Another dozen of things Assembla could have fixed

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Often Assembla makes me remember these wise words — “any fool can make things bigger and more complex” (I started this topic in a previous article “10 reasons not to use Assembla” where I even got reply from their guy, but seems things don’t change fast).

In general project is one of the best on the market, but the devil is in details, and those details just make me crazy at times.

The project is not stuck, development is active, but it seems that the focus of the Assembla development is 2 things:

  • where to put a sidebar of ticket details page — left or right? (it jumps every 6 months)
  • tiny CSS changes of menu and buttons.

All in all, the project is a decade mature, but still feels amateur at times. No offense.

Here is a list of things that irritate me the most.

Assembla spaces fail #1: Inactive open-source project

My piece of code called “CSV import with visual mapping” is quite popular — people download it (from Assembla repository), ask questions, request support. I don’t develop new features, people just use it as it is.

At the same time, Assembla thinks, that due to the fact that I didn’t visit the space and don’t commit new code, space is not used. They marked it as inactive. There is now way to reactivate it apart from either buy a credit (no, thanks, it’s open source and you allow free spaces) or spend some time to recreate a new free space, recommit the code and update the links (that’s what I gonna do when they finally kill the old one).

Assembla spaces fail #2: cannot remove a space

Wanna kill a space? Maybe you want to switch to a cheaper plan this way? All you get clicking a “Delete this space” button is a “Space was successfully queued to be deleted” message and the space remaining forever.

Tickets fail #1: Parent story is NOT a parent ticket

This feature announced not so much time ago made me remember those words regarding making things bigger and more complex.

You have to choose either relations between tickets are “parent — child” or “parent story — child story”. A bit confusing, ha? Stories are made for Agile guys, the other option is for the rest.

To make it easier to distinguish a difference, child stories have a special icon =)

Behavior is different too — closing a parent story will also silently close all children tickets.

Having stories doesn’t help since…

…you cannot see tickets hierarchy (tickets fail #2)

Even if you spent some time defining tickets relations, it not possible to make a tickets filter sort stories so that their children are still shown under the parent story. All tickets are equal!

assembla parent story

Your filter becomes a mess of parents and different children. Agile.

Tickets fail #3: the details editor

Make a list (numbered or not) out of a few lines, make a hyperlink out of a URL — just not possible. You get a template of a hyperlink and you are supposed to edit it in order to form the proper hyperlink. These things work for decades on other sites — making a hyperlink in Gmail is just sexy.

Take me right. It’s kind of ok if it doesn’t work in a free plug-in, but the tickets are the heart of Assembla as project management tool, these guys charge money for it — and it simply doesn’t work.

Tickets fail #4: the filter totals – NO WAY

You have a filter of tickets. Do you want to quickly find out the total estimated / spent time? Open tickets one by one and use your calculator.

Wiki fail #1: Editor

WISWIG editor adds a lot of crappy tags. Many times I experienced that after changes are saved (something complex like a big table with hyperlinks and new lines) what you get is a mess.

No preview button is available (anymore), but there is a half of the screen of Wiki format reference text, so you cannot just go down to the page bottom and click Save — scroll carefully not to miss it!

Wiki fail #2: Never change the format!

OK, you realized that in Assembla world what you see is not what you get. Yes, they allow to change the format of Wiki pages from WISWIG to something more reliable like Textile or Markdown, but get ready — it applies to existing pages as well!

Yes, your pages are not readable anymore after that.

Subversion fail: No care about old customers

If you are stuck with Assembla and old-school SVN+Trak repository (like we do), you cannot add a new nice Subversion repository — you are supposed to kill the old one first. You cannot do that without having your code gone.

One work around is to stop development for a few hours, export the old repository to a file, cross the fingers, kill the old one, add a new Subversion feature, then import the repo file.

Another way is to start with a new fresh space, although, might be not an option for those who has a simple plan.

Time feature fail #1: Date filter

Filter by one date (starts and ends the same day), and as result you’ll see time tracked for a day before that. Very “useful” when you half way finishing to make a report in a spreadsheet and realize that dates are wrong.

So, to check what you did today so far, you have to set dates in the future (so called “tomorrow”). If you set the dates wrong, you get this self-explanatory error message:

assembla wrong date message

Time feature fail #1: edit a time entry

Filter your time entries, then edit or delete a time entry — and voila, your filter is lost! Nice how this application “cares” about your time.

The main question I would ask Assembla dev team — do you guys use your own tool for the project management?

10 reasons not to use Assembla

assembla, development, ideas 3 Comments »

Although Assembla is one of the best ticket systems, I hate it at times. Main reason is that their team plays with fonts and colors and thus changes the site appearence, and at the same time ignores the major issues.

Here is the list that irritates me the most:

  1. When you create a ticket, the editor doesn’t work properly. For example, if you hightlight a URL with intention to mark it as a link, they still ask you for the URL in a prompt (a month ago they would even just replaced it with a default markup text like “[[http://server.com | URL TEXT]]“)
  2. The same is WIKI based on tinyMCE — it fails so often, that 50% of times I have to open the content HTML source and fix things manually
  3. Affiliate system — it pays you back only if you refered 3+ new users. I have just 2 leads, and I loose $80 every month…
  4. Some time ago they had an offer to blog about them and get $5 reward — I wrote a post, and their marketing guy Ryan told me that they gonna pay me only after a referal would pay a bill — which was not mentioned in the offer.
  5. If you want to export tickets data (for example, to count some stats regarding development performance), you will have to deal with their internal semi-JSON format with no documentation (only not-so-self-explanatory feilds names)
  6. Previously they had a project name in project space URL, now they use a unreadable hash — if you work with more then 1 project, you’d feel how unhandy it is
  7. There are 3 (three!) different SVN repositories types (SVN+Trac, External SVN, Source/SVN) in Tools which is confusing. Every one has its own set of possibilities — you have to choose what is more vital for you, you cannot have it all.
  8. Current filter choise is lost if you leave Assembla page for 5-10 minutes, and you have to switch to it over again. The choise is saved in a HTTP-secure cookie (it means you cannot change it by JavaScript). Damn, why?
  9. They don’t show hours total for tickets  no matter how you group them. It’s one of the most important things for developers, guys.
  10. If you want just to get content of the project, you cannot.  I mean not SVN Checkout, but kind of SVN Export — download all folders/files without SVN client. They had a button that allowed to download the project as ZIP archieve, but now it’s not there. I have a few PHP projects which many people download and use, and they complain often about this missing feature.

All in all, Assembla still has a big way to go to maturity.

UPDATE [Feb 7, 2012] – previously, when you click on a milestone name on a ticket page, you go to the milestone and can see all tickets. Now you get the ugly build-in JavaScript prompt to rename the milestone. WAT?!%$??

How to import tickets into Assembla

api, assembla, ideas 3 Comments »

I use Assembla for my projects, and I found that export/import tickets feature works tricky — it works based on a combination of JSON and CSV format. It seems the guys in Assembla are on a way to proprietary formats 😉 The only usage of it is only for moving tickets from one Assembla space to another.

So this post is about how to use what they offer to add lots of tickets that you have listed in your text file. I am lazy — instead of adding 90+ tickets manually, I’d better create a tool to do it for me.

Task

You have tickets titles and descriptions as text, and you want to add these tickets to Assembla.

My solution

Let’s investigate what format should our data be of so that Assembla could digest it. Go to a space → TicketsSettings → scroll down and find Export & Import → click “Export your tickets” links and open the dump file in a text editor. Though it’s indicated that “Tickets imported and exported in JSON format.“, it’s not. It’s a mix.

The dump file contains blocks that represent spaces, milestones, tickets, comments, custom fields values and tickets associations. Every such block contains 2 parts: list of fields and bigger part — actual data of this fields.

What we need is tickets part.

This is a format definition part:

tickets:fields, ["id","number","reporter_id","assigned_to_id","space_id","summary","priority","status","description","created_on","updated_at","milestone_id","component_id","notification_list","completed_date","working_hours","is_story","from_support"]

And this is an example of ticket data:

tickets, ["40999","1","dNltOqvXKr3RN3e","FoGbar3zTtab7rAJ","b3OWYeJe5aVNr","Property owner profile - create new","3","3","","2009-06-16 07:23:35","2009-07-05 10:43:58","94111","12",null,"2009-07-05 10:43:58",null,"0","0"]

So, the solution is to create a list of tickets data by the format given. Here is how I did that.

1. I have Excel spreadsheet with two columns — the ticket title and description.

2. Export it as CSV, and open it having it like this:

Home page: Update design,Set numbers after locations
Photos: hide step 2,Show only Step 1 until you select files and then show step 2 to upload files.

3. Use text replace to put every value in quotes (hint: use a line ending symbol as a replacement — even Microsoft Word can do that)

"Home page: Update design","Set numbers after locations"
"Photos upload: hide step 2","Show Step 2 only if files are selected."

(One way round is to load the CSV data into database by PHPMyAdmin and export it back as CSV — it will be quoted 🙂 )

4. Add Assembla header to the top of this file

5. Move ‘summary‘ and ‘description‘ columns go first, so it was

tickets:fields, ["id","number","reporter_id","assigned_to_id","space_id","summary","priority",...

and it becomes

tickets:fields, ["summary","description","id","number","reporter_id","assigned_to_id","space_id","priority",...

(We need all the columns because it seems that Assembla’s import engine is not smart enough to deal with missing fields).

6. Edit our tickets data lines (text replace again) so that it looked like Assembla tickets data, i.e. add ‘tickets, [‘ at the beginning, dummy values for the rest of the fields and the closing square bracket. Don’t forget that we moved ‘summary‘ and ‘description‘ columns to go first!. So we have:

tickets, ["Home page: Update design","Set numbers after locations","40999","1","dNltOqvXKr3RN3e","FoGbar3zTtab7rAJ","b3OWYeJe5aVNr","3","3","2009-06-16 07:23:35","2009-07-05 10:43:58","94111","12",null,"2009-07-05 10:43:58",null,"0","0"]
tickets, ["Photos upload: hide step 2","Show Step 2 only if files are selected.","40999","1","dNltOqvXKr3RN3e","FoGbar3zTtab7rAJ","b3OWYeJe5aVNr","3","3","2009-06-16 07:23:35","2009-07-05 10:43:58","94111","12",null,"2009-07-05 10:43:58",null,"0","0"]

By the way, I prefer to clear the values of some columns like ‘id‘, ‘number‘ (ticket number) and so on — so that Assembla assigned it itself.

OK, it seems your file is ready to be fed to Assembla. I advise you to create an empty free space and try on it first if don’t want to mess up your current space.

If the import engine has some parsing problems with your file (missing quote for example) you will get a notice. If you get an Application Error, some columns or their values are missing — check your file.

One more tip — your tickets will be added as ‘No milestone‘. If you want your new tickets to be added into a new milestone, paste a milestone defenition in the beginning of your file and replace milestone ID in the tickets data by it’s ID:

milestones:fields, ["id","due_date","title","user_id","created_at","created_by","space_id","description","is_completed","completed_date","from_basecamp","basecamp_milestone_id","updated_at","updated_by"]
milestones, ["1111","2009-09-09","Big shot of development","cv2gFo","2009-08-25 13:12:09","cv2gFo","bktPVqwKmr3OWYeJe5aVNr","Work hard to finish all that was discussed.","0",null,"0",null,"2009-08-25 13:12:09","cv2gFo"]

assembla.com – free development tools

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All sources for my development projects I store at assembla.com — very cool service for dvelopers, offering both free and paied services.

assembla

Free users have almost the same services scope just limited by space:

  • projects (in free plan the source is open for anyone), milestones and tickets
  • SVN/Git repository (you can close/refer tickets by commit messages)
  • wiki with several mark-up languages
  • team collaboration tools
  • agile tools

I started from hosting files of my FireFox addons there — SVN and wiki make it perfect choise.

Then I got used to the handy and comfortable interface so much that became a paied user — for xUSSR person it’s worth mentioning 🙂

And the last but not the least — Assembla team is very open and keeps in touch with their users.

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