An Interview with Jim Holmes and James Avery, co-authors of Windows Developer Power Tools

by John Osborn

In getting ready for the launch of Windows Developer Power Tools today, I've been trading email with Jim Holmes and James Avery, the book's visionaries and co-authors, to get their answers to questions that readers might well ask about their content. Here are their responses, in mock interview format.

[WinDev Center] Why did you decide to include tools from Microsoft, such as the Visual Studio Express products and Power Toys, in the book?
[James] Microsoft developers have created some of the best free and open source tools (yes open source!) around. The WiX toolkit, Express products, and the Visual Studio Power Toys are just some examples. Microsoft developers often create tools that fill gaps in the same commerical product they worked on, which gives them the distinct advantage of having inner knowledge of that tool. We don't care who writes the tool, just whether or not the tool is useful!

[WinDev Center] Given all the support that's provided in Visual Studio 2005, especially Team
System, why would any Microsoft developer need to know about free and open
source tools?

[Jim] The .NET platform and Visual Studios' various versions, including Team Systems, are great environments, but there is plenty of room for developers to increase their productivity and the quality of their products. There are a great number of testing tools, code libraries, and utilities which can really help out developers -- and don't forget that this book isn't just for .NET developers. Any developer working on the Windows platform, regardless of whether they're working in Java, Ruby, PHP, or some other language, will find helpful tools in this book!

[WinDev Center] Can you give a couple of examples from your book of tools that plug holes in
Visual Studio support?

[Jim] NDepend and Reflector.Graph are great for showing dependencies between .NET components. MbUnit gives you the ability to do combinatorial testing to cut down required data for large test matricies. CoolCommands gives you a wealth of neat, immensely helpful additions to context menus.

[WinDev Center] I know O'Reilly has made much in its promotion of the tools you document for Windows, .NET and ASP.NET developers, but, as you say, you also include tools that will be useful to developers who use Windows for building non-Windows applications, such as Java and PHP applications. Can you explain why you did that and name a couple of the tools that fall into that category?
[James] While our book will mostly apply to .NET developers, there are plenty of tools that really apply to any type of developer on the Windows platform. Some of those tools are: Subversion, the best source control around in my opinion. Trac, an open-source feature and bug tracking system. And even FileZilla, a free FTP client.

[WinDev Center] Given the pace of change out there, isn't putting this information in a book
risky? Won't the book be out of date as soon as I buy it?

[Jim] Two bits here. First off, this book will introduce you to tools you might not have known about, so you'll find new ways to bring value to your development process. Secondly, our book's format shows you where to go for the most current versions and information for each tool. Lastly (and yes, that makes three bits), our companion website will give you a central spot to go for updated information about all the tools in the book.

[WinDev Center] What was the most enjoyable aspect of writing this book?
[Jim] Searching for, playing with, and discovering the value of a bunch of great tools. I (Jim) also enjoyed writing the preface and introduction because it gave me a nice opportunity to try and lay out a good case for how FOSS tools can really help out developers.

[WinDev Center] What was the hardest part about writing this book?
[Jim] The sheer amount of writing we had to do in a short timeframe was pretty amazing, especially considering the book grew from an estimated 800 pages to over 1200.

[WinDev Center] What do you think will surprise readers the most about Windows Developer Power Tools?
[Jim] I really hope readers poke through the book and find themselves frequently saying "Holy smokes! I didn't know there was a tool to do that!"

[WinDev Center] What's your favorite "undiscovered gem" in the book?
[Jim] I absolutely love SlickRun, even though it's not directly a developer tool. SlickRun saves me scads of time each day just through its simple, quick launching of apps, folders, and sites I use all the time. Plus its Jot feature is a great way for me to keep a short tear list for priority tasks I'm on at the moment.

[WinDev Center] What's one tool you'd like to see created?
[Jim] I'm drawing a complete blank. It's not that there aren't remaining pain points for development, it's just that my head is still stuffed full of all the great things we've worked with for the last year!

[WinDev Center] What are your plans for the future?
[Jim] I'm currently heavily involved in putting on a huge software developers conference (www.CodeMash.org), and am then transitioning over to pick up my end of coordinating a regional Code Camp in the Dayton-Cinncinati area. After that I'm going to focus on diving more deeply in to the .NET 3.0 platform, BizTalk, and SharePoint. I also owe my wife an evening at a REALLY good restaurant to make up for all the late hours I spent over the last year working on this book.

[WinDev Center] Thank you both.