IBM's answer to Visual Studio.Net

First look at the Software Development Platform

IBM has publicly unveiled its Software Development Platform designed to go head to head with Visual Studio.Net 2005.

The unveiling came at the 2004 Rational user conference in Texas late last month, which IBM combined with the DeveloperWorks event to provide a venue where 2000 developers could learn about best practice and upcoming releases of development tools. This year there was plenty for IBM to tell.

IBM is nearing completion of the Atlantic project which includes a complete rewrite of all the Rational tools into a tightly-knit suite sitting on top of the Eclipse platform and due for release by year’s end.

In the past, the Rational Tools have been a medley of assorted tools, each strong in its own right, but always showing the seams of past mergers and acquisitions.

The new version is showing all the signs of elegant design, good construction and tight integration. Finally IBM Rational consultants can point to their own products and say “Don’t just do as we say, do as we do.”

The suite sits inside Eclipse 3.0 looking deceptively like a standard programming IDE. But don’t be fooled, each pane can serve many purposes: one pane could be looking at the database of client requirements, another showing the use case diagram that has been derived from the requirements, while a third pane could be looking at related test scripts.

Furthermore, because of a shared underlying model, you can zip from element to related element staying inside the same set of screen panes.

One of the strengths of Rational Tools is that they have supported the full lifecycle of software development from requirements analysis through design all the way to the treadmill of user enhancement requests. The IBM Software Development Platform supports all this in a way that Visual Studio 2005 will find hard to match.

While the architecture is language-agnostic, the target is clearly the Java market and the tool set will only have marginal appeal to C# and VB.Net developers.

For those of you who are lazy and like the machine to do the work for you (and I am one), there is an open transformation engine with a scripting language. This means that you can generate a JDO mapping for all persistent classes, or database tables, or test script stubs or whatever else you can imagine.

This comprehensive coverage and flexibility comes at a price. It is a tool designed for professionals. To mitigate this and because of the low penetration of UML into IT shops, the modelling component comes with a process helper that tells you what are the appropriate things for you to do based on your current context.

The two-way User Interface designer is inherited from WebSphere Studio and is all you would expect from a drag and drop design tool.

Eclipse was the first large Java application I encountered that provides a snappy user interface. The IBM System Development Platform continues the tradition by providing Java developers with both the tools and the role model.

Reynolds, an independent software consultant in Auckland, travelled to DeveloperWorks courtesy of IBM

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