Clear Methods' Language Gets Cool Greeting

The object-oriented language is being greeted with skepticism by programmers, development tool suppliers, and Web-services consultants.

Charles Babcock, Editor at Large, Cloud

July 21, 2003

4 Min Read

The notion that the world needs XML as a procedural programming language is being greeted with skepticism by programmers, development tool suppliers, and Web-services consultants.

Nevertheless, many are adopting a wait-and-see attitude, because they've had little exposure to the language thus far. Water and its Steam Engine run-time environment were launched July 15 by Clear Methods Inc. Water is an object-oriented language, like C++ and Java, CEO Mike Plusch says, and can be used to encode business logic as well as define and move XML documents around the Internet.

"XML can be used to express procedural logic. It would be on the verbose side, but it can be done," said Sam Ruby, VP of the Apache Software Foundation, the open-source group that develops the Apache Web server. Ruby is also a member of Apache's XML Project Management Committee--that is, a programmer with the authority to commit new code to the Apache XML project's repository. "I don't see many people wanting to learn such a language. Perhaps such a language could have a niche as the target of code generation ... by a wizard in an IDE," he said in an E-mail response. Ruby is a Java programmer with IBM.

Water code would require the Steam Engine run-time environment. Clear Methods unveiled an upgraded version 3.10 of Steam Engine on July 15.

"A specialized run-time environment is a big minus," Ruby said. That's because the run-time environment must already be installed on target systems where Water code is slated to run, or a user must first download the engine and install it before getting the benefit of Water code, experienced programmers says. Users balk at downloads they don't understand or need approval from higher corporate authority to add to their desktops.

XML as a programming language "is a cute academic idea, but nothing more than that," Brad Young, director of product marketing for Zend Technologies Ltd., said in an E-mail. Zend produces an integrated development environment for the PHP scripting language, one of the Web-site languages that XML procedural logic might replace. "Programmers don't like coding in nested syntax, like XML."

"Sure, there's a need for better ways to add logic to Web pages, but most people don't want an entirely new approach," Zack Urlocker, VP of marketing at M7 Corp., a visual tool maker for Java 2 Enterprise Edition and former manager of Delphi at Borland Corp., said in an E-mail response.

XML is already "an open standard for storing information and being able to transport it," says Tom Barrett, a partner at PricwaterhouseCoopers and a consultant on Web services. As such, it already includes much of the document-processing and data-movement capabilities that Clear Methods appears to be talking about on its Web site, he says.

"What they're talking about I thought was one of the benefits of XML to begin with," he says.

Plusch says that one of the advances of Water over current XML syntax is that it can deal with different data types, while XML as a World Wide Web Consortium standard deals only with "string" data, such as the combinations of numbers and letters that make up the text of business documents. Water and Steam Engine can process numbers as integers, used in logic and calculations, he says.

Nevertheless, Clear Methods is likely to encounter resistance as it tries to win acceptance for XML as a programming language. "Personally, I think introducing a new language is always a very steep, uphill climb," said Urlocker, who was at one time product manager of Borland's JBuilder Java tool.

"Water is a full-featured object-oriented programming language, expressed in XML. It does more than Java does," says Jason Bloomberg, an analyst with Zap Think, an XML-oriented research group. It was designed to include security measures in the code so that it can move safely over the network. Water has built-in restrictions that prohibit it from calling files off a user's hard drive or changing the system software where it resides, he adds. Because it uses XML syntax, "it's not learning a new language for seasoned developers. They're already conversant in with XML," Bloomberg notes.

But programmers, software tool suppliers, and Web-services consultants and analysts agreed that until there was a large base of programmers making use of Water, XML as a programming language was likely to be rare encounter on the Web.

"The big catch is developer acceptance," Bloomberg says. "Clear Methods is still pushing the snowball up the hill. It hasn't reached the point where it's rolling down the hill, gathering strength."

A version of the Steam integrated development environment that includes Water is available through the Clear Methods site at $39 for the basic edition; $295, personal edition; $995, professional edition; and $1,995, enterprise edition. There's also a free sample version. The Steam Engine 3.10 run time is available for $25 per user machine or $5,000 for an unlimited number of users.

About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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