[ Go to June 1997 Table of Contents ]|
-- by Serdar Yegulalp
Powersoft's PowerJ from Sybase is the company's first rapid-application-development environment for Java. PowerJ is most suitable to advanced programmers because it lacks the friendly and intuitive visual environment of WinList product Symantec Visual Cafe. However, this integrated development environment (IDE)-patterned after Powersoft's Optima++ RAD C++ development environment-will ease some of the pain of Java programming.
PowerJ's features are geared toward experienced, hands-on programmers. As a result, the development environment has a bare-bones initial screen with only a blank project form and a floating control palette. A tabbed component palette holds a class' or applet's most commonly used components, such as buttons and text fields. PowerJ also offers components for Java Database Connectivity-queries, data sources and data navigator controls-and for Internet connectivity, allowing you to build complex, interactive applications. The Internet components include ftp, HTTP and raw socket connections, with the last target being most useful for writing an unsupported or as-yet-unspecified protocol.
The prerelease version of PowerJ we tested had some minor shortcomings. For instance, forms can't share data except by assigning values to public data members within each other. However, the release version is supposed to support full-duplex data exchange.
PowerJ's features can help you with some of Java's intricacies. When you create a new project, PowerJ can target a specific kind of application: a Web application or applet, a standalone Java applet, a library or a server-side application. Your choice influences the available properties and methods for each kind of object, so you're presented with fewer, more appropriate choices.
To speed up the development of subsequent Java applications, the Templates tab holds copies of reusable objects, including their event handlers. You can add third-party JavaBeans and ActiveX controls as well. By the time PowerJ ships, the 1.1 version of the Java Development Kit (JDK) should be out, and full support for JavaBeans introspection (which lets you examine a JavaBeans component in detail) should be implemented. Both 1.02 and 1.1 JDKs will be included and supported in the release version.
PowerJ offers several interpreters to help finalize Java code. The Microsoft interpreter lets you debug interactively, while a purist may prefer the interpreter from Sun. Using a Web browser is also convenient, since you can test an applet in its native environment. However, PowerJ doesn't have the kind of on-the-fly code parsing for live display that Visual Cafe offers. You must step through each phase of the edit-compile-debug cycle, slowing down development.
A wealth of convenient options makes the program a pleasure to use. The Clean option lets you clear all compiled components for a project from your system to ensure a clean compile each time. PowerJ also provides several browser windows. The Target Browser lists items hierarchically by target in Release and Debug modes. The Class Browser lets you search for projects by class, examine their properties and insert code.
PowerJ has a good reference system that lists every native Java class as well as the contents of the PowerJ Component Library. You can also search the hierarchy of classes and objects by keyword, property or method. This is a far cry from Visual Cafe's elaborate help system, but it's still extremely useful for programmers.
The program's well-organized help file includes a tutorial on PowerJ and Java basics. If you understand Java but are unfamiliar with PowerJ, this is the best place to start. Despite its help system, example Java files and wizards for creating particular components, PowerJ is not for novices. Visual Cafe, on the other hand, shows the trickier elements of Java programming and is more suitable for Java programmers of all levels.
PowerJ would benefit from a progress bar during compilation. Right now, the only sign of life is the blinking cursor on the Java console. Compilation on our test machine-a 166MHz Pentium with 64MB of RAM-ran respectably fast, although the Java virtual machine had the trademark pauses after compiling to prepare the runtime environments.
PowerJ is more powerful and useful than revolutionary.
Its visual environment is far less rich than that of Visual Cafe; thus it doesn't make our WinList. But it's still a good tool for reasonably experienced programmers to use in developing small- to midsize Java applications.