WebSphere Gets Java Makeover

The answer to Java’s complexity will make further headway among programmers with IBM’s May 21 release of WebSphere Studio tools incorporating JavaServerFaces (JSF), a specification that make drag-and-drop programming possible, officials announced Tuesday.

To be sure, WebSphere Studio Application Developer and Site Developer versions 5.1.2 include other improvements — namely inclusion of Java Specification Requests (JSR) 168 and 235 for portlets and service data objects (SDO), respectively — but the general availability of JSF — JSR-127 — gives a legion of novice Java programmers the chance to create enterprise applications.

The ability to build complex J2EE applications on a development platform similar to Microsoft’s Visual Studio can’t be taken lightly, especially if you’re an IT manager.

To date, only the more experienced developers could efficiently script a J2EE program; with JSF in the mix, novice programmers can assemble the front-end visual interface with the more experienced coders coming in at the end to pull together the more difficult business process and logic development.

Eric Naiberg, group market manager of desktop products for Rational Software, said that while it’s nearly impossible to quantify the number of programmers who now have the ability to develop Web applications using JSF, what’s more important is who’s now got some more time to worry about other things.

“The senior developers and the architects can use WebSphere Studio applications to be building [enterprise Java beans and business logic, for example,” he told internetnews.com, “while folks they’re bringing off of legacy projects that aren’t so familiar with Java, or might not even know Java or object oriented development at all, can come in and start building user interfaces, building software that accesses what senior developers are building. Tying those pieces together is pretty significant.”

Beta testing on the current release started in December, three months after Big Blue released WebSphere Studio 5.1. While the tools were built into the application’s code, true support for JSF couldn’t occur until the Java Community Process (JCP) blessed a finalized version, which occurred March 11.

Scott McIntosh, technical director for Fairfax, Va.-based ICF Consulting, told internetnews.com the lack of graphical user interface-based and JSF tools for Visual Basic-trained programmers was the one thing he found wanting in the Java language.

“[They] are the first thing that might actually persuade some of those folks to jump on board,” he said. “We’ll see how it pans out, but this is the closest thing I’ve see so far to get them to say, ‘well, maybe this could happen.’

“There’s still a lot of cultural differences to overcome,” he continued, stressing the need for getting programmers to do what they do best and leave the rest to those more qualified. “I’ve seen developers produce some pretty hideous user interfaces and GUI guys write some pretty bad back-end code, so in theory these people should be playing to their strengths.”

That’s not to say the other improvements to 5.1.2 aren’t important. Take, for instance, support for enterprise generation language (EGL), a feature that gives procedural developers a high-level tool for languages like SQL, COBOL and RPG. Programmers develop the business logic and WebSphere does the rest, creating a Java program using the visual tools of JSF and the data connectivity of SDO now included in Studio.

“One particular community we focused on was the Informix developer community, which was using an Informix [fourth-generation language ], and it’s not a complete [integrated development environment ] like Studio,” Naiberg said. “So we picked up some of the constructs and functions from Informix 4GL and put them into EGL.”

Also announced Tuesday was further improvements to IBM’s Portal offering with features designed to give programmers more integration capabilities than before.

In the WebSphere Portal area, IBM developers made enhancements to the WebSphere Portal Application Integrator (WAPI), most notably increased flexibility to customize downloadable portlets for the specific enterprise. Portlets — snippets of code used on the presentation layer to gain access to an application’s particular function — are normally offered in generic form by IBM or the application’s developers. Currently, IBM has 1,500 portlets in its software library.

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