Everything you want to know about Visual Studio ALM and Farming
Brian Harry is a Microsoft Technical Fellow working as the Product Unit Manager for Team Foundation Server. Learn more about Brian.
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As part of my series on TFS and VS ALM as an open platform, I’m going to be posting about some of the premier add-on/extensions. There are lots of extensions, but these are ones that I’ve used myself and can attest to the quality of the products and the experiences.
The first I want to talk about is TeamCompanion. You can read more about them in their own words on their blogs too:
TeamCompanion is an Outlook plugin that integrates all your TFS work management in one place. It makes your TFS work item queries, reports, documents, etc show up in the Outlook content bar just like your mail, calendar, tasks, etc. It is VERY well done and very seamless. I’ve used it for almost a year now and find it to be a great way to interact with TFS.
This screen shot of TeamCompanion demonstrates several things: 1) a Team Explorer like tree on the lower left for navigating your TFS content, 2) a hierarchical work item query with cool grouping ability to easily organize the results (here by State and Assigned to), 3) the preview form of the selected work item that is fully editable in place and 4) all the operations you can do on work items in Outlook (even including generating reports in Excel like you can from Team Explorer).
TeamCompanion also supports the simple and powerful search style that Outlook uses. This includes both full text search and searches on specific fields. Here TeamCompanion is showing all work items from the query results where the Remaining work < 9 and Assigned To starts with A.
Another VERY NICE Outlook inspired feature is formatting of “recently changed items”. I love that in Outlook my unread mail looks very different than my read mail and I’ve always wanted that for my TFS work items. If you comment on my work item I’d really like to see it appear differently so that I know I should look at it – with TeamCompanion, it does!
And, of course, let’s not forget that we’re in Outlook, so integrating TFS work items with Outlook functionality would be nice. With TeamCompanion, you can turn an email message into a work item (including the ability to attach the email thread), easily send work items in email, create an Outlook task for a work item (along with all of the Outlook task functionality, like reminders) and more. Here’s a screenshot of what using Outlook’s task functionality with TFS work items looks like:
All of that is VERY cool, but my favorite thing of all is offline support! All of my work item data can be stored offline and enable a pretty impressive experience when I’m on the go. I can view my cached work item query results, even filter and search them while I am offline. I can view the work items, attachments, links etc. In the current version, as you can see in the screenshot here, the work item form is a read-only HTML rendering while offline, but in the upcoming version, work items will be editable while offline too. I’ve seen a demo of it and it’s really hot. With offline support, TeamCompanion also offers some cool “what-if” capabilities. I can edit a whole bunch of work items, drag and drop them around to change their relationships and if I’m ultimately not happy with the result I can discard all the changes I’ve made and revert back to the “baseline” data. Very, very nice!
To keep your offline store up to date, TeamCompanion uses a scheduled syncing mechanism to update your client with changes from the server. You can just use the defaults or you can customize it fairly extensively.
All of this cool stuff is possible with no help from us at all because we have a very clean and public API to TFS. It exposes the full richness of TFS and enables 3rd parties to focus on specific areas and really innovate beyond what we can do in the core product. We have a very wide surface area to cover and that means we can’t always invest as heavily in each specific area as you might like. That’s where the ecosystem comes in and enhances the TFS experience by creating terrific value-add on top of the platform we have built.
The TFS ecosystem is extensive and rich. Team Companion is a great example of an awesome product built by a good partner. I recommend it particularly for non-developer users who want a rich work management experience but don’t really want to use Team Explorer. Keep your eyes peeled and in the coming weeks I’ll be highlighting other top tier TFS add-ons.