ZigVersion from ZigZig Software, is a graphical Subversion client. I recently had an opportunity to use it when developing my WordPress plugin, PollPress. Although I am not a Subversion expert, I was familiar with it before evaluating ZigVersion. I use some sort of version control software every day in my day job, usually Perforce or CVS.
ZigVersion is unique on the Mac because, as far as I can tell, it is the only commercial Subversion client. There are a few other open source competitors, most notably, svnX, which I have used before. Because ZigVersion is commercial, I have higher expectations for it.
Ease of use
One of the first things mentioned on the ZigVersion website is its usability:
Instead of simply reproducing the command line concepts as a graphical interface, we looked at the typical workflows of professional programmers and designed an interface around them.
This was a very compelling statement given my frustration with svnX (which window am I supposed to be in??). Enough that I decided to download ZigVersion and give it a try.
My first impression of ZigVersion was how simple it was. Although installation was the standard drag and drop to the Applications folder, this was already an improvement over most Subversion clients. Other clients required me to track down the binaries of the Subversion command line tools and install those first.
On startup ZigVersion presented me with a dialog listing all the recently accessed servers, and a field to type in a new one. Although this sounds pedestrian, this is an improvement over what most of ZigVersion’s competitors offer.
Once connected, ZigVersion displays a single view. It has the common Subversion actions in the toolbar across the top: check in, check out, update, revert and refresh. Most of the view is taken up by the hierarchical file view, but it also has a drawer for the file history. The file view is a merge of both the server and the working copy, and works the same as the Finder’s list view. This is my favorite feature of ZigVersion. The combining of the two views makes browsing the source tree very intuitive, and frees me from having to switch between a server view and a local view depending on what I want to do. Everything is in this one view.
The menus are likewise very simple. In fact only the File and Actions menus have anything that’s Subversion specific, and the File menu just has a couple of menu items to connect to a server. Unlike other Subversion clients, ZigVersion actually puts all possible actions in the menu, so they are easily found. On the other hand, they don’t just dump every conceivable command into the menu, and call it a day (I’m glaring in your general direction Perforce.). As you can see from the screenshot, the creators of ZigVersion chose only the most commonly use commands to put in the menu. What’s more, the actions work on folders, and work recursively, just as I would expect.
There are some actions that aren’t in the menus, but that I easily found. These included moving and coping files. To move a file I simply dragged and dropped it where I wanted it. ZigVersion figured out the copies, deletes, etc behind the scenes so I didn’t have to. Very nice. ZigVersion also provides contextual menus in the file view, which simply mirror what’s in the Actions menu.
The only other piece of major UI I saw was when I went to check in my changes. ZigVersion presented me with a simple, nonmodal window that allowed me to easily review my changes. It consists of a list of the files that have been modified, added, or deleted, a file comparison view, and a text area to add my comments to the check in. The file comparison view updates as a file is selected from the file list, comparing what’s in the working copy with what’s on the server. In the margin on the right, there are blue markers that show where in the file there are differences, so I could easily jump to those locations. Once there, the comparison view hilited the differing lines, the same as in any file differencing application.
After using ZigVersion for a while, I can confirm that it is much easier to use than all the other Subversion clients. ZigZig Software did, in fact, put thought into which actions to expose and how to expose them, as opposed to forcing the user to juggle a couple of windows for each working copy, or just dumping all possible options into the menu bar.
On the flip side of simplicity, there is missing functionality. With the sparseness of the menus and toolbar, I figured almost immediately there was some feature that would not be implemented. I kept waiting to run into the feature that I needed that ZigVersion did not provide.
The first thing I ran into was the lack of support for multiple working copies. ZigVersion only knows how to deal with one working copy per project. So if you check out a project twice on your machine, but in different locations, ZigVersion will forget the first one. I assume this limitation is because ZigVersion has the consolidated file view. Still, this feels a bit arbitrary, and ZigVersion would be improved if it were lifted.
Another limitation I ran into was in the check-in window. I found myself wanting to merge changes between the working copy and server copy or to simply make edits. Unfortunately the file comparison view in the check-in window is strictly read only. It cannot merge changes or be edited.
In general, I found that I wanted to be able to see differences in files from various parts of the application. For example, ZigVersion has a file history view, but it doesn’t allow me to see differences between revisions. That makes it difficult for me to track down when a change was introduced. Also, from the file view, ZigVersion would not let me see the difference between what was in the working copy and the server. I had to bring up the check-in window to view differences.
All in all, ZigVersion provided 99% of the functionality I needed. The multiple workspaces support is not something I think I would need except for WordPress plugins. That’s because I wanted to check out a subtree of the project into a WordPress site, and check out the entire project in a different location to be able to edit the testplans and documentation. The other features would make my life much simpler but did not prevent me from being able to do what I needed to.
During my use of ZigVersion, I only found one bug, and it was a minor one. When displaying the modification date in the file view and file history, recent dates would often only display the time and older dates would only display the date.
I actually didn’t need the help, which says something about the usability of ZigVersion. The only reason I even tried it was because I wanted to see if ZigVersion really did support multiple working copies, and I was just too dense to figure it out.
Its a good thing I didn’t really need the help. The only menu item in the Help menu takes you to ZigZig’s website. That’s it. The page I was taken to has no documentation, its simply the main page of ZigZig Software’s website. There is a link at the top promisingly named “Documentation,” however the results of clicking that link were disappointing. The documentation has a link to the release notes, screenshots, and how to use ZigVersion with ssh. No help to be found.
There are, however, forums on ZigZig’s site, where, presumably, I could ask questions. I did not use them however, so I cannot comment on how responsive or helpful they are.
I have to say, I’m quite shocked that anyone shipped a product with no help in this day and age.
After using ZigVersion for several weeks, I was quite happy with it. I decided to go buy it.
That’s when I discovered that it retailed for US $140 per user.
The reason I previously didn’t know the cost is because ZigZig provides a non-commercial license that is free. Since PollPress, my WordPress plugin, was open source it qualified for the non-commercial license.
I really like ZigVersion, but given its 1.0 status and relatively small feature set, I have a hard time justifying the $140 price tag. I, personally, would be willing to spend US $50 or $60 on it, but $140 is a little hard to swallow. On the other hand, each day that I use svnX increases the amount I’m willing to spend on ZigVersion. It still hasn’t gotten anywhere near up to $140 though.
ZigVersion is a highly intuitive, very Mac-like Subversion graphical client. It really is fun to use. It definitely has the feel of a 1.0 release, as evidenced by the small feature set. However, it does the Subversion client thing better than any other software out there that I’ve used. I look forward to future releases which will hopefully fill in the missing features. At that point, I hope that the features justify the current cost, or that the cost comes down to meet what’s implemented in the software.