Java – at the eye of a perfect storm

The “perfect storm” of ubiquitous broadband, powerful and cheap laptops, virtual machines, cloud-based services/infrastructure and open-source software is changing the nature of IT in a way that’s reminiscent of the revolution started by the IBM PC. Although a lot of emphasis has been put on the influence of consumer-focused services on the enterprise, the Web2.0 effect; there’s also traffic in the other direction.

Tools that were once the preserve of large multi-national or governmental organisations are now becoming available to a much larger audience at a fraction of the cost (either free via open source or pay-as-you-go via on-line services such as Amazon Ec2 or salesforce.com).

As a result of this leakage from the enterprise, I’m more and more using a skill that I though I’d left behind in the hallowed halls of “big business”, my knowledge of enterprise Java. Two of the tools that are at the centre of my datasmithing arsenal are Java to the core, Talend ETL and WaveMaker and a third Palo’s new ETL Server is built on a Java stack.

Talend

My first impressions of the “Java Project” version of Talend were, as they say in Texas, “all hat and no cattle”. I’ve stuck with it though, and have had the opportunity over the last few weeks to re-visit the product. Initially, my attitude to Talend was coloured by my experience with Kettle (aka Pentaho PDI), which under the direction of Matt Casters and the patronage of Pentaho has grown from strength to strength, but once I attuned myself to the idea that Talend is, in essence, a code generator, generating code in a language I know well, I became more comfortable with it.

What I like about Talend, is the ability to convert an ETL process into either a POJO or a WAR file representation of the solution, both stand-alone and fixed-in-time. Talend as a company or as a product could disappear in the morning, as could I, but the solution, cast in Java, will continue on regardless, a solution expressed in a standards based language, widely used and understood by a large number of IT professionals.

This is really important when you consider the ETL/BI products that have been swallowed by the rent-book collectors of the IT business, e.g. Essbase/Hyperion by Oracle, Business Objects by SAP (I might be a bit unfair to SAP, who continue to show real commitment to software R&D). The new owners of these once ground-breaking products will continue to milk the licence holders for “rent” long into the future , a situation that would be acceptable if they continue to offer value above a “protection” service more associated with that provided by your local hoodlum; but alas, most were bought to strengthen the purchaser’s control of their market, so I wouldn’t hold my breath.

I’ve always been a lazy programmer, so I’ve over the years developed numerous productivity aids to help automate development (i.e. reduce the boredom factor for me and the cost for my customers/employers) and to reduce errors (a cost to both sides). Code generation has been at the heart of many of these efforts, so I find myself at home with both Talend and Wavemaker’s approach.

WaveMaker

I’d not heard of Chris Keene’s WaveMaker until a few weeks ago. WaveMaker (previously know as ActiveGrid) belongs, along side Talend, Pentaho and Jedox, to a new breed of open-source businesses, and the product brings new life to Java web development. I was lucky to escape the worst of the J2EE nonsense and could never understand why an easy to use GUI builder like this never existed in the Java world, no wonder .NET continues to outgun J2EE in the market place.

Those of you with a background in VB6/VBA or VisualStudio will feel right at home here, but instead of desktop GUIs you’ll be building AJAX web applications. The resulting application is packaged as a WAR file which can be hosted by any standards based Java server (e.g. Tomcat or Jetty). It’s open source and built on industry standards, Hibernate,Spring and the Javascript Dojo framework.

Not only can WaveMaker act as a front-end to traditional databases, it’s designed to be equally at home with data served up by web services or POJOs. And, as Talend WAR projects and the Palo ETL Server (Jetty based) both expose Axis based web services, these three products are a match made in Java heaven.

Oracle Application Express

So, If you only came across WaveMaker recently, what did you intend to use as a Web/GUI front-end before this?

Well, for many tasks, Excel, backed by web-service aware VBA will continue to be an option, my xlAWS library and xLite code base will continue to be useful. Obviously, Excel is a natural front-end to Palo itself and VB6 is always there for quick and dirty Window’s GUI apps. I may also use Proto if circumstances warrant it.

For web front-ends, in the past I toyed with using Oracle Apex, then Rails, then JotSpot, then Zimki.

  • Rails taught me a lot about “good web app design” and introduced me to Ruby (and SQLite) but it didn’t offer me the speed of development and ease of deployment I’ve become accustomed to.
  • JotSpot got swallowed up by Google and spat out again as Google Sites minus the innovative “wiki database” capability.
  • Zimki, alas, is no more.
  • That left me with Oracle’s impressive Application Express (aka APEX aka HTML DB).

Application Express is excellent if your background is in Oracle databases and/or Oracle Forms and if you work in a Oracle shop and have not checked it out, then do so, you’ll be impressed. It’s standard with all versions since 10G and can be installed on V9 databases. It’s also the front-end for Oracle XE – the free edition of the database server.

So why jump ship to WaveMaker?

APEX is Oracle specific, closed source, costs a fortune once you outgrow Oracle XE, is a bit “odd” to configure, and, I’m not sure Oracle know what to do with the product (afraid it might cannabalise its lucrative J2EE business!).

WaveMaker embraces the world, is open source and is really easy to use, while still allowing access to the underlying code (both Java and Javascript) and CSS styling. And, it can be easily deployed.

No contest, I’m afraid.

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3 responses to “Java – at the eye of a perfect storm

  1. Thanks for posting about wavemaker. I am just now checking out the demo videos and downloading. Looks like an amazing piece of software!

  2. Thanks for the nice post.This takes a step forward in building user friendly, feature rich RAD tools in java .Truely awesome.

  3. Pingback: Cloudy skies, cloudy apps… « Gobán Saor