XML Spy 2004 Enterprise Edition
New features add to an already impressive product.
By Mike Riley
XML Spy 2004 effectively builds on what had already established its prior success. New features, built on top of an already well-received XML IDE, don't alter the interface (see Figure 1), and therefore won't disorient its existing satisfied customer base. What Altova has layered on top of its solid foundation are a bevy of new features primarily targeting the XML elite.
Figure 1. The XMLSpy editor's layout is densely informational yet effectively organized.
Besides support for the beta implementation of XPath 2.0, XML Spy 2004 now includes an XML Differencing Engine, great for quickly identifying changes between two XML files. Gone are the countless number of hours hunting down the most minute changes to manually edited XML files.
Following the trend of several other standalone Windows-based developer tools, the Enterprise Edition also includes an interface into Microsoft's Visual Studio .NET environment, effectively replacing Microsoft's XML, XSL, XSLT, DTD, and XML Schema built-in editors with the considerably more powerful Altova-developed ones.
The most impressive addition bundled into the Enterprise Edition, however, is Altova's new MapForce 2004 product (see Figure 2), a single integrated view tool designed to auto-generate custom mapping code in XSLT and Java proxy code for XML to XML and/or XML to database mapping. With the continuing rise of XML exchanges occurring between disparate databases, this tool makes the manual mapping process a thing of the past. Considering that the standalone version of MapForce costs US$499, the cost of the full XML Spy 2004 Enterprise package is quite reasonable.
Figure 2. The new MapForce 2004 XML to XML and/or XML to database mapping tool provides a single design interface that can generate code stubs in Java or XSLT.
The latest release features graphical design and code generation of XML Schema files, but unfortunately for .NET developers, this only includes facilities for Java and C++ (Visual Studio 6.0-compliant) code. More language output options are expected to be released in future updates. With Model-Driven Architecture (MDA) receiving considerable buzz these days, it would have been a progressive win for XML Spy to incorporate such functionality into their code generation facility via a UML diagram import or export. Perhaps this functionality will arrive in the 2005 edition.
Although there have been improvements made in the XSLT Stylesheet editor, this still remains the product's weakest area. This is going to continue to be a delicate, or perhaps even precarious, balance for Altova to simplify the creation of XSLT-based layouts while simultaneously serving the sophisticated needs of developers requiring deep code access to tweak the presentation layer's underlying structure. And while, as of this writing, XForms is not yet ratified as a W3C recommendation, the inclusion of an XForms editor and debugging tool would have emphasized Altova's commitment to all things XML.
Although Altova continues to outpace all of its competitors, the program is reaching a Microsoft Word-like state where the 80/20 rule is creeping into existence (80 percent of the typical user base might only be using 20 percent of the tool's capability on a day-to-day basis). However, it still reigns as the top XML editing tool in my book.
Web Site: http://www.xmlspy.com/products_ide.html