SQL Server and development tools are a powerful combination. Not only did this year's Readers' Choice competition have a wide array of competitors in our development categories, but the voters were passionate about their favorite products. Of note in these categories, Embarcadero Technologies won three prizes: The company's Extreme Test took two honors—Best Application-Testing/Debugging Software and Best Database-Testing/Debugging Software—and ER/Studio won Best Database-Modeling/Design Software.

Best Application-Testing/Debugging Software. Voters who selected Embarcadero Technologies' Extreme Test as their favorite product in this category noted the product's support and the variety of environments they can use the product in. Extreme Test uses a goals-based approach to application performance testing and includes a relational repository that stores information for all aspects of the test—definition, configuration, and execution. This information can help you identify performance problems, optimize components, perform historical analysis of test procedures and results, improve processes, and predict system performance.

Best Database-Modeling/Design Software. Embarcadero's ER/Studio took nearly two-thirds of the votes in this category, with readers pointing to the product's ease of use and rich feature set. A model-driven application for the logical and physical analysis, design, creation, and maintenance of database applications, ER/Studio offers a Compare and Merge utility plus reporting capabilities that include automated Web reports, XML schema, and other formats. ER/Studio's MetaWizard lets modelers interface with a wide range of different data-modeling applications, business intelligence (BI) platforms, and industry-standard exchange formats

Best Database-Testing/Debugging Software. Embarcadero's Extreme Test wins again, letting users automate database load generation and simulate reads, writes, and user connections to virtually any data source through JDBC. Users can also stress-test application servers and Web servers, as well as apply database-specific load to database servers. Readers said Extreme Test lives up to its name.

Best Integrated Development Environment (IDE). Honors go to Laplas-Soft's SQLExecMS 2.1, an all-in-one interface for database management, tuning, development, and data manipulation. SQLExecMS 2.1 lets you manage triggers and indexes, generate scripts for each database, and compare the scripts.

Best Installation Tool. Macrovision's InstallShield X was our write-in winner for Best Installation Tool. With InstallShield X's One-Click Install technology, you can let your customers install software from a Web site with a mouse click. The product eliminates unnecessary installation steps by installing only the files that aren't already present on users' PCs. InstallShield X also continually provides your customers or users with product updates, hotfixes, and critical information.

Best Middleware/Connectivity Tool. No, ODBC isn't dead yet. DataDirect Connect for ODBC won in a wide field of competition for this prize. One reader called it the "most solid product" in this category. DataDirect Connect for ODBC features clientless ODBC drivers and supports connection failover and client-side load balancing on a wide array of database platforms.

Best Source-Code Control Software. Microsoft Visual SourceSafe was the hands-down write-in winner in this category. Visual SourceSafe 6.0, a source-code management and version-control system for development teams, lets developers manage source code, Web content, and any other type of file—all from Visual Studio .NET. Voters praised Visual SourceSafe's low price, ease of use, and compatibility with their code environments.

Best Scripting Tool/Code Generator. ApexSQL Software's ApexSQL Code lets you create data-access code based on underlying tables, views, and stored procedures and automatically create stored procedures for selecting, updating, deleting, and inserting table data. The code generator offers a choice of VBScript or JScript for template scripting, a template wizard, and an extensive template library including C#, Visual Basic .NET, Active Server Pages (ASP), Visual Basic (VB), SQL, and other templates. Readers said ApexSQL Code is quick, powerful, and easy to use.

Best XML Development Tool. Nearly half the votes in this highly competitive category went to Altova's XMLSPY 2004. Besides providing XML, document type definition (DTD), and schema editing and validation, this XML development environment features an Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformations (XSLT) debugger, Web services support, Visual Studio .NET integration, automatic code generation, and project-management functionality.

Best Development Tools
Best Application-Testing/Debugging Software
Embarcadero Technologies, Extreme Test
415-834-3131, http://www.embarcadero.com
Price: $16,500
Best Database-Modeling/Design Software
Embarcadero Technologies, ER/Studio
415-834-3131, http://www.embarcadero.com
Price: $3495
Best Database-Testing/Debugging Software
Embarcadero Technologies, Extreme Test
415-834-3131,
http://www.embarcadero.com
Price: $16,500
Best IDE
Laplas-Soft, SQLExecMS 2.1
859-333-0723,
http://www.laplas-soft.com
Price: $110
Best Installation Tool
Macrovision, InstallShield X, Professional Edition
800-809-5659, 847-466-4000
http://www.installshield.com
Price: $1199
Best Middleware/Connectivity Tool
DataDirect Technologies, DataDirect Connect for ODBC
800-426-9400, 425-882-8080
http://www.datadirect.com
Price: Starts at $625 for 5 workstations
Best Source-Code Control Software
Microsoft, Visual SourceSafe
800-426-9400, 425-882-8080
http://msdn.microsoft.com/ssafe
Price: $549 for full version
Best Scripting Tool/Code Generator
ApexSQL Software, ApexSQL Code
866-665-5500, 508-528-3493
http://www.apexsql.com
Price: Contact ApexSQL Software for pricing
Best XML Development Tool
Altova, XMLSPY 2004
978-816-1600,
http://www.altova.com
Price: Starts at $499 per license