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Prescriptions, Proscriptions, and Prognostications
SourceForge shoots itself in the foot
by Matthew Wilson
August 8, 2009
Summary
SourceForge.NET's new File Release manager takes computing productivity back to the days of the punched card reader, and it does it with Web 2.0!

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The facilities for uploading files and managing file releases in SourceForge have never been what one might call high-productivity. But the recent "upgrade" has totally blown my comprehension, and sent my productivity so low that I'm considering, for the first time in over half a decade, taking my projects off it entirely.

First, I must explain that the previous version used forms to specify release notes, select distribution file(s), and designate distribution file characteristics. For the most part it was ok, although having to manipulate (e.g. to delete / designate file classification) each distribution file separately - i.e. select, click Confirm, wait for page refresh, scroll down, and repeat N times - was something of a drag. When it came to editing existing releases, things were very easy indeed. For example, one could remove a defective or outmoded release from public display simply by selecting the release for edit and changing its visibility. All files in that release would be affected en bloc. Couldn't really be much simpler.

When SF announced that they were improving the file release system, I waited with some anticipation for the minor gripes to be sorted. What has resulted, however, is a catastrophic and baffling backwards step. I struggle to think of anything they could have done to make it worse than it now is. They've managed to mis-apply AJAX so badly that, IMO, the system is unusable, and has the apparent intelligence and usability of a website from 1995.

Rather than just throw adjectives, let me relate to you some of my experiences in trying to use the new system.

1. Adding a new release.

The first thing I attempted to do was to add a new release to Pantheios, my popular diagnostic C++ (and soon to be .NET) logging API library. I tried to add under the existing package name: "main library (C - C++)". Alas, no operation I could attempt on that package, or any of the releases or files within it, worked in the slightest. Furthermore, I didn't get any kind of feedback from the interface as to what, if anything was the problem. A response of no-apparent-change was my reward. The interface was emblematic of our modern society, sort of pretty face (though not terribly much), and quite utterly dumb.

From my experimentation with playing within other existing packages, and in creating test packages, releases and files, I quickly became convinced that the problem was that the new super-duper AJAX application was unable to deal with characters such +, despite what it says in the SF documentation. Problem is, I'm now left with a bunch of releases in a package that I cannot manage. I'd like to remove a bunch of them - because Pantheios is finally about to come out of beta - but I cannot. I've communicated with their support team - individuals who I have no reason to believe are anything but professional and dedicated (and who must now have our sympathy as they attempt to ameliorate the myriad issues coming from people like me) - and have followed the suggestions, but still no joy. So, I can't go forward, and I can't go back. Not exactly the best look when a decent portion of your business comes from providing professional services for your open-source libraries. (see Update below)

2. Click multiplication

Other changes, remarked on aplenty in the SF public forums, include the requirement to click at least twice as many times to achieve any simple action than the previous incarnation. It is like the many newspapers who now break up their articles into many pages out of consideration for their readers, in case we don't know how to scroll, or find a scroll enervating? Or could it just be advertising hits, due to more clicks per useful action? (Is there anyone on earth who finds a scroll more vexing and time-consuming than calling up a new page?)

Newsflash, for SF, SMH, and all you other click multipliers: I don't pay any attention to advertisements, and I don't know anyone else with a wallet who does. And I know this because occasionally my sons - currently walletless, because I've not yet sent them down the mine to earn their keep - do notice. It's only in their questionning of me about an advert on a page that I even become aware of the advert. And all the other heavy computer users I know say the same thing. So, basically, when you multiply clicks you're wasting our time, for no benefit to anyone, except perhaps your accountants. I know you won't change, but you should know that you should, because someday the advertisers might realise that no-one's even noticing their crappy little animated advertisements blathering on in the various parts of the screen that our brains automatically filter out.

3. Statistics

Oh, and the statistics server has been cactus for several weeks. So, if you, or your (prospective) users follow the project stats, you're out of luck.

Stop whingeing! It's free ...

... you may say. So it is. But so is Linux, the C++ standard, email, the Internet, and so on. So're all the open-source projects that live on SF. Should we not care about their quality, or have any cause to complain when they turn into mouldy cactus?

Anyway, I've got to go now, as the time spent ranting here is taking away from the 12+ hours I've still to expend on SF's wizbang new interface this weekend on trying to do a batch of over-ripe releases. Ain't progress great?

Update (10th Aug)

Thanks to the professional and timely help from the SF support staff, I've been able to effect my changes by directly modifying the contents of the directories within the File Release System via SSH. Guess as a "serious" computing professional I should have been using that from the outset. I certainly will be from here on in, and leave the pretty but dumb interface alone.

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About the Blogger

Matthew Wilson is a software development consultant and creator of the FastFormat, Pantheios and STLSoft libraries. He is author of the books Imperfect C++ (Addison-Wesley, October 2004) and Extended STL, volume 1 (Addison-Wesley, 2007), and is currently working on his third, Breaking Up The Monolith: Advanced C++ Design Without Compromise. He has published over 60 articles on C++ and other topics, and has served as columnist and contributing editor for C/C++ Users Journal. Matthew believes that code should be discoverable and largely self-documenting, and lives up to that by being a hopeless documentor. He can be contacted via http://www.imperfectcplusplus.com/ or stlsoft@gmail.com.

This weblog entry is Copyright © 2009 Matthew Wilson. All rights reserved.

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