Welcome!

Eclipse Authors: David H Deans, Liz McMillan, JP Morgenthal, Mano Marks, Yeshim Deniz

Related Topics: Eclipse, Open Source Cloud

Eclipse: Product Review

WireframeSketcher: An Eclipse Plug-In

A simple and affordable solution for development shops

Eclipse Platform on Ulitzer

Presently, I am the administrator of SCM AllFusion Harvest. SCM AllFusion Harvest is a process-based Software Configuration Management (SCM) tool for managing application source code. I manage 130 applications housed in SCM AllFusion Harvest and support 200 users using the product. The development tools we currently use in our development environment are PowerBuilder PBV8, PBV11; Visual Studio 2003, 2005, 2008; and Eclipse Europa.

As the Software Configuration Manager (SCM), I provide the administration of the source code management tool. This includes creating the Harvest environments, developing life cycles, environment phases, processes, users, user groups, access to environments, loading repositories, documentation; maintaining build machines; providing best practices; and training all users on proper source code management using the development tools in our environment.

This article will focus on a product called WireframeSketcher developed by Peter Severin. When Peter first contacted me several months ago to write an article about his product I was hesitant at first:

  1. This is not a product that I personally would use.
  2. I generally write about products that I know, have used and like.
  3. I'm not a developer so I was concerned about accurately defining and describing the product to the user community.
  4. I wanted to be able to write something that would do justice to the product.

After some dialogue with Peter, I decided to write the article from a broad viewpoint with Peter's help in ensuring the product was defined and described accurately to the user community. He understood my reluctance and agreed to support me on the effort to review his product. I'm pleased that we decided to take this approach as it helped me to understand his product better; this article provided a forum by which he could tell the user community how wonderful this product is and how it can help a developer quickly create prototypes for any development work that needs to be tackled. This product streamlines that process and cuts cost, time, energy, effort, and resources for any organization and, in these difficult economic times, saving money can mean saving jobs and keeping overhead down. As I began to understand the value of this product, I quickly realized the need to make sure that the development community at large is aware of this diamond in the rough.

I want to begin with a couple of observations about the product before I get into the product overview. I am a fan of products that:

  1. Are easy to use
  2. Interface easily into other development tools
  3. Work right out of the box without a lot of overhead

If a product doesn't have any of these attributes, I find that most organizations won't use them because they just don't have the time to invest all their resources into learning a product. If they are too labor-intensive, no one will use them and that certainly defeats the purpose of using the tool in the first place.

As I have stated in previous articles, the easier the tool is to use the more likely that folks will use it; especially if it integrates seamlessly with other products. WireframeSketcher falls into the low overhead product category for me. This is a very easy product to use. I felt at first view that this tool was easy to understand, use and implement, so cheers to Peter for understanding the marketplace and developers' needs.

Description
WireframeSketcher allows you to quickly create wireframes and mockups right within the Eclipse IDE. Wireframes are put together by laying out pre-drawn widgets using a familiar drag-and-drop interface. There are widgets to represent buttons, combos, trees, tables and many more. While dragging widgets conveniently snaps to nearby edges, which makes the layout task quick and efficient.

Created wireframes have an intentionally bare look to them so they can't be mistaken for a real application (see Figure 1). This is important for getting good feedback on function and not on presentation. In this phase you don't want to spend a lot of your time with customers arguing about the choice of colors or button graphics. It's all about the desired functionality at this point.

Wireframes and mockups can be quickly exported to PNG so that they can be used in your own documents, sent by email, or uploaded into your issue-tracking software. Being able to secure and control your wireframes and mockups is a wonderful feature. It provides efficiency and precludes the loss of any development activity during the design phase.

Wireframe files use an open XML format, which is great for placing them under version control and sharing them with the rest of the team. This is what I'm all about - securing and controlling any asset that at the end of the day either becomes an organization's profit or is an asset that becomes the family jewels, as I like to call them. If it were not for these assets being secured and controlled, the organization's effectiveness to its customer base would be at risk.

Installing the Plug-In
The plug-in is fairly easy to install thanks to the Eclipse update manager. Just add the specified update site and the Eclipse IDE will take care of the rest.

The Eclipse IDE is not the only option and you can install WireframeSketcher on a wide variety of development tools: Aptana Studio, Zend Studio, MyEclipse, Flex Builder and probably other Eclipse-based tools.

User Interface
WireframeSketcher comes with a Sketching perspective that conveniently arranges all the essential views and hides everything else (see Figure 2).

The views you are working with are:

  • Project Explorer is where you can see the contents of your projects. Wireframe files (files with .screen extensions) use a distinctive icon.
  • Palette is where all the available widgets are. Widgets are organized in several categories for quick access.
  • Outline view gives a handy overview by listing all widgets used in the current screen.
  • Properties view lets you quickly inspect and change the properties of selected widgets. Most actions can be done in a single click.
  • The Eclipse IDE allows you to customize every aspect of this layout. If you prefer the palette on the left, that is easily accomplished. You can do more advanced things like floating the Properties view or auto-hiding the palette.

Widget Library
WireframeSketcher comes with more than 45 widgets, which should cover most of your needs. There are buttons, check boxes, trees and tables, etc. (see Figure 3).

The text displayed by widgets can be easily changed by simply editing it in place. The Image widget allows you to insert your own resources such as logos. It also can be used as the last resort for inserting elements that are not provided by the library. With just one click you can turn your color image to black and white to make it blend with the overall look of the wireframe.

There are widgets that simplify the task of annotating mockups. You can easily add a post-it note with some comments or insert call-outs that you can refer to later in your own documents (see Figure 4).

Advanced Features
A unique feature of this software is how it handles masters. Masters is a common functionality that lets you share bits across multiple screens. When wireframing a website, you'll usually want to use masters for page headers and footers.

With WireframeSketcher users do not have to worry about defining masters up front. Instead, screens are simply created and if the user wishes to reuse a screen as a master, the screen is inserted as a "Master Screen" object anywhere on a new screen.

What is also interesting is that with this approach, users can combine multiple master screens, getting even more flexibility.

Another advanced feature is the possibility to use a wiki-like syntax to style widgets. You can do basic things like making bits of text bold, italic or underlined, but also some advanced stuff like creating links and inserting icons (see Figure 5 and Figure 6). The possibility to insert icons is particularly interesting as it gives widgets a lot of flexibility.

Storyboarding
What sets WireframeSketcher apart from other products of this nature is its storyboarding mode. Basically, wireframes can be organized in a linear fashion into presentable stories. This feature is the middle of the road between static wireframes and full-fledged interactive prototypes. With storyboards you can easily show how the interface changes as a result of user actions (see Figure 7). Things like dynamic pages controlled by AJAX can be easily formalized with this approach.

Presentation Mode
WireframeSketcher comes with a built-in presentation viewer. It works in similar fashion with the slideshow feature found in PowerPoint. Just hit F5 to open your mockups or storyboards in full screen. This is particularly useful when working with a projector and it allows users to get useful feedback without resorting to an external tool.

Behind the Scenes
WireframeSketcher was started in 2008 by Peter Severin, a developer based in Romania. Peter runs what's called a MicroISV - a one-man software shop.

The nice thing about this product is that you can talk directly to the developer without jumping through hoops, as is often the case with big companies. The product is essentially shaped by user feedback.

WireframeSketcher is a commercial product; however, Peter freely donates licenses to non-profits and to people involved in non-commercial activities. The commercial nature of this project lets the developer stay motivated and update and evolve the product on a regular basis. If you follow the product blog you'll see that releases are made every two weeks, which keeps the product fresh and up to date with user feedback.

Conclusion
Eclipse is the tool of choice for many software developers and wireframing should be an integral part of the development process. WireframeSketcher allows developers to effortlessly extend their toolbox with a high-quality wireframing solution. The Eclipse platform makes the same tool available on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. The availability of WireframeSketcher is not limited to Eclipse and it can be easily installed for Aptana Studio, Flex Builder, MyEclipse, Zend Studio, and other Eclipse-based tools.

I found this product easy-to-use with a straightforward GUI. It makes use of standard activities and functionality that developers use regularly. WireframeSketcher integrates into the Eclipse IDE seamlessly. It's a simple and affordable solution for development shops that I think is worth a look.

Resources

More Stories By Al Soucy

Al Soucy is software configuration manager at the State of New Hampshire's Department of Information Technology (DoIT). In that role Al manages software configuration for dozens of PowerBuilder applications as well as applications written in Java, .NET, and COBOL (yes, COBOL). Al plays bass guitar, acoustic guitar, electric rhythm/lead guitar, drums, mandolin, keyboard; he sings lead and back up vocals and he has released 8 CDs.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
SYS-CON Events announced today that Datera, that offers a radically new data management architecture, has been named "Exhibitor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo ®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Datera is transforming the traditional datacenter model through modern cloud simplicity. The technology industry is at another major inflection point. The rise of mobile, the Internet of Things, data storage and Big...
Because IoT devices are deployed in mission-critical environments more than ever before, it’s increasingly imperative they be truly smart. IoT sensors simply stockpiling data isn’t useful. IoT must be artificially and naturally intelligent in order to provide more value In his session at @ThingsExpo, John Crupi, Vice President and Engineering System Architect at Greenwave Systems, will discuss how IoT artificial intelligence (AI) can be carried out via edge analytics and machine learning techn...
Everything run by electricity will eventually be connected to the Internet. Get ahead of the Internet of Things revolution and join Akvelon expert and IoT industry leader, Sergey Grebnov, in his session at @ThingsExpo, for an educational dive into the world of managing your home, workplace and all the devices they contain with the power of machine-based AI and intelligent Bot services for a completely streamlined experience.
In his session at @ThingsExpo, Arvind Radhakrishnen discussed how IoT offers new business models in banking and financial services organizations with the capability to revolutionize products, payments, channels, business processes and asset management built on strong architectural foundation. The following topics were covered: How IoT stands to impact various business parameters including customer experience, cost and risk management within BFS organizations.
SYS-CON Events announced today that CA Technologies has been named "Platinum Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place October 31-November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. CA Technologies helps customers succeed in a future where every business - from apparel to energy - is being rewritten by software. From planning to development to management to security, CA creates software that fuels transformation for companies in the applic...
From 2013, NTT Communications has been providing cPaaS service, SkyWay. Its customer’s expectations for leveraging WebRTC technology are not only typical real-time communication use cases such as Web conference, remote education, but also IoT use cases such as remote camera monitoring, smart-glass, and robotic. Because of this, NTT Communications has numerous IoT business use-cases that its customers are developing on top of PaaS. WebRTC will lead IoT businesses to be more innovative and address...
SYS-CON Events announced today that CA Technologies has been named “Platinum Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place October 31-November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. CA Technologies helps customers succeed in a future where every business – from apparel to energy – is being rewritten by software. From planning to development to management to security, CA creates software that fuels transformation for companies in the applic...
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place October 31 - November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 21st Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal and enterprise IT since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago. All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devic...
WebRTC is great technology to build your own communication tools. It will be even more exciting experience it with advanced devices, such as a 360 Camera, 360 microphone, and a depth sensor camera. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Masashi Ganeko, a manager at INFOCOM Corporation, will introduce two experimental projects from his team and what they learned from them. "Shotoku Tamago" uses the robot audition software HARK to track speakers in 360 video of a remote party. "Virtual Teleport" uses a...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Calligo has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Calligo is an innovative cloud service provider offering mid-sized companies the highest levels of data privacy. Calligo offers unparalleled application performance guarantees, commercial flexibility and a personalized support service from its globally located cloud platform...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Elastifile will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Elastifile Cloud File System (ECFS) is software-defined data infrastructure designed for seamless and efficient management of dynamic workloads across heterogeneous environments. Elastifile provides the architecture needed to optimize your hybrid cloud environment, by facilitating efficient...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cloudistics, an on-premises cloud computing company, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Launched in 2016, Cloudistics helps anyone bring the power of the cloud to the data center in an easy-to-use, on- premises cloud platform that automatically provides high performance resources for all types of applications: Docke...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Golden Gate University will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Since 1901, non-profit Golden Gate University (GGU) has been helping adults achieve their professional goals by providing high quality, practice-based undergraduate and graduate educational programs in law, taxation, business and related professions. Many of its courses are taug...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Golden Gate University will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Since 1901, non-profit Golden Gate University (GGU) has been helping adults achieve their professional goals by providing high quality, practice-based undergraduate and graduate educational programs in law, taxation, business and related professions. Many of its courses are taug...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Secure Channels, a cybersecurity firm, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Secure Channels, Inc. offers several products and solutions to its many clients, helping them protect critical data from being compromised and access to computer networks from the unauthorized. The company develops comprehensive data encryption security strategie...
Recently, WebRTC has a lot of eyes from market. The use cases of WebRTC are expanding - video chat, online education, online health care etc. Not only for human-to-human communication, but also IoT use cases such as machine to human use cases can be seen recently. One of the typical use-case is remote camera monitoring. With WebRTC, people can have interoperability and flexibility for deploying monitoring service. However, the benefit of WebRTC for IoT is not only its convenience and interopera...
SYS-CON Events announced today that SkyScale will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. SkyScale is a world-class provider of cloud-based, ultra-fast multi-GPU hardware platforms for lease to customers desiring the fastest performance available as a service anywhere in the world. SkyScale builds, configures, and manages dedicated systems strategically located in maximum-security...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Datera will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Datera offers a radically new approach to data management, where innovative software makes data infrastructure invisible, elastic and able to perform at the highest level. It eliminates hardware lock-in and gives IT organizations the choice to source x86 server nodes, with business model option...
21st International Cloud Expo, taking place October 31 - November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy. Me...
SYS-CON Events announced today that DXWorldExpo has been named “Global Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Digital Transformation is the key issue driving the global enterprise IT business. Digital Transformation is most prominent among Global 2000 enterprises and government institutions.