How to Compare Software Products, Solutions, Frameworks and Libraries
Strategies to search for and compare different alternatives in software development
Success of a software project depends on a wide range of factors. Good understanding of the client’s business and needs allows to set the right project goals. Profound business analysis is an essential part at every step of design and development and the basis for building the product strategy. UX design process determines how the users will interact with the final product and, therefore, directly impacts its success in the market.
Choosing the right technology stack for the project is no less important. In my experience, it’s worth conducting a detailed analysis and studying different frameworks, software solutions or libraries in advance rather than choosing the first alternative in the kit and reaping the results of an ill-considered decision later.
Searching for the right software development tools
Before comparing software solutions, frameworks, libraries or other components for a project, we should find the most suitable alternatives that could be used to build the required functionality.
At Digiteum, we’ve elaborated a set of 5-step all-purpose plans that help search for the relevant technology stack and later compare the alternatives with each other.
Step 1. Analyze project requirements
Make sure you have all project requirements confirmed and understanding achieved. After conducting a detailed business analysis, your project manager should be able to provide you with all the necessary information you need. Additionally, discuss the project goals and stakeholders’ expectations with your client and project manager.
Read: Why to build an MVP app in Flutter
Step 2. Break down the system into functional components
At this step, you should decide what the future system will consist of - front-end to interact with users, back-end to manage the system, data storage and processing modules, security tools, etc.
Once you determine all functional elements of the future system, you will be able to search for the right digital instruments to develop and integrate these elements into your future product.
Step 3. Analyze each element and the system as a whole
Now that you have a general understanding of the system elements, you can start a deep technical analysis in software development. Review available tools and services that could help you implement this functionality. Study each functional element and your system as a whole.
To get a brief overview of tools and frameworks available on the market, you can use the following techniques:
- Use Google to find relevant information on different software solutions, libraries and frameworks used to build your functional elements. You may turn to the industry expertise if it’s available.
- Check StackOverflow for discussions on different solutions relevant to your project.
- Go through relevant YouTube guides, presentations, educational videos.
- Search for the necessary information on platform-specific forums.
- Turn to your colleagues' expertise.
Step 4. Collect the sources with the necessary data
In-depth analysis of different functional elements and system as a whole gives you a high-level idea of what libraries, solutions, frameworks or other components you will go through. Now you can collect all the necessary information needed to create a profile for each alternative you are looking into.
- Get the documentation (PDFs, articles, diagrams, flows, math models) from the original publisher of the solution you are studying, check the latest versions, determine which program languages it requires.
- Find relevant open-source and/or proprietary libraries, check their license availability, APIs, search for the test projects or make your own test to see if the libraries address your requirements.
- Find relevant open-source and/or proprietary web services, check their APIs and important comparison criteria (such as price, availability, limitations), perform test requests if possible.
Step 5. Create a report
At this step, you collect all the information into a unified report with the necessary information like availability, usability, cost, limitations, features, support, etc. You can build this report in an Excel sheet and prepare the material for comparing software solutions, libraries, frameworks or other components you are studying.
Here’s a compact illustration of the whole process in one scheme:
How to compare software solutions, libraries, frameworks or other components
As mentioned earlier, choosing the right solutions and frameworks for building system functionality has the direct impact on the success of the project. In practice, it’s always more reasonable and cheaper to choose the right tools in advance than rebuilding the whole system later.
Therefore, we need a strategy on how to compare different libraries, solutions and frameworks and choose the right components for the future system.
Now that you have found the most relevant tools and services that potentially could be used in your system, you filter them out, leave a dozen or so, and start a detailed comparison.
By the way, this process can be performed at every stage of software development, starting from the original architecture to building new features at different iterations.
Read: What does PoC stand for in IoT and how to build a great IoT MVP, PoC or prototype
Here’s the process of comparing different solutions, step-by-step:
Step 1. Define the alternatives
Based on the previous search process, your experience and the briefs with your client and project manager, you can define a compact list of alternatives you will be choosing from. You can use the report from the search process described above.
Step 2. Analyze the alternatives
At this step, you should use different analytics techniques to get as complete picture of each alternative as possible.
- compare the alternative against given specifications and requirements
- collect the feedback on each alternative from the internet, your colleagues’ experience, teams
- learn how the solution is used in the related industry and among competitors
- verify the health, activity and support of each alternative (regular updates, live support, forums, etc.)
- create a test project (if not created/analyzed before at the search stage)
Step 3. Ask questions to create a complete image of each alternative
- What is supported?
- How can be used?
- Are there real examples?
- How good is the codebase?
- How easy is it to customize?
- Where was it used?
- Is it used by other developers?
- What are the scenarios?
- Is there an active community?
- How does commit activity look?
- How good is performance, flexibility, reliability?
Step 4. Make a result sheet
You already have abundant information on each alternative. Before comparing each alternative against your project requirements, you can outline the major comparison criteria to save time and effort at the final step of the analysis.
- Describe capabilities
- Define limitations
- Estimate the effort needed
- Determine risks
Step 5. Define pros and cons and make your choice
At the final step of this analysis, you can already define and weight pros and cons for each alternative and check the results against your project scope and requirements. Often, you end up with more than one alternative and suggest stakeholders choose between these options depending on their product vision and project goals.
Here’s a compact illustration of the whole process in one scheme:
As you can see, both search and compare strategies imply extreme detailing and require in-depth research and analysis. In my practice, the time and effort spent on these studies usually pay off, because both of these approaches allow choosing the best possible software solution or framework for the project. This choice, in turn, reflects in the performance, cost, flexibility, support and other aspects of the final software product.
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