Product Review: NXN's Alienbrain 6
February 15, 2003
Alienbrain is an artist- and designer- friendly digital asset management system. The recently released version 6.0, however, touts beefier software configuration management (SCM) features, which when combined with a new pricing model ($690 for the Developer Client, $990 for the Designer Client, and $1,990 for the Manager Client (all for Windows), though custom packages are available) allow you to get the whole team using the same software package for revision control.
As proof that NXN is taking the needs of programmers as seriously as the needs of artists and designers, they have split the Alienbrain offering into three different flavors: the designer client, the manager client, and for programmers, the developer client. The designer and manager clients present the familiar artist-friendly features found in version 5, but differ primarily in the depth and breadth of reports that can be generated from the integrated task-tracking system. The developer client eschews the graphical goodness in favor of a more spartan GUI, but at a price much more inline with the competition's offerings.
This time around, NXN has included the excellent Araxis Merge Professional as an integrated part of the developer client. In addition to integration into Maya, 3DS Max, Photoshop, and Microsoft Office, Alienbrain also features Visual Studio .NET integration for the programmers on the team. SCM support now includes branching, merging, sharing, and pinning. And while SCM features have expanded, they're still not as robust as the competitors'. They have also added Perforce-style change lists (for transacted check-ins) as well as big performance increases. In informal benchmarks - using the Unreal engine for PS2 code base - Alienbrain's check-in and check-outs for both large binaries and source files were as fast as or better than SourceSafe and Perforce. Several different transports exist, including SMB, HTTP, and an NXN custom protocol. With the client and server now available under Windows, Linux, and Mac operating systems, Alienbrain can handle a broad variety of platform and network topologies.
Although nifty, Alienbrain's "pin" functionality isn't what I would have expected based on similarly-named features in packages such as Microsoft's Visual SourceSafe. In Alienbrain, "pin" acts more as a label editor; this is great for those times when you thought everyone understood that you were in code freeze, and so you don't have to add the "Demo for publisher (for real this time)" label when you discover that someone forgot to check-in their changes with the rest of the team.
My only real nitpick with the product concerns the GUI presentation of the delete (as opposed to destroy) functionality. Like other packages, deleted files are more like "hidden" files that maintain their version history but otherwise appear removed from the project. Alienbrain displays these files in a global recycle bin inside the folder tree. Unfortunately, expanding the bin to recover a file reveals subfolders named by date, requiring you to remember when you deleted the file. (I'm lucky if I remember where the Alienbrain icon is on my desktop, much less the day I deleted a file.) Fortunately, the search and query functionality is very robust, and it's easy to make custom query views in HTML and Jscript (or any windows scripting host language, for that matter). Alienbrain also offers an extremely customizable client extendable with a C++, API, and Windows scripting host (WSH) access to virtually all client functionality.
With added features designed for programmers, performance gains, new price points, and the availability of evaluation versions, I wholeheartedly recommend checking out Alienbrain for your current or next project.