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Sun's 'Creator' Is a True Contender

Sun gave itself a mighty challenge when it set out to create a Java IDE that lets you build Web applications visually with all the ease and convenience of Visual Studio or ColdFusion. Despite some issues with this early access version, Java Studio Creator might actually live up to its billing.


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hen it first announced the nascent product then known as Project Rave, Sun said Java Studio Creator would be the carrot to finally attract corporate developers to Java. It would be a Visual Basic-like drag-and-drop development environment, and it would attract not only current Java developers, by simplifying Web development tasks, but also developers from organizations that want to move their applications off of one-platform .NET and into cross-platform-capable Java. Jim Inscore, Product Marketing Manager for Java Studio Creator (Creator) says Sun targets the tool at corporate developers who need to:

  • build Web (especially intranet) applications quickly
  • prefer to work with a visual design tool, are currently using ASP, ASP.NET, ColdFusion, or another tool
  • need access to databases
Judging by the early access version, released to the public earlier this month, Sun has taken this mission to heart. Java Studio Creator is slick and flexible, standards-based, easy-to-use, has a built in application server and relational database server, and outputs standard J2EE and JSP code. First, a disclaimer: I'm not a hard-core Java programmer, but I think I'm at least somewhat representative of Sun's target audience. I want to build Web applications quickly; I prefer visual design tools for building UIs; I build database-driven applications; and I've used ASP and ASP.NET extensively. Therefore, I'll take an ASP.NET-centric approach to Java Studio Creator (Creator), looking for similarities and differences between Creator and the Visual Studio IDE. Those who primarily work in other environments are likely to have differing opinions about the relative importance of various features.

Sweet Installation, Slow Startup
I downloaded the early access version of Java Studio Creator from Sun's site, which consisted of a single 140MB installation file. Executing the file ran the installation perfectly on my Windows XP Pro-based test machine. Sun has been paying attention to details, and it deserves credit for that. The installation asked me to choose or enter an installation folder. I chose to install to a folder that didn't yet exist—and that was it—the install went merrily on its way. I got:



  • No irritating questions about how my installation folder didn't exist.
  • No manual tweaking of settings or classpaths
  • No questions about Web servers, preferred ports, or data sources
  • A nice finishing screen that let me launch the newly installed IDE
The install added a PointBase SQL database server (version 4.8RE) to my machine, which rather irritatingly opens a command window and leaves it open while you're working in the IDE (see Figure 1). If you close the command window, the PointBase server shuts down, so you have to learn to live with that extra window on your desktop. The setup automatically adds the PointBase server to a list of data sources available through a VS.NET-like Server Navigator panel. That's a nice touch, because you can use it to get started learning how to build data-driven sites immediately, without worrying about connecting to your particular database..
Author's Note: The early access release contains a JDBC connector only for the PointBase database, but other connectors (such as DataDirect's Connect for JDBC) let you use Creator with other databases. Sun's Inscore said the release version of the product will include connectors for other databases as well.

 
Figure 1. The PointBase Server Window: The PointBase server opens a command window when it starts. If you close the window, the server stops—meaning you have to learn to live with the window open while developing with Creator.
The install also adds an application server, Sun Java System Application Server Platform Edition 8. The IDE autodeploys projects to the application server whenever you want to test your project.

You can manually start and stop both PointBase and the application server using menu items added to your Start Menu. Unfortunately, the application server also opens a window—this one minimized so that you can't see any content, nor can you resize it (see Figure 2). You can minimize it, but it doesn't minimize to the System Tray, it minimizes to the desktop toolbar; you just have to learn to deal with this extraneous third window, along with PointBase's command window, and the Creator window itself.

 
Figure 2. Application Server Domain Window: This useless window (you can't resize it) appears the first time you run your application from Creator, and then remains on your desktop thereafter.
Startup
After installation, when you launch the IDE, you'll see a splash screen that lists various actions the IDE performs as it loads. While the information is relatively meaningless, consisting largely of messages such as "preparing modules," "loading modules," and "loading parts of modules," you'll be glad Sun saw fit to put something on the screen, because launching the IDE takes very nearly as long as installing it. That's understandable when you look at the memory usage for this tool: Bearing in mind that this review covers the early access version, without any project loaded, the IDE uses nearly 80MB of memory. That's considerably more than even Visual Studio, which requires less than 30MB with no project loaded. One can only hope that Sun will optimize the memory usage and improve the launch time before releasing the product.



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