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As the Internet continues to grow as a viable medium for enterprise-class applications, the tools and technology for developing these applications continue to advance at a frenetic pace. The state of the technology now allows for a multitiered application that involves anything from simple scripting to complex objects. Such technological advances have created an environment in which multiple developers can work together on a single “logical” application.

The J2EE specification defines a development model and provides supporting standards and tools for developing multitiered Web-based applications. New standards are being defined in the Web services arena that extend applications across enterprise boundaries. Vendors are working feverishly to harness their integrated development environments (IDE) to include the necessary tools and features to address the needs of Java-centric Web services programmers. SilverStream eXtend Work-
bench 1.0 (XWB) is a new breed of software that has been designed to address this burgeoning market.

I like the name workbench, because it sums up what this product is all about. This application ties together all the tools you would need to create a J2EE/Web services application and puts them into one easy-to-use environment. It follows the J2EE development model and is capable of building standards-based applications for any J2EE-compliant server. It speeds the development cycle by providing wizards that can automatically generate much of the interface code necessary in a J2EE project. SilverStream XWB supports the full application life cycle, including coding, testing, debugging, deployment, and maintenance. There’s a lot of help provided in a set of HTML-based help files, as well as a set of tutorials and sample applications. The eXtend Workbench Web site (www.silverstream.com/workbench) also has downloads, discussion forums, news, tips, and techniques.

The eXtend Workbench comes with the SilverStream eXtend Application Server that’s fully J2EE 1.3–compliant and supports many of the latest Java technology and Web services standards including EJB 2.0, SOAP 1.1, and JMS 1.0.2. The application server was one of the first to pass all necessary certification tests and SilverStream is dedicated to supporting future versions of J2EE as they are approved. Still, the application server is a separate installation, and Workbench does integrate with most of the major third-party application servers on the market, including BEA’s WebLogic (6.0 and higher) and IBM’s WebSphere 4.0. (SilverStream includes ample documentation and samples that detail how to integrate XWB with other application servers.)

Working with the Product
Installing the XWB was quick and easy. However, the eXtend Application Server took a little longer to install, and it expects to have a database already running on the server. I happened to have Microsoft SQL Server already installed, so I configured the eXtend Server for that database, which turned out to be pretty simple. The XWB application has a rich graphical look to it. I’ve come to expect that most Java IDE tools today are built using Java Swing code , so I was not surprised to see a “Java” look to this application. I did find it interesting that this version of the eXtend software was targeted specifically toward Windows-based platforms.

XWB’s edit layout, shown in Figure 1, provides an environment that seemed familiar and well laid out for me. There are tree and list views on the left to navigate through project files and directories, an editor window on the right, and an output window on the bottom for informational messages. The window panes are resizable, and it has a toolbar, popup menus, and keyboard shortcuts like any good IDE. The code editor had most of the useful features I rely on in my favorite text editor, including autoindentation, autocompletion, and syntax highlighting.

Figure 1
Figure  1:

For an even richer coding environment I would have liked bookmarks, the ability to split the code screen into two sections, and a tabbed view of all open files. (There didn’t seem to be any flexibility to rearrange the various screen elements.) The Javaâcode compiler gives the usual Java error messages on compilation, but the environment has an extremely useful feature Ð if you click on an error message, the cursor will jump to the offending line of code in the editor pane.

The wizards are very useful in providing enough options while not being overly complicated. Another useful feature is the flexibility in project starting points. From the XWB you can start a project from scratch or from an existing J2EE project. Once you create a XWB project, you can import existing files into the project. This way, you can start with a class that implements business logic functions, and build that class into a J2EE Web service with just a few clicks through the Web service wizard. Or, you can start from an interface definition and build your project up from there (see Figure 2). One powerful and convenient function is XWB’s ability to archive and deploy J2EE projects to any of the supported J2EE application servers.

Figure 2
Figure  2:

Either way, the XWB Web service wizards and editors allow the developer to focus more on the business logic, since much of the Web service framework is generated for them. SilverStream also included a comprehensive Registry Manager tool that can help you browse or search for existing Web services, or publish your own using Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration (UDDI). This is a useful feature for developers trying to integrate with other Web services, since they can import WSDL definitions without leaving the XWB environment.

While I only tested this with the SilverStream eXtend Application Server, the configuration process was straightforward, and once configured, deployment was as easy as clicking a button. I believe that’s one of the great advantages of environments such as SilverStream’s eXtend. Once configured, tasks that would involve long and complex command-line program deployment calls can be simplified into one click of the mouse. This allows developers to focus on design and coding issues, and worry less about which parameters indicate deploying only changed files.

As for speed, the application seemed to respond well on my test platform, as long as I didn’t try to run too many other applications simultaneously. I’m the type of person who likes to have five to six programs running at a time, and I began to notice some lag in switching back and forth. I wouldn’t really be concerned, however, because with faster hardware and more memory, I’m sure that this level of multitasking would perform just fine. Compiling, archiving, and deploying projects from within the environment all seemed to run well.

SilverStream’s eXtend Workbench helps speed up the development of J2EE projects and Web services applications. I’d recommend that the developer have some basic knowledge of the various components in a J2EE project and Web services standards before using a comprehensive product such as eXtend. The tutorials do a wonderful job of walking you through the implementation process. However, a reasonable background in Java and Web services will make it much easier to harness the power in SilverStream’s eXtend product line.

SilverStream eXtend Workbench does an excellent job of providing all the tools you’ll need to develop complex J2EE/Web services projects using a single IDE. Integration with the leading application servers makes eXtend an ideal development environment if you already have an application server – or you can use the SilverStream eXtend Application Server. Java developers with little or no knowledge of J2EE design concepts may have trouble being efficient with this tool at first, but with a basic understanding of J2EE, I believe XWB will help any developer be more efficient in designing, developing, and deploying a J2EE/Web services application.

SilverStream Software
2 Federal St.
Billerica, MA 01821
Web: www.silverstream.com
Phone: 888 823-9700
E-mail: [email protected]

Test Environment
Computer: Gateway Solo 9300
Processor: Pentium III 333 MHz
Memory: 160MB RAM
Platform: Windows NT Workstation 4.0 (Service Pack 4)

Platforms: Windows NT Workstation 4.0, Windows NT Server 4.0, or Windows 2000
Pricing: Free for a limited time to J2EE and Web services developers. Application Server Developer Edition includes a single version of the application server and the eXtend Workbench development environment, priced at $495 per developer seat. Workgroup Edition (Windows and Unix) limited to 25 connected users, priced at $995 per CPU. Enterprise deployment pricing begins at $5,000 per CPU.

Product Snapshot
Target Audience: Java J2EE developers
Level: Entry-level J2EE (with some background knowledge) to advanced
Pros: Open and extensible IDE integrates with other tools and works with several industry-standard application servers; additional product offerings are available.

Cons: As with many Java-based applications, you’ll want a powerful machine to get good performance. Not for Java beginners. eXtend Workbench only supports Windows-based platforms.

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