by Brett Sheppard
Vision Story Board Professional would have to be one of the best Visual Basic addons to be released in quite some time. Its ability to help plan, document and present your VB4 applications with a minimum of effort and fuss is exceptional. It has so many good features I don't know where to begin.
I think the best way of describing StoryBoard is in the tutorial booklet which comes with the product.
"StoryBoard allows you to categorize and record information about your applications project, forms, views, controls , and menu items. Once you enter this information in StoryBoard, developers can view it online as they work on the project. StoryBoard also allows you to compile this information into project documents, online help files, and slide shows that you can use to provide project information to developers and/or users."
I read the above description of StoryBoard before I had had a chance to see the addon up and running. I thought is was going to be a giant monster that would take ages to come to grips with and even longer to use effectively. However, I was more than pleasantly surprised to find that this was not the case. The design and overall layout of the package is extremely user friendly and the learning curve is minimal.
It contains a Document Explorer, which is split into two parts allowing you to organize project documentation. The Explorer is an outline of all the objects in your Visual Basic Project. With this you can organize these objects into related groups (say Data Entry Forms) making it easier to structure your documentation.
It also contains a "SpecMaker" which is used to enter all of the necessary data for your online help, slide shows and other project documents. It consists of several default document categories such as "Functional Specification" and "Test Specification" so in fact you can enter different types of information on the same object. Another cool feature about this SpecMaker is that you are just not limited to the default categories. New categories can be added and other categories can be deleted or edited depending on the project. So you can effectively document everything from your most complicated form to your tiniest command button with ease while still developing your project.
Another handy feature of StoryBoard is that you can create Views of the forms in your project at design or runtime. These bitmap snapshots are taken with the aid of a view wizard where you basically select the form which you want to capture, drag a little camera icon over the required form and hey presto, there is your view, ready to be inserted into a slide show or help file. Not only this, but you can also select which controls or menu items you want the View to have. These items will then inherit the same documentation as the forms that they came from and the Views are automatically added to the Explorer making it that much simpler to organize your project.
Now, what can you do with all these documentation's and views you have created? Well, hang on. Generating Project files and online Help is basically child's play.
Generating a Project file can be done effortlessly using the Document Wizard. With this wizard, you simply choose which forms and views you want included, what Visual Basic code you want included and using the help of a couple of dialog boxes, customize exactly how you want the file to be presented. This project file, which is in .rtf format, can then be viewed in a word processor. Too easy! You can also define templates so can apply your own standards to any future project files which you produce.
Generating online Help is no problem whatsoever. Using the Online Help Wizard you basically select the relevant document category, e.g. End-User Doc Specification, and there you go. You have a .hlp file, complete with hotspots ready to be associated with your VB4 project. I have to admit, when I saw this in the tutorial I quickly whipped up a simple little application with some random controls on it and entered some comments into the End-User Doc Specifications. (My basic thought was that it could not be that easy and I was going to find that there was a lot of extra work that had to be done.) Running the Online Help Wizard I was genuinely impressed because my help file was ready and waiting for me, complete with hotspots.
I have saved what I liked most about StoryBoard for last. That being the slide shows. How impressed would your clients be if you could show them a quick tour of what your program would be like in operation? Not only can you have hotspots to go from one form to another to simulate how the program would work, but you can annotate your slides with callouts and text boxes. The best bit about this is you can convert your slide show to HTML so that you can display it all on a browser. What client wouldn't be excited to be able to look at your product in operation without leaving their office?
The Wish List
As you've probably gathered by now, I've become a dedicated StoryBoard fan. However, there's always something you'd like to see in a product that's not there yet, and StoryBoard is no exception.
The first and most important wish is for an integrated spell checker. StoryBoard doesn't yet sport one and, given that most programmers seem to be able to spell arcane API functions with perfect ease but not much in the way of English, this is a must-have.
It might also be a little inconvenient that, to use StoryBoard, you need to be running VB. Not all documentation is likely to be done by programmers (at least, let's hope not!) so this could be a drawback in some larger sites.
But, right now, I'm quite happy to announce that StoryBoard is one of the most useful VB4 addons I've seen. An opinion borne out by its rapid rise to Top 5 status on the VBXtras list. Those of you eagerly anticipating VB5 will be glad to know that Vision say they'll have a VB5 release within 45 days of VB5 shipping.
To take a closer look at Vision StoryBoard check out VisionSoft's web page at http://www.vision-soft.com/
So, as you can tell I have become a bit of a fan of Vision StoryBoard. It's easy to use, it does what it says it can do, and most of all, it saves you, the developer, a lot of time and money by making documentation, dare I say it, fun.