Finalists in the category of Java Tools represent products from both large, well-known vendors and smaller vendors alike. Most of these products, however, attempt to fulfill a common vision - that of simplified Java application development. Let's review the finalists of this year's contest, then reveal the winner.
In the category of Java Tools, the nominations for Product of the Year 2005 are:
- Borland JBuilder 2005
- Embarcadero DT/Studio
- TriCoron's PRO-JSP
- XTT Smart Web Clients for Java
- Sun Java Studio Creator
JBuilder 2005 is the latest Java development environment released from Borland Software. JBuilder has been popular among Java developers for years. Borland has always been aggressive with the JBuilder release schedule in an effort to keep pace with the fast-changing pace of Java technology. JBuilder 2005 delivers many of the same services JBuilder users have come to rely upon, along with several new major enhancements. Specifically, support for the J2SE 5.0 language, a new JSF (JavaServer Faces) visual flow editor, and additional support in the area of J2EE profiling. The afore mentioned JSF editor, as well as a graphic EJB (Enterprise JavaBeans) tool, demonstrates Borland's response to the increasing demand for enterprise Java tools that help simplify application development.
DT/Studio from Embarcadero Technologies is a Java-based ETL (Extraction, Transformation, and Loading) development solution that attempts to ease the pain of data integration between enterprise applications. Another Embarcadero product, ER/Studio, was nominated in the DBMS or Related Technology category this year. Moving data from legacy applications can be a challenge in many ways. DT/Studio allows developers to import and visually analyze data models, as well as the flow of data, from different sources with a rich set of graphic tools. Of relevance to Java developers, DT/Studio is equipped with its own Java-based engine, allowing developers to develop Java functions to assist in type conversions, data transformations, and any other types of calculations needed for the task. Since Java is a preferred technology for modern applications, DT/Studio's built-in Java support makes a good fit for businesses moving legacy data into new Java-based applications.
Writing automated unit tests for application code has become a widely accepted practice in the Java community. Parasoft's JTest aims to alleviate much of the grunt work involved in the process. One voter explained that JTest "automates Java unit testing and coding standard compliance to help developers produce reliable code in record time". JTest generates unit tests for you based on the popular open-source JUnit by analyzing an existing code base and extracting its variables and paths of execution. The result can be a significant time savings for development teams. In addition, JTest can help enforce coding standards by comparing code to default and custom rules provided by a developer.
PRO-JSP, from Tricoron, promises to automate much of the development of J2EE, web-enabled applications that work with a database. Using a metadata-based approach, PRO-JSP lets developers build their software through a GUI interface. With some basic configurations and a database schema, an application can be generated that uses standard J2EE technology familiar to most developers: Struts, JSP, JSTL, etc. PRO-JSP looks to fill the need for quality RAD (Rapid Application Development) tools for Java.
A large amount of attention has been focused on finding ways to create web-enabled thin clients with the look and feel you would expect from desktop software. The term RIA (Rich Internet Applications) categorizes a class of technologies that enable developers to create GUIs with functionality generally unavailable in browser-based applications, like drag-and-drop and context sensitive menus. XTT Smart Web Clients for Java, from InsiTech, Inc., uses Swing technology to create an application that you specify using a minimal amount of Java and XML. Delivered through the standard Java plug-in (readily available for free on any popular browser), XTT-designed applications are light-weight alternatives to the sometimes clunky Java applet.
Sun Microsystems released Java Studio Creator after much anticipation in 2004. Creator is intended primarily at corporate developers who want to turbo-start the development of J2EE-based web applications. Utilizing many core J2EE technologies such as the new JSF (JavaServer Faces) standard and JDBC (Java Database Connectivity) Rowsets, relatively inexperienced developers can rapidly assemble applications that access a database, expose web services, and more. If more sophisticated technologies are required to meet users' demands, Creator-assembled programs can be handed off to enterprise developers who might incorporate technologies such as EJB (Enterprise JavaBeans) using, for example, an enterprise platform such as Sun Java Studio Enterprise. Based upon community feedback, the large amount of hype Studio Creator received prior to its release has been justified. As one voter put it, "It's the ideal pathway to simplifying IT infrastructure and reducing development complexity for developers throughout an organization".
Sun Java Studio Creator
Apparently the drag-and-drop, RAD approach to J2EE development that Studio Creator offers really resonates with the Developer.com community. Creator garnered over 50% of all votes among the six finalists in this category and it was also runner-up in the Development Tool category of this year's contest. As mentioned earlier, Java Studio Creator blends together a number of new, standards-based technologies such as JSF, JDBC Rowsets, and the Web Services APIs to give J2EE developers a jump-start when building web applications. Without the disadvantage of being tied to proprietary technologies, developers can work within Creator or easily take their code with them to any number of development platforms. The accolades that Creator has received in its debut year gives indication that we may see more than a few newcomers into the 'RAD tools for J2EE' market in the near future.
The need for rapid application development tools is not a new one, but until recently, the choices have been few when it comes to Java. Not so anymore. Java, and in particular J2EE, has long weathered criticism that it introduces too much complexity for the benefits, like platform-neutral code, that it provides. Apparently, the powers that be have listened and have responded with a set of automation tools to reduce concerns about complexity. Products from Borland, Sun, and TriCoron all promote this rapid development methodology in some or all of their features. As always, quality software remains the end goal and offerings from DT/Studio and JTest suggest that innovative tools aimed at improving code quality and developer productivity will continue to find a receptive audience.