Posted by: Derek Kuhr
Oracle database administration, Oracle development
A recent SearchOracle.com article that compared the latest version of Oracle’s free SQL Developer tool with Quest Software Inc.’s popular Toad for Oracle software triggered an avalanche of emails from database developers eager to voice their opinions on which SQL and PL/SQL editing and debugging tool is best.
A few named Oracle’s relatively new SQL Developer as their tool of choice while several picked Toad. Others preferred different developer tools altogether. In particular, Allround Automations’ PL/SQL Developer got some rave reviews. But in the midst of all the differing opinions, developers seemed to agree on one thing: When it comes to features and functionality, you get what you pay for.
SQL Developer disappointing to some
SQL Developer was unveiled last March, and Oracle says the tool has been downloaded over 390,000 times since. Developers familiar with version 1.0 said that, like many free tools, SQL Developer lacks the robust set of capabilities found in competing for-a-fee SQL editors. Others, like developer Shelby Spradling, principal of Spradling Consulting, say that even though they’re happy to have a SQL editor that is optimized for use with Oracle products, SQL Developer still isn’t ready for prime time.
Spradling said that he recently compiled a PL/SQL package with only a few warnings from SQL Developer. He soon realized, when he tried to execute the package and it went into an invalid state, that SQL Developer had failed to pick up on a number of other errors. The consultant found the remaining errors only after copying the PL/SQL procedure into Oracle’s SQL*Plus tool.
“While I love being able to finally step through PL/SQL code with an Oracle product, I’ll truly start to enjoy using this product in five years when they get it working,” Spradling said. “Until then, Textpad and SQL*Plus are about the quickest way given my particular constraints.”
But not everyone is as disappointed as Spradling. Alex Rodriguez, a senior accounting analyst with UPS Freight, said SQL Developer suits his needs just fine. He says he switched to SQL Developer from Toad because it’s free, it offers everything he needs to debug SQL and PL/SQL subprograms, and, because it’s an Oracle product, it’s prone to reflect new Oracle feature updates well before third-party competitors.
Toad seen as pricey but effective
Toad for Oracle is offered in both a slimmed-down free version and a considerably more robust version that doesn’t come cheap, according to developers.
Independent contractor and software developer Nick Gekas is a big fan of the full-featured Toad for Oracle despite the cost. He says the main benefits of Toad include its function key capabilities, which show pop-up lists of tables or columns, and its powerful PL/SQL debugger. Gekas also likes that Toad can export SQL output in several formats and gives users the opportunity to arrange screen layouts to their preferred liking. He added that creating and maintaining objects is also a simple process with Toad.
“[Toad] is very expensive,” Gekas said, “so I switch around between Toad and SQL Developer depending [on whether] my clients have a Toad license.”
James R. Bower, an Oracle database administrator with FiberMark North America Inc. in West Springfield, Mass., agrees that for-a-fee Toad is a very full-featured — and very expensive — product.
“I find myself recommending Allround Automations’ PL/SQL Developer to any users that do not require all of the bells and whistles of Toad, or who cannot fit Toad into their budget,” Bower said. “Obviously, free Toad is priced right, but it is not nearly the product that PL/SQL Developer is.”
PL/SQL Developer: An unsung hero?
Allround Automations’ PL/SQL Developer is a solid product that’s not too pricey and not too heavy on the extra features, according to several developers writing in to SearchOracle.com.
Some, like Alan Kirchoff, a senior Oracle developer with Corporate Lodging Consultants Inc., believe that PL/SQL Developer is actually superior to the more fully featured Toad.
“A tool that never gets much recognition is PL/SQL Developer,” Kirchoff said. “Toad locks up on me way too often and sometimes it doesn’t behave as if it’s truly threaded — and yes, I checked all the options.”
Kirchoff says he likes PL/SQL Developer because it rarely locks up. But if it does, it prompts the user to load a rescue file the next time it starts up, he said. The Oracle developer is also a fan of PL/SQL Developer’s program windows, which highlight important variables and sections of code.
PL/SQL developer also offers a “great” object browser with editable filters, a side-by-side tool that allows users to compare database instances, the ability to compile all invalid objects with one click of the mouse, and a useful explain plan tool that automatically parses results, according to Mark S. Jacobs, a senior programmer with Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory. The programmer adds that Allround Automations’ support team is second to none.
“I always get a reply the same day, and they have included fixes in the next release at my request,” Jacobs said.
The list of SQL and PL/SQL editing and debugging tools is lengthy to say the least. Lesser-known tools developers wrote about included Embarcadero’s DBArtisan and Benthic Software’s Golden and Goldview tools.
“I’ve always liked Embarcadero’s DBArtisan best of all,” said developer David Bailey. “It has equivalent capabilities to Quest’s Toad, but best of all it is multi-platform.”
The fact that DBArtisan is multi-platform means that Bailey can work with Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, Sybase or IBM DB2, but he only has to learn one interface.
Developer Gene Gotimer says he doesn’t need all of Toad’s features, and therefore opted for Benthics Golden and Goldview software.
“Toad might be great if you’re a DBA or need a does-everything-and-then-some tool,” Gotimer said. “But for a developer that only occasionally needs to play with the database, Golden and Goldview are easier, quicker and cheaper.”