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WinLab Reviews
Jamba 2.0
Build Java Applets the Easy Way

-- by Warren Ernst

With Jamba 2.0, nearly anyone can create Java-based interactive data-collection and display applets for use on the Web. A visual interface accomplishes the tricky task of integrating your multimedia content into Web pages without imposing the steep learning curve of a raw programming language (like Visual Basic or Java itself). Furthermore, Jamba applets don't require end users to download plug-ins for new file formats (Shockwave and RealAudio do). Jamba turns the creation of powerful Java-based applets into an intuitive point-and-click affair for both development and viewing, which is why we placed it on our WinList of recommended products.

Jamba acts like a miniature visual Java development environment geared toward producing applets that run within Web pages. In fact, it creates small applications that work in conjunction with Asymetrix's pregenerated Java Class files (the actual Java executable). Yet, for all practical purposes, the results look and feel like a personalized Java applet.

There's a surprising amount of power available to Jamba applets, considering how simple they are to create. Applets can display graphics files (either statically or sequentially as animation), play audio files, respond to user interaction, generate e-mail messages, and collect and publish data using the mechanism of an e-mail message, FTP or a CGI script. The clincher, however, is that these applications are created without programming. You simply click and drag items from dialog boxes and toolbars.

Creating Jamba applets from scratch is similar to constructing a Visual Basic application, in the sense that you must drag pushbuttons, text fields, images, sounds, hotspots and other Jamba objects into the Jamba applet itself. You then assign various properties or tasks to objects by clicking through a "sentence building" dialog box that creates the programming code for you. As you build your applet, a collapsible tree located on the left side of the screen displays the order of events or hierarchy of decisions within it, so it's easy to break down complex applets into manageable steps.

Once you've completed your applet, Jamba creates sets of HTML and Java Class files. It can also combine them into Microsoft Internet Explorer-compatible compressed CAB files or Netscape-compatible ZIP files, both of which speed the downloading of your applets to your viewers' browsers.

However, this process does increase a file's size. A simple applet that displays a 7KB JPEG image and plays a 39KB sound file becomes a 73KB ZIP file for Netscape users, a 33KB CAB file for Explorer users, and a whopping 220KB file in other formats compatible with alternative Java-enabled Web browsers.

Obviously, there's a trade-off for creating custom Java applets without programming. The applets that Jamba creates aren't terribly space-efficient. Shockwave files containing special effects can be about as large as similar files created with Jamba, but Flash files are typically much smaller-mostly because Flash handles graphics as compact vector-based art, while Shockwave and Jamba keep track of graphics as larger bitmaps. However, if you have server space to burn, this is a worthwhile sacrifice.

Flash and Shockwave also require you to download and install plug-ins to view their files-usually an inconvenience. Jamba's Java applets will work on nearly any Web browser and won't require extra steps for downloading and installing plug-in modules.

Programs that create Java applets always involve a degree of complexity, so Jamba provides a number of tools to get you started. The inch-thick printed reference manual is a helpful aid, and a Getting Started booklet really does enable you to create an applet in 15 minutes. A dozen different Jamba wizards guide new users through the process of creating many common Jamba applets, such as the ubiquitous Tickertape and Banner, Guest Book data entry and review, animated buttons and more. A set of animated presentations review the steps necessary to create more complicated applets.

Jamba 2.0 really does work as promised: It allows nonprogrammers to create custom multimedia and data-collection/display applets that don't require you to download extra software. Its only drawback is the relative size of resulting files. But if you have the available server space to support various Web browsers, Jamba 2.0 is the best tool available to add Java functionality to your Web site.


Jamba 2.0

Bottom Line: Easiest way to build Java applets for use on the Web
Price: $225
Platforms: 95, NT
Pros: Programming experience not required; good documentation
Cons: Generated applets have large file sizes
Strongest Rival: Macromedia Shockwave, Flash

Asymetrix Corp., 800-448-6543, 425-637-5870. Winfo #747

Windows Magazine, October 1997, page 148.

[ Go to October 1997 Table of Contents ]