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7/96 Reviews What's Hot: Symantec Café

Listing of July 1996 Reviews

Café Brews Hot Java Applications

By Martin Heller

The fervor attending a new operating system or programming language can attain almost religious extremes. I've seen a lot of hype in my time, and what's been generated for SunSoft's Java language is right up there with the masters.

Now that Symantec has released Café, its Java development environment, and a slew of competitors is just around the corner, all this ballyhoo should be at least partially replaced by actual product. I put Café through its paces recently and, while it's no substitute for C++ when it comes to building quality Windows applications, it's certainly better than the first generation of Java tools.

Briefly, Java is a programming language with syntax based on C++ and a class library reminiscent of Smalltalk. It's tailor-made for an interactive environment like the Internet.

Java applets-single-minded mini-applications that can create truly interactive Web pages-are small, can run within a Web browser and supposedly won't harm client or server. Full-blown Java applications run in their own windows and have full system access.

The very nature of interpreted languages, which translate instructions into native or machine code as the application is run, makes them slower than compilers, which build separate native code applications from your program's high-level instructions. Yet compiling Java to native code prior to downloading to the client system would destroy a big Java attraction: its system independence. Without it, creating active, universal Web content would mean you'd build one version for Windows, another for UNIX and so on.

You can boost Java execution on the client and keep its universality by speeding up its interpreter. Or you can supply a just-in-time (JIT) compiler, which creates and runs native object code, from a "virtual-machine" byte code, on the fly.

Symantec Café as reviewed includes the former but not the latter, and its lack of a JIT compiler is probably its biggest weakness at this point. Café owners can, however, download a JIT compiler from Symantec's Web site, and I expect that compiler to be included in a future release of the product. Café's strengths are legion: an integrated visual design environment, graphical class and hierarchy editors, simple application generators and a smashing debugger. However, it's resource-heavy, so speed may become an issue, especially on older machines. Still, the environment is intelligently helpful.

AppExpress, Café's application generator, builds applets and both standalone and console applications. It gives applets appropriate HTML code for use in a Web browser or in the supplied Applet Viewer. Standalone applications start in an MS-DOS window and then open their own main window frame complete with menus and title bar. Console applications run in a character-mode MS-DOS window; they're quite useful for debugging, but seeing a console would be disconcerting to an end user expecting a conventional Windows application.

The Café Studio resource editor is delightful when it works as expected and intensely frustrating when it doesn't. It visually edits native Windows resource (.RC) files and generates appropriate Java code as you save the resources. The Java runtime, however, conventionally uses something called a layout manager to place controls in a container, and the manager and visual editor aren't always an exact match

At times, Café seems to have a fragile rapport with Windows 95. Change the desktop-hide your taskbar, for instance-bars shift spontaneously from the top to the bottom of the screen. The cure? Resize your desktop and Café will repair itself in the redraw.

Thankfully, Café follows a new net-savvy trend, coming with a year's subscription to downloadable updates. Visit Cafe's Web site ( and you can purchase Café, retrieve updates, and gather information and sample programs. Right now, most of the sample code available is also on the program's CD-ROM, along with a little tutorial material.

Frankly, I'm not going to can my C++ compilers just yet: Java clearly has its uses for Web applets, but Café's implementation isn't quite ready for prime time as a vehicle for delivering commercial-quality Windows applications. On the other hand, it's a major advance over previous Java tools.

-- Info File --
Symantec Café
$299; $99 for Symantec C++ owners
Pros: Editing, class browsing and debugging; parsing; design tools
Cons: Lacks JIT compiler on CD;no printed documentation
Platforms: Windows 95, NT
Disk Space: 30MB
RAM: 8MB (16MB recommended)
Symantec Corp.
800-441-7234, 541-334-6054
WinMag Box Score: 3.5

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