Micro Focus Net Express 4.0 combines an object-oriented COBOL development environment with XML extensions and Web services interface construction tools. Sensible default behaviors combine with customization options to meet a wide range of needs for legacy-integration projects.
PRO: Versatile support for multiple Web services frameworks; logical extension of familiar COBOL mechanisms; general Windows development capability as well as Web development; clear and complete documentation.
CON: Visual tools would benefit from better function cues and integration of multiple views.
EVALUATION SHORT LIST Borlands JBuilder
Microsofts Visual Studio
Micro Focus International Ltd.s Net Express 4.0 will appeal to enterprise application developers who want to add value to existing application portfolios, making it easy for them to expose well-tested business logic as Web services.
Priced at $3,700 per development seat, including one year of maintenance, Net Express 4.0 combines the latest COBOL improvements with an evenhanded approach to Web services frameworks. The product, released earlier this month, offers an alternative to training developers in a low-level language such as C# or Java.
Development managers may prefer to begin with what is still the most ubiquitous business-oriented language and teach developers the added Net Express tricks of object orientation, XML interaction and a language- neutral services interface to other application modules.
In eWEEK Labs tests, Net Express 4.0 proved to be a polished IDE (integrated development environment) for a highly readable programming language thats been modernized with object-oriented extensions and brought into the world of Web services with a streamlined XML syntax and automated tools for adding a Web services interface to existing code.
Net Express takes no sides in the Web services framework wars. It can map a COBOL interface to a Component Object Model object, a Java class or an Enterprise JavaBeans component. Moreover, Micro Focus is making a determined bid to bring COBOL back to a "first among equals" status for new business application development. The companys Enterprise Server, included in Net Express but requiring a separate license for production deployment, was released at the same time as Net Express 4.0 and exposes COBOL applications directly to Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition application servers.
The Net Express documentation provided a clear and complete sequence of tutorials that moved quickly from basic operations to COBOL-based Web service creation. The products Interface Mapper Toolkit defaulted to using the native COBOL mechanism of the Linkage Section, but we could also use the mapping tool to design a more tailored interface.
We werent surprised to find strong project organization features in Net Express 4.0, since Micro Focus IDEs were setting the standard in this area back when character-mode interfaces were still state of the art. Rebuilding projects, stepping through code and locating errors could not be much easier, although visual cues could be more obvious. What looked like only a static, text-mode list of compilation errors, for example, turned out to offer double-click navigation directly to the location of the problem.
The Net Express 4.0 environment could also take a few cues from Borland Software Corp. and Microsoft Corp. in terms of access to multiple views. For example, its HTML tool was capable and easy to use, but it didnt readily flip between source code and visual representations. HTML source could be handled with an "Edit as text" command, but this was neither as obvious nor as direct as having a dual-mode editor (like the one in Borlands JBuilder) maintaining synchronized views.
In addition to its Web-oriented features, Net Express also offered us everything needed to craft Windows GUI applications, as well as cross-compilation facilities to deploy applications on Micro Focus-supported Unix systems.
Technology Editor Peter Coffee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 developers' technical requirements on the company's 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 company's 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.