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There are seemingly countless self-paced J2EE computer- and Web-based training tools on the market today, and many are of questionable value. However, Conquer-IT! J2EE Part 1: JSPs and Servlets stands out from the crowd, focusing on the key skills developers require and giving users a chance to work with an actual application server, real code, and associated build procedures - very different from standard multimedia simulators found in most computer-based training products.

From a content perspective, the Conquer-IT! CBT focuses on the critical skills developers need to be productive when they start their first programming assignment (the 20% of skills J2EE developers use 80% of the time). One interesting approach is the inclusion of a Best Practices section in which the developer includes recommendations based on actual field experience.

Product Description
Conquer-IT! uses several techniques for imparting J2EE knowledge, including animation, interactive code analysis, and lab samples with build scripts, allowing the student to deploy on Oracle9iAS, BEA WebLogic, or IBM WebSphere. The entire C/WBT is narrated, and a scripted manual is provided for users to follow the narrations.

Each section of Conquer-IT! begins with an introduction of concepts. In these sections, the narration explains the concepts and bullet points are displayed on the screen to reinforce the narration. This introductory section sets the stage for any examples that will be used to illustrate how to implement these concepts.

Following the concept screen(s), interactive coding analysis sections show the user how to write code to implement the concept by walking the user through the programming model using an example. Each line of code is highlighted, and a voice clearly explains the code and its effects.

The user is then encouraged to open a command window and run build scripts on included samples that tie back to the section in question. After testing the deployment, users are encouraged to review the solution to ensure that they understand the concepts (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

Finally, powerful animations illustrate conceptually what happens within an application server when the code is deployed. These animations bind the code and the concepts together, leaving a clear understanding etched in the user's mind (see Figure 2).

Figure 2

Using the Tool
Installation

Installing the CBT was a nominal task. The CD comes with an executable, a LabExercises directory, and a PDF Documents directory. The only thing to watch out for during installation is that the default build scripts assume that the CBT has been installed to the C:\ directory. If you change the installation directory to be other than C:\, there are clear instructions in the read-along book that explain the necessary adjustments.

Usage
Learning through a CBT can sometimes be a challenge since CBTs don't offer the interaction that the classroom provides. This is why the ease of use of the CBT is extremely important in facilitating the learning process in the absence of an instructor. Using the Conquer-IT! tool is quite simple. All I had to do was run the executable, and it was off to the races. I found the interface easy to use; there are six buttons on the screen with all the basic CBT navigation functionality: Review, Replay, Next, Pause, Resume, and Main Menu. So it's pretty simple to get around efficiently. One thing that was a bit bothersome was the fact that the replay button takes you back to the beginning of the section and not just the current screen. It's my understanding that this has already been fixed in the next version.

Usually, the worst part of CBT is having to listen to the computer-generated voice for an extended period of time. The narration in this CBT is exceptional. The voice kept me interested, and more important, awake! This, paired with the visual effects and the read-along book, made for a good learning experience. One benefit of having the read-along book is that when you're tired of listening to the narration you can focus your attention on the book.

We all know how frustrating it is to be sitting in class, or through a CBT, and have either the instructor or the CBT cover a concept way too fast. One of the good things about the ConquerIT! CBT is that the coding sections and animations require interaction, which provided me with enough time to assimilate the concept prior to moving to the next steps. I never felt rushed through a section.

LabExercises
The lab exercises matched the interactive code analysis sections. They were useful to the point that I was able to look at an actual code sample. If I wanted to really learn anything outside of the covered code analysis sections, I'd have to experiment with the code samples and redeploy. I found this to be good and bad. Good in that there are real working samples that I could experiment with; bad because I wasn't forced to sit and follow lab instructions to build my own components. This is less a knock on the CBT and more of a problem of learning outside of the classroom environment.

I felt that while it's appropriate to use simple examples for illustrating the concepts, a few more could be added - it never hurts to have a lot of examples. What's provided is definitely sufficient for mastering the concepts but doesn't facilitate taking it to the next level. I e-mailed Trans-World Resources, LLC, and found out that they can provide more complex code examples at my request.

One cool thing about the provided build scripts is that they're generic. This works great in that the same script can be used to build and deploy the application onto WebLogic 6.x or 7.x, WebSphere 4.x or 5.x, or Oracle9iAS release 2. It would have been nice for the scripts to be Ant based, but because of the amount of material covered in the CBT I was happy to get what was included. For the price of this product and the easy learning that it offered, I was wholly satisfied with what I got.

Support
The only time support is necessary is if the application servers or lab exercises are installed in directories other than those recommended, something I mentioned earlier. In this case, there is clear documentation as to which script files have to be updated with changes. The read-along book comes with a section on troubleshooting, so if you're caught in a bind this might provide enough information to get you through. Otherwise, the book says you can e-mail questions to Trans-World with a 24-hour turnaround time, something I didn't test.

Summary
Overall, Conquer-IT! is a great way to get up to speed on key J2EE skills. The interactive, straightforward nature of the CBT coupled with the practical, real-life exercises makes for a strong alternative to attending a 2-3 day classroom-based training program. On top of it all, the $349 list price is a bargain. Because the Conquer-IT series is available in Web-based, CD-ROM, and instructor-led forms, a blended approach to learning is easily achieved. Conquer-IT! J2EE Part 2: EJB, JNDI, and JDBC is now available. Download a demo from www.twresources.com/coursedemo.asp?leftnav=demo.

About Trans-World Resources
Trans-World Resources offers corporate J2EE training. Their instructors have trained with BEA's corporate clients and at other large corporations including IBM, HP, Cisco, and Oracle. Every attendee of an instructor-led training receives a free full-fledged CBT course as a follow up.

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Trans-World Resources, LLC
8 Periwinkle Circle
Tinton Falls, NJ 07712
Phone: 732 493-9449, 866 500-9449
Fax: 732 695-2770
E-mail: [email protected]
Web: www.twresources.com

U.K.
11 Brookdere Drive
Northwood Middlesex - HA6 3NS
Phone: +44-1923-822-998

Test Environment
Windows 2000 sp3, IBM ThinkPad T30 Mobile Intel Pentium 4 - M 2GHz, 256MB

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JDJ Snapshot
Target Audience: Good for the Java developer just starting out with J2EE. Not that a more advanced audience would find this too rudimentary to be useful, but it is geared to the J2EE beginner and intermediate developer.

Pros:

  • Ease of use
  • Takes the complexity out of learning J2EE
  • Includes sample build scripts and code examples
  • Best practices section

    Cons:

  • None significant enough to mention

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