RAD tools extend their reach

RAD tools extend their reach<@VM>Delphi 6 speaks to Web services<@VM>RAD tools vary in language, as well as the apps and databases they support

Rapid application development blends user-friendly modeling with Web platforms


For about as long as there have been programmers, there has been software to simplify a programmer's job.

RAD Toolbox
No class of software has made grander promises than rapid application development tools, which are designed to automate programming with prefabricated code and an interface for quickly assembling applications. A few RAD devices even claim to make programming so easy that managers and end users can do it.

But RAD vendors admit there are some tasks the products cannot do. Low-level, close-to-the-metal code such as that for device drivers is a common example of an application that is unsuited to RAD.

There is even disagreement on RAD's definition. Two of the best-selling tools long ago given the RAD moniker, Delphi from Borland Software Corp. and Microsoft Visual Basic, are closer in scope and function to integrated development environments (IDEs). They're essentially toolkits for professional programmers, lacking the plain-English modeling tools and diagramming that nonprogrammers can understand.

The second, model-based class of RAD includes the AltoWeb e-Business Platform from AltoWeb Inc. and NeuArchitect from NeuVis Inc.

Rapid app requirements

Several vendors and industry analysts agree that, at a minimum, a RAD tool must include libraries of reusable components that provide instant functionality for major parts of an application. This is especially true for generic applications that are tedious to program, such as database connectors and client-side screen menus. They must also have a visual design interface that provides drag-and-drop control over program elements and process flows.

RAD tools vary widely in their use of proprietary or other specialized languages that add to a developer's learning curve. For example, Delphi's Object Pascal and the PowerScript fourth-generation language in PowerBuilder from Sybase Inc. are important parts of each product's programming interface.

These and some of the model-intensive tools such as NeuArchitect also are proprietary on the back end and employ their own virtual machines or run-time executables for deployment.

The Lowdown

' What is it? Rapid application development tools simplify Java and Windows-based programming by letting developers work with reusable, prepackaged software components instead of building from scratch.

' Why do you need them? RAD tools can boost the productivity of already hard-pressed programmers.

' When would you not need them? You wouldn't need them for the biggest, highest-volume or most mission-critical enterprise applications, which often are built by the best developers, who often prefer to work directly in Java or C++.

' Price? Approximately $500 to $9,000 per developer seat. Prices in the chart do not include runtime charges for the software you need to run the programs; those charges can vary from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars for a site license.

' Must-know info? Many of these products also come in less expensive basic, desktop or professional versions but they offer less support of server, database and Web services.

Other tools, such as Visual Age for Java from IBM Corp., instead use standard Java and related components for programming, though each product's visual design environment is unique.

RAD products also differ in their ability to deploy applications either to generic, industry-standard platforms or to specific application servers such as BEA WebLogic from BEA Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif.

The deployment decision is key. For example, choosing a tool that produces Java code complying with Sun's Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) specification, rather than Java tweaked for a particular application server, is a vote for platform independence.

But the strategy doesn't always work, said Thomas Murphy, program director at the Meta Group, a market research firm in Stamford, Conn. 'There's this idea of, if it's J2EE it will be portable,' Murphy said. 'The problem is there are some holes in the spec.'

A generic approach might also have performance disadvantages if the deployment target is an application server. For this reason, many people use RAD for non-mission-critical projects 'where resources are tight and productivity is important,' Murphy said. 'Most people don't trust all RAD code. And if a RAD tool calls all its own libraries, how are you going to change it?'

Although modeling tools have always operated from the idea that programming is for everyone, they have reappeared as important technical devices thanks to the growing popularity of the Uniform Modeling Language.

Many products, including the IDE-like tools, work with third-party UML products. The model-based products have UML built in.

A dream becomes reality

With UML becoming cool even among techies, it might appear that the decades-old dream of a rigorous, end-to-end development environment is upon us. Vendors of the new modeling environments claim they've solved the thorny problem of ensuring that the models change to reflect program changes.

But many observers are still skeptical of modeling's reliability, and Murphy said it is no panacea. 'Having to specify things in a model is often as onerous a task as writing the code itself,' he said.

Michael Blechar, a vice president at market analyst Gartner Inc. of Stamford, Conn., agreed. 'It's still really not the case that high-level people are involved,' he says.

The biggest application development breakthrough of the last year is the advent of Web services. Microsoft launched its .Net platform in November, and Oracle's Now and Sun's One quickly followed.

Web services fundamentally change the deployment equation, allowing applications to access data and other resources spread out over the Internet.

Standards and tools are still emerging, and Microsoft's upcoming Visual Studio.Net tool will contain important RAD elements, including modeling and a new language, C# (C sharp), designed to facilitate RAD. Blechar described RAD as a process, not a tool, a conscious attempt to build large-scale applications in reusable components while paying attention to business logic and workflow.

But government is several years behind the business world in adopting the object-oriented design philosophies that are the real key to RAD's promise, according to Blechar.

'They need to get to component architectures,' he said. 'Once you know what the deployment architecture is going to be, then you can decide the tools you need.'

David Essex is a free-lance technology writer based in Antrim, N.H.Borland Software Corp.'s Delphi has been a favorite rapid application development program among developers for years.

As its arch rival Microsoft Corp. does with Visual Basic, Borland calls Delphi a RAD tool, although each application is more an integrated development environment for serious programmers than a modeling tool for nonprogrammers.

Delphi aims to remove much of the tedium from programming, with code libraries and visual tools for building programs out of mostly preassembled objects, while assisting with low-level coding where necessary.

The $2,999 Enterprise version of the latest upgrade, Delphi 6, is among the first RAD tools to support the emerging Web service platforms from Microsoft, Oracle Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc.

One Borland competitor dismissed the claim as hollow, and said Web service proponents haven't even finalized their specs or delivered all the needed software. But Michael Swindell, Borland's director of product management, said Delphi 6 follows the World Wide Web Consortium's definition of Web services and incorporates Extensible Markup Language and Simple Object Access Protocol. 'The XML documents and data actually are native Delphi objects,' he said.

Highlights of Delphi 6 include the new BizSnap platform for building business-to-business Web services and connections in XML and SOAP; WebSnap, a component framework supporting such Web application servers as Apache and Microsoft Internet Information Server, and DataSnap Web service-enabled middleware for connecting to popular databases.

Delphi 6 also works with Borland's new Kylix, a Linux RAD tool, which means developers can use a single code base to deploy applications on both Microsoft Windows and Linux.

'David Essex

Company Product Modeling tool included? Developmental environment Primary deployment targets (all products also deploy to Web platforms) Application servers supported Databases supported Web services? Price
AltoWeb Inc.

Palo Alto, Calif.


AltoWeb e-Business
Platform Release 2.1
Yes Visual J2EE via proprietary Alto-Server runtime platform (requires J2EE-compliant application server) Any J2EE-compliant server, ATG Dynamo, BEA WebLogic, Jboss, Tomcat DB2, Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, Sybase No $2,500
Borland Software Corp.

Scotts Valley, Calif.


Delphi 6 Enterprise Edition No Visual and Object Pascal Java, Microsoft, Oracle, Sun Web services, Windows desktops, Linux (requires Kylix) Borland Application Server Access, DB2, Dbase, FoxPro, Informix, Interbase, Microsoft SQL Server, MyBase, MySQL, Oracle, Paradox, Sybase Yes $2,999
JBuilder 5 Enterprise No Visual and Java J2EE BEA WebLogic, Borland Application Server, Websphere Any JDBC-compliant databse No $2,999
Kylix Server Developer No Visual and Object Pascal Linux servers via proprietary runtime libraries Apache DB2, Interbase, MyBase (XML),

MySQL, Oracle
No $1,999
Computer Associates

International Inc.

Islandia, N.Y.


COOL:Gen 6.0 Yes Visual C, Cobol, C++, Java on OS/390, Unix, Windows Iplanet, Jboss, Jrun, BEA WebLogic DB2, Informix, Nonstop SQL, RDB,

SQL Server, Sybase
No $12,000 up
COOL:Joe 2.0 Yes Visual and Java J2EE Any J2EE-compliant server, BEA WebLogic, iPlanet, Jboss, Jrun,

Any JDBC-compliant server No $3,500
Compuware Corp.

Farmington Hills, Mich.


Uniface 8.1 Yes Visual and proprietary fourth-generation (4GL) language Various component standards, including COM+, CORBA, Enterprise Java Beans Uniface WebApplication Server DB2, Informix,SQL Server, Oracle, Sybase, several mainframe databases No $2,000
Four J's America Inc.



Business Development
Language/Internet Rapid
Application Development Suite
No Proprietary 4GL language Windows, Java via proprietary virtual machine None Adabas, DB2, Informix SQL Server, Oracle, PostgreSQL, Sybase No $5,000
IBM Corp.

Armonk, N.Y.


VisualAge for Java 3.5
Enterprise Edition
No Visual and Java J2EE Any J2EE-compliant server, Websphere DB2, Lotus Notes, Oracle, Sybase No $2,849 for disks; $2,522 for download
Microsoft Corp.

Redmond, Wash.


Visual Basic 6
Enterprise Edition
Yes Visual Basic Windows, Web via Microsoft IIS Microsoft IIS ADO, OLE DB, Oracle, SQL Server No $1,299
NeuVis Inc.

Shelton, Conn.


NeuArchitect 3.0 Yes Visual Java via proprietary virtual machine Any J2EE-complaint, server, BEA WebLogic, IIS, iPlanet, Websphere DB2, SQL Server, Oracle, Sybase No $7,999 per developer seat plus
$12,500 per server CPU*
Oracle Corp.

Redwood Shores, Calif.


Jdeveloper 3.2 Yes Visual and Java J2EE Any J2EE-compliant, server, Oracle9i Application Server JDBC No $1,750
Sun Microsystems Inc.

Palo Alto, Calif.


Forte for Java 3.0
Internet Edition
No Visual and Java J2EE, Java Web services Any J2EE-compliant server, iPlanet JDBC, JDO Yes $495
Sybase Inc.

Emeryville, Calif.


PowerBuilder 8 No Visual and proprietary Power-Builder 4GL Windows, Sybase EAServer Sybase EAServer DB2, Informix, JDBC, SQL Server, ODBC Oracle, Sybase No $2,995
PowerJ 3.6 No Visual-style and Java J2EE Sybase EAServer, any EJB1.1-compliant server ODBC No $595
TogetherSoft Corp.

Raleigh, N.C.


Together ControlCenter 5.0 Yes C++, InterfaceDefinition Language, Java J2EE BEA WebLogic, Brokat/Gemstone

Gemstone J, Iona iPortal, iPlanet,

Silverstream Server, Sun J2EE RI, Websphere
Access, DB2, Cloudscape, Informix,

SQL Server, MySQL, Oracle, Sybase
No $5,995
Versata Inc.

Oakland, Calif.


Versata E-Business
Automation System
Yes Visual and Java CORBA and EnterpriseJava Beans servers via proprietary server Any CORBA- or J2EE-compliant server,Versata Interaction Server, Versata Logic Server, CORBA, EJB,BEA WebLogic, Websphere DB2, Informix, SQL Server, Oracle, Sybase No $3,000
WebGain Inc.

Santa Clara, Calif.


WebGain Studio 4.5
Professional Edition
Yes Visual and Java J2EE BEA WebLogic, Bluestone, iPlanet, WebSphere JDBC No $8,995
Visual Caf' 4.5
Enterprise Edition

No Visual and Java J2EE Any J2EE-compliant server; comes with BEA WebLogic JDBC No #3,714
*(one-year license)


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