Speed, ease of use drive developer tool evolution [Portfolio]

Regardless of platform, enterprises are looking to build and deploy applications faster and more easily. Vendors are hearing this plea and are responding with tools that strip the complexity out of development.

But what’s driving the application development cycle is changing. Integration of disparate systems using Web services is becoming a deciding factor for the kind of applications being developed. This has altered the value proposition for developer tools, says David Senf, analyst with IDC Canada in Toronto.

“Web services plays a key role in that shift,” says Senf.

“Web services is driving evolution of the tools,” agrees Frances Newbigin, regional manager for Sun ONE Canada.

Tools such as Microsoft’s Visual Studio.Net and Sun’s new Rave initiative are about making development simpler and helping developers become more productive.

“There’s a commoditization going on and standardization going on throughout the software industry, and that is leading to plug-and-play application components,” says Senf. “The simpler it is for a developer to manipulate the language, the easier it will be to get developers to develop for that language, whether it’s in .Net or in J2E. That will determine which platform has more applications written for it.”

Some elements of development haven’t changed in 15 years, says Newbigin, such as reuse, flexibility and integration.

“That’s what Web services is about,” she says. “No one can argue about the benefits of those things or the need to deliver inside enterprises when there’s such complexity.”

At Java One this year, Sun Microsystems announced Project Rave, a tool geared toward corporate Java developers. Rave is designed to reach those in the enterprise who are tasked with designing applications, but aren’t necessarily classically trained developers, says Jeff Anders, group marketing manager for developer tools at Sun.

“There is a huge opportunity to build a tool for developers that fit that description,” he says.

Montréal-based Silver Leap Technologies focuses on making development simpler and faster on the J2E platform. Its ACES for J2EE is an integrated software engineering system for Web-based application development, working in conjunction with the Java/J2EE tools and frameworks. It includes all the tools and components needed to build J2EE Web-based applications.

Kelly Ramsay, vice-president of corporate development at Silver Leap, says there is a tremendous amount of migration going on in its large enterprise customer base from older technologies, such as a mainframe environment.

“That’s driving the porting or the development of new enterprise applications,” he says. “Overall we’ve seen very mixed environments.”

Chris Corey, GM for Borland Canada, says customers are confronted with having investments in legacy technology, “and the cost of abandoning that technology and reinventing the wheel is prohibitive, so they need a cost-effective and efficient way to build upon it, improve upon it and leverage what they already have.”

Enterprises also have to deal with new choices, he adds, and “whether they’re going to use .Net or J2EE is probably the most prevalent example today. Many customers have not chosen the platform path they are going to go down, or are conceding they may have to have a little bit of both.”

Speed of development is also becoming an important issue, says Corey.

The Credential Group of Vancouver, a family of companies that allows credit unions to provide mutual funds and other securities for investment accounts, was in a position where it had just 90 days to rebuild it’s Credential Direct Web site, which serves brokers and dealers.

“We built this solution just more than a year ago,” says Drew Carmichael, Credential’s manager of online strategy. “We have been with Merrill-Lynch, who got bought by CIBC, and we basically had to change our back-office. We had 90 days to turn around and develop a new site.”

With the help of local firm Habanero using VisualStudio.Net, Credential built, deployed and tested the new site within the time frame. But ongoing support of the site has been just as important, says Carmichael.

“New releases of the product are much easier with .Net in terms of not having DLL conflicts,” he says. “That has certainly made a big difference in my ongoing upkeep of the site, to know that if we do make a change to the site, I can literally take the site down and replace the site wholesale in less than 30 seconds.”

Originally published in Computing Canada, August 22, 2003, Vol. 29 No. 16

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