Progress CEO looks to ease Java development

In the 1980s, when fourth-generation languages were all the rage, Progress Software was a major partner for IT departments. Today, Progress is making a comeback with Web-based applications following its acquisition of application server provider Apptivity in 1997. Bracing for the launch of Apptivity 3.0 later this year, Progress CEO Joe Alsop recently discussed Progress' plans with IDG's Michael VizardIDG: Conventional wisdom says the fourth-generation language (4GL) is dead now and that everybody is embracing Java. Is this true?

Alsop: Java is not a usable 3GL [third-generation language] type of environment. With Apptivity, we're competing against the other Java tools, and I'm convinced we're the most productive tool. But when I show you how to do an application in the 4GL, the effort you go through to do some very common business functions is mind-boggling.

It's like a 10 to one advantage. The challenge for Apptivity is to put the same productivity into Java.

What is driving all the interest in application servers?

With the advent of the Internet and the need for 24-hour applications, along with the ability to change applications on the fly and have applications talk to each other, there is a need for an application server, which gives you a way to do the same things for your application that you do for your database.

Are we starting to see different tiers emerge in application servers?

There's always the trade-off between the trend of ease of use and the focus on absolute, flat, high-end performance. We have a lot of expertise with Progress-based applications that scale on relatively small hardware to well over a thousand users doing heavy duty transaction processing. That's the expertise we are bringing to the Apptivity server.

So what's the relationship between the Progress 4GL and the Apptivity application server?

It's an integrated application server. When we think about Apptivity, we're not locked into compatibility with the 4GL. Interoperability is a big thing, so you can build an application partially in a 4GL, Java, whatever, and call them out of the 4GL. Clearly, we're going after new customers building in Java.

Are you doing anything specifically to link to SAP?

We're doing things in the Apptivity tool set for better connections with what I call smart adapters.

So we're moving to architectures with three tiers?

Yes. I tend to think that the middle tier will be organisationally, physic-ally and technologically located close to the back end for security and maintenance purposes.

What is Java's role in your plans?

We're heavily committed to Enterprise JavaBeans [EJB] and you'll see EJB features in the upcoming release of the Apptivity server.

What else are you thinking about for the long term?

How applications will be built in five years. When we get end-user application development, will you be able to express business rules in natural language? Exactly where do you put the boundaries? If the IT department decides to make changes to an application, will they still be able to get the benefit of the next release? The IT department will move toward application assembly and customisation, as opposed to coding new functionality.