Product Reviews

Drag-Drop Programming

Visual Workbench comes close to allowing you to code by dragging objects in the Visual Studio IDE.

The idea behind Visual Workbench is intriguing: to program in Visual Studio by just manipulating objects on a flowchart. Unfortunately, although the idea is there, the implementation doesn't yet strike me as compelling.

The product is well-integrated into Visual Studio, and presents its drawing canvas with its own toolbar, icons, shortcut menus, and so on. Creating flows of control or branching constructs is pretty easy, though I kept expecting to do more dragging and less typing. And the created code seems to work, although I did get into a strange state where the XML being saved couldn't be parsed at one point.

And that's where the drawbacks lie. The visual interface here is built on top of a bunch of XML files that Visual Workbench keeps track of yourself. These are processed by a runtime engine that embeds its own code objects into your procedures. And in turn, it all depends on the MSXML 4.0 parser (which, oddly, is not included in the installation even though it's redistributable). The whole adds up to a structure just fragile enough to scare me, and with enough implementation details showing through the flowcharts to confuse beginners.

If Visual Workbench has a niche, I think it will be developers who are intrigued with the idea of visual programming but who don't want to learn the intricacies of UML. That may be a fairly narrow market segment to aim for, but with a bit more polish and some way to hide the messy details, this could be a workable alternative. You can learn more and download a trial version at the company's Web site.

About the Author

Mike Gunderloy, MCSE, MCSD, MCDBA, is a former MCP columnist and the author of numerous development books.

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