September 23, 2011 3 Comments
After my previous fast-scan through a few UML tools I decided to try Visual Paradigm for UML for the following reasons:
- I knew Sparx Enterprise Architect a bit already and wanted to try something new (plus the lowest edition price was a bit lower),
- outputs look really nice compared to free alternatives (just like Sparx does, and both produce way nicer diagrams than Rational),
- I tried VP before (a few years actually), it impressed me then, and it impressed me the second time again.
I went for the Modeler Edition as I needed mostly just diagrams and nothing sophisticated behind. It all started with a bit of communication with the company about their one year support policy (simply put, without support you can get fixes, but no version upgrade, if I understand it correctly) and after that I bought one license with one-year support plan.
When I started to draw class diagrams I was satisfied with overall quality (as expected) but some features were surprisingly… well… indigested. It seemed to me like no user before me ever tried to work with gradient fills before. My creed is “nothing changes if nothing is said”, so I went on their support page and told them. There is no Jira-like open bug-tracking, but support is responsive and deals with your problems mostly in a matter of days – and I had a few more issues with my naive approach to diagrams, trust me. And all of them were solved to my satisfaction. Whow, really – for a company that has such an non-transparent issue tracking (for other users) I’d hardly expect score to be so great.
I was very happy about class, state machine and activity diagrams – though in case of activity I rather don’t like the UML notation. However I was less happy about object diagrams because it was rather complicated to get some attributes with specified values in it (far harder than adding an attribute in class diagram). Here you have to dive into dialogs and the VP magic is suddenly over. Also I didn’t like one thing about sequence diagram – I wanted to model interaction between an instance of a class – but I was not able to create life-line with just the type name (or turn of the name of the type, or something similar). In the end I rather created life-life with names I wanted (often the same as types) without actually using the existing type from the model. Maybe UML problem rather than VP’s – I don’t know – but I just didn’t want to have life-line boxes SO wide.
Apropos, so wide… all boxes have auto-size icon (bottom right corner), but when you write a long note, it wants to make it one line and extra wide. Also note text never goes under the curled corner rendering part of the box useless and always empty. And positioning of some elements is rather funny when you use grid – I had two associations between the same two classes and I wasn’t able to align cardinality number equally on both of them (to line or column, whatever the direction was). Alignment of these texts (association name, cardinality, …) somehow depends on the overall box size instead of text’s baseline. And it’s also not very easy to understand presentation settings and their defaults because some of them are checkboxes in contextual menu of the diagram (this menu is quite deep sometimes and after every change you have to open it again to switch another checkbox), but others are just actions. For instance turning off names of the association end (I display both association and attribute – and attribute is the name of the association role at the particular end) as a preferred behavior is done somewhere else (Tools/Options, but not diagram contextual menu).
And I also don’t like all the clutter in the Model explorer – this view is bloated by too many associations for instance – and you can’t tell which one is which, because it’s not so easy to find usages and show them right on the diagram (or maybe it is, but I remember doing this in Sparx EA much easier without checking the manual).
All in all, I’m happy using this software, but I didn’t realise one serious limitation. Modeler Edition is not limited only on features, but you can’t use it for commercial activity. Not even as a single person when you own it. And that is very serious limitation and suddenly makes the price too high. For just a few more bucks you can go for Enterprise Architect Desktop edition – I’m not aware of any such limitation there. And quality wise you probably don’t loose any bit.
Soon our company will evaluate where to go with our choice of UML tool – I hope for our sake we will leave Rational and use something that cares about actual usability – and Sparx EA is quite a hot candidate. Visual Paradigm seems to be very solid too, but there are less references around us, less actual users. I can use my license forever now (at least it’s perpetual) but only for some other (non-commercial) activity. Happens when you don’t read licenses properly.
Edit 19.4.2013: See comments, it seems that there is no non-commercial limitation for this edition anymore.