Product Review: Apptivity: One-Stop Development, Deployment

In the early days of Web development, life was simple: Anyone who knew how to connect a CGI application written in Perl or C to a database, tie it together with some HTML and shell scripts, and stick everything up on a Web server could build a Web application. This model of development is still being used successfully by many organizations, but it's clearly not for everyone.

I looked at a beta copy of the latest offering from Progress Software, Apptivity 3, and found a promising tool that provides one-stop shopping for the development and deployment of Web applications. I especially liked Apptivity's wizards, which made it easy to quickly define the basic elements of a Web application.

Several other vendors, including Silverstream, Sun Microsystems (with its NetDynamics server), and Bluestone, currently offer similar tools. Apptivity stands out because it includes everything needed to develop and deploy Web applications, neatly integrated into a single package.

Apptivity consists of several parts that work together to provide a complete Web application environment. It includes a development environment where developers can work with all of the components of a Web application, including HTML pages, Java code, database connections, and other objects.

The other key element is an application server, written in Java, that provides load balancing and fault tolerance, and supports Enterprise Java Beans, CORBA, and Component Object Model-CORBA connectivity.

In addition, Apptivity provides the SmartConnect feature for database connectivity, SmartClient, which allows multiple clients on various platforms to access the same application; management tools for CORBA and for application server management; and security features including Secure Sockets Layer, X.509 certificates, and HTTP tunneling.

I used Apptivity to create a simple Web application to pull up master-detail forms from a database. Using Apptivity's wizards I was quickly able to create the necessary components. Apptivity relies heavily on Enterprise Java Beans, even for simple applications, but the end result is a very functional program, even when it has only a simple HTML interface.

Apptivity is one of the first tools I've seen that so smoothly integrates all of the pieces of the Web application-development process. Apptivity's Visual Studio-like feel should be comfortable for anyone accustomed to developing Windows software.

The only downside I saw with the environment was its lack of support for WYSIWYG HTML editing. Although there's nothing to stop you from using a product such as Front Page for HTML development, it is not clear to me that the integration of Front Page and Apptivity would be a smooth process. The same goes for third-party Java development tools such as Visual Cafe.

This criticism is relatively minor, because Apptivity provides such a strong environment for working with your Web applications. There's no reason why an organization could not build a strong Web development process with Apptivity at the center of it.

Further contributing to Apptivity's strength as an enterprise tool is its built-in support for Microsoft's Source Code Control API. Apptivity is certified for use with Microsoft Visual Source Safe, Starbase Versions, and PVCS Version Manager. It ships with a copy of Starbase Versions, further bolstering its suitability as a one-stop Web development solution.

For Web developers who want a single development tool, Apptivity is a fine example. It's well suited for organizations just getting started with Web development or for those looking to update a more primitive development environment.

(Eric Hammond (ehammond@earthlink.net) is a Denver-based free-lance writer and consultant.)THE BOTTOM LINEProgress Apptivity 3Apptivity offers a complete Web application-development environment and application server. It combines HTML and Java tools with database connectivity and deployment capabilities in a single Visual Studio-like environment.

Pros: Development wizards; easy database connectivity; tools to both build and deploy Web applications.

Cons: Doesn't integrate with other Web development tools; doesn't provide WYSIWYG HTML editing.

Progress Software Corp., Bedford, Massachusetts; (888) 277-3279 (toll-free); www.progress.com.

Price: Enterprise Starter Edition, US$15,000. Additional application server CPU licenses, $10,000; additional SmartClient Servlets, $2,000; additional developer seats, $995.

Platforms: Server: Unix and Windows NT. Developer: Windows 95, Windows NT.

Ship date: Nov. 13.

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