In late December, I was given an opportunity to test WireFrameSketcher, a wireframe plugin for Eclipse.
I've used (and enjoyed) Balsamiq mockups over the past year or two and I like it very much. However, I found that I typically gave up on those mockups because I had to open another app, toggle between the apps, and so on. Enter WireFrameSketcher ...
Rather than a lengthy review of features, I thought I'd do a general summary about using the software and then offer a pro/con list for more specific things I like, etc.
My Development Environment:
First, and because I think it's quite relevant, most of my development is done on a Mac and I use Aptana Studio 3, with CFEclipse installed for CFML work, as my main IDE. While I do use some other tools (most notably, TextMate and IntelliJ IDEA), most of my day is spent in Eclipse (if not Aptana, then Flash Builder). As such, I was very excited to have a wireframe tool that fit right into my IDE.
Getting started could not have been easier. Install WireFrameSketcher as you would any other Eclipse plugin. From there, you simply select the Sketching perspective, create a new (general) project and off you go! You start by creating a 'screen' in your new project. This is the wireframe itself.
As far as creating the wireframes, this, too, was quite easy to get rolling. Create a new project (there is not a specific wireframe project type, so you just create a new, generic project) and get started with a new screen or storyboard.
As you get to working on your wireframe, there is a handy Palette view that offers all of the basic widgets for wireframes. The Palette view also allows you to search or filter the widgets by category. Additionally, and I love this, you can add images and other items to a directory in your project called assets (you need to manually create this folder/directory). Doing so will cause the items in this directory to appear in the assets section of the Palette view. Pretty awesome way to use logos, actual photos and the like in your wireframes. Gives them a more polished touch, I think.
With a few wireframes completed, one feature I love in WireFrameSketcher is its storyboards. These are templates upon which you assemble your screens/wireframes. It's pretty sweet and a great tool for creating professional storyboards for clients (you can export the storyboard or your individual wire frames as PDFs).
All in all, I've found WireFrameSketcher to be a better fit for my workflow and needs than other wireframe tools. The fact that it integrates with Eclipse and is straightforward to use (I did not have to read one line of a manual and I was effectively creating wireframes in minutes), is a huge selling point to me.
I decided to start with the cons because, to be honest, there are not many.
- Not open source (but at $75, it's a few bucks cheaper than the 'main' competition).
- Balsamiq has some more options for mockups (iPhone templates, etc.) but, to be honest, I find most of that overkill and overwhelming.
- The lock icon in the Properties view is not clearly marked as an icon that locks the element on the stage. It looks more like the Aspect Ratio lock icon from other applications and that threw me.
There are a lot of pros ... but I'll stick to my main ones!
- Integrates into Eclipse (i.e., it's an Eclipse plugin).
- Excellent performance (no lags on my machines, snappy, etc.).
- Nice, but not overwhelming, selection of Widgets.
- Robust Properties view for working with the selected element on the stage.
- The Outline view rocks ... enables you to move quickly and easily through your wireframes, no matter how involved they get.
- Good and detailed options from the context menu (when clicking on an element in the stage).
- Easy to create links between screens ... love this.
- Filter your Palette view to find the tool/option you want in seconds.
- The asset directory -- hard to beat this one for me. Load it up and grab your assets as you need them.
- You can also add an image from your local file system or a remote URL to a wireframe element from the Properties view.
Overall Application Rating: 4 of 5 Stars ... not that I have a rating system or stars but you get the idea :)!
All in all, I am really enjoying WireFrameSketcher. It is very easy to use. Took no time at all to get going AND be effective with the task at hand (i.e., creating wireframes worthy of showing to a client). If you're an Eclipse user and looking to get a user-friendly wireframe tool, it's worth your while to check out WireFrameSketcher!