Thursday, July 24, 2008

Software Review: XMLSpy 2008 From Altova

Written by T. Michael Testi

MLSpy 2008 is the latest version of Altova's integrated development environment (IDE) for XML. XMLSpy allows programmers to create XML-based applications and Web services in a more dynamic and easier to understand environment. The version that I am reviewing is XMLSpy 2008 release 2 which came out on May 7, 2008 and it is based on the Enterprise version. There is also a Professional version and if you would like to view the differences between the two, you can check out the feature comparison list.

What is XMLSpy 2008? It is a XML development environment for designing, editing, and debugging enterprise class applications that involve XML, XML Schema, XSL/XSLT, XQuery, SOAP, WSDL, and Web service technologies. Its aim is to be a productivity enhancer for J2EE, .NET, and database developers. Along with being an XML editor, it offers a code generator, file converters, a debugger, a profiler, and integration into Visual Studio .NET and Eclipse.

One of the other main features XMLSpy includes is the ability to edit XML documents in multiple formats. I personally think that this is one of those kinds of features that once you get used to it, it's hard to work without XMLSpy. You can look at your XML document as a text doc, a grid format, and as a WYSIWYG view. Next it has a built-in well-formedness checker and validator. If there is something wrong with your document, you don't have to wait till it fails and then try to figure out what is wrong with it; XMLSpy does it for you.


You also have intelligent editing such that if a schema is associated with your XML document, the auto-completion feature of Text View provides help in editing. There are structural editing features like line numbering, indentation, bookmarks, as well as expandable and collapsible element to aid in navigation.

You can create schemas quickly and easily, there is support for XInclude and XPointer, a built-in XQuery 1.0 processor, and you can transform your XML document as well. You have debuggers, project management, database import, and the ability to compare XML files. If you are using Java, C++, or C# to manipulate data in XML, you can generate code containing class definitions for the schema. That is a lot already.

So with all this, what's new with XMLSpy 2008 Release 2?


• Very large file support – has been enhanced to work with much larger files. These result in a reduction of memory consumption by up to 75-80% as compared with the prior version when opening and validating XML documents in text view. This now means that you can work with files 4 to 5 times larger than before. This will be very beneficial to those with databases and other large applications.

• Detailed find-and-replace in XML Schema editor – now adds to the robust find-in capabilities that already exist in XMLSpy by adding the ability to find-in Schemas. Here you can find within single schemas and across complex multiple schemas as well.

• Enhanced XSLT details in info window – now places an XSLT tab in the XMLSpy info window which provides information for developers working with XSLT stylesheets. This tab allows you to view the associated schema and XML Instance files as well as any included or imported XSLT documents. The toolbar buttons allow you to organize some or all of the files into an XMLSpy project or even add the files to a ZIP archive.

• New XSL Outline entry helper window – complements the XSLT tab and aids in the optimization of XSLT development. When working with a XSLT 1.0 or 2.0 stylesheet, it lists the templates and functions in the current XSLT file as well as those in any included or imported file. Here you can view or edit each template's mode, priority, and associated comment directly in the XSL outline window.


• Support for Java, C#, JavaScript, and VBScript in XSLT 1.0/2.0 engines – now allows those who embed program code in Java, C#, JavaScript, or VBScript to add advanced functionality to their XSLT stylesheets. Now, not only can you take advantage of XMLSpy's XSLT editing and transformation capabilities, but you can also test, perfect, and optimize them using the XSLT debugger and XSLT profiler.

• Support for SOAP 1.2 – now allows you to create and test Web Services messages using SOAP1.2 by checking the appropriate box in the SOAP request settings dialog.

• Project generation for Visual Studio 2008 – gives you the option to generate a Visual Studio 2008 project file when generating C# or C++ code in XMLSpy.

• Visual Studio integration extended to include Visual Studio 2008 – now offers seamless support into Visual Studio 2008.


XMLSpy 2008 is available from Altova. It is $1090.00 USD for the Enterprise version and $539 for the Professional version. Still unsure, you can download a 30 day trial version as well.

If you work with XML with any regularity then you need to do yourself a favor and check out XMLSpy 2008. Right out of the box it will begin to save you time and money in making sure that your data is correct and allowing you to see your data in a whole new way. As you progress in your learning of XMLSpy 2008, you will find yourself using more and more of the toolset and becoming even more productive. I highly recommend XMLSpy 2008.


Monday, July 21, 2008

Software Review - NetAdvantage For .NET Suite- NetAdvantage AppStylist 2008 Volume 1 From Infragistics

Written by T. Michael Testi


This is the third part of a three-part series that will cover what is contained in the NetAdvantage For .NET Suite. The three products are NetAdvantage for ASP.NET, NetAdvantage for Windows Forms, and NetAdvantage AppStylist. You can go online to explore more about the products in this suite. The goal of this series it to define what each product does and what it can do for you.

Infragistics over the years has positioned itself as a leader in the development of the presentation layer technologies. By creating high quality, reusable presentation layer tools for ASP.NET, Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), Tablet PC, and Java Environments, they are able to provide their customers with the ability to accelerate the development process by reducing development time.

NetAdvantage AppStylist

The NetAdvantage For .NET Suite is compatible with Visual Studio 2008, and Visual Studio 2005. It works with Microsoft Windows XP and Vista. Infragistics products are subscription-based which gives you updates and upgrades for the period of the license, usually one year. So when you see the terminology "2008 Volume 1", this means it is the first release for this release of the product for that year. The license is also developer-based which means that the developer can install it on more than one machine, but they are the only one who has the right to use the license.

So what is NetAdvantage AppStylist? It is a revolutionary product that lets application developers and graphic artists peacefully coexist within a company. It allows each to do their job without stepping on or getting in the way of the other. It allows one to determine and develop the functionality while the other designs the look and feel and branding.

NetAdvantage AppStylist is really two products in one. One is for ASP.NET and the other is for Windows Forms. It is a standalone application that works outside of the Microsoft Visual Studio IDE and therefore allows visual designers to create and edit style libraries for use with these Infragistics products. It is meant to allow graphic designers to collaborate more efficiently with developers in creating polished, professional applications.

The Application Styling Framework (ASF) divides the space between the developer space and the designer space to let each accomplish their tasks. The designer should not be concerned with how the developer implements the design and the developer should not be concerned with any aspect of the look and feel of the application. By reducing the job cross-over, NetAdvantage AppStylist can speed development.

Some of the features of NetAdvantage AppStylist include

• Styling similar elements – such that when a graphics artist wants the column headers on a table to appear like the column headers in a list or tree without having to re-specify these setting for each control, they now have that ability from within their own IDE.

• Target components by type – will let a regular appearance to be applied across all controls of a particular control type without the developer having to tediously go in and change all of the properties within an application.

• Target individual instances – lets you change individual instances of a control type to look different than the others all without the developer having to change anything within the application.

• Coexistence with the Infragistics Object Model – In Windows Forms it merges its style settings with those of the control at appearance resolution time. On the Web, it is based on the client machine as part of their browser's routine CSS class resolution.

NetAdvantage AppStylist

NetAdvantage AppStylist For Windows Forms will make the graphics artist feel right at home and allow them to become productive much more quickly through tooling that has been designed to work like the graphics media programs that they are already familiar with.

To work with NetAdvantage AppStylist you create/open a style library and base a new style library on an existing template. You can then customize the color palette of the style library. In the past, these color changes would need to have been coordinated between the graphics and applications designers, which really means that when the graphics designer wanted a change, the developer would have to stop work and make these modifications.

Then, to see the results of the changes, the graphics designer would have to wait until a test build has been completed to see the results. Now, in NetAdvantage AppStylist the graphics designer has access to every control and UI interface available so they can see what things will look like.

Once everything is complete, the graphics designer saves the style as an .isl file which the application designer then includes into the Windows Forms code. The developer then can implement it with as little as a single line of code: Infragistics.Win.Appstyling.StyleMangager.Load("MyStyle.isl");

When the application starts running, the appearance is defined by the new Style Library. Throughout the system, all controls are now updated to use the new styles without the possibility of errors or missed controls. If the graphics designer changes their mind on something, they just present an updated .isl file.

By technological differences, NetAdvantage AppStylist For ASP.NET works a little differently from the Windows Forms version. Here the style libraries are folder-based instead of file-based. Designers use .wsl files that describe the contents of their style library, but because the style library is now composed of separate .CSS and image files organized by style set and control type, style libraries can span multiple files in a nested folder structure.

NetAdvantage AppStylist

Those appearance settings that can be styled for the Web conform to the style properties as defined by CSS and supported by major browser vendors. By defining a style using a Web site's web.config file, the new style can be set without ever taking down the site or rebuilding it.

From there the workflow is basically the same as it was with Windows Forms. You begin with a template and modify it to the look and feel that you want. You then save the .wsl file and then update your site to take advantage of it.

I think that this is a tremendous addition to anyone using either NetAdvantage for ASP.NET or NetAdvantage for Windows Forms. Even if you are not using a graphics designer and the developers are doing the layout, this will be a tremendous productivity boost to anyone.

There are two licenses that you can purchase NetAdvantage AppStylist. First is with Priority Support for $1,195.00 USD, and Standard for $695.00 USD. For the Studio it is $1,490.00, and $995.00 respectively. Priority support includes one year of priority phone, 24-hour chat and rapid response online support. As an added bonus, with either license, along with the updates, upgrades, and product releases, you also get the C# code for all ASP.NET tools and designers. You can even download an evaluation copy. There are no features disabled during your evaluation period.

If you are tired of having to repeatedly go back and forth with designers on your ASP.NET or Windows Forms application interfaces, having to spend more time then you want on the look and not enough time on what really counts—the product—then I highly recommend you take a look at Infragistics NetAdvantage AppStylist.