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In June 2001, Borland released the latest version of the JBuilder series. Borland is an ever-popular presence in the Java IDE market, but with most IDEs now offering the same functionality, is there anything to set JBuilder apart?

It must be said from the outset, JBuilder 5 boasts some very nice features "on the box." IDEs have been screaming out for the packages and integration of technologies that JBuilder 5 promises are "under the hood."

  • Rapid J2EE application development
  • XML tools
  • Deployment to multiple application servers
  • Team development file management integration with MS Source- Safe, Rational Clearcase, and CVS
  • JSP
  • JavaBeans
Features
Borland seems to have packed everything possible into JBuilder 5. Initially, there were some reservations regarding how all these features, such as team development tools, would be presented and managed. The chaps at Borland would have to get it right for it to be both practicable and useful.

After using the IDE for a couple of weeks it is my happy duty to report that this is indeed the case.

The main interface is well laid out and highly configurable, as you would expect, with the normal array of debugging and project control options present by default. Almost everything is menu-driven and those friendly wizards we've all become accustomed to are available for most of the more commonly used features.

These wizards can sometimes be more of a nuisance than they are worth. They seem to take away some of the learning process regarding what the IDE is doing when it sets all our classpaths and creates neat packages. But, as wizards go, the ones I tried were easy to use and performed the job well.

We've all used applications that fill the screen with almost every available option/feature. Information overload if you like. Given that most of us don't have screens the size of a small cinema, it usually takes a bit of pruning to get a suitable screen.

This is not the case with JB5 (see Figure 1) since the information is hidden behind tabs. This works extremely well as it enables information to be displayed when you want it as opposed to the IDE "guessing" what you would like.

Figure 1
Figure  1:

You may have noticed the Cocoon application and, no, it isn't a misprint. One of the more pleasing elements is the ability to build straight to the familiar Cocoon Web ARchive format. As Java finds its way into more and more of today's (and tomorrow's!) Web sites, the ability to deploy solutions straight to a .war package ready for distribution is both an excellent idea and well implemented.

JBuilder 5 includes a Tomcat 3.2 plugin (the Enterprise Edition also has Borland and WebLogic) so add a third-party Web server, such as Apache, and it's easy to see how you can compile, run, debug, test, and finally deploy from the comfort of one interface. The distribution also includes Borland's own AppServer 4.5.

The supplied wizard does it all for you by providing a complete Tomcat-ready solution with context mapping. What more could you ask for?

This doesn't mean it's painless. You still have to ensure dependencies/library files and that everything is set up "just so" from within JBuilder, but you would have to do this anyway! Both Enterprise and Professional editions have this built-in.

Another tasty feature is the support for version control packages such as CVS, SourceSafe, and Clearcase. I haven't used all these packages but, of the three, CVS is familiar and bundled with JBuilder 5. Hurrah for open source.

This process would normally entail having at least two applications open, the IDE and the control package, so to have it all integrated in one place is an excellent aspect of this impressive IDE.

By using the menu options and filling in the blanks, I created a repository and incorporated it into CVS within minutes, giving full version control.

The Enterprise edition allows you to control and create projects deployable to work stations (see Figure 2). Never has it been so easy to maintain version control over even extremely large projects.

Figure 2
Figure  2:

Deployment
As the features of JB5 were explored it quickly became apparent how much thought had been given not only to the possible deployment of a given project, but also how all the necessary steps could be combined to make this a painless operation.

As my development career has advanced I've developed a manner of "getting the job done." This would involve compiling to the standard class directory structure for initial testing/use with a final switch to .jar packages for deployment. Most IDEs allow this to happen painlessly. JBuilder takes this to another level.

You can create both a class directory structure and a .jar package when you build, and that's not all. If your current project is also a Web app you can build this too - all at the click of a button. This applies across the board so you won't find yourself constantly updating the project properties to reflect what's required from any given task.

Somebody at Borland has thought about this. We, as a community of Java developers, must applaud and commend some of the tools Borland offers with this latest release since more time can be devoted getting on with the juicy bits. Several times I caught myself going ooooh, it does that? And ahhhh, that's cool.

All this has overhead so the constant building and deploying is not recommended for general use; however, it's easy to see that a lot of the deployment burden has been eliminated.

Note the specification of the two machines this IDE was tested under. Never being a shy one, this was adapted and several configurations tried (even to the extent of being slightly naughty and trying to cram it all into a 64MB system).

The results - it appeared processor speed was not anywhere near as important as masses of memory. Nearly all applications will run in direct relation to the amount of memory and JB5 is no exception. It performed admirably on both processors with 512MB installed. It says 128MB on the box, but if the intended use is to run alongside Web servers and other apps, then seriously consider the total RAM in the target machine. 256MB will provide comfortable levels.

The overall footprint isn't that much and doesn't appear to overstep similar products. JB5 sits at 2-4MB with the JVM starting at 40MB and rising to over 80MB with a medium-sized project. It also isn't a resource hog. There's nothing worse than an app that eats up 10% of your processor just by being in existence, something that has been avoided.

Help System
The help system is a bit haphazard. My personal preference is to use the Find option, gain a list of general items, and drill it down that way. This wasn't an easy task, however. Borland ran a link to almost every word in the help system - useless words with irrelevant meanings (aardvark, abbot) have links to equally useless information.

It's not impossible to use, but I found it a bit like a search result on the Internet, having to wade through the dross, keeping an eye open for that key phrase that gives you what you want.

The Manuals
Not content with simply informing us how to use their product, those clever chaps at Borland have included general programming/Java-related principles from bitwise operation to serialization. In addition, you'll also find introductions to Web applications and XML. Superb.

Steve Jobs' endorsement of Java (at last) at JavaOne 2000 has prompted a release on the Mac OS X platform. It's a delight to see this. Borland had one or two forays into the Mac software market a few years ago, but not since. Hopefully this will help bring total Mac-derived applications to the marketplace, which can only be a good thing.

JB5 has made it easier than ever to control and deploy large-scale solutions by providing many of the tools with which to do so. It has an intuitive front end with all the main features catered for and available with the minimum configuration. Borland has managed to get the mix between simplicity and functionality that others seem to find evasive.

Borland Software Corporation
100 Enterprise Way
Scotts Valley, CA 95066-3249
Phone: 831 431-1000
Web: www.borland.com
E-mail: [email protected]

Test Environment
Windows 2000 Professional, Intel PIII-450MHz, 128MB RAM Windows 98SE, AMD Duron-800MHz, 512MB RAM

Supported Platforms
Solaris: ULTRASPARC2, Solaris 7,8
Windows: 98, 2000, NT 4.0
Linux: Red Hat 6.2, Mandrake 7.2, Caldera Systems 2.3, SuSE 6.3, TurboLinux 6.0
Mac: OS X (4th quarter of this year)

Reviewed by
Tom Inglis

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