JBuilders Gains Impressive

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2003-06-02

JBuilders Gains Impressive

JBuilder 9
JBuilder 9 is a surprisingly significant upgrade to Borlands exemplary Java development environment, incorporating project life-cycle management technologies acquired by the company since the last release of the product and also improving support for many application server platforms.
  • PRO: Offers diverse configurations at wide range of price points to meet enterprise and educator needs; supports Windows, Linux and Solaris; configuration management, team collaboration, design, UML visualization and code optimization tools are well-integrated into high-end Enterprise edition.

  • CON: Massive memory recommendation for Enterprise edition.

    IBMs WebSphere Studio Oracle Corp.s JDeveloper
    Only six months after the release of the capable but resource-intensive JBuilder 8, Borland Software Corp. has upgraded its premier Java development tool set with last months release of JBuilder 9.

    Its a compelling upgrade that earns eWEEK Labs Analysts Choice distinction. Offered on Windows, Linux and Solaris in configurations priced from $999 to $3,500, the update features higher-level design tools, improved aids for project life-cycle management and expanded support for many enterprise application server platforms in addition to Borlands own Enterprise Server.

    To our pleasant surprise, the Version 9 environment seemed significantly more responsive than Version 8 during our tests of the final prerelease code of the top-of-the-line Enterprise edition. This is a welcome discovery, since we were pained to observe Version 8s obvious need for a recommended half-gigabyte of memory. (See eWEEK Labs Dec. 23, 2002 review of JBuilder 8.)

    When tested on a 700MHz Pentium III with only 256MB of RAM, JBuilder 9, in contrast, generally seemed to answer our commands with more alacrity. We noted, for example, a return to the immediate feedback that were used to receiving from JBuilder as it dynamically analyzed our code in progress and warned us of poorly formed expressions. We hope this marks a return to the Turbo Pascal tradition of impressively agile tools for application developers.

    Even so, Borland continues to label the Enterprise version of the product as demanding a minimum of 512MB and a recommended 768MB of RAM, which is probably good advice for those who intend to use all its facilities described below.

    Among enterprise developers, JBuilder 9 demands a newly respectful look from Java tool buyers who might have previously been impressed by IBMs WebSphere Studio. The new JBuilder release offers similar aids for laying out the entire framework of a complex application, using Enterprise JavaBeans components and other frameworks, in minimal time.

    JBuilders approach to this process gave us more of a feeling of being in control of each successive step in the process, rather than trying to keep up with WebSphere Studios almost-too-helpful assistance.

    The Enterprise edition now includes Borlands Optimizeit performance analysis suite as part of the package and integrates its code coverage, profiling and other optimization functions into the development environment. This integration means that performance issues can now be addressed side by side with other debugging tasks.

    We could easily devote this entire review to the enhancements in this Version 5.5 update of the Optimizeit package, which also includes a thread-level debugger, as well as the profiling and coverage analysis functions already mentioned.

    Like other JBuilder tools, Optimizeit does the work so that the developer doesnt have to. It reads and parses the same code that the developer writes, rather than requiring or inserting its own special tags and markers that reduce readability and complicate portability to other development settings.

    Some of the most important, but also most difficult, aspects of Java debugging are dynamic in nature and resist detection by mere inspection of the code. By including Optimizeit in the Enterprise edition, Borland recognizes the need for Java to shed any remaining image of "productive for development but too slow in production" as the language continues to spread through all levels of the enterprise IT stack.

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    Its easy, for example, to write Java code that allocates far too many new objects rather than making efficient use of a smaller set of instances: Optimizeit 5.5 monitors allocations and can show where they arise. Memory consumption by instances of a class can be monitored in real time. The profilers Hot Spot display can show time consumption at the level of individual methods, while a "reduced reference graph" display can show only associations that force an object to remain active rather than being discarded.

    Optimizeits thread debugger also addresses dynamic concerns such as multiple threads contending for permissions and resources, or facing possible deadlock scenarios. Where these cant be conclusively diagnosed, it offers graphical displays that aid the developer in seeing possible problems. Code coverage facilities in Optimizeit accommodate interactive and batch-mode testing processes: Real-time coverage displays show the fraction of code that has been active during a test, while command-line options make it possible to include coverage analysis in other unattended tests and generate reports of the results.

    This fall will bring with it the introduction (long overdue, if we may say so) of Java as the programming language for the high-school Advanced Placement Computer Science program. Educators and students will therefore be pleased to note the continued offering of a Personal edition of JBuilder, scheduled for update to Version 9 this month and available on CD for $9.95 (and labeled, like the $999 Developer edition, as suitable for use in as little as 256MB of RAM).

    Sad to say, JBuilders superb UML (Unified Modeling Language) visualization tools, with their intuitive integration into the rest of the environment, are exclusive to the Enterprise edition and wont be part of most students initial exposure to software engineering.

    The raw-text source code rite of passage therefore continues, although JBuilder 9s editors offer some interesting new error-proofing aids, such as a Sync Edit mode that updates every occurrence of an identifier in a single operation. This is especially useful when using one piece of code as a template for another.

    Also found in JBuilder 9 are the first fruits of Borlands acquisition of Starbase Corp., a process completed in January. Having Starbase under its umbrella gives Borland new strengths in requirements definition, configuration management and team collaboration technologies—from a team whose products have been eWEEK favorites for the past decade.

    The Starbase tools are integrated not only with JBuilder on the development side but also with the design tools that joined the Borland lineup in January when it acquired TogetherSoft Corp. JBuilder 9 represents a surprising leap in capability for a product thats now flirting with the "Version 10 Barrier," a milestone of maturity that few software products successfully pass while remaining category leaders.

    JBuilder looks likely to break that barrier with ease.

    Technology Editor Peter Coffee can be reached at peter_coffee@ziffdavis.com.

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