November 23, 2011

Reporting from Inside the Streams Splash Down

Streams launch party

We heard something was happening down at the Perforce headquarters on November 3, 2011 from 6 to 9 pm. The invitation mentioned streams and sandboxes and things to eat and drink. They had a vision, they said, for "Version everything." Baffled, we decided to infiltrate (disclosure: Sheri Aguirre, head of PR, asked us to observe).

We pulled up to the purple Perfortress and were whisked past coat check into the open space on the second floor. We're not sure why we're using second-person plural, but we're sticking with it. About a hundred people were buzzing, clinking glasses and spearing appetizers. Christopher Seiwald, founder and CEO, took the podium.

"This is the first time we've had an open house at Perforce. We hope you appreciate what we have and see how it contributes to the glory of our product," he said. "Tonight we're going to share things we talked about at the user conference that now you get to see in real life. It's also a bit of a customer appreciation party."

Seiwald and several colleagues outlined the four demos that would be happening: Streams, Sandbox, the Ecosystem and Chronicle. In an obvious ploy, each demo would be paired with a different dessert. Resistance to the chocolate fountain proved futile, and we followed chanting Perforce employees to hear the streams demo. Test tubes filled with mysterious blue liquid were handed to attendees. The vodka-based concoction had clearly been designed to make us pliant and unquestioning. On the latter point, it failed: queries from enthusiastic Perforce customers bubbled forth after the presentation by Randy DeFauw.

Deviously linked to chocolate mousse, the Ecosystem talk by Patrick McGarry explained Perforce's Forge approach to fomenting a public community of tools built for and with Perforce. Chronicle, Perforce's new web content management system, proved impossible to ignore. There were meringue kisses, blue cotton candy and a geeky presentation from Don Marti that tantalized with version control features no current WCMS can compete with. Finally, the P4Sandbox talk by Zig Zichterman tantalized tapioca-eaters with the promise of complete freedom to "live on your laptop" and work away from the central Perforce repository without anarchy – er, slowing the organization's overall progress via mucked-up merges once the off-line reconnaissance was complete.

Customers Eager for P4Sandbox

Were Perforce customers swayed by the presentations, or was it just a sugar rush? We cornered Travis Rogers of Square Enix, the El Segundo, CA, maker of blockbuster video games such as Lara Croft Tomb Raider and Final Fantasy. Rogers has been using Perforce for nine years.

"What we're taking away is Streams and Sandbox. Sandbox is very interesting for our organization. You can pull things off the main branch, work on an airplane, then put them back. It has a lot of implications for us. We had our users bring up using Git, and we said no -- we can't have open access to our code repository. Sandbox is the solution."

Similarly, Rogers sees using Streams in a build environment so they don't need as much of a footprint. "We'd use it to only work on SKUs that are different. We're moving our build environment from group storage, and these are very expensive disks."

Elsewhere, an engineering manager from a global technology leader and her team spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they were eager to work with Perforce to unify nearly 10,000 developers on a single version control system as part of a governance effort. They, too, were eager to share news of Perforce's embrace of private branching with developers who clung to Git.

Even though the admin aspect of Perforce is so lightweight, developers don't necessarily care about that, said James Creasy, product technology manager at Perforce. He chatted with the concerned manager, describing how to rectify "the impedance mismatch between admins and developers" by explaining how a unified source control strategy "is going to provide the answer for everyone."

Against our will, we sat down with another chocolate mousse and Warren Freeman, a Perforce admin with Genomic Health in Redwood City, CA. "There was good information on Streams and Sandbox in particular," he said. He was particularly excited about some secret P4 commands he had learned in the presentation on P4Sandbox. "There's a command that prints out all undocumented commands –it's p4 undoc," he said. As for Streams, "I know a few people who'd expressed interest in Streams."

He had other pressing issues, however, that he'd been able to resolve at the party. For example, he was having trouble interfacing Microsoft Team Foundation Server and other aspects of Visual Studio with Perforce. He'd been able to meet with engineers working on Perforce's integration with Visual Studio, express his concerns and learn that a new VS integration is just around the corner in 2012.

Confused, we asked him if this sort of interaction, hosted in the Perfortress, with engineers for a vendor whose product he depended on was something he experienced often. "Well, I already knew they had the best tech support – they are really good, and I don't mean kinda sorta," he said. "But this is nice. I like the headquarters. I like the Perforce camaraderie… I think it's quite extraordinary."

Was it something in those blue drinks? Or is it just Perforce? We will continue to investigate.