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Software testers become 'rock stars' for Microsoft

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Microsoft hopes to do for software testers what it's done for developers - turn them into "rock stars". However, it may have to get its own house in order before preaching to the industry.

Fresh from launching its first application lifecycle management (ALM) suite, Visual Studio 2005 Team System (VSTS), Microsoft said it wants to "raise the importance" of software testers and of testing in general across the industry.

This week's VSTS launch used dated, and rather loud, rock music to cast developers in the mold of rock stars, with the theme of the event being "ready to rock."

Prashant Sridharan, lead product manager for Microsoft's developer division, told The Register: "I need to build as much importance around the community of testers as we have developers for the last 15 years."

Sridharan hopes to begin that work at Microsoft's TechEd and Professional Developers' Conference (PDC), although he did not provide details of what he had planned. "I need to really raise the importance of testing... as an integrated part of TechEd and PDC, and have the megaphone to speak to the industry," he said.

It's generally accepted that the software-testing phase of an application's lifecycle has been overlooked by vendors and end-users. The result is software littered with bugs that are expensive to fix and that mean software is delivered late. With two-years of delays to VSTS, SQL Server and Longhorn, Microsoft is a case in point.

The focus on the coding aspect of ALM means testers can often vary in quality while coders have become "revered" by vendors like Microsoft who spent years delivering ever-more sophisticated programming languages, integrated development environments (IDEs), training and certification.

Microsoft has improved its testing tools with VSTS and also integrated the tools with its coding tools to resolve this. VSTS provides features for improved collaboration between ALM team members, application architecting and modeling - elements of the ALM chain that had also been left untouched by Microsoft.

However, Microsoft's earnest focus on testing will stick with some software developers. One vocal group of bloggers have criticized Microsoft for delivering the already delayed VSTS too early and - in doing so - deliberately leaving reported bugs unfixed.

Roy Osherove, wrote: "It's completely amazing to me that VS.NET 2005 RTM, after a big cycle of testing, alphas, betas and LOTS of community feedback, can be this buggy."

Ayende Rahien added: It's interesting to note that nearly all those bugs were known to Microsoft, but were closed because of time constraints. I'm shocked that even after countless CTPs and two betas, there are so many serious-you'll-lose-work-and-tear-out-your-hair bugs in the product."

Sridharan did not tackle these posts, but said Microsoft is subject to the same constraints that hit other companies. "A lot of features get cut in Microsoft because the testing would blow the test matrix" Sridharan said. "That's a classic conundrum."

He said, though, Microsoft hoped to resolve these kinds of problems in the future by moving testing into the software build process. This is critical for Microsoft which is pushing the Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI), a strategy that demands Windows runs more reliably and consistently, and that Windows is easier to deploy and manage.

"We are trying to move testing and QA further down the chain," Sridharan said. "The biggest problems in software happen because of a lack of testing at the build phase."®

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