Microsoft releases free software testing tool

Spec Explorer 2010, a model-based software testing tool that took 10 years of research and is designed to cut testing costs, gets a public release

Microsoft has publicly released a software testing tool that relies on model-based techniques, a test approach that is relatively new in software development.

The tool, called Spec Explorer 2010, is based on test technology used for several years internally at Microsoft. The software maker is releasing a free version now in order to gather feedback that can be used to fine-tune Spec Explorer for a wider developer base, it said.

Model-based testing has the potential to reduce the complexity and cost of software testing, one of the most expensive parts of the development process, Microsoft said.

"Thorough, consistent and extensible testing of systems remains one of the biggest challenges in creating and maintaining software systems," said S Somasegar, senior vice president of Microsoft's developer division, in a blog post announcing the tool on Monday.

Model-based testing derives a test suite from an abstract model, or specification, of the system under test, rather than from source code. Testers using Spec Explorer write models as sets of rules using the C# programming language, along with configuration files in a scripting language called Cord, short for 'Coordination Language'.

Spec Explorer then uses the models to automatically generate test suites, which can then be run in the Visual Studio test framework or other unit test frameworks.

The tool is intended to be easy to learn and can be used by engineers with no modelling experience. "Studies on a large-scale project with over 300 test suites have shown a 42 percent average productivity gain over manually created test suites," Somasegar wrote.

Model-based testing is still an emerging area of software testing, and Microsoft's tool is aimed in part at making the technique easier to use, said Nico Kicillof, lead programme manager with Microsoft's protocol engineering team.

"[Model-based testing is] in fact the subject of ongoing academic research and an industrial practice that has been around for a while and is here to stay," Kicillof wrote in a Tuesday blog post. "Tools like Spec Explorer just make it easier to learn and to use, and generally more accessible to a larger audience."

The roots of Spec Explorer go back to 2001, when Microsoft Research began developing a specification language called AsmL, according to Wolfgang Grieskamp, principal architect and researcher with the company's protocol engineering team.

"We searched for a killer application in applying formal specification and modeling. And that was soon identified to be in the testing space, as testing was, and even more is today, one of the most cost-intensive tasks in software development," Grieskamp wrote in a Wednesday blog post.

Microsoft has released previous versions of Spec Explorer for research purposes, but Spec Explorer 2010 is the first to be developed as a product for a wide user base, the company said.

The tool can be downloaded from Microsoft Developer Network's DevLabs.

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