Visual Cafe 2.5 Database Development Edition Merges Two Symantec Environments


In 1996, Symantec released Cafe, which helped Java programmers organize classes and objects, and provided integrated tools to compile and debug projects. Soon after, the company released Visual Cafe. Now Symantec has released a new version of Visual Cafe: 2.5.

The latest version merges the Cafe and Visual Cafe environments, and adds some interesting new enhancements and features. In addition to the Professional edition, which includes features from both Cafe and Visual Cafe, Symantec released a Database Development Edition, which includes everything in the Professional Edition and the DbAnywhere middleware server, Sybase SQLAnyware database server, Netscape Fast Track Web Server, and data-aware JavaBeans, as well as some additional printed documentation. We reviewed the Database Development Edition.

As we tinkered with Visual Cafe, we began to wonder who the product was designed for. The instruction provided in the documentation is definitely for the novice user, as are the drag and drop components and the interaction wizards. Using the more advanced controls, however, such as creating your own JavaBeans or using any of the database-aware features, can only be done by more advanced Java programmers, who may not appreciate wading through generated code and the loss of control that rapid application development (RAD) brings to Java.

In working through the tutorial we were instructed in the use of a few of the visual components and how to connect them using Visual Cafe's interactions. The overall tone and scope of the tutorial targeted the nonprogrammer.

We found the component tool bars easy to use, as were the debugging features. Interactions, and the wizards that generate them, allow the developer to program events and responses for their components without having to write code.

Visual Cafe is supposed to maintain consistency between RAD components and the code that they generate by adding code to your program when you add a component and deleting it if you remove it. Interactions, however, do not seem to be completely handled by this feature. When we added a button to a form, gave it an interaction and then deleted the control, our program crashed at run time, because only the code generated by adding the object was deleted. The code that Visual Cafe added for the interaction was still in the program and looking for the deleted object. The unattractive RAD code generated by Visual Cafe is another pitfall of this effort to maintain consistency. We were able, however, to toggle RAD code generation on and off on a file-by-file basis.

In addition to combining features from the two previous versions, this version includes fully embedded support for JavaBeans technology. JavaBeans are reusable controls, much like a textbox or a button. The wide range of JavaBeans controls includes advanced widgets such as sliders, progress bars, slide shows, timers and data-aware JavaBeans. With this selection of premade controls, we were able to create software just by linking a few included JavaBeans. We also found it a fairly straightforward process to create beans in Visual Cafe by using the Bean Creation Wizard. Then we used the Interaction Wizard to build an event relationship between two JavaBeans, such as making a slide show change its displayed picture on the press of a button. Although this feature was easy to use for simple tasks, some of the interactions did not seem intuitive for the more advanced controls.

The dbAWARE components provide for a wide variety of ways to connect and communicate with your database. Normally the providence of advanced users, the database connectivity was relatively simple to use. But, although there are wizards for setting up the project and creating tables, a through understanding of SQL and database concepts is a must.

The programming model used in Visual Cafe is comparable to other RAD languages such as Visual Basic or Delphi. It encourages the programmer to first place graphical controls on a form and then fill in the code behind them or to connect them using wizard-driven events. However, since Java programming traditionally hasn't used this model, and since Java was not designed with Visual Creation as a forefront concern, more experienced Java programmers may be forced to change the way they work in order to use Visual Cafe.

Our biggest hang up with Visual Cafe was the apparent lack of focus. Because it ships with many of the tools that advanced programmers crave, yet appears to be designed for novices, it’s hard to tell what type of user the product is designed for. The same simplicity that makes this product attractive to novices will likely be the source of frustration for advanced Java programmers.

Visual Cafe 2.5 Database Development Edition
Symantec Corp.
Cupertino, Calif.
(408) 253-9600
Price: $499.00; Visual Cafe 2.5 Professional Development Edition, $299.00.
+ Fast learning curve for simple Java projects.
+ Full integration of JavaBeans technology.
+ A plethora of included JavaBean Controls.
+ Wizard Interactions create their own underlying code.
- Documentation too simplistic.
- Interactions did not maintain code consistency.
- Varying levels of complexity.