Here's how four Windows-hosted development tools for Java stack up

Here's how four Windows-hosted development tools for Java stack up

By Martin Heller

Special to GCN

Four Windows tools are useful for developing Java applications designed to access databases and work across multiple computers: Inprise Corp.'s Borland JBuilder 3 Enterprise, IBM VisualAge for Java 2.0 Enterprise, Microsoft Visual J++ 6.0, and VisualCafe Enterprise Suite 3.0 from Symantic Corp. of Cupertino, Calif.

How do they compare?

All four can read database schemas, automatically generate database access classes and automatically generate database-aware forms. JBuilder and VisualCafe can do this with Sun Microsystem Inc.'s JFC/Swing classes; VisualAge works with Data Access beans and a Data Access Builder, and Visual J++ does it with Microsoft Windows Foundation Class (WFC) data access components and a Data Form Wizard.

Up to a point

All these methods work well on Windows platforms. WFC is efficient on Windows but is not portable beyond it because the classes rely on Windows application programming interface calls. Visual J++ generates robust and high-performance Java database applications for Windows.

VisualAge DataAccess beans are portable but nonstandard. The Sun JFC/Swing classes used for data access by JBuilder and VisualCafe are standard, but the two environments have different implementations.

JBuilder, VisualAge, and VisualCafe can all generate Common Object Request Broker Architecture and Remote Machine Interface distributed applications. Visual J++ does a good job of generating Component Object Model and Distributed COM applications. CORBA is interoperable with Unix and Windows programs written in Java and in C++; COM and DCOM are interoperable with Windows programs written in any one of a dozen languages.

All four products can compile applications to Java byte codes and debug them. VisualAge and VisualCafe can also compile applications to native executables and debug them. VisualAge can compile for several native target systems, including Windows, while VisualCafe can only compile for Intel-Windows native systems.

JBuilder, VisualAge and VisualCafe can debug remote and distributed Java applications on heterogeneous platforms. VisualAge uses multiple debuggers for multiple machines. JBuilder's support for debugging on heterogeneous platforms is limited to debugging the CORBA interfaces. VisualCafe can debug an entire distributed, heterogeneous application from a single view.

JBuilder and VisualCafe both can generate Enterprise Java Beans. VisualCafe also can test EJBs in a BEA WebLogic application server from BEA Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif. The next version of VisualAge will include EJB support, but the current version does not support EJBs. Visual J++ can generate COM components for Microsoft Transaction Server, but not EJBs.

Changing horses

JBuilder is a Sun Java 2-hosted system. VisualCafe is a Sun Java Development Kit 1.1-hosted system that can also generate and debug Java 2 applications. VisualAge and Visual J++ are JDK 1.1-hosted systems. Visual J++ relies on several Microsoft extensions to standard JDK 1.1 Java.

Visual J++ is the easiest of the four to learn and use, but it is appropriate only for agencies that have standardized on Windows. Programmers familiar with Visual Basic will find Visual J++ an easy transition.

VisualCafe has the best performance of the environments that generate portable Java, and the most familiar design interface, but it relies on proprietary comment tags to mark Java code generated by its visual design tools. It is possible to write user interface code that VisualCafe will import into its visual design tools, but only if you follow VisualCafe's coding style.

Programmers familiar with recent versions of Delphi or C++ Builder will find JBuilder an easy transition. Both VisualAge and JBuilder have performance problems when generating code from their visual designers, although the time saved by the visual design process more than justifies the wait for code generation.

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