The Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN) is very popular and is getting close to be the de facto standard for describing business processes in a graphical way. Basically BPMN can be used simply by pen and paper but using a good software tool which support this notation can make drawing much easier and is especially useful in case it is a little bit smarter by being able to check the syntax against the BPMN rules.
As usual some common information about BPMN can be found at Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Business_Process_Modeling_Notation) or the website of the OMG – Object Management Group (http://www.omg.org/) which I working on BPMN too.
The get a quick overview of the symbol, syntax and rules the so called BPMN posters are a good place to start. The poster is available as a PDF for free in multiple languages for this official website http://www.bpmb.de/index.php/BPMNPoster. As an alternative to this poster there is a project developing different kind of posters as training material and releasing them under the GPL. Aside of a BPMN-Poster the do offer other posters too. These posters are very nice and really worth a look:http://sourceforge.net/projects/itposter/
I do have a printed version on my desk when working with a modeler, because the tools I worked with in the past had different levels of checking the syntax and non of them was perfect in this discipline.
Until today did not find the perfect BPMN modeler/ tool. I do not look for a complete BPMN suite including the options to run the designed business process. The characteristics of the software I am looking for are:
- Because I am a big fan of open source and free software especially if is is using an open license like GPL, Apache, BSD, CDDL, etc.
- Support of BPMN 2.0
- Graphical modeler which support BPMN diagrams and does the syntax check
- Visual presentation of drawing shall be nice; good looking diagrams
- Easy to go
- Optional: Windows and Linux support
To find the software I want to review I simply searched the web using Google. I started with the key words “BPMN Linux” and adapted the keywords after looking through different hits and search catalogs. At the end I simply selected the pieces of software which made a goods impression to me based on the feature list and available screenshots.Therefore my list is far far away of being complete and my impression of the tools is reflecting how easy is was for me to get a drawing out of the tool. I can be that a tool which does not fit to me is a perfect fit for someone else.
The result is the following list:
- Eclipse STP BPMN Modeler/ Intalio Designer
- TIBCO Business Studio
- Yaoqiang BPMN Editor
- Aris Express
Eclipse STP BPMN Modeler/ Intalio Designer
was developed in 2006 by the company intalio which later on donated the BPMN modeler to the Eclipse foundation. The main website of the project is http://www.eclipse.org/bpmn/ but so far the modeler is not automatically integrated into Eclipse and the installation needs to be done via the STP site. How this works is described on the projects website. When writing this article it required Eclipse 3.5.1 instead of the current version 3.6.1.
As alternative to the BPMN modeler plugin for Eclipse 3.5.1 the company Intalio offers community edition of its commercial BPMN modeler which already included the needed Eclipse runtime files (http://www.intalio.com/downloads).
Nevertheless the version of Intalio or the Eclipse foundation is available for Windows, Linux and Mac. For my short review I used the free commercial version from Intalio because I was not able to install the Eclipse plugins. I tried several times to install the BPMN modeler but also after adding every feature from the install repository there was not feature to activate the perspective of the BPMN modeler. So if anyone finds out how this works please notify me!
- Good response times when drawing
- Pools can be depicted
- Offer context relevant options for connection per symbol
- All pools do have the same length
- Connection can be drawn from a symbol in both directions
- Changing a symbol into a special subtype is done via the context menu
- Not very colorful
- Flow connectors and associations are available at the left or right side of an symbol only
- When heavily editing drawings and moving object around some symbols disappeared and a pool was rearranged far far away from the other
- No real control of connections and lines from one symbol to another
TIBCO Business Studio
is neither open source or under an open license like the GPL, but the tool is at least free. The website of the tool is http://www.tibco.com/products/bpm/process-modeling/business-studio/default.jsp where it is available as a download for Windows and Linux after completing a short registration form.
After the installation is done under Linux I was looking for the executable file to start the editor. I found several executables from Eclipse inside the installation folder but nothing specific. In the end I found out that the file to execute is located here <installfolder>/studio-community-3.4/studio/3.4/studio-rcp/eclipse/studio-rpc
- Looks very powerful
- Is not designed as a pure modeler and support additional diagrams within the BPMN project. e.g. organizational structure
- Drawing is very difficult – I was not able to resize a singe pool or lane. After adding a second lane to the first pool I was not able to put a task into the second pool anymore. In case dropping a task aside of a pool it lands automatically in the first pool.
- All icons have by default a yellow touch (including START and END event!)
- No graphical export function for drawing of BPMN diagrams
Yaoqiang BPMN Editor
is a very small java application less than one megabyte. Which is especially designed to support BPMN 2.0. The project is hosted on SourceForge.net: http://sourceforge.net/projects/bpmn/
- Very small application
- No installlation needed
- Exports diagrams into a lot of different graphic formats
- Smart detection of connection type to use between symbols GPLv3!!
- Open Source
- Clear colors for the different symbols
- All symbols are displayed on the same level. Instead of offering one main start event and than the option to specify which special start event should be.
- No real control of connections and lines from one symbol to another
- Limitation of a process drawing by page size
the light version of the all-time classic Aris. Aris Express is not available under an open source and open license but the usage is free and supported by a community. Aris Express is written in Java and starts everytime via Java Webstart – it does not matter if you already installed it or not you do need internet access and a free Aris Community account. To sign up and use Aris Express go to http://www.ariscommunity.com/aris-express.
- Good look & feel
- Intelligent handling of symbols and connectors of BPMN. Nice feature to add vertical and horizontal space between objects.
- Support all main functions for BPMN including depiction of pools
- A lot of export features of drawing including PDF, vector graphics and raster graphics
- Multiple designs for BPMN symbols available
- Does always require Java Webstart and access to the internet to register the user and downloading additional software
- Strange optic using the Linux version under KDE 4.5 with Nvidia graphics card (and official SUN Java 1.6)
- Can get quite slow
Every BPMN modeler has it strength as well as its weaknesses. In common every modeler is able to be used to draw BPMN charts. I was quite impressed by the very small and good looking Yaoqiang BPMN Editor. If you are looking for something small, simple and working this could be your tool. I do have to draw some bigger BPMN charts therefore it is not really useful to be forced to work on a paper-like canvas. Therefore and because the workflow within the program is quite smart I will use Aris Express. The GUI looks sometimes strange under Linux, but the program is not crashing and after swirling the mouse pointer over the buttons the appear again.