By Richard V. Dragan  |  Posted 2004-08-02 Print this article Print

Sun Java Studio Creator 2004Q2

Earlier this year, Sun Microsystems retooled its high-end Java compiler, Sun Java Studio Enterprise. Now, Suns released a low-cost companion tool called Sun Java Studio Creator 2004Q2 ($99 for an annual subscription), a visual tool for building Web application front ends. The new release doesnt claim to be a complete Java compiler solution, but Studio Creator has some very promising user interface technology.

Studio Creator is aimed at the working enterprise developer who isnt a Java ace: for example, someone who got comfortable with Visual Basic in the 90s and now has to build or maintain Web apps that work with Java and Web services. The tool offers a low-cost alternative to the grown-up and expensive Enterprise Studio product ($1,895 per seat).

Getting started was effortless, thanks to a nicely polished installer. Java Studio Creator runs on Windows XP/2000, several flavors of Linux, Solaris, and even Mac OS X. The tool comes with a standalone version of Sun Java System Application Server Platform Edition 8, the default option for deploying and debugging apps.

Java Studio Creator focuses on user interfaces, harnessing Suns recently released JavaServer Faces (JSF) application framework. JSF is the Java answer to Microsofts ASP.NET Web Forms for the .NET platform. It provides a standard way to present and process Web pages, including a sophisticated Model-View-Controller architecture that has beans for processing events like button clicks or page transitions.

Java Studio Creator hides JSFs considerable complexity and provides a visual environment for building Web pages, with some two dozen standard controls like images, text boxes, drop-down lists, and grids. We used this tool to build an administrative page for a taxicab fare-tracking application, and we included a functional grid control for displaying data from an Oracle database.

Programming in Studio Creator is fairly traditional: Drag and drop components to create an interface, then add Java code to events behind the components.

A few quirks did surface, including an odd, text-based method for changing font attributes. But overall, this tool delivers a capable designer that compares favorably with Java tools like BEA WebLogic Work-shop or IBM WebSphere Application Developer. These other tools, though, provide much deeper features for developing business objects and front ends.

Java Studio Creator doesnt let developers create new Web services or EJBs. For that, you still need Java Studio Enterprise. But we found that Studio Creator lets you consume existing database sources and Web services easily via the Server Navigator feature. We liked the built-in support for popular databases like Oracle and Microsoft SQL Server through Suns own JDBC drivers.

Web-services consumption is also a cinch, as Studio Creator locates existing Web services description (WSDL) files and generates Java stub client code automatically.

Once you design your application and tweak the custom code behind it, Studio Creator offers capable deployment and testing with an integrated debugger. It does not come with a mini Web browser for testing your code, however.

Clearly, Sun hopes that this low-priced tool will get JSF technology out the door into the hands of the Java developer community fast. It looks like it has gotten a good start with Studio Creator.

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Richard V. Dragan, a contributing editor of PC Magazine, has written over 250 articles and reviews for the magazine and other Ziff Davis publications since 1992. From 1994 to 1998 he authored a programming column for Computer Shopper. He has taught C++ and Windows programming at Columbia University since 1990, and Java since 1997.

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