Web development tools take shape

With the nascent market for Internet application development quickly building steam, tools vendors are rushing to create Java development environments that are both easy to use and tightly tied to relational databases.

Tools giants Borland and Symantec will lead the push with visual Java tools.

Symantec, whose Cafe 3GL-level development environment for Java established an early position in the market, last week previewed Visual Cafe, its graphical, rapid application development (RAD) successor.

Slated for release in the third quarter, Visual Cafe sports a drag-and-drop forms-based interface, a database application server and support for both Windows and the Macintosh. Visual Cafe is written in both C++ and Java, according to Mansour Safi, general manager of the Symantec tools division.

"We wanted to develop a RAD tool that marries the ease of use and speed of a 4GL with the component-development and testing capabilities and source-code editing of a 3GL," Safi says.

Borland is busy on Latte, a visual Java tool slated to ship in the fourth quarter, modeled after its popular Delphi drag-and-drop environment. Latte packs a Java component model, dubbed Baja; integration with Borland's recently acquired Entera application server middleware; and a Web server management tool.

Borland last week announced a Java-based InterClient API for its InterBase SQL database, which provides client access to InterBase databases over the World Wide Web without using inefficient Common Gateway Interface communications. The tool will support the Java Database Connectivity protocol, which is due this quarter. The company will also facilitate Web development in its Windows-only Delphi 2.0 tool by supporting Microsoft Corp.'s ActiveX components, officials say.

Although graphical tools can speed the development cycle, the performance of resulting applications is paramount, according to a Delphi user evaluating Java tools.

"Performance is the key. No matter how pretty it is or how well it integrates with other technologies, if what comes out is a dog, it doesn't matter. It only matters how well it runs at the user level," says Rodger Zeisler, a software developer with Everest Software, in Dallas.

Users and analysts say that the products point to the trend toward three-tier Web applications.

"Visual Cafe and Latte seem to be developing along the same lines. Both are supplying application servers, for example. Borland has the Delphi-installed base to draw on and a nice existing channel to work with," says Tracy Corbo, an analyst at International Data, in Framingham, Massachusetts. Corbo says that Latte's Baja component model appears stronger.

Meanwhile, Louisville, Kentucky-based FocusSoft will release in early July its Trifecta development tool, which lets developers work with a browser front end and connect directly to Microsoft SQL Server and Sybase SQL Server without writing CGI scripts.

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