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The Christmas gift

This was an exciting Christmas for me. For the first time ever, I couldn’t wait to give my in-laws their Christmas gift, which I bought some 2 months ago. For those without in-laws, you can’t even start to imagine how many brownie points this added to my small savings.

The gift idea came to me last Christmas when I noticed that my mother in-law was turning down the volume of the amplifier connected to their new 65″ television instead of turning it off. I found this to be strange, until I saw my father in-law do the same thing. It turns out that they don’t know how to turn off the amplifier. Having four new remotes and a complicated amplifier remote was just too much. It doesn’t make sense that after spending too much money for this home entertainment center, that no one cared that they could operate these over priced gadgets together. I suppose that every manufacturer includes their own remote because they have to support the case that someone is buying their product separately from any other. Sounds familiar?

So you can probably guess what I bought? Yep, a universal remote. This is a device which filled the void that the manufacturers didn’t. The funny thing is that there is no gnarly invention involved in these devices, it just fills the gap. It brings the features you would of just expected from a remote, like the button that says, “watch tv”, and your tv, amp, and pvr are all turned on and set to the correct mode for that task. Wow, what a concept! But what got me is that when I think about the universal remote, I don’t say to myself “Man, those guys must of spent years trying to figure out how to design and build this complicated thing”. Instead it goes something like, “I could of thought of that and built it in my garage”. Heck, it just sends out infrared commands and has a button to batch and time them. Big flipping deal.

Superficiality Jazz may seem like a universal remote. I’ve often heard people explain Jazz to others by saying “…you should see this Jazz thing it does all these cool things like other tools but all together such as work items, scm, build support, and other cool stuff I think”. Occasionally, you’ll see a blank stare from the other person then reply, “I don’t get it, I’ve got Subversion, Bugzilla, and Cruise Control in my basement and it does all that stuff too”. Basically the guy has a bunch of software tools that don’t know about each other, like the four remotes at my in-laws. As with the universal remove, Jazz brings all the tools into one to provide the value that the user has just always expected he should have. It sounds kinda simple, yeah you could of thought of that too. But the value of having that single button that says “Watch TV” is very, very useful. Especially when you are having to repeat these things over and over again. In the Jazz world, there are many equivalents to the “Watch TV” button.

If you look deeper though, Jazz is actually a lot more than a universal remote since it also includes the tv, pvr, dvd, sound system, and game console. Albeit Jazz can work with other tools, but the richest integration is achieved when the built-in tools are used. Now that is how I think of Jazz, at the surface it may look like a universal remote but it’s actually the whole package of tools that work together. A very real example of why this is important is to review a flaw in the universal remote itself. Most devices use the same infrared channel to toggle their on/off state. The best the remote can do when starting an activity is to toggle the devices and hope that they were previously off. If your tv was already on when you press the “watch tv” button, it will turn the tv off! This will really annoy my in-laws <g> Most users just don’t understand why the tv can’t tell the remote that it’s on or off and when an activity is started that instead of toggling the state it turns it on or off as required. If the devices and remote where all designed together, this wouldn’t of happened, but because the remote today is trying to make up for the initial lack of integration between the tools, it can only do so much without having the manufacturers also change the devices.

There are many places in Jazz where the value of having all the tools work together pays off. One of my favorite features in Jazz is how I can easily fix a bug in an old release and create a new build for the maintenance release all from within the same client.

Jean-Michel Lemieux
Jazz Source Control Team