Product Review: Web projects gain control

The increasing popularity of the Internet has modified application development teams to include not only programmers but also nontechnical members whose contributions relate to content rather than to code. Traditional project-control tools target technically skilled people and often lack the simple interfaces that nontechnical contributors demand.

With the release of StarContent 4.1, StarBase promises to control the development of your Web applications with a tool that accommodates the needs of all your team members, regardless of their skill level, making project control easier, more reliable, and less expensive.

StarContent challenges software-control management tools such as Raveler, from Computer Associates, and offers great ease of use and seamless integration with the existing Windows environment.

If you are using one of the current project-control products, such as Microsoft Visual SourceSafe, your project-control data most likely is stored in proprietary archives. To keep track of your project tasks, you must set up an interface between your development tools and the project-control software.

Furthermore, to achieve an automated and comprehensive audit track of your project, all the tools used by your team must be able to interact with the project-control software. This is not always possible or practical; for example, a quick HTML correction to a Web page using Windows Notepad will probably not leave any trace in your project-control files.

StarBase's innovation shifts the focus of project control from the application to the Windows file system and, using StarContent, keeps track of all changes to your project files regardless of which tool you use to modify a file.

To achieve this, StarContent 4.1 provides a Team Server to store information about your project. There are two clients: StarTeam, for project administrators; and StarDisk, designed for any project member.

In its slimmest version, the client is the familiar Windows Explorer; StarDisk works as an extension to Windows Explorer and associates a drive letter with your project folder on the Team Server. Once you map a new drive to your folder, it will appear in Microsoft Explorer as a new removable disk that you can access just as you would any other drive.

If you are familiar with Windows Explorer, you'll find this easy; nontechnical people can manage their files without having to learn a new product. This should ease training budgets for any company.

Furthermore, you can retrieve your project files from any tool that you are comfortable with, and StarDisk will intercept the changes and flag the file status accordingly, without requiring any specialised API. For remote users, StarContent provides a browser-based client that can link to project files via the Internet and has capabilities similar to those in StarDisk.

The easy version of the client should satisfy most needs, but your most technical users and project administration staff will probably need the sophisticated features of StarTeam for tasks such as configuring a project tree, managing security, and auditing a project.

Your project files can be stored in any of the major databases, and the server offers several configuration options to tailor the product to your requirements. For a large installation, you have the option to allocate multiple servers and spread the load. And if you want StarContent to coexist with Microsoft Visual Source Safe or with PVCS, Star-Base provides the APIs to do so.

The innovative approach in StarContent has many positive aspects that can benefit your development. By the end of the year, for example, the company plans to improve control over the workflow and further automate the bug-detection and correction cycle.

If you feel that current software-control management products don't quite fit the bill for your Web development projects, take a look at StarContent 4.1 and begin a new way of managing Web projects.

Technology snalyst Mario Apicella can be reached at mario_apicella@infoworld.comTHE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOODStarContent 4.1Summary: This software configuration management (SCM) solution can help development teams rein in their Web projects. Although not specifically designed for Web development, StarContent's capability to keep the history of changes of any project file, however modified, makes it especially valuable for nontechnical contributors. This is due to its integration with the Windows file system and Windows Explorer.

Business Case: The promise of a central SCM product with clients differentiated according to the technical skill of the user has great appeal for companies that want to save on training costs. In addition, StarContent's pricing scheme is one order of magnitude lower than for similar tools on the high end of the market.

Pros

+ Easy to install and use

+ Scalable compression/encryption-capable server+ API integration with Microsoft Visual Source Safe and MKSCons- Available only for Windows platformCost: $US4995 for five clients; $399 for each additional clientPlatform: Windows NT Server; Windows 95/98, Windows NT or Web browser for clients

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