Failure of Search TFS

Well over a year ago I set up a landing page to start gathering emails for interest in Search TFS. A dynamic integrated TFS work item search experience. Today I am calling an end to the project. Although the project didn’t go anywhere, by the process I followed I wasted little time and could fully justify the position the product was to take. The main reason to kill it is that Visual Studio 11 is shipping with integrated TFS work item searching. Finally.

Team Explorer VS11 Search

I think this helps justify that there is a need for what I wanted to do. The existing Search Work Items for TFS 2010 had 7,076 downloads on the 1st January 2011 when I was starting this and now has, 23,093. That’s not a bad niche. How many would be willing to pay for something better is another question. On my landing page, I got 12 emails. Considering that there was absolutely no push, SEO, linking (apart from this blog) or advertising I’m happy there was something and I have a baseline.

Soon after I launched the landing page I got wind the Microsoft was finally going to do something. So I waited to see. Now that I’ve been playing with Visual Studio 11, I’m happy with the new Team Explorer for the most part, but I was quite disappointed with the search. It’s no better that the current available plug-in. That means it’s slow and query based. I wanted more like OneNote, where you see results as you start typing:

OneNote Search

The market though, even for something substantially better I feel is drastically reduced now that it is first party. I’m disappointed Microsoft didn’t do better since search is one of the most important features of work item tracking. The way that UserVoice does it to help prevent duplicates is brilliant. I’m hoping the search works better with TFS 11 but  since running it against Team Foundation Services (fantastic btw, especially the just announce build service) I have little hope for that.

All is not lost. TFS Working On has improved in its download rate. ClickOnce deployment having less friction may have helped that. It’s long overdue for an overhaul. I’ve had plans for nice Windows 7 integration for a long time, now I should be looking at Windows 8 perhaps. Search TFS will still fit nicely into TFS Working On, especially for those that don’t live in Visual Studio.

Getting things done Moonlighting

I’m married with 2 boys, a 2½ year old and a 9 month old. As you can imagine this leaves very little time to do projects on the side if I also want to be a good father and husband (which to me is far higher priority). Whenever I do get a chance to work on my side projects, I have to be as effective as possible each time. Here are a few guidelines I use to help me complete my products.

  • Strictly define your task
    Each time I get to my computer for what is usually between 1 and 3 hour blocks I need to ensure I aim to complete a specific task in that time. Obviously not much can be done in such sort blocks, but even if you only get 20 minutes, try and define a task that can be completed in that time. It may be simply a single function. It may be outlining and estimating tasks for later.
  • Make sure everything you are doing is on task
    Everything you do, you need to ask yourself, “is this going to help me do my task right now?”. If the answer is no drop it. In such short blocks and when they come sporadically it is very difficult to keep multiple things going at once. It takes a longer time to pick up from where you left off and that leaves you less time to get things done. Sticking to just the task at hand and completing helps you see real progress on your project which helps with motivation.
  • Do things once
    You should always aim to do a task and move on. Do it quickly, and mostly correctly. This is a hard one, because every developer loves to mull over code and make sure it is perfect, optimized, generic, reusable and solve every problem you may encounter. This one requires a very good balance of ensuring progress while ensuring the really important aspects such as good architecture and well tested while ensuring you are coding for the problem at hand, not one that may be.
  • Learn only what you need to know
    Do not over analyse possible solutions or completely learn new frameworks that you might need. Certainly be diligent, but if you find something that works that is not obviously bad, go with it and stick with it until you learn otherwise. Even if you later learn that there is a better way to do that task, do not redo it unless it is causing an issue (see above Do things once).
  • Set yourself Deadlines
    Even if you have no one waiting on you, and your schedule is yours to decide (or worse, not decide), you still need to have reasonable targets and really aim to hit them. This helps you cut any tasks that aren’t going to get you to that goal. This will give you only the important tasks and help you progress faster. You do not want to feel you are stagnant on a never ending project.
  • Get out version 1.0
    1.0 is something to be proud of but by no means is it your complete vision for the product. Getting it out quickly helps you get vital feedback from you users and can help direct your tasks to what people want. This something need to be done carefully since if you have a big launch and get lots of people to try it out and version 1.0 is buggy and incomplete, they may be reluctant to try again. You should aim for minimal features to do the primary task and well tested. Be open with the users so that they can see more is coming and that you are open and responsive to feedback.

This should result in just enough software with little-to-no waste. If you want to really see how extreme you can successfully go, check out 37 SignalsGetting Real book.

Setting up a landing page

Following on with Rob’s post I have completed his very practical guidance:

1. Buy a domain name and point it to your web host
2. Setup a landing page. Keep your copy really short (and punchy). You need to pique interest, not convince them to buy.
3. Collect emails on that landing page

As stated in my last post I had already setup my domain name and hosting with GoDaddy. This took me around 90 minutes researching plans and checking domain names. I think this took too long, as I fell into my habitual analysis paralysis. I ended up spending only $50.05:

  • Hosting – Grid – Economy – Windows – AP Region – 1 year (recurring) $47.88
  • .COM Domain Name Registration – 1 year (recurring) $2.17

For that little, it was not worth the time I spent weighing it all up. I kept looking at the Deluxe account which allow a lot more, for not much more. The multi-year lock-ins for much larger discounts were also tempting, but I think there is more merit in making a quick decision with these little things. Something I’m working on.

Next was to install WordPress. This was very easy with GoDaddy and all provided free under the hosting plan. Personally I do not particularly like the LaunchPad theme. Whether it matters or not I do not know. I ended up finding the theme Ice Breaker which I preferred. This was another step that I wasted too much time on. However, both of them next time will be very quick.

Setting up a MailChimp account was very quick and painless. I had to leave a few things going at once though, because I didn’t have the email account setup first. Doing that with GoDaddy again was very easy and provided free with my domain name registration. Just something I should have done first. As I had my Twitter sign up sitting there waiting for the email account to activate also.

Once email, MailChimp and Twitter were setup I could then modify the Ice Breaker theme in WordPress. I’m still new to WordPress, but finding where to do this was easy enough. The difficultly I had was modify the page to submit the email address to MailChimp instead of FeedBurner as it was setup by default to do. In MailChimp get the code for the embedded form and strip all elements and styles from it. You can then add the required Divs and Ids as required to submit to MailChimp.

From the landing page I have left the RSS feed available. This by default, will link to the default word press Hello World! post. Deleting the post resulted in an error from the RSS feed. Instead I changed that post to say a similar message to my landing page, in case anyone subscribes to the feed. Time spent: 2 hours 45 minutes.

Including getting hosting I’m now up to 4 hours 15 minutes. It adds up quick. Going forward I’m going to enter all my work items into TFS and use TFS Working On to track my time. In this blog I will continue to detail time and money spent (and received hopefully) and other difficulties or unexpected things that may arise. But for now here is my landing page for Search TFS. Please sign up if you are interested and I will also update how many email address I get. I do not think my text is quite punchy and I might update it later, but now I’m off to do some coding.

Search TFS landing page


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Hello WordPress

I have now completed the move to WordPress from Windows Live Spaces. It was a good kick to be given and I am already enjoying the great statistics provided by WordPress. I do still want to adjust the Theme and get to know more of the way WordPress works but there are higher priority things I am interested in.

I am really motivated at the moment by Software by Rob to get going with my own software products. Anyone wishing to write their own software this is a must read. Rob freely shares his start-up and marketing experiences that are invaluable. So following Why you should start Marketing the day you start coding I have bought a domain name and some hosting and activated it last night. In the next week I plan to put up my Landing Page. I will be detailing here how things are going along the way for my personal log and anyone who is interested. This will be my first time trying to sell a product after two "successful" free products, TFS Working On and Bluetooth Auto Lock Gadget. I have no idea how well I will be able to sell it, but once I have a little more information I will be setting small financial and user targets. This project won’t be so much about making money but more on the experience. I want to understand what is involved first hand. It is a product in a domain I am very comfortable with and will help me out regardless if anyone else finds it worthwhile.

The product, Search TFS.


Bluetooth Auto Lock Gadget – Released

It has almost been one year since my first post, which was about my Auto Lock Vista Sidebar gadget. However, this gadget was only available on Si-Mi. So today I have released it on Windows Live Gallery, here, to hopefully be able to be useful to more people. [Update 7 Oct 2011: Microsoft has retired the gallery, but you can still get the gadget from my SkyDrive]
Usage instructions are as follows:

The Auto Lock Gadget automatically locks the computer when the selected Bluetooth device is out of range. The intention is that the gadget is paired with a Bluetooth device, such as a phone, that is carried with you. When you walk away from your computer with your phone, the gadget will automatically lock the computer, leaving it secure when you leave.

Before Using the Gadget

To get started you must create a pairing for your Bluetooth device to your computer.

1. Open the Control Panel

2. Select Hardware and Sound

3. Select Bluetooth Devices

4. Click Add… and following the Add Bluetooth Device Wizard

5. Once this is completed you are ready to use the Auto Lock Gadget

Using the Auto Lock Gadget

1. Drag the Auto Lock gadget onto your Sidebar or Desktop

2. Click the Discover Devices button

The drop down list will now be populated with your available Bluetooth

3. Select the device you want to connect to

4. Click the Enable AutoLock button

5. Now when your Bluetooth device goes out of range your computer will automatically lock


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