New visual comparison tool and enhanced remote and distributed features head up this new point release

TOOL FOCUS: Perforce 2008.1

Price: From $900 per user
Company: Perforce
Contact: +44 845 345 0116

The configuration management system from Perforce gets its first point version of the year with the arrival of Perforce 2008.1.

It’s an interesting release, as it mixes up the usual improvements to the underlying infrastructure with features that have the potential to both extend the types of files you can handle with respect to version control, as well as how you interrogate those files. To that extent, then, it’s the addition of the visual differencing functionality, which enables you compare two image files, that is Perforce 2008.1’s headline feature.

“The differencing functionality is activated when you’re comparing two versions of the same file or comparing files on different branches,” explains Dave Robertson, Perforce’s director of European Operations. “What happens is that, within the Perforce client, it brings up a screen which compares two files and automatically boxes out any areas in the file which are different from the previous version. It also allows you to overlay one image on top of another. We think it will be incredibly useful not only for game developers, but also for web designers, or even if you just want to check your holiday snaps.”

The system, which is built on Trolltech’s Qt development framework, supports file types such as BMP, TIF, JPG and GIF although not (yet) PSD. “We’re keen to see how people use the diff tool,” Robertson says. “Clearly there are additional formats that Qt doesn’t support out the box and some of the special tools game developers use potentially would be able to take advantage of that, so we’ll see how people experiment with it.”

A more routine update is the improved support for Perforce’s distributed development features.

“One of the holy grails of distributed development is to minimise the amount of data transfer,” Robertson explains.

“One of the bottlenecks we found was the way the proxy server would operate if it had to go over the network to retrieve a compressed update. It would then end up doing the decompression, which would hold up any new requests from other clients on the network. Now, however, the administrator has the option to get the client to do the decompression, which improves overall system performance.”

As well as this, there have been improvements when it comes to working offline and the process of reconciling changes made when you go back online again.

“In Perforce architecture terms, a local workspace is just a folder
that maps to a remote folder where the master versions are stored,” Robertson says.

“So when you want to upload your changes, Perforce brings up a screen and tells you what has changed and then creates a package on the fly for submission which brings the two folders into sync.”

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