I’ve been using Visual Paradigm’s SDE-NB[/url] (the [url=http://www.visual-paradigm.com/product/sde/nb/modeleredition.jsp]Modeler Edition) for a good month now and I’m very pleased with the product. And so after discovering the feedback forum I felt that some comments were in order
First a little recap… I’ve been developing in Java for a good 4 to 5 years now, even though I’m not a full time developer. My main profession is systems engineering but since some of that involved massive Solaris administration the link to Java was quickly made. I’ve been using Java for private and business projects, ranging from simple IRC bots right to specific company software used for webserver monitoring and database administration.
After my projects became more and more complex and NetBeans introduced their UML plugin I started to fully adopt UML for a lot of things. UML really helps me to keep track of my project, focus on the important details but most of all: keeping a good overview of the ins and outs of my project and to make sure that I have and keep sufficient documentation around, should I ever need for someone else to pick up where I left off.
Everything went just fine right until the controversial NetBeans version 6 came out. Version 6 did have a lot of improvements in comparison with the previous 5.5.1, but at the same time also lacked a lot of important features. 6.1 made things a lot better, that was also my queue to look into an upgrade (I was still using 5.5.1 back then) and when 6.5 came out I finally made the switch as well. 6.5 addressed all the problems which 6.1 brought with it. All except one…
A lot of important features were gone in NB 6.0 but found their way back with release 6.1 and up. But with release 6.5 the UML plugin development team decided to do a rehaul of their software. Unfortunately resulting in a plugin which lacked support for most important UML diagrams but most of all: it was hardly usable anymore. Just trying to create something as simple as a Use Case was sheer horror, one long annoyance if not worse.
And this is where Visual Paradigm’s product suddenly came into the picture. I don’t know why, I don’t know how but it got mentioned on the NetBeans website and it immediately got my attention. If NB couldn’t provide me with continuity then maybe a commercial solution could…
I started evaluating the SDE release, which can directly hook itself into one of the major IDE’s, and soon realized that SDE surpasses the standard plugin’s feature by far! At first I allowed myself to fall into the (what I like to call) “homeostasis trap”. In other words; trying to turn SDE into another version of the NetBeans plugin by altering its looks so that it matched the NetBeans color schemes directly. Nothing wrong with trying to “coloring up” your diagrams but this was really a useless effort
Its also my first tip for new users: keep an open mind. Don’t try to turn SDE into something its not, but start from their defaults and then make the changes which you think make your diagrams look best. Not what other software might think looks best. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t experiment with its (massive!) presentation features at all. Just try to approach it with an open mind and keep your changes meaningful instead of fully driven by your own customs.
And well… Right now I’ve used SDE for some rather big projects which really required me to keep focussed on the overall development and I can indeed confirm that the way their software works is really something else. Naturally you need to have some basic understanding of UML diagrams, but even a minor lack of experience is very likely not much a drawback when it comes to creating good diagrams. SDE does indeed enforce some standards
Anyway, since I am not familiar with every other UML diagram modeling software out there let me just close with some of the big advantages which SDE has to offer over the native NetBeans UML plugin (which I do happen to know very well since I’ve worked with this quite some time):
Diagrams on a per-project basis - With the native plugin you basically needed to maintain 2 projects; your software project and the UML project. And that wasn’t always very easy; the NetBeans projects window would clutter up really fast. Not so with SDE. One project; one set of diagrams. In another set of windows (tip: I like to keep the “Diagram navigator” and the “Model” window right next to the “Navigator window”, all below the 3 main windows (project, files and services). A sure way to keep things manageable).
Fully compliant with UML 2.0 standards - When I dove into UML modeling I got myself this nice O’Reilly book “UML 2.0” which has been an excellent learning tool and reference guide for me. The NetBeans plugin has a severe lack when it comes to being compliant. At some points it lacks features, where at others it has too much features. When working with SDE you can be sure that the tools you have in your toolbox are compliant with the standards for the diagram you’re working on. In a way SDE “nudges” you to using the right standards.
Very userfriendly - I used to hate creating sequence diagrams. It took a massive amount of my time, even to a point where I started wondering why I’d even bother! Granted; the results looked decent and considering the impact of the projects for which I had to create these there really wasn’t much choice. But I didn’t like it… Please try to picture my surprise when I started setting up a sequence diagram in SDE with 1 actor, 3 lifelines and quite some signaling. I was done in 15 - 20 minutes (I didn’t really keep track, but it wasn’t longer than 20). A same kind of diagram used to take me up to 40 - 60 minutes.
Great version diversity - 6 different versions and a fully free viewer. What more choice could you wish for? Even if you don’t want to spend money you can still apply for Paradigm’s community version which can help you to work on your projects a lot more than NB’s plugin ever can. And it doesn’t have to cost you. Ofcourse personally I’d suggest taking a serious look at the personal version at least. It’ll cost you some, but you get a great product in return without any limits (community version is at its best with one diagram-type per project if you’re doing exports like printing).
License freedom - License once, use on up to 3 computers (naturally not at the same time and you have to be the only user). So how does this work out for me: I’m normally using Linux as my work and develop station. It is here where I use NetBeans, and now also SDE. However; I also have a Vista workstation (primary used for games) which I sometimes also use to test my projects on Windows. I am fully allowed to have a SDE version installed here as well. So when I discover some oddity during testing I can immediately make changes to my diagram if need be. Heck; should my Linux box certainly fail due to whatever weird reason I can simply transport all my projects onto the Windows box and keep on working. Now that is service! And that is not even mentioning that I can also use it on my laptop as well
[b]Great support![/b] - Speaking of service… Mentioned last but certainly not least! I ran into a few issues during my evaluation and even a few (stupid on my part ;)) issues during the main use. One thing bugged me; when using Use Case diagrams the use case would display an extension section every time. I don’t like that in my diagrams (its also not required by UML standards) and so I asked how I could best turn this off. Resulting in a patch which allows you to turn this behavior off on a diagram level (instead of a per use-case level). Now thats service! And my silly questions? Well, with so many options it is easy to overlook what could sometimes be obvious. Like setting up the right fragment in a sequence diagram
Alas… Long story but there you have it. Working with SDE for some time now and really loving it. I hope that my post might give others some good points and hints. Do keep in mind: I’m using SDE with the NetBeans IDE and my comparison is also solely based on that.
With kind regards,