Sun's Java Studio on target

Overwhelmed I/S programmers and Webmasters now have a means of bringing Java applet and application construction to the masses with Java Studio, a graphical-based development environment from Sun Microsystems Inc. Basic construction is so simple that even a novice developer could have a scrolling applet built in minutes.

Java Studio is based on the JavaBean client-side object component specification, and uses specially wrapped "beans" that can be placed and linked together to form a larger applet or application, which can run in or separately from a browser.

The environment is split into three windows: the main tool bar containing a tab-formatted palette of JavaBeans; a design window for placing, customizing and connecting beans; and a GUI window for arranging and formatting visual elements. Studio ships with a number of pre-installed JavaBeans for GUI, data flow, computation, multimedia, Internet and database access functionality.

Creating Java programs is as easy as dropping beans into the design window, then drawing a line to link them together via input/output connector points. A connection is valid if the line turns green. Bad connections are signaled in red. Most beans come with their own set of customizable parameters that can be accessed by double clicking on a specific bean.

A bean represents every object in an application, including labels for input boxes. Each object in the GUI window has a corresponding bean in the design window. This can lead to a cluttered-looking design for applications such as an input form with lots of text and fields. But for those that prefer to think visually, Java Studio provides a great means of constructing underlying application logic.

Java Studio generates applets, standalone applications and JavaBeans. The tool is easy to install, and uses a standard wizard-based routine to guide users. The CD contains versions for Windows 95 and NT 4.0, as well as Sun Solaris. We looked at the Windows 95 version.

Once installed, a startup dialog box greets new users. The online tour and examples are a decent substitute for the lack of a paper-based manual. There is an HTML-based help system, but it is a bit slow and cumbersome. One note of caution: There is no warning dialog box that asks users if they wish to save any unsaved work. I learned this the hard way.

Java Studio's three main windows allow users to build applications using a drag-and-drop component metaphor.
Sun claims that just about any JDK 1.0- and 1.1-compliant bean can be imported into Java Studio, but our experience indicated that some beans need an extra layer of code before being imported into the environment. Still, I was able to successfully download, import and use a third-party "Randomizer" bean available for free from IBM's AlphaWorks project.

While building simple applets that are pleasing to the eye is relatively easy, I did find some minor annoyances. First, the environment uses three distinct windows for design, only one of which can be in focus at a time. This can be irritating when you think you are typing in a particular window and nothing happens.

Second, the database access component is a little rough around the edges. I tried unsuccessfully to connect to a simple Microsoft Access database using an example found in the online help. It failed to connect properly using an included JDBC-to-ODBC bridge. To be fair, Sun recommends using a third-party database bean for complicated data access needs.

Lastly, the running environment seemed to be a bit of a resource hog on my 200MHz Pentium machine with 32Mb of RAM. Some operations slowed to a crawl if any other applications were running.

These annoyances are to be expected. After all, who has ever used a 1.0 release that was perfect? The environment should improve and more third-party Java-Beans will become available to make this a serious choice for the non-code warrior, line-of-business user.