Sunday, September 16, 2007


I came across the Panopticode project today. It is an interesting approach to metrics aggregation. They motivate their approach by listing the following limitations of current Java metrics tools:
  1. Installation and configuration can be difficult and time consuming
  2. Most only measure the status at a point in time and have no concept of historical data
  3. Each tool represents its data in a proprietary format
  4. It is very difficult to correlate data from different tools
  5. It can be difficult to switch between competing tools that provide similar functions
  6. Most have extremely limited reporting and visualization capabilities
Of course, I agree absolutely. Panopticon provides a way to simplify the download, installation, and invocation of the following tools so far: Emma, JDepend, Checkstyle, JavaNCSS, and provide an interesting visualization of the results called TreeMaps.

There are some substantial differences between their approach and ours in Hackystat:
  • Panopticode limits itself to the world of Java code built using Ant. This is the simplifying assumption they use to achieve (1). Hackystat is agnostic with respect to language and build technology.
  • Current reports do not appear to include history, so I don't know how they plan to do provide (2). Hackystat includes a domain specific language for analysis and visualization of project history called Software Project Telemetry. This also provides a general solution to problem (4) of correlating data from different tools. Panopticode does not appear to provide a solution to (4), at least from perusing the gallery and documentation pages. I will also be interested to see how they create a scalable solution as the toolset grows to, say 30 or 40. This is a hard problem that the Telemetry DSL addresses.
  • While I agree with statement (6) that current reporting tools have an extremely limited reporting and visualization capability, Panopticode seems to currently suffer from that same problem :-) Hackystat, at least with Version 8, will break out of the Java JSP WebApp prison with an architecture well suited to a variety of reporting and visualization approaches, includes Ambient devices, Ruby on Rails, GWT, and so forth. Finally, while TreeMaps are certainly sexy, I don't really see how they are fundamentally better than the unsexy HTML reports of JavaNCSS, Emma, etc. (at least, I don't see it given the way Panopticode uses TreeMaps at present). If I am trying to find low coverage, Emma's HTML interface gets me there just about as easily as the TreeMap does. TreeMaps are cute and all, but they feel more like syntactic sugar than some fundamental interface paradigm shift.
The project is in its bootstrapping phases, so in some sense it's not fair to compare it to Hackystat, which is in its 6th year of public release. I also think it's an interesting decision to limit oneself to Java/Ant, which I think can really simplify certain problems that Hackystat faces in order to appeal to a broader audience. I look forward to seeing how this project progresses in the future.

1 comment:

Julias said...

Thank-you for the mention of Panopticode. I'll be looking into Hackystat to see how you addressed many of the problems we haven't tackled yet.

The project is young and much of our vision is not yet readily apparent. I look forward to your thoughts on our approach as it matures.


Julias Shaw
Panopticode Project Lead