Earlier this January, Telelogic announced the availability of a free UML modeling tool. Telelogic is the producer of the MDD tool Telelogic Tau which is geared towards development of large, complex IT applications, and, after acquiring I-Logix in March 2006, also provides the embedded systems MDD tool, Rhapsody.
The Modeler is essentially the full-blown Tau tool with a many of the features blocked. The tools seems capable but is still steeped in the Tau philosophy. After a few hours of kicking the tires, I’ve found myself more frustrated than satisfied. I think this has more to do with my advanced modeling needs rather that the tool itself. If you are a user looking for a modeler and are not concerned about methodology, this may prove to be a reasonable choice. If you want to learn the basic modeling features of the Tau tool, this would also be a good choice.
Another issue I have with Tau Modeler – as is the case with most tools which are handicapped versions of the full-blown tools – is that they really are about marketing: Give the users something for free that comes just short of meeting their needs. Once they have invested the time to learn the tool well they will have a hard time justifying a subsequent switch. If you have experience with a full-featured cousin of Tau (e.g., the IBM Rational or Nucleus UML families), the tool will probably prove more of a novelty than anything – basically a way to take your time and see what’s on the other side of the fence.
Tau Modeler also seems to come shipped with the full Tau help feature (more marketing). This has added to my initial frustrations. When trying to accomplish a particular task on more than one occasion did the help provide instructions involving features that were not accessible. Further, it seems that not all of the features are disabled in the tool which leads to confusion. For example, certain model errors (e.g., undeclared types) result in a pop-up message “Not resolved, see check/autocheck log for details”. Of course, you can’t access the logs.
The tool does ship with a tutorial – CoffeeMachine – that walks you through many of the tool features. It’s not clear if the tutorial is geared to just the modeling portion of the full-blown tool or if it is tuned to the Modeler itself. I did see reference to the AutoCheck but that may be a simple oversight in the editing.
You do need to acquire a license for the tool from Telelogic (an automated process). This is fairly common and makes sense given the way the tool is packaged. Oddly there is a note that the license is only good for a year – which raises the obvious question: then what? Though I’ve only had the tool a few days, I am expecting the courtesy call from Telelogic asking me how I like it – and if I’d be interested in an upgrade.
All said and done though, it’s free so it’s worth checking out. For novice, it will give you some saddle time with an industry tools and probably improve your comfort with UML if you’ve only had a modest introduction. I still have a good deal of tinkering to do with it before I can give it a proper review – but that will have to wait for a later date.
Will there ever be a good general purpose UML modeling tool – ideally with easy, customizable round-tripping features?