One of the most common complaints so far about Java is that it is too slow, and one of the most common complaints about Windows is that it is too bulky: a hairball on your desktop, as Scott McNealy likes to call it. So you would think that a tool that enables you to develop […]
One of the most common complaints so far about Java is that it is too slow, and one of the most common complaints about Windows is that it is too bulky: a hairball on your desktop, as Scott McNealy likes to call it. So you would think that a tool that enables you to develop applications that combine the power and speed of Windows applications with the ability to implement them in a thin client architecture and distribute them easily over the internet to cross-platform clients would have developers stripping the shelves. Apparently not. Provo, Utah-based ViewSoft Inc has been selling just such a tool for about nine months now, called ViewSoft Internet, but very little is known about it. The company will release the second major version around mid-April – although it’s called version 3.0. The tool is used by Dow Jones Telerate to build a trading application and Xerox Corp for a remote printing application. The tool separates the business logic, which is deployed on the server in C++, from the client presentation layer, which is in Java. The tool enables developers to produce Java interfaces that resemble Windows, Macintosh, or even green screen terminals, combined with fully-functioning C++ Windows applications residing on the server. An alternative, ActiveX presentation layer is under development. And the company’s net-change object state communication protocol means only the updates to objects on the server get fed down to the client and vice versa. This, says the company, enables Windows applications to execute on the server, but to be controlled from Java clients connected via as little as a 28Kbps modem. ViewSoft’s president and chief executive Dale Munk points out that even modest user interface activity normally creates horrendous network traffic, but the way ViewSoft separates logic and presentation only requires the Windows application to indicate what has changed. That concept itself is not new, although we have not heard it being used in a development tool. It uses an intermediate object that talks to both the notifying and notified objects and also does data translation between object types. Unlike one-way publish and subscribe models, such as that used by Marimba Inc, this is bi-directional, says VP marketing Paul Meyers. Munk cannot understand why developers would want to use tools that restrict the interface options to just HTML, which he describes as way slow, or that does not enable the creation of Windows-style dialog boxes or tree views. With ViewSoft, they can develop Windows applications that respond over the internet with the same speed as standalone apps. They can either build the applications from scratch and deploy the interfaces over the internet from within the tool, or, where legacy applications exist, remove the old interfaces and replace them with Java interfaces with whatever look and feel users require. As far as Java cross-platform capabilities go, ViewSoft uses whatever Java virtual machine is included in a browser, although Munk did express concern at Netscape Communications Corp’s recent announcement that it was going to leave the JVM work for its browser to each specific platform company and the implications that could have on cross-platform compatibility. Version 3.0 adds the ability to create Windows applications in either Microsoft Foundation Classes (MFC) or Java classes, and, in a future version ActiveX. This provides the developer with the option of building standalone Windows applications as well as client-server, from exactly the same C++ code. The user interface itself, both MFC and Java, is generated by the tool, so developers do not have to be proficient in using user interface tools, says the company. This version also adds increased database features, such as the ability to make an object persistent and create an ODBC link from it to a database. The product has been licensed by Dynasty Technologies Inc which also took a small stake in the company – for its software development environment, and Tandem Computers Inc signed an OEM deal for the product in Germany for use with its Tektonic object request broker work. The company is looking to partner with other vendors and channel partners, as it has no intention of trying to create a channel of its own at this stage. ViewSoft, which only started generating revenues last fall, is funded by its corporate partners, including Dynasty, and has not looked for any venture capital as yet. The current version is 1.2 and the company is jumping to 3.0 because version 2 was used by Tandem, Dynasty and other OEMs, which added a lot of functionally to it, but it was never released commercially. ViewSoft Internet is up on Windows NT and Windows 95 at the moment, although a Solaris version is being prepared. It costs $3,000 per developer and the database version goes for $5,000. While there are no per-user runtimes, there is also a deployment fee of $1,000 per deployed server.