Cool tools: Browsersoft turns Cobol hands into Java jocks
- By John K. Waters
[ADT's PROGRAMMERS REPORT, December 17, 2002] -- Last summer, Universal
Underwriters Group, a member of Zurich Financial Services, decided it needed a
greater Web presence. Not just more HTML pages, but real customer access to its
products and services through the Internet. As enterprise application architect
for the Overland Park, KS-based Universal Underwriters, Michael Ballou's job was
simple, but daunting: Ramp up the Java skills of an IT department composed
mainly of Cobol mainframe developers, and get them working on Web applications
for the corporate Web site.
''We needed a way to bring our IT people up to speed on
Java as quickly as possible,'' Ballou told Programmers Report
. ''And we wanted our developers to
concentrate on the business objects, and not spend their time worrying about
what's required by the infrastructure.''
The answer for Ballou was eQ Foundation, a new offering from neighboring
Kansas consulting firm, Browsersoft Inc. The company touts its flagship product
as ''the first declarative development foundation for Java that gives mainstream
application developers the ability to build enterprise-class, e-business
applications with little to no Java coding or expertise.''
The big idea here is to provide a common structure for building and extending
applications, eliminating much of the hard coding of relationships between the
business components and data objects. eQ Foundation uses XML to configure
pre-written Java business components and script the workflow. The business
components can then be utilized in JSP/Servlet, Struts, Swing or EJB as
necessary through adapters or by scripts created with the foundation's scripting
The company calls the product a ''foundation'' rather than a framework, said
company President Don Grodecki, because although it fits into the framework
category, it is a model-based framework.
''It's a tool for building the model part of the Model View Controller
architecture,'' Grodecki explained. ''Most frameworks are more view-oriented, or
oriented to delivering technology the user sees. We always found that the model
was the most reusable part of an application.''
And whatever you do, don't call eQ a code generator. ''Code generation'' is
something of a four-letter word at Browsersoft.
''We don't generate any code,'' said Robert McIntosh, Browsersoft's chief
architect. ''Surveys show that many developers -- about half, I think -- don't
like using code generators. And many of the developers who do use them just end
up customizing the code anyway.''
At the center of this non-code-generating foundation is eQ Core, a business
class that developers can create to implement business logic that also provides
change tracking, error reporting, logging and messaging. 'Customers create their
own business object for their own domain,' said McIntosh. 'They build a Java
bean, add attributes and the rest is declarative.'
eQ Collection is a collection object that allows for one-to-one, one-to-many
and many-to-many relationships. Objects reside in eQ Collection without
relationships, McIntosh explained. They're scripted in later according to the
application flow created in the model. The collection itself can also be treated
as its own entity to be reused. This strategy solves a lot of problems for the
''object-oriented guys,'' McIntosh said. ''They can do it declaratively instead of
hard-coding it. All you have to do is change a config file and have your
McIntosh also emphasizes that eQ Foundation doesn't prevent developers from
drilling down into the code if they need to.
''We're trying to be flexible [enough] for the power users to code whatever
they want,'' he said, ''but also be simple enough for novice users so that they
can just edit a configuration file and have a large part of their application
It's an approach that has been working for Ballou and company. One of the
earliest adopters of the eQ Foundation product, developers at Universal
Underwriters Group have reengineered and deployed one application as a
multi-tiered Java app in less time than it took to develop the original
single-tiered app using VB and Visual Studio, Ballou said.
''[The product] has reduced the amount of time our developers have to spend
worrying about what's required by the infrastructure,'' Ballou said. ''We've got
it down to minimal effort. They just have to worry about the business solutions.
And the learning curve is significantly flatter.''
Browsersoft provides a complete evaluation download of eQ Foundation on its
Web site (http://www.browsersoft.com).
The download includes a ''Getting Started'' guide and a ''Parts Store''
demonstration application with a walkthrough.
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John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached