Radical Development

Technical Without the Technicalities

Tools of the Trade: February 2010

As a software engineer there are a number of tools that I use on a daily basis to both increase productivity and make my job easier. Each month I will discuss products that I either currently use, have used in the past, and what I am hearing is the next best product.

Products may include but are not limited to shareware, freeware, commercial, and open source. I will not be targeting any on aspect of software engineering rather I will suggest tools and products that can also make you much more productive in your day to day activities.

Redgate .NET Reflector

Cost: Free

This is a gem and I have been using it for many years going back to the days when Lutz Roeder owned this product before turning it over to Redgate. Kudos for Redgate on maintaining this product and keeping it free!

Description: NET Reflector enables you to easily view, navigate, and search through the class hierarchies of .NET assemblies, even if you don’t have the code for them. With it, you can decompile and analyze .NET assemblies in C#, Visual Basic, and IL.

Feature List:

  1. Full support for .NET 1.0, 1.1, 2.0, 3.0, and 3.5
  2. Windows Shell Integration – Run Reflector.exe /register to register file extension
  3. Assembly lists for .NET 1.0, 1.1, 2.0, 3.0, 3.5, Compact Framework 2.0, Compact Framework 3.5, XNA framework, Silverlight, Mono, and Direct X for Managed Code
  4. Click navigation of source code
  5. Find where types are exposed or instantiated
  6. Expand methods
  7. Linq query expression support
  8. Lambda expression support
  9. Anonymous methods and nullable type support
  10. Extension method support
  11. Context-sensitive documentation view
  12. Find virtual method overrides
  13. Code URL support – Navigate to code://mscorlib/System.Object in IE
  14. Explore resources in assemblies

Summary:

If you ever find yourself needing to peek inside an assembly then I believe you will be hard pressed to find a comparable product for the same cost (which is FREE). Also another benefit is the ability to to incorporate a number of useful add-ins found at the CodePlex community. If you have never used Reflector then I highly suggest taking the time to evaluate this product.

Ghostdoc

Cost: Free

Description: GhostDoc is a free Visual Studio extension that automatically generates XML documentation comments for methods and properties based on their type, parameters, name, and other contextual information. When generating documentation for class derived from a base class or for interface implementation (e.g. .NET Framework or your custom framework), GhostDoc will use the documentation that Microsoft or the framework vendor has already written for the base class or interface. Originally owned by Roland Weigelt, he turned this product over to SubMain who has pledged to maintain and distributed the product free of charge.

Feature List:

  1. Generates XML comments based on code element type, parameters, name, and other contextual information
  2. For a derived class uses the base class documentation
  3. Assignable shortcut (default Ctrl-Shift-D)
  4. Configurable rules, acronyms and macros
  5. Import/Export of the configuration and the rules
  6. Option to re-build documentation

Summary:

If you are documenting your work and you know that you should be then this product can greatly assist in completing this task. It is simple to install and better yet it is very simple to use. Do not miss this one!

JetBrains Resharper

Cost: Free – $349

Description: ReSharper provides solution-wide error highlighting on the fly, instant solutions for found errors, over 30 advanced code refactorings, superior unit testing tools, handy navigation and search features, single-click code formatting and cleanup, automatic code generation and templates, and a lot more productivity features for C#, VB.NET, ASP.NET, XML, and XAML.

Feature List:

Check out the detailed Feature Map for yourself.

Summary:

Bottom line is you write code within the Visual Studio .NET IDE then you really should give this product a look and determine if it is a fit. While there are similar products in the market, I find myself turning back to Resharper time and time again.

Balsamiq UI Mockup

Cost: Free – $79

Description: This product I ran across while reading the January 2010 edition of MSDN Magazine in Scott Mitchell’s Toolbox editor. I have not tried this product myself but I intend to do so in the near future. Using Balsamiq Mockups feels like you are drawing, but it’s digital, so you can tweak and rearrange controls easily, and the end result is much cleaner. Teams can come up with a design and iterate over it in real-time in the course of a meeting. Product managers, designers, developers and even clients can now work together in the same tool to quickly iterate over software mockups, before writing code.

Feature List:

  1. Fast, intuitive user interface
  2. Seventy-Five Ready-to-Use Controls
  3. Shortcuts Everywhere
  4. Property Inspectors: Always Nearby, Never in Your Way
  5. Unlimited Undo and Redo

Summary:

As Scott stated, you can use other such as Microsoft Visio or Visual Studio Designer, but showing non-technical stakeholders a polished mockup may lead them to believe the work is nearly done.

This product looks to be very promising. The fact that these mockups look as though they were hand drawn is impressive. Balsamiq offers an engaged user community, robust help and tutorials, as well as frequently asked questions.

Have you personally used any of these products? If so, how have they helped you? Do you have a tool that you just cannot live without, then leave a comment and share it with others.