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IBM Unwraps WebSphere Studio Updates

IBM Thursday trumpeted two forthcoming updates to its WebSphere Studio suite of tools, both geared to automating time-consuming tasks in order to speed the development process.

Both fall under the aegis of WebSphere Studio v5.1, and represent another step in IBM's autonomic computing initiative, which seeks to provide a network of organized, "smart" computing components which give customers "what they need, when they need it, with minimal mental or even physical effort."

"For any company developing software, doing so predictably and efficiently and rapidly means competitive advantage," Bernie Spang, program director for Application Development Marketing at IBM, told internetnews.com. "The focus, here, is enhancing the ability to automate development tasks. With WebSphere Studio 5.1, we are including new tools and enhancements to existing tools to further automate tasks in the development process."

These updates are intended to streamline tasks like updating individual pages, changing links within Web sites, and debugging errors in code. For instance, Big Blue said the new tools will vastly simplify the assimilation of newly acquired properties, speeding the moving of data, replacement of company banners, and stripping out logos.

The first tool, WebSphere Studio Site Developer, will become available on Aug. 29, starting at $1,000 per developer.

Site Developer includes a new Web site designer with templates that allow developers to update multiple pages on a Web site at once, without having to apply changes individually. For instance, IBM said a B2B office products site could update navigation bars or add a "Buy Now" button in the template and make that change automatically to hundreds of pages. Additionally, a developer could grab all of the pages from one section of the site -- such as paper products for B2B customers -- and move them to the B2C section while automatically updating the navigation.

The tool also lays the groundwork for support of JavaServer Faces (JSF) -- which will be implemented in another update to WebSphere Studio slated for later this year -- with drag-and-drop development of Web application user interfaces (UI) through WebSphere Studio's updated page designer.

JavaServer Faces is an emerging standard intended to simplify developing, testing and managing the UI. IBM said JSF will save developers who create UIs for J2EE-based applications hours of hand-coding, because it can do things like automatically generate the code to connect to data and validate user input based on definitions already in the database.

Spang explained that v5.1 will provide the ability to drag-and-drop components like HTML tables, while the future version, with support for JSF, will allow developers to drag-and-drop actual active pages.

"This update is really setting the foundations for a future update later this year," he said.

The second tool is WebSphere Application Monitor for zOS and distributed systems -- like Windows, Unix and Linux -- which will be made available in October.

Application Monitor is designed to help developers automatically predict problems that create bottlenecks for applications when they are deployed in the network. For instance, Big Blue said it will help a developer creating a banking application to predict how big an application server or database will be required for it, without having to run different test scenarios.

"It's automating some of the capacity planning from the development process," Spang said.

The tool also provides the ability to run WebSphere Application Server applications in debug mode with hurting performance, IBM said. The company noted that the new hot method replace function allows developers to change code and view resulting changes immediately without restarting the server.

WebSphere Studio v5.1 will also bring the product in line with the latest Web services specifications and support for the latest version of the open source tool integration platform, Eclipse 2.1. That in turn, provides WebSphere Studio 5.1 with significant startup time reduction and lower memory requirements, Spang said.

The update includes implementations of JSR 101 and JSR 109, bringing it closer to creating Web services for the pending J2EE 1.4 specification. JSR 101 focuses on changed formats for Web services messages to enhance interoperability, while JSR 109 focuses on standardizing deployment of Web services in a J2EE container to allow deployment across multiple vendors.

WebSphere Studio 5.1 also includes a number of additional features. The product includes a UML visual editor for EJB and Java, allowing developers to visualize and edit J2EE applications using UML notation within a single integrated development environment.

"What we're doing with this feature is bringing some of the value of the UML view code to the IDE," Spang said. "It's not a full UML modeling environment. This feature allows you, when you're editing Java code, to not only look at the source code, but flip to a preview view. From a developer point of view, figuring out these relationships when you're looking at source code is a much more challenging thing than looking at them in a visual layout. This is a virtualization capability for the developers."

The product also supports the ability to visually create pages for wireless standards, allowing developers to visually create applications for cell phones, hand-helds, and other pervasive devices built on standards like Wireless Markup Language (WML) and Compact HyperText Markup Language (CHTML). However, Spang noted that this ability is essentially geared to helping developers create pages that can be read by those devices, more complex applications are covered in IBM's WebSphere Everyplace line.

The product also provides the ability to create, test and deploy J2EE applications to BEA WebLogic v6.1 and v7.0.