Over the last couple of days, I've taken a look at a couple of products I've been asked to look at. Both are tools for automation. However, they act at a bit higher level than many of the automation tools that I frequently write about here. They are more oriented to organizing complete automated processes like creating standardized builds of your software projects or compiling and burning CD's of backups automatically.
Given that these types of tasks are more in the realm of professional software development than individual tinkering. I've got a foot in both worlds, but looked at these tools the more professional view. Given that distinction, the first question most developers ask is "how much?". Both are priced as professional tools and fairly priced compared to similarly targeted tools. Both do have free trials (which is how I tried them out).
The first tool, Automise starts at $195. Automise is a general purpose automation toolkit and visual development environment. It sort of lets you chain together VBScripts, file management commands, creating zip files, etc. together, inside try/catch blocks and invoke other chains of actions as your exception handling. It does this in a more visual way than most of the scripting I usually do. This is definitely a plus if you're doing complicated automation. And, if you're doing automation on more than just your own computer, you can get some complicated tasks fairly regularly.
It's got built in actions that you can effectively drag and drop to do your automation. It grabs your existing COM objects and makes them available inthis environment. Some highlights of those built-in (as they appear on my system) bits:
- .NET precompiling of ASP.NET apps.
- CD/DVD burning
- Archive creation and manipulation (RAR, ZIP, etc)
- Executing stored procedures in MSSQL.
- Manipulating hard drives
- Defining and manipulating file sets.
- A whole lot of file operations.
- User interaction (passwords, ask questions, message boxes)
- File and folder iterators
- Extensive log file handling and formats
- Task scheduling (if 3 conditions are met, schedule a cleanup task)
- XML tools including transformation, merging and extracting.
- ActiveDirectory querying
- Network tracerouting and configuration.
- VMWare start/stop VM
- Process tools
- System restore tools
You build a project that uses those bits, wrapped in conditions, invoking other bits as your actions. Once strung together, you can run and debug your new automated process and fine tune it. In short, a very cool set of tools for taking your automated scripting *seriously*.
If you're on a deadline or are asked to accomplish specific automation goals on a daily basis, this tool can pay for itself over and over again in saved time.
The second tool is FinalBuilder comes in at $379. FinalBuilder is their build management tool. This is a bit smaller of a niche. However, if you know what build management is, you know what a pain it can be. In environments where you need to produce standardized builds of software projects, this task can often become not only a dedicated role, but there are often entire teams who spend their days doing nothing but delivering builds out of codebases.
They are the teams that put a new development build on the dev servers every morning, new test builds on the testing boxes every Monday and Wednesday morning and can roll out builds to staging and production servers as needed. They make sure that everything is identical each time these builds are done and can switch between different branches of your code.
The thing is, if you've got a tool like FinalBuilder, you can get all the benefits of having a build team, and yet have your team members doing the builds themselves. Usually, that means everyone doing it a little bit differently and never quite knowing what exactly caused the bugs: the build or the code in the build. FinalBuilder helps eliminate the human-introduced errors of the build process. As such, it's a useful tool worth taking a look at, whether you're looking to get your build team back to more interesting work or just introduce more rigor into your processes.