Do Static Source Code Analysis Tools Really Work?
I have used static analysis as part of our build process on our Continous Integration machines and it's definitely worth your time to set it up and use it. We use FindBugs with our Java code and have it output html reports on a nightly basis. Our team lead comes in early in the morning and peruses them and assigns them to either "Suppress" or fix the issues. We shoot for zero bugs either through suppressing them if they aren't bugs or by fixing them. FindBugs doesn't give too many false positives so it works great.
Could this be just another trend?
I don't worry about what's "trendy" or not. Just give the tool a shot in your group and see if it helps/works for you or not. If it does keep using it otherwise abandon it.
What kind of changes did the tools bring about in your testing cycle?
We use it _before_ the test cycle. We use it to catch mistakes such as "Whoops! Dereferenced a pointer there, my bad" before going into the test cycle.
And most importantly, did the results justify the expense?
Absolutely. The startup cost of adding static analysis for us was one developer for 1/2 a day to setup FindBugs to work on our CI build on a nightly basis to give us HTML reports. After that, the cost is our team lead to check the reports in the morning (he's an early riser) and create bug reports based on them to send to us. Some days there's no reports, other days (after a large check-in) it might be 5-10 and about an hour of his time.
It's best to view this tool as preventing bugs, synchronization issues, performance issues, you name it issues before going into the hands of testers. But, you can extend several of the tools like FindBugs to be able to add new static analysis test cases. So if a tester finds a common problem that effects the code you can go back and write a static analysis case for that, add it to the tool and the problem shouldn't reach the tester again.