Product review: Web-ready Clarion adds code automation

With the Internet now well established as a means of increasing profitability in data-dependent markets, businesses are clamouring to build new applications and repurpose old data sources to benefit from the Web's proficiency.

To meet this need, TopSpeed's Clarion 5 object-oriented application development environment accelerates the evolution of data-centric applications via wizard-driven code templates and a comprehensive set of goal-oriented class libraries. By adding the Internet developer's kit to its Web edition, Clarion makes it possible to quickly build a single code source and an executable file that can be deployed as client/server or over the Web.

Although Clarion still does not support the Corba object specification, which Inprise's Delphi supports, other features make Clarion an enterprise development tool capable of reducing development and deployment cycles and maintaining data-centric applications with only a modest investment. New features such as Wizatrons for automated development, integrated version control, and a Dictionary Synchroniser that tracks and integrates changes made in SQL and relational database structures help fortify Clarion's toolset. Though not as comprehensive as Delphi, Clarion is far easier for deploying Web applications.

Flexible development

The Clarion environment provides a well-integrated application generator with all the structured templates and wizards necessary for generating code and maintaining data definitions. Clarion quickly develops full-functioning applications capable of interacting with connected data sources. Clarion has also improved its native database drivers by adding support for Microsoft SQL Server, Sybase SQLAnywhere, and Pervasive.SQL.

On the Web front, Clarion makes it easy to port your applications to the Web by selectively including the necessary Internet extensions into the compilation process, producing one application that can be run as a Windows executable or immediately served via the Application Broker as a Java applet to browsers.

The TopSpeed Application Broker can be implemented either as a stand-alone executable or as an ISAPI server extension for use with Microsoft Internet Information Server or any ISAPI-compliant Web server. The Broker routes data and Java classes from the Web-enabled application to the Java-enabled client, optimising performance and conserving bandwidth by sending only necessary data. Although Version 5 now allows five concurrent connections, it still requires that you purchase the Application Broker for full deployment.

To develop an application, I started with the Quick Start Wizard and Clarion's Dictionary Editor, which defined and mapped database descriptions such as files, fields, rules, and drivers used for my data source. The wizards effectively guided me through the process of producing a fully functional, multithreaded Multiple Document Interface application -- ready for the Web -- in less than an hour without writing a single line of code. I found this far easier than using Delphi's ActiveX architecture to deploy thin clients.

Taking automated development to the next level, Clarion is working on smart Wizatrons that automate repetitive programming tasks while also learning to anticipate a programmer's style. I was able to use the Wizatron to quickly establish a consistent look, feel, and behaviour across several applications. Unlike wizards, Wizatrons offer automation while remaining configurable, revealing as many or as few options as are suited to the programmer's needs or skill level.

Still in beta testing, the Wizatrons I tested lacked total functionality but provided a glimpse at the future. Due out in late June, TopSpeed will offer the update for free from its Web site for registered Clarion 5 users.

Unlike competing solutions such as Visual Basic or Delphi -- which only complete a part of the data application development puzzle -- Clarion 5 combines a rapid development solution with enterprise-ready support for collaborative design. Those looking to specifically implement ActiveX or support Corba will likely want to use Delphi and pay the premium. However, with enough guidance and wizardry for novices, Clarion offers seasoned professionals a means of reducing development and deployment costs at an affordable price.

(James Borck (james.borck@industrialart.com) is IS director at Industrial Art & Science, in Connecticut.)The bottom line: very goodTopSpeed Clarion 5a Web EditionSummary: This rapid application development environment lets you deploy and maintain data-centric applications for Windows and the Web in a way that is easy for programming novices and extensible for veterans. Easy-to-use wizards provide quick integration of code frameworks that can be fully customised.

Business Case: A modest investment will result in immediate returns via shortened development cycles, increased productivity, and easy maintenance as business grows. Team development provisions make Clarion worthy of enterprise use.

Pros

+ Quickly builds applications on new or pre-existing data sources+ Superb native database connectivity+ Fast compilation build time+ Easy to use yet still extensible+ Shortens development cycleCons- No Corba supportCost: $US1799, includes five-user Application Broker; additional $999 for full-scale Application Broker deploymentPlatforms: Windows NT, Windows 95 and 98, Windows 3.x

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