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Jolt Awards 2014: The Best Utilities

, August 05, 2014 The best programming utilities of the year
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Finalist: Altova Mission Kit 2014

Altova Mission Kit is comprehensive toolkit for working with data in a variety of formats: XML, XBRL, data in databases, and text. It's sort of the Swiss army knife of data manipulation.

The flagship product, XMLSpy, enables you to look at an XML document as a table, and you can sort this table according to the contents of any column. The element and attribute names are the column headers, and the element occurrences are the rows of the table. In addition, the product's intelligent editing features are good, with nifty auto-completion and the ability to navigate from the XML document to its Schema/DTD, possibly tweak it — and go back.

Another useful tool bundled in the kit is MapForce, which Altova accurately describes as an "any-to-any graphical data mapping, conversion, and integration tool that maps data between any combination of XML, database, flat file, EDI, Excel, XBRL, and/or Web service, then transforms data or auto-generates royalty-free data integration code for the execution of recurrent conversions." While it's sometimes easy to write quick and dirty scripts to convert data from one format to the other, MapForce's ability to display the changes and the mapping and enable developers to play with it until it's exactly right before generating the code is a big benefit.

The MapForce tool includes a library of string-manipulation routines, logical functions, and constants that enable filtering of incoming data and allows you to check the filter results immediately within the IDE before committing them to code.

The Mission Kit also includes utilities for report generation using SQL and XBRL, UML drawings, and a diff utility for comparing text and, of course, code.

Visual representation of the pieces is very well thought out. Functionality can be accessed via menus, icons, and keyboard short-cuts. Icons are intuitive and feel natural. The documentation is clear, complete, and walks you through the steps — illustrated with many snapshots. This is a very usable and helpful collection of practical utilities.

— Atul Khot

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