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InfoQ Homepage News Tasktop 1.2: Enhanced Time Tracking/Reporting and a New, Free Version

Tasktop 1.2: Enhanced Time Tracking/Reporting and a New, Free Version

Tasktop Technologies, the company which created Eclipse Mylyn and leads its development, released Tasktop version 1.2 today, which is based upon the new Mylyn 3.0 APIs. InfoQ interviewed Tasktop President & CTO Mik Kersten to learn more about this release and what changes it brings for end users.

InfoQ: Could you briefly describe Tasktop and tell us how it relates to Mylyn?

Mik Kersten: With the Mylyn open source project, we are providing hundreds of thousands of developers with the core tools that they need to become dramatically more productive when programming. Once you start working in a task-focused way within Eclipse, the next step on the adoption curve is to integrate this way of working with the other tools that you use. That’s where Tasktop comes in. Tasktop is a commercially supported version of Mylyn that provides integration with additional web services and desktop applications, ranging from Google Calendar and Gmail to Microsoft Outlook. The great thing about Tasktop is that it builds on the strong and growing ecosystem of Mylyn connectors, so you can use the numerous additional productivity features available in Tasktop along with compatible Mylyn connectors.

InfoQ: What’s new in this version of Tasktop?

Mik Kersten:With this release, we are announcing the availability of Tasktop Starter, which allows all Eclipse Mylyn users to get some of the benefits of Tasktop for free. More on that shortly. The for-pay product is now called Tasktop Pro, and the big new feature is time tracking and reporting. We have had countless user requests for having time spent on tasks tracked automatically, since using the task-focused interface means that you already indicate which task you work on as part of your workflow. With Tasktop Pro, we are very happy to provide to-the-minute accurate reports of active time spent working on each task, with graphs and charts that allow you to track progress and create detailed reports. Following the philosophy of the task-focused interface, we have put all of the control in the users’ hands, meaning that timing data is easy to adjust when reporting. In addition to all of the automation, a developer can also adjust times for meetings or other activities during which they’re not active at their computer. We have seen hundreds of requests for this functionality, and are glad that from now on time sheets and other reporting, which many developers need to do on a regular basis, will be dramatically easier.

As an example, the screenshot below was taken on a Friday afternoon, the week following the Mylyn 3.0 release. From this I can instantly see the time that I spent on each task (in the table), the proportion of time spent on Mylyn vs. Tasktop (pie charts), and the proportion of time spent on management (gray portion of the bars) vs. time spent working on tasks (coloured portions of the bars):

Time tracking features of Tasktop

I spend around 90% of my workday in Tasktop, and one of my other favourite new things in this release is the UI streamlining. For example, we now have vertical trim bars that provide one-click access to working sets. This allows me to see exactly how many tasks have incoming comments for each working set. With a click I can switch between having my workspace show me everything that’s relevant to Mylyn to having it show me everything that’s relevant to Tasktop. One of our key goals is to reduce the number of clicks required to get the information you need. A part of that effort goes into continuing to improve how task contexts work -- for example, the way that web pages populate your task context and instantly restore when you return to task. But additional UI steamlining, such as Tasktop’s new trim widgets, also help to ensure that all the information you need is right at your fingertips.

InfoQ: How does Tasktop build on the new features in Mylyn 3.0, released with Eclipse Ganymede?

Mik Kersten: Mylyn 3.0 includes many new features, including offline task creation and a much faster and better-organized task editor. However, the most significant arrival in Mylyn 3.0 is the updated APIs. At Tasktop Technologies, we believe strongly in the role that open source APIs play, and as such Tasktop and other tools built on top of Mylyn all interoperate using the same open APIs provided by both Mylyn and the Eclipse platform. This enables both a rich ecosystem of integrations, as we have seen with Mylyn connectors for repositories such as CollabNet, JIRA and Rally. It also enables innovative productivity tools to be built on top of those APIs, such as Tasktop and the SpringSource Tool Suite. With the move from Mylyn 2.0 to Mylyn 3.0, the APIs are much more robust, reveal less implementation detail, and make it much easier for interested parties to create and maintain connectors.

InfoQ: What does the free version of Tasktop, Tasktop Starter, provide for Eclipse users?

Mik Kersten: First, users will notice our one-click install of certified partner connectors which prevents them from having to wrestle with updates sites or to manually manage connector versions. They’ll also benefit from the automatic Mylyn updates, either to release builds or to weekly builds, if they’re early adopters and want to stay on the cutting edge. They should be pleased to see the time tracking dashboard, which will show them exactly which tasks their time is going to for the current week, when working with Eclipse (you need the OS extensions of Tasktop Pro to have tracking for time spent outside of Eclipse and for the full reporting). Finally, since we have had so many requests from developers wanting Gmail integration, we’ve decided to make that free as well. Tasktop Starter is both a useful day-to-day tool and a good glimpse at what it’s like to have the reach of the task-focused interface extend to the rest of your workday. Those who like Tasktop Starter can also try Tasktop Pro to see how much more the additional features Tasktop will improve their productivity.

InfoQ: How has the adoption of the task-focused interface by both Tasktop and the SpringSource Tool Suite affected Mylyn?

Mik Kersten: The presence of two commercial tools that incorporate Mylyn and make it a core feature and differentiator has been key to the evolution of the Mylyn APIs. The first goal of the Mylyn project is to provide the de facto APIs and core tools for the task-focused interface, and the only way we can make that happen is with input from users and integrators leveraging Mylyn. For example, when Tasktop Technologies wanted to extend the task list to work with Microsoft Outlook and Exchange, we needed abstractions for making tasks talk to local applications in addition to web services. We contributed the necessary APIs and test cases, and now others can implement their own connectors to local task repositories of that sort.

The story is similar for the SpringSource Tool Suite, where one of the key features is its novel task-focused tutorials. To make that happen, SpringSource contributed extensions to make it easier to load and unload contexts that were associated with tutorial documentation rather than with tasks, which made the corresponding APIs more flexible. In addition, we have numerous open source contributors extending our APIs in all sorts of interesting ways and we are applying dozens of API and feature patches each month. This kind of open collaboration that feeds into both commercial products as well as other open source projects is one of the most fun and interesting aspects of working in the Eclipse ecosystem.

InfoQ: Is Mylyn an Eclipse-specific technology, or is it used outside of the Eclipse IDE?

Mik Kersten: Mylyn has a layered architecture which enables its core components to be used by any Java application. For example, Tasktop has some server-side applications that use core parts of Mylyn as a Java API for talking to web services such as Bugzilla and JIRA. We have UI abstractions that can be embedded outside of Eclipse as well. For example, the CHISEL group at the University of Victoria created a Swing-based application that used Mylyn’s degree-of-interest model to focus biotech visualizations. Finally, Mylyn can also be embedded into Eclipse RCP applications. The best current example of that is Tasktop Pro for Windows, which provides similar benefits to Tasktop Pro for Eclipse, but targets non-programmers such as project managers.

InfoQ: What are the future plans for Mylyn, Tasktop and the task-focused interface?

Mik Kersten: For Mylyn, we will continue to focus on improving the UI of the task list and task editor to make them more flexible to the growing kinds of information that they support. We will also continue to focus on supporting integrators so that the number of connectors can continue to increase along its impressive trajectory.

With Tasktop, we will continue to make it easier to collaborate around tasks, both across organizations and within teams. We have had many user requests for integration with Mozilla applications such as Firefox and Thunderbird, so we’re looking into that as well. And once we have provided more Eclipse-based programmers with a sufficiently rich integration and features to ensure that their workdays flows as smoothly as ours do, we will be putting more focus on the Tasktop Pro for Windows application in order to extend its reach to less technical users, both inside and outside of the software development domain.

Our goal is to ensure that the task-focused interface at least doubles the productivity of everyone who adopts it, because we know that it has done at least that for all of us at Tasktop and for the many users who have been raving on their blogs. A part of that mission also involves continuing to hone the degree-of-interest model that underlies Mylyn and Tasktop. Our goal with the task-focused interface is to make sure that when you return to a task that you were working on a couple of months ago, you see every relevant bit of information and nothing more, so that you can instantly resume where you left off. In other words, our goal is to offload your brain, hence that new slogan on our on our website.

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