAR will rock. Eurostar Conferences has also listed their Top 10 Reasons To Attend EuroSTAR 2010! And if you need to make a case for attending the conference, the 10 ways to convince your boss to send you to EuroSTAR 2010 article may be able to help you with that.

I hope to see you in Copenhagen. I’m @TestSideStory, by the way. I’ll be roaming the hallways – feel free to come and talk to me. I’ll be the one with that thorny rose clenched in the teeth.

Short service announcement: tomorrow, October 16, programme committee member Peter Morgan will present a webinar especially for first time attendees. It is called “Getting The Most Out Of EuroSTAR“. More info and a link to register for the webinar can be found here.

Testers for life

Some people may have suspected it already, but now we’re finally able to prove it: testers are human too – hey, some of us even got a heart.

Are you feeling all charitable and fuzzy? The Software Testing Club will be assembling and giving away an awesome eBook entitled “A Tester is for life, not just for Christmas”. An e-book for testers, by testers, for charity. Read all about it here.

So, what is a generous tester to do?

  • You can contribute to the e-book. Fill out this form on the site and tell them what makes you tick – book recommendations, tips, tricks, noteworthy people, tools etc.
  • You can help them spread the word – promote it!
  • You can download the e-book (when available) and make a donation. You can just make a donation too, of course.

Think about it. You will be rewarded with endless testing karma.