Probing Technologies Provide Relief to Windows Testing

In the mainframe days, when a developer found a bug he or she would go back to the source code and made the appropriate patch. Problem fixed.

This made developing custom enterprise applications in mainframe environments a relatively simple task compared with today's multiplatform realms. Creating, deploying, and testing similar applications in distributed Unix or Windows NT/2000 systems can be daunting, and often source code is unavailable or nowhere to be found. The complexity is due to the range of hardware platforms that Windows and Unix systems are deployed across, as well as the large numbers of third-party and in-house applications with which they have to interoperate.

Now, new tools have been created to let developers and testers create probes to gather data about the way a program runs on a system and, if necessary, patch the executable of the program. OC Systems Inc. ( recently released a new version of its Aprobe for Windows 2000 and NT. InCert Software Corp. ( announced a Windows NT/2000 version of its TraceBack solution -- formerly only available to S/390 sites -- will be made available this summer.

Windows NT traditionally has been deployed in file-and-print and workgroup server implementations, and thus not as a platform for distributed enterprise applications. Analysts expect this will change with Windows 2000. "As Microsoft proves the capabilities of Windows 2000, there's every indication that it will continue to move into mission-critical implementations," says Dan Kusnetzky, program vice president, system software, at IDC (

Alex Heiche, vice president of sales and marketing at OC Systems, agrees with Kusnetzky's analysis, noting that the increased stability of Windows 2000 makes it a more robust platform for distributed application development. "We expect the enhanced stability of Windows 2000 to invite the development of more large-scale systems," Heiche says. "The more complex an application is, the more essential sophisticated development tools like Aprobe are."

OC Systems hopes to provide Windows NT and Windows 2000 developers with the same testing environment available to mainframe developers. Because Aprobe works directly on the application executable, company officials say no access to source code is required. Because it doesn't require access to source code, Aprobe can also be used to gather information about -- or even patch -- third-party executables. "Aprobe is particularly useful to Windows developers because so many applications involve the use of third-party software, for which no source code is available," says Oliver Cole president of OC Systems. Normally, "it's virtually impossible to fully test those applications," he adds.

Aprobe probes are written in standard ANSI C and can be added anywhere in an application, company officials say. Moreover, probes can patch an application executable without modifying files associated with the application itself. Because of this, developers don't have to relink, recompile, or rebuild an application whenever a probe is inserted or changed.

Aprobe probes can also be used to test potential fixes for application executables that have been identified as problematic. In this mode, once a bug has been fixed, a probe can remain in place until the fix itself has been incorporated into the next build of the application itself.