SourceTree is a user-friendly Mac OS X front-end for Mercurial and Git, the two most popular distributed version control systems used today. The goal was to create a single tool which could deal with both systems efficiently, and to give a developer quick and intuitive access to the things (s)he needs to just get on with building software.
I thought I’d answer a few background questions on this that I get asked on occasion:
Why Mercurial AND Git?
Other apps tend to concentrate on just one version control system, so why am I supporting two? Well, as a developer I’m regularly coming across projects from both sides of the fence, and in practice I find I need to use both fairly regularly. I personally chose Mercurial for my own projects (and discussed why here), but I still use Git when dealing with other projects, and spend a fair amount of time hopping between the two. It struck me that even though they have their differences, they are both based on the same distributed principles, so having to use two separate tools was just unnecessary. I wanted a single tool which provided a common interface where that made sense, while still exposing the things they do differently where that was useful too. SourceTree 1.0 is my first attempt at that.
Why only Mac OS X?
There were actually multiple reasons for this choice:
- I wanted to learn Objective-C and Cocoa on a real project
- I know from experience that designing for multiple platforms can be a distraction, with more time spent on compatibility issues, and less on functionality – and that’s before you even consider the compromises you have to make, particularly on UI conventions which are far from uniform across platforms. I’ve been a multi-platform developer for more than 10 years, and for a change I just wanted to focus on the end user results and nothing else. I’m aware that schedules slip very easily when you overcomplicate, and I’m already supporting multiple DVCS systems (something I consider to be an important feature point), so I deliberately chose to keep this element simple.
- Mac OS X has become my own platform of choice for most things now. The combination of stability, user-friendliness, Unix underpinnings and well designed hardware match my current needs perfectly. I’m done with the ‘some assembly required’ PCs that I loved tinkering with over the past 15 years
What about Subversion?
A few people have asked me if I plan to add Subversion support too. I actually did intend to originally, until I realised how much time it was going to take to just do a decent job on Mercurial and Git. Within the time constraints, I focussed on the subject areas that I felt I could contribute most to – there are already quite a few Subversion tools out there for Mac OS X, but Mercurial and Git are much less well served, so that’s where I focussed my efforts.
I still have Subversion support tentatively on my work plan, but it’s not top of the list. I think it’s better to do your most important features well before diversifying. Plus, there are problems with Subversion – it’s very, very slow compared to Mercurial and Git, so to match the performance in SourceTree of things like the interactive searches and dynamic refreshing / log population I’d probably have to do a ton of extra caching just so the user wasn’t sat tapping their fingers.
Edit: I made my decision on this: I don’t plan to support local Subversion, but to support operating with Subversion servers with Mercurial and Git locally via hgsvn and git-svn.
Why didn’t you make it open source?
Sorry folks, while I love contributing to open source (I’ve done a bit on SourceTree too, sending a patch back to BWToolkit), making it work as a business is very hard indeed. I half-killed myself trying to combine being an open source project leader and doing other commercial activities at the same time, so now I’m trying a more traditional approach. One thing I learned in the last few years is that there are some sectors & application types where being an open source maintainer is very compatible with also running a business based on that project, and there are others where you can really only do one or the other simultaneously without flaming out. Sucks, but there it is 😉
I have a public, official roadmap for SourceTree and encourage users to suggest things they think should be on there, via the support system. I learned from running an open source project for 10 years that being open about your plans can be a big benefit – users like to know where things are likely to be going, and often have better ideas than the developer on what could do with a bit more spit and polish. They can also tell you what’s important to them, which is crucial for prioritising – as developers we tend to get carried away with things we want to work on, but in the end, it’s scratching the customer’s itch that matters most.
And while I’m really quite proud of SourceTree 1.0, there are plenty of features I’d like to continue to add, and definitely more room for some totally unnecessary beautification which I didn’t have time for in the first release. Hey, this is OS X 😉
SourceTree is available now on a 21-day trial license. Go get it already