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.
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.
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).
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+++