Marie-Alix (a review)


On Tuesday, I saw a post on the Microsoft groups for a query tool called Marie-Alix. I am not generally drawn to people improperly announcing a tool (there are announcement groups), but I figured I would give it a try. This review contains my thoughts about the product. You can download a trial copy at Nob Software. The full version runs $99.

First Feelings

I am not fond of products with human names. I don’t feel they describe what the product does. It may be from going back a few years where I worked with a developer that named all of his ADO connection objects Fred. Nob Hill has named all of its products with people names, except one called Database Compare (they have Randolph (SQL Version Control), Columbo (Data Comparison) and Marie-Alix (Your Ultimate Gateway to Data). This is not a major point, however, if a product works.

The layout is rather simple and easy to navigate. And the product starts up with a nice set of screens that are useful to getting started quickly. I give them points on the UI interface. Now, let’s dig in and see what happens. I will start with a brief tour of how it works (a very simple walkthrough).

A Very Simple Walkthrough

When you first open the product, you are greeted with three windows. There is a data “query” window, a data source selection/query window (which requires setting up a data connection first) and a tip window. if you do not see the data source selection window, you can open it by clicking on the second icon in the toolbar. The windows look like this:

Marie-Alix-1

The first step is to create a new data source. To do this, click the create button. This brings up the following screen.

Marie-Alix-2

And you then have to click the button next to the connection string (or type one in), which brings up a very familiar looking dialog:

Marie-Alix-3

The next step is to create a query. You MUST do this step to avoid an error clicking the OK button. The query builder looks like this:

Marie-Alix-4

Aisde: This screen looks very familiar, as it is the Active Query Builder tool I used for a project earlier this year. You can find this tool at http://www.activequerybuilder.com, if you want this type of functionality ($450 for the control, $1170 for control with source). Kudos to the team for using this control, as it brings Access like query functionality to the tool.

Now, I want to get information on employees, so I drag the Person.Contact, HumanResources.Employee, HumanResources.EmployeeDepartment and HumanResources.Department table onto the main window and choose the First, Last and Middle name (contact table) and the Department name. This looks like this:

Marie-Alix-5

I can now click okay and a Grid is built for me:

Marie-Alix-6

This looks like a bug to me, but trying again reveals the data:

Marie-Alix-7

I can now save the data, the query, etc. You now have an idea of how the tool works. If I re-click the second toolbar button, it is now an edit button.

Marie-Alix-8

That is a basic rundown of the query creation and editing functionality. Now on to my thoughts.

My Feelings

In general, it feels half-baked and the feature set is not consistent. I am also not fond of having to pop open windows for simple edits, but you may feel differently about that. Some windows do dock, so this is not true of the entire product.

On a positive note, Marie-Alix worked with every database I tried it on. I have, thus far, played with SQL, Oracle, CSV, Access, MySql,, Excel and a fixed width text file (although setting up the spec for the fixed width was a bit of a pain). other than the “no display” bug, the product worked flawlessly on all of them. It also works flawlessly with updating data in a database. It is a good basic toolkit for manipulating data.

I found it was buggy on delivering results. This may be due to testing on Windows XP, so a test on Vista or Windows 7 might yield slightly better results. The having to refresh bug is not overly daunting, however, but should be fixed prior to sending out an announcement in the Microsoft newsgroups. I would also be wary, if I were the programmers, of not tagging the message with ANN: or, better yet, putting it in an announcements group. In addition, if one does get stuck, the videos on the site are about the only resource to get through, as the help file is incomplete (see below).

Now to some specific things I feel could be improved.

Too many things coupled

I think the create a connection screen should be completely decoupled from the query screen. I should be able to create a connection without having to create a query. Actually, I can, by hitting the OK button and ignoring the error, but it would be nice if this was a bit more intentional. This does not stop you from completing the standard functionality, which is very query based. I don’t work that way, however, so it is a bit of a stretch for me. Your mileage may vary.

Too many windows

Another improvement I could suggest is being able to have the option to slide out the query builder rather than reopen it. This would also facilitate being able to edit the query easily. Clicking on the button, I can easily edit my query, but why should I have to open a completely different window to make minor tweaks? Once again, this is not a major issue.

Extra work

Working with a CSV file, you have to click the discover file to get the column names. While this is not a major extra step, it should be able to automatically discover when you click that the first line contains field names.

Bugs

This is a bit more of a concern. Playing with the product I found windows that were “randomly” empty. Getting out of the window and re-clicking the button fixed the problem, but it makes the product look far less professional when data does not come up as expected and I have to redo steps to get there. This happened with nearly every data source I played with.

Documentation

The tool ships with a help file. Most of the topics are currently not written, as per this screen shot.

Marie-Alix-9 

Help is a very important function. Even though Marie-Alix is very easy to use, shipping with incomplete documentation is a negative for me (note: I am a documentation freak ;->).

Menu items

When you open Marie-Alix, you can get to menu items that do nothing. Fortunately, they do not blow up the product, but it would be nicer if inapplicable menus did not show up, or were at least grayed out, when you cannot use them. This is not a major point, but makes the UI feel incomplete, as well.

Summary

At $99, the tool does deliver the query capabilities promised. And, despite having to open windows for everything, the UI is rather intuitive. There are other tools out there, however, that can do these types of queries on multiple sources that are comparably priced, if not less expensive.

The product does not bomb out, which is refreshing as quite a few announced products get a big FAIL in this respect. If the authors could finish the help file and at least look at my points, I would feel more positive about the product. it is worth a look if you deal with multiple databases, and the fact they offer a free trial is nice, as it gives you a good look at Marie-Alix to determine if it is for you or not.

Overall, I would give the product a C- as it now stands.

Peace and Grace,
Greg

Twitter: @gbworld
Miranda’s Believe Site: http://tinyurl.com/mirandabelieve

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