The only tough thing in writing about development utilities is limiting
the list to just a few utilities. Luckily for me, the readers of Developer.com
did the limiting for me, by nominating four excellent utilities in this
category of the Developer.com Product of the Year 2005 contest. These four,
of course, come from a much larger universe of development utilities. Most
developers have a keen sense of how software can make their lives easier,
and they actively seek out the tools and utilities to do so. This makes
creating and marketing utilities aimed at developers a profitable thing to
do! Without further ado, here are the finalists in this category:
- Altova MapForce 2005
- Altova XMLSpy 2005
Before I announce the winner, let’s take a look at these fine products.
MapForce 2005: Data Integration Tool
2005 offers an amazing visual development environment to let you automate
the process of transforming between disparate data formats. It can handle XML
files, flat files, database files, and EDI files. Within the MapForce IDE, you
create a mapping by dragging and dropping to indicate field-to-field mappings
between your input and output files. But the product doesn’t stop there! A set
of libraries let you insert data processing rules that transform the data as
it’s being mapped. For example, you can compare two different input fields and
use the boolean value of the comparison as the output field (and that’s one of
the simpler rules).
When you’re done defining the mapping, MapForce lets you get useful code out
the other end. Specifically, with a few mouse clicks you can generate Java,
XQuery, C++, and C# program code or stylesheets that conform to either the XSLT
1.0 or XSLT 2.0 specifications. Depending on your development suite, you’re very
likely to be able to use one of these without further modification. If your
input or output formats change, just go back to MapForce, tweak the saved
project, and recreate the code you need.
It’s easy to see why MapForce 2005 made it to this year’s list of finalists.
The general job of transforming from one data format to another is both common
and tedious: ideal for automation by a solid utility.
XMLSpy: Comprehensive XML Support
Altova manages the feat of placing two utilities in this year’s finalists
with the nomination of XMLSpy
2005. With many years of development behind it, XMLSpy has gone from being a
simple XML editor to being a full-fledged XML IDE. It’s hard to find an
XML-related chore that you can’t perform somewhere in XMLSpy. For starters, of
course, you can edit XML, in a host of views, ranging from a color-coded text
view to a tabular format that makes it easy to see the structure of the file.
You also get the help you expect from a modern editor such as source code
folding, bookmarks, and auto-completion.
What else does XMLSpy offer? Try an XML-aware diff and merge engine that
understands which formatting differences have a syntactic impact and which
don’t. Or how about database connectivity for all of the major databases? You
can automatically generated XSD schemas from a database, or vice versa. XSLT
debugging, too, is in this box. You also get XPath and XQuery editors and
debuggers. XMLSpy also supports all of the major Web services standards; its
WSDL editing, showing how all of the pieces fit together with boxes and lines,
is exceptionally nice. And as icing on the cake, you can run XMLSpy as a
standalone application or integrate it right into Visual Studio or Eclipse.
Is there a developer working today who doesn’t have occasion to deal with an
XML file? Oh, I suppose there is. But the vast majority of us wrestle with angle
brackets on a regular basis, which is reason enough to find XMLSpy in this list
EazyCode: Take the Drudgery Out of Data Forms
And the Winner is…
Whatever the reasons for its success in this poll, I’m happy to see Firefox
come out on top: it’s a fine browser and, in fact, some months ago I switched to
it myself. I’ve been quite happy with the change. If you haven’t tried it yet,
perhaps this award will convince you to give it a look.
A Moment to Reflect
So what do this year’s results tell us about the state of the development
utility world? Three things, I think. First, the inclusion of both MapForce 2005
and XMLSpy 2005 on the list is strong confirmation that XML is here to stay, but
that none of us want to work with XML in the raw. Good tools are essential to
support this part of our development lives. Second, code generation (represented
here by EazyCode) is an area to watch. As applications become more complex and
schedules remain tight, we have to find tools to write code for us; one good
site to check out for more information on this vibrant field is Code Generation Network. Finally, as
the sudden fame of Firefox generates, developers are always ready to grab hold
of a superior application when they find one – and there’s still plenty of room
for success, even in a field with entrenched existing software. There’s an
encouraging thought for all of us!
Mike Gunderloy is the author of over 20 books and numerous articles on
development topics, and the lead developer for Larkware. Check out his latest books, Coder to Developer and Developer to
Designer, both from Sybex. When he’s not writing code, Mike putters in the
garden on his farm in eastern Washington state.