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-- by Martin Heller
Tools for Java development are still in their infancy.
A new entry from Microsoft, Visual J++, is shipping as I write. It's a robust Java programming environment for 32-bit windows platforms that is usable if you're an experienced programmer, but it does have some drawbacks and lacks support for drag-and-drop visual programming.
Visual J++ provides good editing, browsing and debugging tools, and excellent speed when compiling from Java source to byte codes. It offers good just-in-time compilers for testing applets and applications, and fairly good supporting materials. Symantec's CafE, reviewed in our July 1996 issue, also provides all of these features. The visual resource editor, however, is disappointing, as it is in Cafe.
Visual J++'s biggest distinction is its support for ActiveX and COM and for the extensions built into the Internet Explorer 3.0 Java Virtual Machine. Whether this feature is attractive or not depends on your outlook. If you think that Java's biggest strength is its platform independence, then ActiveX support might seem like the devil's spawn.
Visual J++ also lets you debug applets running in a browser, but your browser is limited to Internet Explorer 3.0, with all its overhead. On the bright side, this allows you to debug multiple applets running on the same Web page. Visual J++ does offer the lower-overhead alternative of debugging with the standalone JView interpreter.
VJ++'s visual resource designer will seem helpful if you're an experienced Windows programmer with limited Java experience, but will be much less appealing if you're familiar with Java's AWT. In Visual J++, you edit dialogs and the like with the standard Windows dialog editor. Then, you save them in a resource template file. Finally, you run the Java Resource Wizard to turn the resource template into Java classes.
You must add these classes to your project manually. You'll also have to copy and paste some code from the online help into your existing code before any of the resources you've designed will appear in your applet. You can use the classes generated by the Resource Wizard in any frame or panel, which gives you a lot of flexibility. The Resource Wizard classes rely on a custom Microsoft DialogLayout class, not much better than having no layout manager at all.
In contrast, Cafe's resource editor generates Java code-including event handlers-directly in your application, and you can choose the layout manager from a property sheet. The resulting code is a lot closer than Microsoft's to what an expert Java programmer would write by hand, but you still have to compile and run your application.
Despite the $99 price tag, Visual J++ is definitely a professional development environment. I recommend it for those who already use Microsoft Visual C++ and want to combine Java with ActiveX, and if you need to debug two applets interacting on a Web page. If you demand graphical hierarchy editing, a three-pane class editor and support for standard layout managers, Cafe will satisfy your needs. However, if you're looking for real visual Java programming, I'd wait for the next generation of tools.
Copyright © 1997 CMP Media Inc.