Feb 20
A Few Very Useful Tools - Feb 2010
Ok, ok, I missed the January Useful Tools. So sue me...
The last couple of months have seen me get a new iMac and create a new desk at home so I don't end up with stuff on top of stuff when working from home with the work laptop on the, umm, desk top. Seriously, why do we call them laptops? Just about any modern laptop will cook your lap if you try to hold it on your lap for any length of time. Notebook is also a misnomer when the thing weight 6+ lb..

In the interim, I've been contemplating what tools I've been finding most useful that I haven't already mentioned. There's a PC bias this go-round as I've settled into a bit of a routine with the macs.
  • Aptana Studio - General purpose, Eclipse based HTML, JavaScript, etc IDE. Actually, as it is based on Eclipse, it's really an anything editor as you can include any eclipse plug in. I've been using this as my IE "view source" option for the last month or so and really digging it. Built in support for things like jQuery really helps out. Available for just about any platform that also runs Eclipse and also offers a Ruby on Rails ide. Open source. For the most part, think of it as super NotePad ++. That is good, because it brings more features, but is bad because it's not quite as "instant". They complement one another very nicely though.
  • SQL Server Profiler - This tool is distributed with MS SQL Server. It is a MUST HAVE if you are developing against SQL Server and need to know what commands you're executing against your database server. Many performance issues can be resolved by consolidating your DB calls in to things that make more sense. Not at all relevant to anything that is not SQL Server.
  • CruiseControl.Net - A free, open source continuous integration (CI) server. Sets up easily, easy to maintain, and did I say FREE? If you have a team that is developing code together, once you start with CI, it will be difficult for you to go back in my opinion. Once you know you can 'get latest' without fear of suddenly being broken due to someone else's bad commit, you can be much more productive. What I like about CI servers in particular is that I can commit, wait for it to complete building, and go home knowing that I didn't miss a dependency when I committed. Anyway, CCNet is solid, dependable, even if it lacks the frills of commercial products.
  • AnkhSVN - An open source, free plugin for Visual Studio that provides real, honest to goodness source control features for SVN. It doesn't do everything that SVN supports, but it does the things you need to do on a regular basis. Most importantly to me, it brings support for "show history" and "pending changes" for SVN to Visual Studio. After not having source control integration in Visual Studio when starting with SVN, I felt like I was missing a thumb. Now I feel whole again. At least when coding.
  • Numbers - I've been using iWork more and more on the Macs, and while KeyNote and Pages are just so-so for me, I've really taken to Numbers. Numbers is the iWork spreadsheet and what I particularly like about it is that it's really easy to set up 'forms' in Numbers. In Excel, it's really kludgy to try to have different regions of the page that represent different data tables, etc. In Numbers, it's cake. It's what they call 'Intelligent Tables' and given a lot of the data analysis spreadsheets I saw while at PwC, I gotta say this is a missing feature in Excel!
Alright, there's a serious development bent to the above tools, but hey, it's what I do!