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-- by Martin Heller
Tired of all the Java hype? Dubious about the claims of all the new Java development environments? Unfortunately, SuperCede won't restore your faith in tool developers. Although it offers a few worthy features, it suffers from a subpar visual form designer, lacks support for JavaBeans and produces code with enough strange behaviors to make us get out the bug spray.
At least pokiness isn't SuperCede's problem. Asymetrix has built a speedy Java environment, obtained at design time by using incremental compilation and at runtime by generating Intel native machine code. This means that SuperCede can build native Windows EXEs and DLLs from Java code-a trick not many have managed. But it can also generate normal Java byte-code class files, so you have a choice: Deploy your applets native on Windows for speed, or deploy them as normal Java classes on the Internet for platform independence.
The company claims SuperCede comes up with better runtime speed than JIT compilers, but our tests show they may not be able to back up those claims completely-a troubling thought, although a lot depends on the benchmarks you choose. We compared its runtime performance with the runtime performance of Internet Explorer (IE) 3.0 using Martin Heller's Mandelbrot Explorer application (available at http://www.winmag.com/people/mheller/Mandelbrot.html). The Mandelbrot set displayed in 2 seconds, beating the 3 seconds needed by IE's JIT compiler. Then we tried the same thing with Visual Cafe's AppletViewer, which uses the Symantec JIT compiler. AppletViewer beat SuperCede decisively, displaying the full Mandelbrot set in under 1 second.
But what really disturbed us was that the Zoom feature of the Mandelbrot Explorer doesn't work correctly under SuperCede. We could select subsets graphically, as expected, but the subsets wouldn't display. It's possible that SuperCede has exposed a bug in the Java source code, but it's likely that Mandelbrot Explorer has exposed a bug in SuperCede's native code compiler. Sadly, even SuperCede's excellent debugging tools couldn't help us figure this one out. That same code works perfectly well in every other Java development and runtime environment we've tried, which makes us suspect a SuperCede bug.
Even so, debugging was SuperCede's high point. It made the process almost a pleasure (we've never had fun debugging, regardless of the tool's quality). The environment was completely interactive. We could edit source and update a program even while it was running, enter and execute ad hoc code at any breakpoint, and set breakpoints and action points. Furthermore, update and debugging speeds are excellent.
The program has a proprietary way to integrate C++ code with Java code, which is another plus. It isn't portable to other Java environments, but SuperCede's approach is a much easier way to preserve and reuse your investment in C or C++ code than Sun's javah preprocessor for using native code. While using C++ code in a Java project of necessity destroys the project's portability, we consider this feature a bonus.
On the other hand, SuperCede is not so easy to use. Unlike Symantec's Visual Cafe 1.0, our WinList product in this category, or Borland's J Builder, SuperCede doesn't support JavaBeans components. SuperCede's idea of a component is more like most people's idea of an applet, application or library.
SuperCede does offer a visual form designer with interesting layout capabilities, but it only supports 11 of the standard Java AWT classes. It doesn't support panels, much less more complex visual objects. It won't preview the appearance of hand-coded AWT objects. SuperCede's shortcomings in the visual design area are a serious flaw, even though its editing and browsing tools are somewhat better than its form designer.
Asymetrix bulks up its product with a CD-ROM tutorial from MindQ, Internet Foundation Classes from Netscape, the Java Generic Library from ObjectSpace and the ObjectStore persistent storage engine. The product documentation is primarily online (in Help and Acrobat formats-the Adobe Acrobat reader is included)
Right now, SuperCede falls short in its design tools and in its overall stability, so Visual Cafe 1.0 remains our WinList recommended product. On the other hand, SuperCede's breakthrough interactivity in the debugging module leads us to believe that it could become a great product in the future. We're looking forward to the next revision.