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Altova UModel 2006

A Powerful, Inexpensive UML Tool



Altova UModel 2006

A Powerful, Inexpensive UML Tool


By Mike Riley


As any experienced application developer knows, designing an application is just as important, if not more so, than actually coding it. Through the iteration of various modeling approaches, the Unified Modeling Language (UML) has become the universal graphic representation methodology of choice for software engineers to quickly communicate their ideas across organizational, and even international, boundaries.


Altova, a company best known for their leading XML Spy design tool (read my review) has released their interpretation of the ideal UML design tool. While the product has not seen the price-creep normally associated with Altova s flagship XML Spy utility, it has certainly added a number of new enhancements with the most notable being the fact that it is one of the first UML tools in its category to fully support the latest UML specification with its 13 diagram types and more than 1,000 graphical and textual language elements.


Figure 1: UModel s user interface is modeled closely after the look and feel of Altova s popular XML Spy utility.


Packed with Features

In addition to supporting the full UML 2.1 specification (activity, class, component, composite, deployment, object, profile, state, sequence, and stereotype diagrams), some of the other more notable features include the ability to apply predefined C# stereotype profiles and tag definitions. UModel also assists in relationship construction such that if a relationship or construct is invalid, the program will clearly highlight the error for easy identification. Syntax is also highlighted for quick associative purposes. Another helpful assistant is automatic relationship identification when adding new elements to a diagram, a kind of IntelliSense for UML development.


While UModel s ability to export models to Java and C# code stubs is necessary, the more immediately useful feature that will be popular among UML beginners and experts alike is the program s ability to import Java 1.4 and 5.0 and C# v1.2 and 2.0-based code from existing projects and generate UML diagrams from that source base. Documentation in the form of JavaDoc and C# DocComments can be generated or consumed, as well. Projects can be synchronized between code and UML representations via UModel s roundtrip feature. The diagrams can then be exported to a PNG image file for importation into a Microsoft Office document or posted on the Web for distributed team review. Besides the benefit of more quickly learning the various UML diagramming approaches in an application scenario, this feature will more likely be used for code documentation procedures. I ve used this method in my own projects as a quick way to model prototypes as a basis for more robust application construction across multiple team members, and it s a great timesaver as well as a better communicator. A good analogy might be giving a sales person graphs and charts of trends versus spreadsheets of text and numbers. The message is more concise and organized.


Figure 2: The program supports all the major UML 2.1 diagrams, including the frequently used Class diagram shown here.


And for those developers who are working with organizations that can afford the more expensive UML products, UModel can import and export XMI 2.1 files for better interoperability between modeling vendors. This is important for those companies that use application lifecycle suites such that work done outside such vendor-dominated environments can participate beyond such walled gardens.


Not Quite Perfect

Even though the features are impressive compared to its price, UModel 2006 is not yet the perfect tool for the .NET developer. First, its roundtrip language support is limited to C#, leaving out in the cold those who prefer VB.NET syntax. While C# advocates might smugly argue that VB isn t a hardcore systems language accustomed to modeling, the fact of the matter is that UModel s target audience should include VB.NET developers who desire to broaden their skill and understanding of UML.


Figure 3: Code import and engineering settings can be easily configured for a designer/developer s specific project requirements.


Another minor irritation is the fact that UModel is a standalone tool; unlike XML Spy, Altova does not currently provide an add-in to allow it to live within the Visual Studio IDE. For most developers who live inside that environment on a day to day basis, bouncing outside of it is a bit of a speed bump. Additionally, the tubular chrome UI style of the toolbars and windows never really sat well with me. Altova is obviously trying to differentiate its products by using this look and feel across its product line, but I m not much for artsy skins and UI glitz in my dev tools. And while it s possible to consume XML designs exported from Altova s XML Spy, UModel isn t as tightly integrated into Spy as it could be. Perhaps in future versions UModel will have the kind of interaction with XML Spy that Microsoft Excel and Word currently illustrate.


Figure 4: UML diagrams can be exported to .PNG image files for electronic documentation and illustration purposes.



The final word on whether or not to consider purchasing UModel 2006 is primarily dependent on answers to the following questions:

  • What are your current expectations for a UML design tool?
  • Are you one of the fortunate few currently using a considerably more expensive, high-end modeling tool like Rational XDE hooked into an application lifecycle platform that ties models back to requirements?


If expectations are high and price is not a constraint, UModel is not for you. However, if you re like most developers constrained by real-world budgets and tight deadlines, or you simply need to begin leveraging the power of UML in communicating your next project, UModel offers an excellent introduction to the technology, much the way XML Spy did for Extensible Markup Language.


Mike Riley is an advanced computing professional specializing in emerging technologies and new development trends. He also is a contributing editor for asp.netPRO. Readers may contact Mike at mailto:[email protected].



Web Site:

Price: Starts at US$129




Import/export existing C# projects/directories.

No code generation support for VB.NET syntax.

Inexpensive compared to other commercial UML tools.

No add-in integration with Visual Studio IDE.

Supports the latest UML 2.1 diagram specifications.

No integration with XML Spy (XMI view in XML Spy, for example).

Intuitive interface.



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