By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2005-08-08 Print this article Print

Java Studio Creator 2, expected to ship this fall from Sun Microsystems Inc., combines an improved pure-Java integrated development environment with a greatly expanded arsenal of prebuilt components. JSC2 also offers an array of effective Web-oriented construction tools and coding aids. eWEEK Labs tested JSC2 in its early-access form, available now for free download at developers.sun.com/prodtech/javatools/jscreator/ea/jsc2. This substantial upgrade is expected to come to market by November at the same aggressive $99 price as Version 1.

JSC2 is built on NetBeans 4.1, the late-June update to the Sun-sponsored open-source NetBeans IDE.

For developers, whose favorite adjectives are often "crisp" and "responsive," the immediate question will be whether NetBeans has shed a justly held reputation in early editions for leisurely rendering. We therefore compared the latest NetBeans against the equally current Eclipse 3.1, whose native user interface components do yield perceptibly faster rendering; even so, the Labs found that on typical developer hardware, NetBeans fully rendered pure-Java interface can at last meet the requirements of even this uncompromising audience.

What will lose that audience in moments, though, after 14 years of conditioning by Microsoft Corp.s Visual Basic and its many imitators, is anything less than full drag-and-drop convenience. Having reviewed a decades worth of Java tools that have tried to do this with varying success, we feel as if JSC2 is finally there. Not only is it easy to do things correctly in JSC2, but its also—and this is at least as important—difficult to mess things up.

Were used to finding ways to break the multilateral links among visual and code-focused tools, but JSC2 proved immune to our deliberate attempts to confuse it.

Thats not to say that JSC2 makes everything obvious. It does not, and developers will get a good return on their time by going through the series of thorough tutorial exercises available online. JSC2 maintains its coherence by confining editing operations to well-architected property structures, not just leaving things out in the open where they can be altered at whim. You wont learn to use this tool by casual point-and-click osmosis.

But tasks that are often tedious, such as assembling an array of radio buttons or checkboxes, are expedited in JSC2 with button and checkbox groups that are created as easily as one might insert a table into a document. Newly offered composite components in JSC2 anticipate common application needs, such as an add/remove list facility that assembles and edits a subset list from a larger list of available items. Structure has its advantages.

Java creator James Gosling discusses Java—past, present and future. Click here to read more. Its easy to have too much of a good thing. When tool designers get too enthusiastic about expanding their palettes, one winds up with long lists and huge icon arrays that require a time-consuming hunt with diminishing productivity returns. JSC2 forestalls that problem with customizable palettes that we could easily resequence and regroup into different categories, as well as extend them with additional components as desired.

Its clear that JSC2 was envisioned from the start as a tool for building Web applications. This isnt just a browser-based deployment option grafted onto a thick-client tool, as has become widespread practice in the last several years. JSC2s in-depth Web orientation gave us the same ease of visual construction, navigation and linkage among the HTML pages of a Web application that it did among the UI components of a single page. And when an application moves from the static stage of design to the dynamic stages of deployment and testing, JSC2s new HTTP monitor tool can quickly expose behind-the-scenes glitches in network requests and responses.

Most applications in enterprise settings are front ends to some form of data access, and JSC2 sets a high standard for elegance with its new gallery of data provider components. These encapsulate the low-level differences among database tables, Web service responses, flat files or data structures in memory. Application code interacts with the easily constructed and edited data provider interface, not with the native data object, reducing the downstream workload when a data source is changed.

Many visual tools lose their charm when it comes time to write—and rewrite—the code that does the work behind the scenes, but JSC2 speeds initial coding with a convenient Code Clips palette. We could quickly drag these task-focused templates into our code to be tailored to the task at hand.

JSC2 handles refactoring of code, a notorious weakness in visual environments, using the exemplary refactoring engine of NetBeans 4.1 that clearly shows what it proposes to change. Oddly, though, the multilevel Undo of the NetBeans source code editor appeared to be hamstrung in JSC2 as only a single-step Undo capability. We hope to find that this was an early-access handicap—perhaps deliberate?—that will be fixed in the commercial version this fall.

Next page: Evaluation Shortlist: Related Products.

Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at salesforce.com, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developersÔÇÖ technical requirements on the companyÔÇÖs evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter companyÔÇÖs first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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