Editors Expand Coders Tool Kits

 
 
By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2003-05-19
 
 
 

Editors Expand Coders Tool Kits


New models of application development—including server-side code, distributed Web services, and deployment of workplace functions to handheld and embedded devices—have programmers clamoring for more code analysis and process integration capabilities in their old reliable tool, the text editor.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Visual SlickEdit 8.0
SlickEdits Visual SlickEdit 8.0 gives developers cross-platform source code editing, with commendable consideration for well- conditioned habits formed by other editing tools and with an easy path to integration with tool sets such as Microsofts Visual Studio and Borlands JBuilder. More information is available at www.slickedit.com.
KEY PERFORMANCE INDICATORS
USABILITY EXCELLENT
CAPABILITY EXCELLENT
PERFORMANCE EXCELLENT
INTEROPERABILITY EXCELLENT
MANAGEABILITY GOOD
SCALABILITY GOOD
SECURITY GOOD
PRO: Available on Windows and many varieties of Unix; preconfigured for emulation of many popular editors; easily operates as adjunct to external tool sets; suitable for re-engineering of code from many sources.

CON: Emulations leave room for improvement; code readability aids limited to color and indentation.
EVALUATION SHORT LIST
Microsofts Visual Studio
Borlands JBuilderMansfield Software Group Inc.s KEdit

Thats why eWEEK Labs, fresh from the latest update to the most widely used integrated programming environment—Microsoft Corp.s Visual Studio .Net 2003, which we reviewed last week—turned its attention to this springs updates of two high-function programmers editors, Source Dynamics Inc.s Source Insight 3.5 and SlickEdit Inc.s Visual SlickEdit 8.0.

Visual development environments (Visual Studio .Net, in particular) arent the GUI workbench lightweights that they used to be. Theyre adding low-level substance as well as high-level style to their graphical renditions of application structure and function. At some point, however, the machine wants to read actual code—and programmers want the control that comes from writing it themselves.

When a manager asks why a team should buy a separate source code editor when integrated environments already include one, someone needs to do the math: Each of the editors reviewed here costs about as much as 5 hours of developer time.

Both Source Insight and Visual SlickEdit have the industrial strength to handle just about anything a developer might throw at them. For example, each was able to open and display a multimegabyte XML schema file in a few seconds compared with the better part of a minute for Visual Studio .Net.

The payback from minutes saved, over periods of several months, is clear if perhaps not compelling; the benefits to a programmers concentration are more subjective but likely to be even more significant.

When we last looked at Visual SlickEdit, Version 5.0 earned Analysts Choice honors for its across-the-board superiority. Despite substantial improvements since then, we now find our favor divided more evenly. This time, well leave the choice to individual tastes.

For example, if your personal preference inclines toward choice in all things, Visual SlickEdit takes an immediate lead. The product is offered and maintained for agile platform crossing on Windows (98 or later), Linux (on x86 or IBMs zSeries mainframe systems), Solaris on SPARC, and other Unix platforms from Hewlett-Packard Co. and others.

Prices vary with platform and packaging but begin at $269 for the purchased Windows download. Source Insight is offered at $250 for Windows 98 and later, period. (We reviewed both products on a Windows 2000 machine.)

Visual SlickEdits emphasis on choice continued when we entered the editing environment, where a plethora of tabbed panes (see screen) gave us immediate access to various views of our file systems (both local and, via the integrated FTP client, remote) and our work in progress (with raw search, source code symbols or internal program references).

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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.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
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 www.sourceinsight.com.
KEY PERFORMANCE INDICATORS
USABILITY EXCELLENT
CAPABILITY GOOD
PERFORMANCE EXCELLENT
INTEROPERABILITY GOOD
MANAGEABILITY EXCELLENT
SCALABILITY GOOD
SECURITY GOOD
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.
EVALUATION SHORT LIST
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@ziffdavis.com.

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