Product Review: Nigel Davies puts Global Workspace Manager through its paces.
There has been an item on the MicroStation Wish List since its inception over three years ago. [Editor’s note: The MicroStation Wish List was developed in 2005 by EatYourCAD in conjunction with the worldwide Bentley Community and was announced at BE 2005.] The item, which is currently in the top three, is for MicroStation to have an “External configuration interface” (an interface that would allow you to edit MicroStation configuration variables without having to open MicroStation).
There is a need when implementing any corporate application to ensure it is correct on all workstations. With a highly configurable product such as MicroStation, it’s even more important to ensure it remains correct on all workstations. Using MicroStation itself to check each workstation would be a long, slow slog. This is probably the main reason that an “External configuration interface” has enjoyed a top position on the MicroStation Wish List. So, we were very interested to hear from our friends over at Axiom that they had a new product, “Global Workspace Manager“, to fulfil some of those needs.
What does it do?
The features list for Global Workspace Manager (OK, I’m going to just refer to it as GWM for the rest of this review) is fairly comprehensive. I can’t sum it up any better. GWM is designed to:
- View and modify configurations on any workstation.
- Copy project configuration files and all project resources to another server or workstation on the network.
- Produce an inventory of workstations that includes location, users, projects and which versions of MicroStation are installed.
- Compare working configurations against a non-working configuration.
- Isolate configuration levels and view changes made at that level.
- Track a variable to see how it was changed at each configuration level.
- View the final value of any or all variables.
- Group, sort and filter the grid to produce valuable documentation.
- Use categories to view specific user-defined groups of variables. [Editor’s note: the “Category” tab shows variables categorized similar to MicroStation’s Workspace | Configuration “Category” list. It can be customized to show user-specific “groups” or categories of variables.]
- View variables in a tree similar to MicroStation’s configuration dialog box.
- View a description of each MicroStation variable.
- Build complex configuration definitions using the expression builder.
- Easily create filters to display variables that “begin with”, “end with”, “contains”, “does not contain”, “is equal to” or “is not equal to” a user-defined string.
Yes, that’s quite a lot of features. But is it any good? Not one to turn down the chance to roll my sleeves up and dive into a few configurations, I set about giving it a thorough going-over.
First of all, why would you need it?
It used to be that it was pretty simple to deploy MicroStation on any workstation. All you needed was an edited “mslocal.cfg” to point to the central configuration files and you were fine. [Editor’s note: The “mslocal.cfg” file is the first configuration file that MicroStation opens when started. Key variables in this file direct MicroStation to find files in a specific “central” location (path). Collectively, these files are sometimes referred to as “central configuration files”.] While that’s still true for desktop PCs that don’t move around, in this age of a less-localized workforce, more people using laptops and the added complication of managing additional offices, it’s common to need at least some of your server configuration files on each workstation. That’s where GWM steps in. With the installation of a small utility (the client) on each computer, configurations are uploaded to GWM every time MicroStation is started. GWM lets you review those configuration files, make edits and ship them back out again. It’s less vital to install GWM on those PCs that are never detached from your server workspace, but then you can never be too careful if ol’ George likes to mess around with his workspace settings. Another useful application of GWM is to check and maintain workspaces on multiple servers or in multiple offices.
How does it work?
When you install GWM, you are prompted to set up a central database location where all your various workstations (that will have the client utility installed) will write their configuration files. GWM then provides you with a “.bat” file to install the client utility on your workstations. When MicroStation is started on a workstation that is running the client utility, the utility copies the configuration data to the central location that was previously set up. GWM reads this data and displays it in various, customizable formats.
(Note: It is well worth checking out the PDF guides installed with the product. GWM installs a demo database for you to play with and gives some valuable quick-start advice.)
GWM has four tabs at the bottom of the screen, which allow you to view the information, review the configuration process and edit variables.
“Workspaces” is the “home page” that shows one line for each workspace at your site (or in your corporation).
“Variables” is where you can check the values of variables from one or several workstations.
“File order” displays the order in which MicroStation processed the various configuration files — a heck of a lot easier than scrolling through an msdebug.txt file! [Editor’s note: “msdebug.txt” is a file that MicroStation creates when run in debug mode. The file contains a whole lot of information about an installation of MicroStation. It lists all of the configuration files that run and shows what MicroStation variables are set in each configuration file. It also displays the configuration files and variables in the order that they are loaded. This data allows a very advanced MicroStation expert to determine exactly what happens when MicroStation loads, what settings are set within MicroStation, how they got to be set that way and much more.]
“Category” presents the variables in a tree view, grouped similarly to MicroStation’s Workspace Editor. Unlike the Workspace Editor, this is fully customizable through a “DebugCategory.txt” text file, which allows you to create your own categories and move variables around to suit your needs.
Dealing with multiple workstations reporting multiple workspace components can get very confusing. That’s where Axiom’s GWM excels. Each page in GWM is easily organized into more manageable groupings, by simply dragging a column heading to the top of the screen. For example, you can group by “Location” and then check which office has which workspace and when it was last updated without having to log in to remote servers or machines. Fantastic!
I also gave it a more realistic test. I had a problem workstation where the user was continually complaining that his seedfiles were the wrong ones. Identifying his machine was simple. Next, all I had to do was find the report using the correct project configuration file, highlight it and switch to the “Variables” tab. From there I could group by Variable name and then by File to see each time that the variable MS_SEEDFILES was being set. Sure enough, the project configuration file was wrong.
Even with one just one workstation, finding a configuration variable can be difficult. In MicroStation you have no option but to scan through the “All Alphabetical” list in the Workspace Configuration dialog box if you can’t find it where you think it should be located. For example, did you know that you won’t find MS_RFDIR (the variable that sets the search path for reference files) under the References category? GWM has a search capability for just this purpose. Simply press <Ctrl+F> to find all the variables that contain a particular string.
You can filter any of the columns to show only the item you select, making your views easier to understand. Should you need to, you’ve even got an option to hide all the intermediate values of configuration variables and see only the final value.
Not only was I able to identify the error in the project configuration file, GWM also allowed me to open the project configuration file with a right-click and fix it right then and there. As soon as I saved the project configuration file, GWM asked me if I wanted to save it back to the original workstation. No, I wanted to update the server workspace. That wasn’t a problem either as all I had to do was browse to the correct place. Incidentally, if you make a change that needs to be rolled out to multiple machines, GWM can handle that as well.
At any point, you can export the data from any GWM grid view to Excel to keep records of your system at key dates. You can refer back to these records if you need to check how things were set up previously. For upgrading or, in my case, maintaining records of any changes made to our clients’ configurations, it’s starting to look invaluable.
The only disappointment for me is that you can’t really say it has an “external configuration interface”. However, when you consider its comprehensive configuration builder and its intuitive and uncomplicated interface, to say it “just allows you to view and edit configuration files” is belittling its usefulness. And hey, it’s only the first release. As the product picks up customers, it’s certainly going to improve. Axiom is always open to development suggestions.
I’d originally thought it was more valuable to the larger organization, but I’ve changed my mind. We’re not large and it could prove very helpful to us. In fact, if you have a need to manage configuration files on servers or workstations, if you’ve got any laptops in the office with MicroStation installed, if making sure your standards are correct in all locations is important, then Axiom’s Global Workspace Manager is something you should seriously consider.
Now, where’s the AutoCAD version?
For more information about services provided by Evolve Consultancy, contact Nigel at Nigel@Evolve-Consultancy.com.
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