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Visual Café for Java is an integrated development environment tool for creating Java applets and applications that interface with databases. In addition, you can create JavaBeans, native EXEs and DLLs. Some of the improvements include:

  • Contextual menus
  • ZIP archive and Java Archive support
  • Java version compatibility with JDK 1.0.2
  • Customizable Project windows
  • New and improved wizards
  • Incremental debugging
Test Environment
486DX4/100, 24MB RAM, 1.03 Gigabyte Harddrive, Windows 95, IBM SVGA monitor and 4X CD-ROM.

System Requirements
Minimum system requirements for use of this product are:

  • Windows (95, NT Workstation version 4.0+ or NT Server version 4.0+)
  • Pentium Compatible
  • 24Mb of RAM for Win 95 (32 Mb RAM recommended)
  • CD-ROM
  • Color Monitor with 256 colors capability
  • At least 60 MB of harddisk space
Required harddrive space depends on which tools you install and whether you have FAT16 or FAT32.

I strongly recommend installing on a Pentium computer with at least 32Mb of RAM. I installed on a 486-based PC because that is what I have. If you only have a 486, I would suggest you also have at minimum 32 Megs of RAM; more would certainly be better. The speed was slow but tolerable. Symantec recommends a Pentium with a CPU speed of 90 Mhz or higher. Take their advice.

Product Installation
Installation of Visual Café follows your typical Win 95 software installation process. The customized installation took approximately 20 minutes. The only options I excluded were the sample applications and the Tour software. A full installation requires 156 Megabytes (86 meg for program files), 13 meg for help, 22 meg for JFC (Java Foundation Class) and 22 meg for samples files (I'm not sure where the remaining 13 bytes went).

Figure 1 shows you the software that you have a choice of installing. At minimum you need to install Visual Café 2.0 and dbANYWHERE Server. The remaining packages are for creating and publishing HTML (Visual Page), browsing the Internet (Netscape Communicator), Server software (FastTrack) and SQL database (Sybase SQL Anywhere).

Figure 1
Figure 1:

This version of Visual Café supports JDK (Java Development Kit) version 1.1. As you can see, there is a patch for the Netscape Communicator in reference to the JDK. It was not made clear whether or not the JDK must be already installed. This is not something to take for granted because I had previously installed version 1.1.3 to create applets. Just to be safe, I zapped JDK 1.1.3 from my harddrive. Visual Café does come with all of the necessary Java software, and so I did not run into any compatibility problems.

About Visual Café 2.0
Visual Café DDE (Database Development Edition) is the must-have tool for developing Java applets and/or applications with database connectivity. It comes with several wizards and tools that make development seem almost effortless There is the dbNAVIGATOR window which enables you to access metadata through the dbANYWHERE server. In this window you can view databases in your server and drill down to look at data in the database tables. Also, from this window, you can drop database objects right onto your form. Visual Café will automatically plug in properties for the components with information from the database.

Next, there is the dbAWARE Project wizard which helps you to set up your project. Utilizing a series of screens, the wizard helps you to define your data source, choose which tables you are going to use and what columns from those tables you will select data from. Upon completion, the created form is displayed in the forms editor.

Figure 2 represents a new project. On this screen you have four basic areas: the toolbar, project component list, applet form and component properties box. I do not have enough space to justly define their full capabilities here - you really have to try this product for yourself - but, nevertheless, I will go over them briefly. The component list displays a listing of components (labels, textfields, panels, etc.) being used in the applet. The applet form is where you place the components for the applet and the properties box allows you to set the properties for each component. This properties box is a gem.

Figure 2
Figure 2:

If you have ever developed Java applets/application without the use of an IDE, you know it can be very tedious. You will love the properties box. By simply clicking on dropdown menus or typing in numbers, you can easily set properties. For example, to set the layout manager to GridLayout, you select it from a dropdown and then set the number of rows and columns in the proper fields. What about setting the layout to GridbagLayout? You'll have no more nightmares of messing around with the constraint object. It's a breeze with Visual Café.

I saved the toolbar for last because it is so special. I am calling the circled area 'Component Selector.' It consists of tabs that dictate which components you have available for placing on your form. You have Standard, Utility, Multimedia, dbAWARE, Additional, Panels and Shapes. Each tab yields a different set of components, represented by the icons placed above the tabs. If you are not sure what the icon represents, you can place your cursor over the particular icon and help will pop up, displaying its identity.

Documentation
Accompanying the CD-ROM containing the software, are three manuals. The first is a user guide for Visual Page. The remaining two are titled "Getting Started" and "User's Guide". These two are for Visual Café. "Getting Started" tells you about installation and how to take the tour. The tour introduces you to Visual Café. If you are new to Java development, I recommend taking the tour.

The "User's Guide" contains a lot of useful information. Of course it covers all of the functionality of Visual Café. However, it is not a manual on the Java language and was not meant to be. To use Visual Café you do not have to be a Java expert, but you should have some familiarity with Java.

You can use Visual Café as a learning tool. If you have some experience with Java but not a lot, you can study the created ".Java" file to learn how applets are created. You will see how to set properties for components, how to use Panels and even how to write code that handles errors. You will also see how to create Java classes for applets and applications. Visual Café gives you the ability to modify the code.

Recommendation
Simply put, if you are serious about developing Java applets and/or applications then you must avail yourself to Symantec's Visual Café. I have had brief experiences with Microsoft' Visual J++ and Powersoft's PowerJ, and I rate Visual Café as the best by far. When it came to creating applets I had given up on IDEs because they appear clumsy and stifling. However, that has changed with Visual Café. If you try it, you will get hooked just as I am. Editor's Note:

Visual Café for Java 2.5 is shipping in late March. The 2.5 features include:

  • JDK 1.1.5
  • Universal interface with MDI and SDI support
  • JavaBeans Wizard
  • Full dbANYWHERE server with unlimited connections
  • RAD on/off
  • Symantec's JIT (Just In Time) Compiler 3.0.

About the Author
Dana Crenshaw is a freelance writer based in Atlanta, Georgia. He is a systems analyst with over 13 years of experience. Dana can be reached at [email protected]

 

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