Product Reviews

Altova MissionKit Review: All the Data Modeling Tools You Need

The Altova MissionKit is a bundle of great tools that work together, but unlike a control suite, the cost savings may not add up for some shops.

Altova MissionKit 2012 for Enterprise Software Architects consists of eight Altova products. If you were going to buy the two flagship products included (XMLSpy for XML development and MapForce for integrating data sources), then the rest of the suite would be, effectively, free: StyleVision, for visually designing XSLT and reports; UModel for UML modeling; DatabaseSpy for cross-database processing; SemanticWorks, an editor for creating semantic Web applications (using OWL, RDF and N-Triples); DiffDog for comparing and merging documents; and SchemaAgent, a cross-referencing tool for XML documents.

With the exception of UModel, the focus is very much on data in XML and relational data stores.

Altova XMLSpy has long been one of the powerhouses dominating the XML developer market. It really is one-stop shopping for all your XML needs, from creating XSD files to XML documents to XSLT style sheets. Much the same can be said of UModel: It' s an excellent UML modeling tool with good code-generation capabilities that support both C# and Visual Basic .NET. UModel also supports exporting and importing the XMI format, allowing (at least in theory) for UModel to interoperate with other UML modeling packages.

The XML tools are excellent. What' s missing is a great design tool for relational databases. DatabaseSpy includes a "design editor," but it' s better suited for exploring existing database relationships than working through the full database design process.

Limited Design-Time Integration
One of the benefits of buying a suite of products from a single company is a uniform approach to the UI. However, if you' re looking for a lot of design-time integration between the various tools, you' re going to be disappointed: each of the tools handles its file types only. That' s not to say that the products don' t work together.

If you' re creating a data-integration project in MapForce, you can use (and preview the results of) StyleVision style sheets. However, to create or edit a style sheet, you' ll have to open StyleVision. Each tool will typically offer to open the other required tool for you - but you could end up with a lot of open windows. You don' t get the Visual Studio integration of multiple development tools into a single editor window with the ability to shift easily between multiple file types.


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Altova has done an excellent job of ensuring all the products in MissionKit 2012 for Enterprise Software Architects share a common look and feel.

But here' s where a package like this is different from a suite of controls: Does it make sense for only one person in the shop to have a copy of UModel? Probably not - so you' re going to need multiple copies. But does the developer using XMLSpy also need a cross-database querying tool like DatabaseSpy? And don' t you already have a diff tool? You could buy MissionKit and give different tools to the architects and developers on your team, but overlap between tasks might negate the cost savings if some people need access to multiple tools.

While the price savings are remarkable, Altova MissionKit 2012 for Enterprise Software Architects only saves you money if you need equal numbers of XMLSpy and MapForce - and have some idea what you' ll be doing with the other goodies in the package. The suite offers great tools, but the bundling might not benefit all development shops.

Altova MissionKit 2012 for Enterprise Software Architects

Altova
Web: Altova.com
Phone: 978-816-1600
Price: $1,739 (Enterprise edition without support)
Quick Facts: A bundle of Altova' s data-related tools focusing on XML and database design, with the company' s UML modeling tool
Pros: A complete set of data-related design and development tools (missing only a best-of-breed database designer)
Cons: From an economic point of view, it might make more sense to analyze your developers' needs and buy only the packages they need



About the Author

Peter Vogel is a principal in PH&V Information Services, specializing in Web development with expertise in SOA, client-side development, and user interface design. Peter tweets about his VSM columns with the hashtag #vogelarticles. His most recent book ("rtfm*") is on writing effective user manuals, and his blog on language and technical writing can be found at rtfmphvis.blogspot.com.

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