So at TechEd, Scott captured Jeff and I talking in the friendliest of fashions about the relative merits of Team System (which Jeff evangelizes) and the “OSS solution” which I helped craft at Corillian involving Subversion, CruiseControl.NET, NUnit, NAnt, et. al.
Since then, I did a bit for PADNUG about the wonders of source control, and it caused me to refine my positions a bit.
I think that in buying a system like Team System / TFS (or Rational’s suite, etc.) you are really paying for not just process, but process that can be enforced. We have developed a number or processes around our “OSS” solution, including integrating Subversion with Rational ClearQuest so that we can relate change sets in SVN with issues tracked in ClearQuest, and a similar integration with our Scrum project management tool, VersionOne. However, those are policies which are based upon convention, and which we thus can’t enforce. For example, by convention, we create task branches in SVN named for ClearQuest issues (e.g. cq110011 for a task branch to resolve ClearQuest issue #110011), and we use a similar convention to identify backlog items or tasks in VersionOne. The rub is that the system depends upon developers doing the right thing. And sometimes they don’t.
With an integrated product suite like TFS, you not only get processes, but you get the means to enforce them. In a previous job, we used ClearQuest and ClearCase together, and no developer could check in a change set without documenting it in ClearQuest. Period. It was not left up to the developer to do the right thing, because the tools made sure that they did. Annoying? Sure. Effective? Absolutely. Everyone resented the processes until the first time we really needed the information about a change set, which we already had waiting for us in ClearQuest.
Is that level of integration necessary? We’ve decided (at least for now) that it’s not, and that we are willing to rely on devs doing the right thing. You may decide that you do want that level of assurance that your corporate development processes are being followed. All it takes is money.
What that means (to me at least) is that the big win in choosing an integrated tool is the integration part. Is the source control tool that comes with TFS a good one? I haven’t used it personally, but I’m sure that it is. Is it worth the price if all you’re looking for is a source control system? Not in my opinion. You can get equally capable SCC packages for far less (out of pocket) cost. It’s worth spending the money if you are going to take advantage of the integration across the suite, since it allows you to not only set, but enforce policy.
I’m sure that if you choose to purchase just the SCC part of TFS, or just Rational’s ClearQuest, you’ll end up with a great source control tool. But you could get an equally great source control tool for a lot less money if that’s the only part you are interested in.
The other thing to keep in mind is that the integrated suites tend to come with some administration burden. Again, I can’t speak from experience about TFS, but in my prior experience with Rational, it took a full-time adminstrator to keep the tools running properly and to make sure they were configured correctly. When the company faced some layoffs and we lost our Rational administrator, we switched overnight to using CVS instead, because we couldn’t afford to eat the overhead of maintaning the ClearQuest/ClearCase tools, and none of us had been through the training in any case. I’ve heard reports that TFS is much easier to administer, but make sure you plan for the fact that it’s still non-zero.
So, in summary, if you already have a process that works for you, you probably don’t need to invest is a big integrated tools suite. If you don’t have a process in place (or at least enough process in place) or you find that you are having a hard time getting developers to comply, then it may well be worth the money and the administrative overhead.