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A review of Teamplate 4.0, PrimalCode 3.0 and Microsoft Virtual PC 2004

Workflow software hits a home run: A review of Teamplate 4.0

Teamplate 4.0
Cost: starts at $15,000
Captaris
Calgary, Alberta
http://www.teamplate.com
Rating: 5 out of 5

Teamplate is, at heart, workflow software designed to integrate with Microsoft products. In use, it presents a graphic view with buttons to launch each stage of a workflow process. Teamplate keeps track of which steps have been completed and won't let users do anything out of order; there are business rules to control branching and actions that can happen automatically when a step is completed. Behind the scenes, the product integrates with most everything: Office, Outlook, Exchange, Visio, InfoPath, Active Directory, CMS, BizTalk Server, IIS, SharePoint, etc.

Working within the Teamplate IDE, you can string together pre-defined actions, create custom actions, build Web and Windows forms, and write code easily, though it can be overwhelming to a new developer. Generally, the company backs up an installation with training, and there is a good set of samples and tutorials available. With a bit of poking around I was able to load up a pre-build model and make some changes to it.

There are places where Teamplate writes the code for you. Drop a Word document set up for mail merge into a Teamplate model, and it can extract the merge fields and create an XML document to hold the information. With some dragging and clicking you can build a form that creates an XML document of the right structure. Connect the two and you get a form that flows into the mail merge. Drag a stock action in and an automatic e-mail is sent when the process is completed. You can write code behind everything if you want, but in many cases you won't need to.

With a serious price, this is not a system for a small shop. But if you're supporting knowledge workers in a large business that is committed to the Microsoft platform, it is definitely worth a look. By adding workflow capabilities to the standard MS Office apps, along with .NET customizations, Teamplate has the potential to let you automate processes, instead of filling in documents. That can save a lot of money in the long run.

 

IDE horse of a different color: A review of PrimalCode 3.0

PrimalCode 3.0
Cost: $249
Sapien Technologies
Napa, Calif.
http://www.sapien.com
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

One thing I didn't predict about .NET is the number of IDEs that would be developed to edit your .NET code. PrimalCode -- from Sapien, makers of the well-regarded PrimalScript scripting tool --is such a beast. They call this a code-oriented IDE, which is another way to say there aren't any visual designers here. Of course, everything in .NET is transparent in the source code. You certainly can build a Windows form or a Web form without a WYSIWYG designer, but developers familiar with Visual Studio .NET will probably find this jarring.

But this doesn't mean PrimalCode is a toy environment. Rather, it's quite a heavy-duty environment that has more flexibility than VS .NET in some areas (and less in others). For example, you can create PSP, ASP or JSP Web sites as easily as ASP.NET sites or C# class libraries (among many other possibilities). There are also, as you might expect from the company's heritage, good ways to manage script projects.

You'll find good support for PrimalSense (pretty close to IntelliSense), code snippets and tag completion. The IDE includes a lot of extra tools as well, like an OLE class library browser, a WMI Wizard and a macro recorder. There are also lots of ways to customize the editing environment. Source code control and flexible deployment options are also included, as well as support for Web services, Windows services and control libraries. The entire disk footprint is under 10 MB as well.

I don't think PrimalCode is going to replace Visual Studio .NET for developers using the high-end VS .NET editions. But for developers who have to deal with a variety of projects, from scripting to traditional Web sites to ASP.NET, it offers an interesting alternative. You can download a trial version from the company's Web site if you want to take it for a spin yourself.

 

Emulation software priced to sell: A review of Microsoft Virtual PC 2004

Microsoft Virtual PC 2004
Cost: $129
Microsoft Corp.
Redmond, Wash.
http://www.microsoft.com
Rating: 3 out of 5

Virtual PC 2004 is Microsoft's first version of this app, which it acquired with Connectix. Though Microsoft's real focus may be to set up a way to migrate aging Windows NT servers into some Windows 2003- (or Longhorn-) based product, they've kept this consumer version alive and dropped the price substantially.

Virtual PC is emulation software; it lets you run a window on your system, and inside that you can run another OS. Microsoft limits the supported OSs inside of VMs to Windows, DOS and OS/2. There is an 'other' setting that lets you install anything you want, so it's not an anti-Linux conspiracy; it's just not something Redmond cares to support. On the plus side, running a Microsoft OS inside a Microsoft VM on a Microsoft OS means you have a single point of contact for support.

This version offers reasonable hardware support. You can connect four real network cards from the host box to the VM (there's no virtual network, though), and use things like the sound card, drives and ports. Virtual PC doesn't share well with the host OS. There's limited support for USB keyboards and mice, but not for other USB devices. Custom video drivers and SCSI devices aren't supported.

Virtual PC's drives are flexible. You can create fixed-size or dynamic disks, or link directly to a disk. You can also create a ''Differencing virtual hard disk,'' which allows multiple users to share the same disk image, or undo disks to return to a point in time. The Virtual PC CD-ROM can use the CD-ROM or mount an ISO image. I tried Virtual PC on a Windows 2000 Server machine, and installed Windows 2000 Pro in a VM. Installation went smoothly, and performance was adequate.

Virtual PC 2004 seems like a good alternative for most virtual machine needs. It lacks some of the high-end features of VMWare, but it has been priced to sell. It will be interesting to see the amount of resources Microsoft puts into this market.

About the Author

Mike Gunderloy has been developing software for a quarter-century now, and writing about it for nearly as long. He walked away from a .NET development career in 2006 and has been a happy Rails user ever since. Mike blogs at A Fresh Cup.

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