REVIEW: Visual Ribbon Editor

In my last review I checked out a sitemap editor so it seemed natural to take a look at a ribbon editor next. The ribbon editor in question is Erik Pool’s Visual Ribbon Editor. He has setup a project for it on codex which can be found at http://crmvisualribbonedit.codeplex.com/. Should you also find his works interesting his blog can be found at http://erikpool.blogspot.com/ .

The idea behind the tool is to abstract CRM system customizers away from the raw XML that the ribbon consists of through the use of a graphical user interface. The concept is simple but effective, it allows

  • Users to customise the ribbon without the worry of conforming to the XML schema.
  • Users to see lists of available action options instantly that you would normally hunt down within the SDK help.
  • Users which normally aren’t comfortable with development to make changes to the ribbon.

The tool is currently in beta version with some known issues, but let this not put us off, the product contains plenty of functionality that allows us to affectively alter the ribbon. Let’s see what the author has to say.

So here is a new tool for customizing ribbons on Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011. It’s different from other ribbon editors available because it shows a full real-time preview of what the ribbon will look like in CRM, and it should eliminate the need to spend hours studying the ribbon XML schema in the CRM SDK before trying to add a new button to a ribbon. No more scrolling through pages of XML looking for the ID of the element you want to insert your button into. Just click “New Button”, position it where you want, then define the actions and enable rules or display rules. Then click “Save” to save the changes back to CRM

What I like in this tool is the visual representation you get of your ribbon. I can make changes locally to the ribbon, see how they look, and if I’m happy choose to import the local altered XML back in to CRM. The tool is capable of tackling the different ribbon types whether they are on the form, a sub grid or on the main page.

Visual Ribbon Editor
Visual Ribbon Editor Representation

The speed at which you can get your customised button on to the ribbon using this tool is fantastic and because the tool is generating the XML for you, you can safely say (Providing no bugs with the tool) that valid XML will always be re-imported in to CRM.

I think the true beauty with this product lies within the detail on Action, Display Rules and Enable Rules. I really don’t like manually setting these up and I have to troll through the SDK to work out the available options. Using this tool however I am simply faced with a drop down with all the available options. On top of that each option has a tooltip that explains what the operation is. So without reading to deeply in to the SDK I know roughly what I can achieve using the rules! I didn’t know templates existed until looking at this tools options for details!

Visual Ribbon Editor
Visual Ribbon Editor Fields

It also gets better, if you have ever looked in to the XML for the ribbon you would have noticed there’s an awful lot of ids defined, which reference other ids. The potential of referencing the wrong id with this tool is reduced to nothing, greatly decreasing the chance that you will deploy a bugged ribbon back in to the CRM system.

However, I do question why the tool was developed as a windows application instead of a Silverlight application. The author notes that the application currently doesn’t support IFD deployments. If the app was developed and deployed in to CRM as a Silverlight solution the tool would work over IFD out of the box! Obviously providing that the URLs within deployment manager are configured correctly.

Though it is early days for the application I do think it is missing some polish. For example when tabbing through connection settings it doesn’t automatically select the text could that I can remove with my first key stroke. It might seem like a niggle but such a small change means I can fill in connection details quicker. However if it was a Silverlight application I wouldn’t have to fill in connection details!

Some features I think would be great:

  • Drag / Drop support so that I have move my buttons around easily. This will speed up manipulating the ribbon.
  • Where fields typically expect webresources add a lookup to the current webresources within the system. Doing this will reduce the margin of error.
  • It would be nice if I can choose the solution the tool imports to. If I can select my solution it will save me going back in to CRM and incorporating the change in to what will be my managed solution.
Visual Ribbon Editor
Visual Ribbon Editor User Interface

All in all this is a fantastic tool that I’m going to keep alongside Microsoft’s sitemap editor. I only hope that the author will continue to work / improve the tool. Now for the stars…

CRM 2011 Visual Ribbon Editor
Installation www.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
This tool is missing an installer. It’s a case of unzipping the files to a folder and running the executable. Hopefully a CRM developer / consultant knows how to do this but an installer would be nice!
Product www.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
The product does exactly what its name indicates. It allows you to alter the ribbon and does a very good job at it. I certainly think improvements can be made but its early days…
Value for Money www.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
It's free!
Performance www.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
While using the tool I didn’t notice any major bugs with it and the author has acknowledge known issues.
Support www.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
The author has included documentation on codeplex for the tool, but to be honest the tool speaks for itself. It’s very easy to use. If anything goes majorly wrong there is a discussion board available and you can download the source code.
Overall www.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
A fantastic tool that will save developers and consultants time when altering the sitemap. I only hope for continued development on it.

 

Discussion

I have opened up on a discussion on the visual ribbon editor. If you want to share your experiences you can add your opinion here.

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