As part of my work I actually put forward an argument that we move away from using SVN for source control and to implement TFS. As somebody who has deep personal affection for the simplicity of SVN, the decision to recommend TFS was not made lightly.
In light of my own decision to move away from SVN and onto TFS, I was motivated to respond to Martin's positioning of TFS on his summary diagram which placed TFS outside of the tools that he would recommend for version control.
Whilst he suggests that TFS is not a recommendable product, Martin does not make any real attempt to explain other than to say that people he trusts don't recommend it. In this article I want to put forward some of the reasons that I chose for recommending TFS as our tool of choice.
I believe that it is unfair to look at version control in isolation because, whilst your version control software sits at the heart of your development system, it lives within a larger ecosystem. This ecosystem is made up of IDE's, Issue Tracking Software, Build Management Software, Continuous Integration Services, Reporting, and perhaps other tools and services too.
In light of all of this software that comprises your development ecosystem, consider the technology soup that you are managing. Patching and keeping these systems soon becomes a science unto itself and unless you're job is as a specialist build master where you are entitled to choose individual best of breed applications, managing this type of environment may not be for you.
Moving to TFS provides us with a single technology roadmap and vastly reduces the complexity involved in configuring and patching our environment when compared with the alternative.
An illusion of simplicity
In light of having uncovered the elements of a development ecosystem, let's reconsider our views on simplicity. First I'll start with a statement from my own observations about developing software - Developing software is a complex business. FULLSTOP! PERIOD!
As shown in my previous discussion about integration, the complexity is there always. You can have a simple version control tool but the cost of this is that you transfer more of the complexity to other parts of the system. In the case of having chosen SVN, this complexity comes in the form of having to run multiple, independant systems using multiple technologies.
With TFS you gain simplicity through technology consolidation but you pay a price for having to learn how to set up and manage it - but is this any more complex than having to learn half a dozen other systems?
The real business world
So far I've focussed my discussion about the development ecosystem on the activities of the developers themselves. However in the real business world, this is still not a fair representation of what is needed to successfully deliver working software.
Even small businesses have stakeholders that the software is being developed for and in mature businesses, there is an instrument which sits between (or straddles) the business and technology domain - this instrument is the PMO.
In light of this discovery, it is no surprise that building successful software is as much about soft skills - such as communication and reporting - as it is about purely technical pursuits such as coding, building, and releasing.
By integrating with common business software such as Excel and MS Project, the TFS work item tracking system makes it easier to align IT projects with projects in the PMO and have those functions be able to communicate using a common language.
In this article I have opposed Martin Fowler's view in relation to the placement of TFS on his summary diagram. I believe that his article is too narrowly focussed to be of real value when considering what tools to choose in creating your own software development ecosystem.
However I do agree with his closing sentiments wholeheartedly and I could not have put it any better then when he wrote:
Remember that although I've jabbered on a lot about tools here, often its the practices and workflows that make a bigger difference. Tools can certainly make it much easier to use a good set of practices, but in the end it's up to the people to use an effective way of working for their environment. I like to see approaches that allow many small changes that are rapidly integrated using Continuous Integration. I'd rather use a poor tool with CI than a good tool without.