Developer takes visual approach

Developer takes visual approach

The ability to integrate enterprise data with Web applications is the key to IBM's VisualAge for Java development tool. And while the product has only been available for a matter of weeks, one developer has already taken it into production.

IBM says the new tool is the first fully integ-rated development environment for writing pure Java applets or full applications. It is based on visual construction-from-parts technology, and allows components to be linked together simply by drawing lines between them. It has been developed to allow inexperienced users to generate Java components, which IBM calls Java Beans, in a matter of minutes.

One developer that has taken VisualAge for Java on board has been the Sydney-based com-pany Internet Age - which recently rewrote a customer's inventory ordering system as a Web-based application.

Internet Age had originally developed the Catalogue and Ordering System as a desktop system two years ago using Smalltalk for New Zealand-based client Motor Spares and Staff.

Motor Spares provides spare car parts to the New Zealand engine reconditioning market. Its catalogue gives access to parts and ordering information, as well as pictures of parts and technical sheets.

Internet Age's technical director, Doug Marker, said they chose Smalltalk at that time following concerns that C++ didn't encourage true object-orientated coding.

"Once we completed that, we wanted to do something fairly radical," said Marker; "we wanted to see if we could run that same application over the Internet."

Attempting to Web-enable the application using Smalltalk proved impractical, and in February last year it started working with Java. Marker said Java has the advantage of enabling Web applications to look exactly like the desktop version.

Internet Age trialled several Java development environments, including Sun's Java studio, Symantec Café and Visual Café, and Microsoft's J++. "In April of this year we got our hands on VisualAge for Java, and what was significant to us was it had this visual programming paradigm - that's the ability to draw components together with lines. And that makes this product unique."

Improving user connectivity

Marker says he was also impressed with the tool's rapid development capability. "With the original desktop application, coding the middleware - the TCP/IP sockets and the database access - took us something like seven months of fairly solid effort. Then we got VisualAge for Java, and in four weeks we were able to rebuild that application pretty well from scratch."

By using Java, Marker said he could also better guarantee that messages were being transferred from the client to the server. "Because of the way Java works, it makes a direct connection back to the server over the TCP/IP socket set."

Although Internet Age settled on Java as its preferred language, it did experiment with ActiveX controls, with mixed results. "What switched us across was that ActiveX gives you no control over what you bring down - there's no security model," said Marker.

"Java uses the Virtual Machine security model, called Sandbox, and you can completely isolate the Java code in that Virtual Machine, and it can only do what the Virtual Machine allows it to do. But with ActiveX, an ActiveX control can actually come into your computer and connect itself to anything."

Marker says the new MotorWeb site has greatly improved the user's internal connectivity. "We increased the customer's marketshare by the order of 20 per cent per annum, and enabled them to re-deploy 60 per cent of their phone staff." Motor Spares has also eliminated all paper catalogues.

IBM's VisualAge for Java is available now as either a Professional or Education Edition, priced at $149 or $49 respectively. An Enterprise Edition, with a team-based development environment, will be available in August, priced at $3636.

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