Put to the Test: BEA Delivers a 'Best-of-Hybrid' Development Environment - InformationWeek

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Put to the Test: BEA Delivers a 'Best-of-Hybrid' Development Environment

Workshop for WebLogic Platform 9.2 makes Eclipse more approachable, surrounding it with well-chosen libraries and development functionality.

PROS
• A well-thought-out augmentation of the Eclipse IDE with Apache Beehive and various BEA-originated components.
• Particularly strong in deployment and management characteristics.
CONS
• In enterprise environments, the relatively weak data-oriented features and lack of modeling or architectural design (such as UML) may be a drawback.

Some vendor pledges of allegiance to Eclipse-and with it, Java programming and open-source software-seem to be exercises in calibrated spin. This is especially true in enterprise software development. That's why it's encouraging to see that BEA Systems "walks the talk" with Workshop for WebLogic Platform 9.2.

BEA has used keen judgment in sorting through the Java world's bountiful options (a veritable alphabet soup of technologies) to produce an Eclipse-based IDE (integrated development environment) that is easy-to-use for nonexpert Java developers and flexible for the experienced Java programmer. It works across a broad range of projects (J2EE Web applications, Web services, J2EE components) and, of course, is well-integrated with BEA products (application server, portal manager, SOA management). Although a work in progress (as is Eclipse), Workshop for WebLogic is a candidate for best-of-breed (or more accurately, best-of-hybrid) in Java development environments.

For enterprise developers using BEA Workshop, this version is a considerable change. Not only is the shell of the IDE based on Eclipse 3.1, some familiar BEA tools and controls are replaced by the Eclipse Web Tools Platform and elements of the Apache Beehive Framework. Overall, this is a major step forward, offering a greater range of development capability, but individual features will be missed and new capabilities must be mastered.

Making The Most Of Eclipse

Although often associated with IBM, the Eclipse movement (now Eclipse Foundation) has many participants, with BEA one of the most active. BEA's support for Eclipse represents a risk and an opportunity. It's a risk because of the presence of IBM. It's an opportunity because of what BEA believes can be done with Eclipse and, indeed, has now demonstrated with Workshop for WebLogic.

Simply put, Eclipse is an open-source Java software development environment that provides a basic programmer's workbench, runtime features, help system and a framework supporting a plug-in model. The plug-in model is most important because it is the main route to enhancing and extending Eclipse. BEA uses plug-ins to make strategic selections of open-source software, Apache Beehive being the most notable, and to repackage a large number of BEA-developed features.

Previous versions of BEA Workshop were noted for their ease of use and support of nonexpert programmers. By using Eclipse plug-ins, BEA seeks to retain the novice-friendly environment while offering more advanced developers a pathway into close-to-the-metal Eclipse. This is a difficult balance to maintain and BEA's success gives it a competitive edge.

Getting Started

An installation of Workshop for WebLogic unloads a lot of software-Eclipse, Apache Beehive, BEA's Workshop software, BEA WebLogic Application Server 9.2, BEA WebLogic Portal. It all happened very quickly and successfully in my case. The Workshop environment and the WebLogic server each need at least 1 GB of RAM, which may lead some shops to use test application servers separated from development machines. This may be especially true where the relationship to the WebLogic app server needs specific tuning. As a test, I converted a Webified application for amateur weather stations into a Web services application, which required some demanding communications and session management at the app server.

The documentation is massive and comes from many sources: BEA, Eclipse, Apache (et al). Thankfully, BEA has done a good job of providing overviews, tutorials and other support to help organize it all.

Within the larger framework of Eclipse, which handles the basics of a development environment, BEA Workshop pulls in other frameworks, particularly the Apache Beehive Framework, which itself is based on Struts. It takes a while to visualize the relationships between framework components, but BEA's implementation is such that when you do, it makes sense and more important, seems right.

Hand-holding With A Light Touch

BEA has worked very hard to walk the line between appropriate hand-holding and providing a sense of freedom. By that I mean it has simplified development by providing frameworks to organize components, templates and other shortcuts for common routines, with plenty of automatic generation of standard code. Although it's possible for a novice Java programmer to stumble in the process, it shouldn't take long to figure out how the IDE is organized and where to get things done. Personally, I don't like lead-you-by-the-nose wizardry in an IDE, and Workshop generally avoids that route. More advanced programmers can dive into Eclipse and find enhanced source-code editing with refactoring, formatting, templates and key bindings.

Beehive plays a very important role in the IDE, providing a library of Beehive Controls (using annotated JavaBeans) that can be augmented with POJO (Plain Old Java Object) controls. Beehive also provides tools for Java Server Pages (JSP), Java Server Faces (JSF) and a Page Flow controller, the last being crucial for working with Web apps (and often Web services). The version of PageFlow Controller I tested was helpful but had an awkward linear feel; a new version, part of a "Fast Follow-Up" release of Workshop planned for October, is much more flexible graphically.

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