By: Pat Magnan
Java is a hot technology first developed by Sun Microsystems. It allows a programmer to code and compile their program just once - since Java executes in a virtual machine programmed for the native operating system, the programs are truly cross-platform (provided there is a virtual machine for a particular OS).
One of the major reasons Java started taking the web by storm a couple years ago was its cross-platform nature. Programmers could write their applets in Java, and be reasonably assured that they would operate correctly on a number of platforms. This meant that web developers didn't have to forego certain aspects of their site because, for example, a certain platform didn't support a certain plugin.
Java Workshop 2.0 is the second version of Sun's Integrated Development Environment (or IDE) for Java. It allows the developer to quickly design their user interface, and thereby concentrate more on the code required to implement the underlying functionality of their applet or application.
By selecting items from various toolbars, a programmer can drag and drop the appropriate buttons, form elements, etc. into their application, and Java Workshop automatically integrates the appropriate code required for them to function.
Java Workshop is a fully functional UI builder, debugging tool, and project management tool. It supports "drag and drop" interface design or, more accurately, "click and drop", as one can't actually drag text fields, buttons, etc. onto a form.
Figure One shows a blank form in Java Workshop. The programmer would click on the control they'd like to use, and then click in one of the cells on this form. JWS then writes in the basic code for the control. For example, to use a button you would select the button object on the toolbar, click in the upper left corner, and Java Workshop creates a new instance of the Button class. Various properties of the button can also be adjusted. For example, you can change the width and height by resizing the bounding cell of the control.
Figure 1: On top is the component palette; below is the grid that the selected components are added to by the programmer.
In order to add multiple copies of the same AWT component, you simply hold down the Control key (with the component selected), and click in all of the cells where you would like the component to go. Using this same select and click technique, you can add any AWT component to your project, for example, text fields, textboxes, choices, checkboxes/radio buttons, etc.
To modify attributes, or properties, of an object with JWS, you click once on the object and select "Modify Attributes" from the GUI menu, or press the "Edit attributes" button on the toolbar. This is one area that could be improved in Java Workshop, as many GUI builders allow the programmer to access properties of objects by simply selecting them with the mouse, providing the properties window is open.
Java Workshop also includes a powerful debugging feature. Not only can this feature be used to test your application, and set breakpoints to isolate problematic areas of your code, you can also use the debugger to monitor the status of threads in a multi-threaded applet or application. For those of you not familiar with threads, imagine that you want to write a program which shows a graphic of a bouncing ball on the screen, and play a series of notes in the "background". Java allows one to isolate these events in separate "threads" or program segments, which execute seemingly simultaneously - from the user's perspective.
One of the most difficult things about such applications can be (without the aid of a tool such as JWS) to debug problems with the different threads, particularly when you don't even know which thread is causing you grief. You can also use this feature (if you set an appropriate breakpoint) to examine the values of all your program variables while the program executes.
As well as a visual GUI builder, powerful debugger, and fully featured source code editor, it also has a few other little "gadgets", such as the ability to re-map keyboard shortcuts for various menu commands.
It also includes a set of tutorials that are helpful for programmers already familiar with other GUI building tools. You will probably find that Java Workshop doesn't approach things exactly the same way as many other tools (it has a strange approach to forms, for example) - however, there is enough commonality to get you started quickly. By using the supplied tutorials, even a relatively new Java programmer can become proficient at designing the interface portion using Java Workshop. For example, one of the example programs creates a fully functioning calculator application.
JWS also allows the programmer to organize their work in projects, with each new project being stored in its own directory, which makes the development as well as the deployment process much simpler. The Project Manager provides an environment similar to the Windows Explorer, which allows the programmer to rapidly choose from amongst their various projects. Figure Two illustrates this, and shows one project "expanded", allowing the programmer to manipulate one or another file in Java Workshop.
Figure 2: The project manager window. To quickly open a project in Java Workshop, the programmer can simply double click it.
One of the program's other notable features is its price. While a full version of JBuilder can cost in the area of $800, Java Workshop is a steal at around $100. Sun has also announced that the source code for Java Workshop will be released free of charge to non-commercial developers. This means non-commercial developers will soon have access to the program for free.
A few things about the program disappointed me, however. JWS seems to be best suited to being displayed at 1024x768 resolution, and is slightly too large for the screen at lower resolutions. Also, the properties editing window isn't open by default, and although it's only a mouse click away, this doesn't have to be the case.
Java Workshop is a full featured integrated development, with powerful debugging features, a simple common sense approach to interface design, and an excellent source code editor.
The program is also available for both Windows variants and Solaris, making Sun ahead of the pack in my opinion. Other well known Java development tools, for example, Visual J++ and JBuilder, are only available for Windows variants. I would hope to see Sun support others in the near future. After all, isn't Java supposed to be cross-platform?
I'd recommend this program to students, Java hobbyists, and even smaller commercial developers, due to its attractive pricing and multitude of features.
|JWS has a number of impressive features and is available at a lower price than several of its rivals.|
|If you think Java Workshop might be the product for you, you can purchase the full version online from Beyond.com. Just click on the icon to your left to jump to the order page, enter your details, and download it straight to your hard drive!|