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JBuilder 3 Enterprise Edition [Software Review]

Mar 01, 2000, 20:37 (2 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Nelson King)

By Nelson King, Intranet Design Magazine

Although you can write Java applications with a text editor, most software developers would rather not--especially when it comes to big Internet or intranet applications. Typically developers choose one of the Java application development systems with an integrated development environment (IDE). With Inprise/Borland Corporation JBuilder 3 you can see why: so much of the application organizing and fundamental coding has already been done, and done well.

Of course, JBuilder can be used to create applets and beans, but its strength is its integration of numerous tools for developing full-scale applications. JBuilder covers the development cycle from a Data Modeler for designing databases, to the AppBrowser that assembles the Java classes and code, to the multi-platform debugger, to the Deployment Wizard for distributing applications, and to the JavaDoc Wizard for program documentation.

Inprise/Borland is known for including additional software for added value and JBuilder 3 continues that tradition, which (depending on edition) also includes the InterBase database server, PVCS Version Control, and VisiBroker 3.2 CORBA server. Considering JBuilder's relatively low price, it is the current best bang for the buck among the major Java development systems.

The maturation of Java is an important ingredient in the steady improvement of Java products, but the intense competition and eagerness to make Java succeed have also led to innovations and polish that make Java tools the leaders in the software development industry. A good example is JBuilder's embrace of Java 2. This is not a me-too exercise; considerable thought and effort has gone into updating the entire system, including more complex components such as data-enabled objects (dbSwing) and a Java 2 debugger. Altogether, over 300 Java components are bundled with JBuilder, yet the overall integration and design of JBuilder continues to improve with the user interface becoming less cluttered even though it is handling more complex tasks. This is thanks to the AppBrowser, which uses panes, tabs, and tree displays to deftly manage the chaos of typical application elements.

JBuilder has a very comfortable mix of visual programming (in the UI Designer), code structures and snippets to start program elements (from the Object Gallery), and an excellent code editor. The editor uses CodeInsight, a set of inline editing support features that include code completion, parameter filling, expression tool tips, and some error checking. All of these features can be configured (or turned off), making JBuilder coding as supportive or "on your own" as you wish.

For complex tasks JBuilder offers a coven of Wizards: Project, Application, CORBA Server, applet, JavaBean, Panel, DataModule, Class, Servlet, Desktop, Internal frame, Override methods, Implement Interface, Resource Strings, Deployment, JavaDoc, Package Migration, Data Migration, Bean Insight, and Enterprise JavaBean. This impressive list is not a substitute for understanding the programming, but Wizards can save time and help when your memory fails.

Another area of strength for JBuilder is database application development. With this version, JBuilder has taken an all Java stance that is backed-up by the right components. Not only has everything been updated to Java 2, several important new all-Java features have been added. These include a Data Modeler to create tables and SQL statements that are stored in a reusable Data Module. The new Application Generator uses Data Modules to create the basics of an application, which can be a major time saver. The new JDBC Explorer turns out to be an exceptionally useful tool for analyzing a wide variety of databases.

The JBuilder system for managing data, which usually begins with JDBC connections, goes through a StorageDataSet object and ends with either dbSwing or JBCL components, takes some getting used-to.But it does provide a great deal of flexibility. For testing database applications JBuilder includes a one-machine version of the InterBase server (a full server version for the Enterprise Edition). Also included is JDataStore, a top-flight pure Java transactional database for small and embedded systems. For more elaborate tiered architecture applications Inprise/Borland offers the Inprise Application Server-it's about the only major software piece that isn't bundled with JBuilder.

On the business end of programming, JBuilder's compiler has been updated and enhanced for Java 2, and the JIT compiler has been incorporated into the system. It's taken a few years, but at last we have a complete Java debugger! JBuilder distinguishes itself in this crucial department with arguably one of the best debuggers available for Java-and especially Java 2. It's ability to follow code into multiple platforms, older Java versions, and provide real-time debugging for distributed applications is exceptional.

For those brave souls venturing into two and three-tiered distributed applications, JBuilder is a confirmed devotee of CORBA. (It should be, Inprise/Borland owns VisiBroker.) A full copy of VisiBroker 3.2 Object Request Broker is included with the enterprise edition and there are Wizards and components that help simplify this daunting form of application development.

It is easy to endorse JBuilder as a fine product, which it is, but it's important to understand that using it is typically a long-term commitment. You're buying into the way JBuilder does things. Yes the Java it produces is Sun specification compliant and portable at run time, but you can't easily move code to another development system. Though all the big IDE products have this characteristic, JBuilder has it more than some.

Some people will be attracted to the spirit (anti-Microsoft PC) with which Inprise/Borland is supporting pure Java, adopting Linux (which certainly won't diminish with the merger of Inprise/Borland with Corel), and it's choice of CORBA for distributed applications. JBuilder isn't the best IDE for pure Java bean building (Symantec Visual Café gets the nod), nor is it the most advanced IDE design (IBM Visual Age for Java has that honor). However, the Java IDE feature competition is a leapfrog affair and Inprise/Borland JBuilder 3 Enterprise Edition is a champion frog with the best value-a high quality application development system loaded with major extras. You can even get your feet wet with a free, downloadable, open source version-JBuilder Foundation.

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