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Java is growing by leaps and bounds. New extensions for enterprise development, 2D graphics, servlets, speech, etc., are being added to it. This tremendous growth is making it tough for beginners as well as experts to keep themselves up to date.

With the growing popularity of Java for providing enterprise-wide e-business and e-commerce applications, a sudden requirement for a robust and user-friendly IDE has been felt by developers throughout the Java community.

Whether you're leading a team or working as a developer or as an independent consultant, your needs are always the same. Everybody wants to release the project as scheduled, with fewer bugs and good documentation, and without spending hours remembering various APIs.

Until now this was just a dream, but with the release of VisualAge 2.0 (Enterprise Edition) it has become a reality. VisualAge helps you - right from learning Java to building complex applications - with updated documentation. You can test new syntax without compiling the complete project and you can reduce the turnaround time for any bugs by using the powerful debugger. There's no need to remember syntax or use available coding help until the instance variable of a class.

VisualAge has a concept of repository, meaning a single file that stores all other files within itself. If you import a new Java or class file, VisualAge will add that file to its repository. The repository has a built-in source code control system in which all the classes and methods can be versioned.

Feature Set Available with VisualAge 2.0 (Enterprise Edition)
VisualAge for Java comes with many powerful features and utilities to create a complete environment for building large, complex applications. I just looked at the "readme.txt" file and was amazed by the feature list. I feel that all you need is an operating system and VisualAge for Java and you're all set to make even the most complex Java applications. Here's a brief list of features that come with this IDE:

  • An integrated development environment with visual programming support for creating Java applets and Swing beans
  • Support for a team of programmers to share and maintain source code in a single repository
  • Support for JavaDoc output
  • Integration with VisualAge TeamConnection, ClearCase and PVCS
  • Enterprise Toolkits for AS/400 and Workstation, including high performance compilers for Java and a remote Java debugger
  • Enterprise Access Builder for SAP R/3, JDBC, C++, and RMI

Installation
I installed VisualAge on a Pentium 166 MHz with 64 MB RAM and a Windows NT 4.0 (Service Pack 3). The installation CD guided me through the various steps and it was a cakewalk. During the installation, you can select the features to be installed. You can also specify the repository location - either local or on a different server. I installed the repository on the local machine.

Feeling Comfortable
It took me only a couple of minutes to get adjusted to the WorkBench (the main window). The controls are laid out in a very user-friendly manner. Different panes show the Projects, Packages, Classes, Interfaces, Management and Problems. Within five minutes I was ready to create an application using Visual Composition. The creation process was fun - just drag-and-drop and connect - and the application is ready. In minutes I created my first complete application without coding.

I love coding, but I hate to cram APIs. So I tested the coding help that the IDE provides. I was amazed that the IDE helped me until I saved the code. Save your code and it's compiled automatically! No more using the JDK's javac command. It was wonderful, and if you make a mistake while coding, it will save the method with a cross on top of it.

VisualAge's Strengths
The main strengths of VisualAge lie in its coding, debugging, multiuser development and advanced features.

Figure 1
Figure 1:

Coding

  • Coding help - Type a class, press ctrl+space and you have access to all the available public methods and class variables (see Figure 1). When you select the desired method, you 'll get the input parameters required for the method. We no longer have to remember all methods in a class.
  • Repository and code versioning - You can maintain multiple versions of classes and methods. Don't worry about messing up with code because you can always revert to any version you want.
  • Scrapbook - If you need to try out new syntax but don't want to compile the complete project, then use scrapbook. Just type the line of code you want to try with complete context and execute it. You can type the following code and execute :

    java.util.Vector vec = new java.util.Vector();
    vec.addElement("Item1");
    vec.addElement("Item2");
    vec.addElement("Item3");
    System.out.println("Size of Vector is : " + vec.size());

  • Bookmarks - If you're working on a huge project with hundreds of classes or need to jump to different classes for source code modifications, you can save time by using bookmarks to scroll between different classes or methods.
  • Incremental compilation - This comes in handy no matter what size your project is. It tells you the source of any problem as you save your code.
  • Java docs generation - Documentation has always been a problem. With the growing popularity of HTML documents, developers have been forced to learn and write documentation in HTML. VisualAge comes to the rescue again. Just type in your comments for a class or a method in plain text and you get all the HTML documentation ready for release.
Debugging
The debugger has been one of the compelling reasons for my shifting my entire development to VisualAge. I've noticed that the bug turnaround time is significantly reduced if my team uses the VisualAge debugging facility. We can easily step through the code, have a look at all the variables and disable all the breakpoints (so there's no need at all to remove any breakpoint). The strength of the debugger is a real help when you're writing servlets. Run your servlet from the HTML page in the browser and debug the Java code in VisualAge.

Multiuser Development
VisualAge also supports a multiuser development environment. We can install the repository on one server and the entire development team can act as clients to the central repository.

Advanced Features
VisualAge has built-in support for many features, such as RMI, CORBA, Domino AgentRunner and San Francisco wizard.

Areas of Improvement
I have been addicted to VisualAge ever since version 1.0. While new and powerful features have been added in version 2.0, some of the earlier features are somehow missing.

Design Time Debugging
I do a lot of JavaBeans development, so I have to make lots of customizers for JavaBeans. In version 1.0 I could put a breakpoint in the customizer code and run it in a debugger, but in 2.0 this feature was turned off. This makes the process of debugging a customizer a little more time consuming. I hope that VisualAge 3.0 will include this feature again.

Online Help
This is another area where you may face some problems. I installed VisualAge on Windows NT 4.0 and the online help always worked fine. But if I install the same IDE on Windows 95, the possibility of installing it properly is greatly reduced.

Conclusion
I've been working on Java for more than a year. I tried many IDEs, but all of them had something missing. When I used VisualAge, despite the small problems I mentioned above, I found it to be an excellent IDE. The problems I mentioned are very specific and arise only if you're doing highly specialized work (and they were discovered only after more than a year). I'm sticking to VisualAge because its other features far outweigh any problems I've come across. This tool is ideal for both beginners and expert Java developers. It is the definite choice of any project leader or manager who wants to reduce the bug fix turnaround time. VisualAge can be exceptionally useful whether you are working in a single-user or multi-user development environment.

About the Author
Niraj Jetly is the project leader for the award-winning product ROAD:BeanBox. He has been working extensively on Java and can be contacted at [email protected]

 

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