Page Two

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2003-05-19 Print this article Print

Source Insight offered us most of these capabilities from dialog boxes invoked from a right-button menu, so heres one of the first issues of pure taste: Visual SlickEdit didnt cover up our work to show us our choices but indulged our attention deficits by letting us see everything at once. Source Insight didnt make us shift our gaze away from where we were working, but it didnt give us the same sense of crafting a tailored cockpit in which everything is where we like it.

Source Insight 3.5
Source Dynamics Source Insight 3.5 gives developers unusually elegant and readable presentation of source code combined with powerful but unobtrusive analytic aids to clarify application structure and function. For more information, go to
PRO: Presents application source code and analyses using customizable visual attributes and annotations.

CON: Available only for Windows; relatively few concessions to existing developer skills or external tools.
Microsofts Visual Studio
Borlands JBuilderMansfield Software Group Inc.s KEdit
But if Visual SlickEdit gave us a sense of being able to do more things our way, Source Insight seemed to work harder to do things for us—useful things, such as telling us what piece of our program was being closed off by a punctuation mark such as a close-brace symbol.

Instead of counting levels of nesting under our breath or bouncing the cursor against a close-brace symbol to see which matching open brace the editor would highlight, we could quickly become addicted to Source Insights deferential gray notations, such as "<< end switch readMode >>" (see screen).

When a mildly complex fragment of code ends with a flurry of closing braces, Source Insights clear labels on each can go a long way toward preventing time-consuming errors during subsequent source code review or modification.

In general, Source Insight also made more effective use of fonts and styles than other editors weve seen, using these attributes to differentiate among language keywords, identifying symbols, names of program modules and embedded data such as character strings. Code readability is one of the most important factors in containing the life-cycle cost of long-lived applications, so these features are not merely decorative.

Visual SlickEdit, on the other hand, did a better job of anticipating our possible need to combine code written by many independent developers into a single project, with accessible and useful tools for imposing a uniform style of line breaks and indentation levels to reflect code structure. Especially as enterprise developers build more of their work on open-source foundations, these re-engineering capabilities will become more important to developers who may previously have enjoyed the luxury of working in shops with a single, consistent style.

Visual SlickEdit also took greater pains to accommodate the habits we might have formed in other editing environments, with its extensive list of preconfigured emulations to match common tools such as Brief, Epsilon, vi and GNU Emacs. Theres room for improvement here. For example, the indicator line for Emacs command prefix modes such as Control-X would be more conveniently placed at the bottom of the active text buffer rather than at the (possibly far distant) bottom of the top-level SlickEdit window.

Source Insights keystroke programming capabilities, although likewise extensive, were much more of an a la carte proposition.

Finally, Visual SlickEdit anticipated our likely interest in combining its capabilities with those of integrated tool sets such as Microsofts Visual Studio or Borland Software Corp.s JBuilder.

The SlickEdit environment presented its own Build menu with configurable options to link our editing session directly to external tools such as a debugger or a compile-and-run script. While certainly more trouble to set up and use than a unified environment, these facilities will meet many teams needs.

Source Insight, despite its strengths for writing and analyzing code, didnt seem as committed to helping us test it.

Although both of these editors offer extensive programming facilities for creating custom commands, most development teams will find that Visual SlickEdit gives them more of a running start.

Technology Editor Peter Coffee can be reached at

Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developersÔÇÖ technical requirements on the companyÔÇÖs evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter companyÔÇÖs first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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