30 Mar 2012

IntelliTrace

Visual Studio 2010 introduced an amazing feature: IntelliTrace which allows for deep debugging experiences inside Visual Studio by collecting an AMAZING amount of information (basically a stack trace for every call in your code + meta data) and allowing you to use it later to replay the way the application was used. With this feature you could eliminate those “No Repro” bugs! The catch in 2010 was it was NOT allowed to be used in production. In Visual Studio 11 that has changed and we can use it in production: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh398365(v=vs.110).aspx & http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/hh440472

PreEmptive Analytics

This change in licensing may seem to put IntelliTrace in direct competition with another great tool, PreEmptive Analytics (PA). I have mentioned this amazing tool before and with Visual Studio 11 it is included “in the box” so there seems to be a conflict brewing – but there isn’t.

Two sides of the same coin

These two tools are both part of the collect information so you can react to it later and fix bugs set of tools, but they have very different use cases. IntelliTrace is specific to the scenario of replaying an application for diagnosis and debugging purposes. It is not meant to be an always on tool and it is a tool that writes to a local file that needs to be collected some how.

PA on the other hand is a tool to always have on, it does capture error information but nothing more than the simple Exception + Stack which is not as useful, detailed or integrated into VS when compared to IntelliTrace. In addition PA allows me to do a lot of a lot of analytics on my application that are not possible in IntelliTrace:

  • what features are people using
  • where in the world are they
  • when are they using it
  • what are their machines like

In addition the PA reports get automatically sent to a server (that they run or that you can run if you have privacy/security concerns) so there is not need to waddle around collecting files.

I can also see scenarios that these two work hand in hand – PreEmptive getting higher level info that shows a lot of users having issue X, then the support guys contact some users and do a more detailed capture of the issue with IntelliTrace.

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