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Review - Apex SQL Edit

By Brian Kelley,

Introduction

ApexSQL Edit is designed as an all-in-one Integrated Development Environment (IDE) for SQL Server. Including features like SourceSafe integration, Intellisense, data editing, and standard code formatting, along with Favorites (!), it is a significant upgrade from Microsoft's provided Query Analyzer. While the look and feel is very similar to Query Analyzer, ApexSQL Edit is a much more powerful application including many of the things developers have asked for in Query Analyzer over the years.

Environment

ApexSQL Edit runs on Windows NT 4 SP3+ as well as Windows 2000, XP, and 2003. It requires MDAC 2.7 or higher, the SQL-DMO object library, and the Microsoft.NET Framework 1.1. Minimum hardware specifications given by the vendor are a Pentium 133 with 64 MB of RAM (128 MB preferred), and 10.8 MB of hard disk space required (12.0 MB preferred). A mouse and SVGA monitor is necessary.

Installation

ApexSQL Edit comes with a standard installer. In order to activate the product, you must have a key from ApexSQL. Otherwise the software is limited to a 15 day trial version.

Using ApexSQL Edit

When first starting up, ApexSQL Edit prompts for the SQL Server to connect to. This is basically the same dialog box as with Query Analyzer. Once the server connection is made, the main interface comes up. As Figure 1 shows, it's very similar to Query Analyzer. Do note, however, one significant addition and that is the Favorites underneath Northwind. Favorites is listed for every database and you can choose particular tables, views, stored procedures, etc. and put them in Favorites for quick access. This can be helpful if your database has a lot of tables and you only need to refer to a few on a regular basis.

Figure 1: Main Interface

Entering queries is much the same as with Query Analyzer. However, one key feature in ApexSQL Edit is IntelliSense (though ApexSQL calls it Object Memberlists for obvious reasons), as shown in Figure 2. ApexSQL Edit can assist with creating queries by doing a lookup on the objects and presenting a list. Figure 3 shows IntelliSense at the column level. 

Figure 2: IntelliSense on the Object Name

Figure 3: IntelliSense on the Column Name

Also note how ApexSQL Edit does statement outlining for the query much as Visual Studio.NET does for a block of code. I can expand or collapse certain sections of code simply by clicking on the + or - respectively. For simple queries this doesn't make a lot of difference but for large ones consisting of many lines it can be very helpful. Not only does ApexSQL add this feature found in most newer IDEs, but in the event of an error in a query, ApexSQL Edit does a good job of marking exactly where the error occurred (Figure 4). Note the red mark and squiggly line. In my code I've forgotten an operator in the second part of the WHERE clause.  Gone are the days of getting a line number back in Query Analyzer and trying to figure out exactly what piece of code is broke.

Figure 4: Error Clearly Marked

Thus far I've only covered parts of ApexSQL Edit that are similar in functionality to what Query Analyzer offers. ApexSQL Edit does most all of what Query Analyzer does with respect to displaying execution plans and the like, but one nice feature it has is the ability to create a query visually. If you have folks that aren't super strong on their SQL skills or just prefer an interface similar to Microsoft Access or SQL Server Enterprise Manager, ApexSQL Edit provides Visual Query (Figure 5).  You can access Visual Query either by Query | Visual Query, hitting the F11 key, or clicking the appropriate icon on the toolbar. ApexSQL Edit will automatically translate anything created using Visual Query into the appropriate T-SQL code (Figure 6).

Figure 5: Visual Query Interface

Figure 6: T-SQL Code Generated from Visual Query

One last feature I'll touch on is Visual SourceSafe (VSS) integration. Unlike Query Analyzer, ApexSQL Edit can interface with Visual SourceSafe and does it quite well. In figure 7 I'm attempting to check out the Customer table in the AdventureWorks2000 database. Notice all of the table names are in red. The color indicates the objects are under source control. ApexSQL Edit has full integration with Visual SourceSafe. It handles checking in and out files, applying labels on check in, synchronizing with the VSS database, etc. 

Figure 7: Visual SourceSafe Integration

First Impressions

ApexSQL Edit is a product I really like. To be quite honest, my two main tools for building queries have been the provided Query Analyzer and a shareware text editor, TextPad. I've tried a lot of other query editors and wasn't satisfied for one reason or another. Most of the time I either felt certain features found in Query Analyzer were lacking in the product or the price of the product didn't justify its purchase when the features were compared with the two tools I already had. Needless to say, I went into this review skeptical. Other products hadn't made a strong impression on me and I didn't figure ApexSQL Edit would either. I was wrong.

The very first feature to catch my eye was IntelliSense. There's nothing so frustrating as chewing out a bit of code and trying to remember if this particular database has a table named Customer (singular) or Customers (plural). IntelliSense is designed to catch things like that. IntelliSense helps a developer get the names right, hence its inclusion in Visual Studio 6 and the Visual Studio.NET versions. Another DBA who was looking over my shoulder as I began my initial tests blurted out, "It has IntelliSense? Oh man, that's awesome!" I felt the same way. 

The next feature I was really impressed with was the Visual SourceSafe integration. This is one major feature I feel Query Analyzer is lacking. I have built-in Visual SourceSafe integration with my Visual Studio packages and I was hoping Microsoft was going to add it to SQL Server 2000's version of QA when we didn't see it in 7.0's. That didn't happen. As a result, many organizations were forced to create manual processes to handle source control with VSS and SQL scripts. While there are now other third party products on the market that do VSS integration for SQL Server, ApexSQL Edit's functionality works great . 

Conclusions

Overall I think ApexSQL Edit is a nice improvement over Query Analyzer, enough so that I'm starting to switch to it myself. The price is relatively low and the features are numerous. Probably the only drawback I saw for some is the requirement to have the .NET Framework. However, as more and more products use the .NET Framework (to include SQL Server 2005), this becomes less of a concern. If you need SourceSafe integration, take a look at this editor. There are a few others on the market that do perform VSS integration, however all of them have different feature sets. ApexSQL Edit does a good job of VSS integration and the other features over Query Analyzer make it worthy of consideration. 

There were quite a few features I didn't have the space to cover in this review such as autoreplacements, Reporting Services integration, and more that you'll probably want to check out for yourself. And with ApexSQL's rapid roll-out schedules, more features are being added constantly. Now there are some features in Query Analyzer that I didn't see in the version of ApexSQL Edit I was reviewing. These would be the ability to create templates and the object search feature. The ApexSQL Edit documentation includes them (though they are starred) so I assume they are forthcoming.

Ratings

Here is how I rate this product:

Category Rating

Comments

Ease of Use 5 If you're used to Query Analyzer, you already have a leg up.
Feature Set 5 The product's features work as advertised. This is a significant upgrade on Query Analyzer.
Lack of Bugs 4 An update was available while I was doing the review which did a better job at catching unhandled exceptions for reporting back to ApexSQL. This update had an issue when first starting the program. However, ApexSQL provided a corrected build the same day.
Value 5 At US$199, this product is well worth the money. The site license is very reasonable, too.
Technical Support 5 With the discovery of a problem I was able to email ApexSQL about the bug and got an immediate answer back from technical support. I was provided a new build immediately.
Documentation 4 Standard, solid documentation. All you should need to use the product.
Performance 5 Overall this product performed beyond my initial expectations.
Installation 5 A smooth install. Very quick turn around time to get the license key and I was up and running. Upgrade to 2.8.0.0 was seamless.
Learning Curve 4 Much of the product looks and feels like Query Analyzer or is very intuitive. However, the advanced features do require some time to be spent learning them. For instance, Query Analyzer has no capabilities for integrating with Visual SourceSafe and as a result this is a whole new process for some DBAs.

Product Information

ApexSQL Edit is available from ApexSQL.

Product: ApexSQL Edit
Company: ApexSQL
Version: 2.8.0.0
Single License Price: US$199
Support/Upgrades: Support is free and product upgrades are free for life.
Vendor's Product Page: http://www.apexsql.com/sql_tools_edit.htm 

 

 © 2004 by K. Brian Kelley. http://www.truthsolutions.com/
 Author of Start to Finish Guide to SQL Server Performance Monitoring (http://www.netimpress.com).

Total article views: 7663 | Views in the last 30 days: 2
 
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