Product review: E-business tool makes e-mail a solid development

When you think of building a World Wide Web application, chances are you don't think about building it around e-mail. Nevertheless, Delano Technology's e-Business Interaction Suite takes the reliable infrastructure of e-mail and turns it into a full-fledged application-development platform. An agency might, for example, use Delano to create a departmental suggestion box or an application that solicits and processes feedback from contractors.

The e-Business Interaction Suite consists of the e-mail Application Builder, Server and Administrator.

All new e-mail applications get their start with the Delano e-mail Application Builder. This component uses a graphical process-flow approach for creating and modifying e-mail applications. The user interface resembles other Rapid Application Development (RAD) tools such as Inprise's Delphi or Microsoft's Visual Basic.

Three primary windows display the component toolbar, a project explorer and the current work space. Creating a new application consists of selecting components from the toolbar, placing them in the work space and then connecting them in much the same way as you would build a flow chart.

Application components fall into one of four categories: actions, decisions, start events and wait events.

Start events trigger all applications and consist of functions such as receive e-mail, receive Hypertext Transport Protocol (HTTP), process completion, or scheduled event.

Action components provide the meat of the functionality and provide the ability to connect to Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) servers, external databases, HTTP, text and Extensible Markup Language (XML) parsers as well as to execute Jscript or VBScript procedures. Right-clicking on the mouse lets you modify a component's properties after dropping it onto the active work space. One thing we miss that Visual Basic 6.0 provides is the ability to see database tables and fields and to execute queries from within the RAD tool.

Delano went to great lengths to make it possible to test and debug an e-mail application easily. The Delano e-Business Interaction Suite makes extensive use of logs for tracking application errors, warnings and other general process information. We especially like the ability to play back a log of a particular application to see exactly where things went awry.

Everything about the server was designed from the ground up, with speed and scalability in mind. Delano built the server around Microsoft's Component Object Model and takes full advantage of Windows NT's ability to handle multithreaded applications. Distributed COM is used for communication between servers in a Windows NT domain. Delano also built the e-Business Interaction Suite around standard Internet protocols, including Hypertext Markup Language, HTTP, IMAP4, LDAP, MIME, POP3, SMTP and XML.

The e-Mail Application Server Administrator (EASA) provides all the tools necessary to administer and monitor the performance of executing tasks. You must use EASA to specify what level of application logging will take place, including errors, warnings, informational events, or all of the above. EASA also lets you pre-configure connections to external databases or LDAP servers to make it easier for developers who use the same data sources again and again.

For a product as complex as this, you would expect a heavy emphasis on documentation with tutorials and lots of examples. Unfortunately, such is not the case. The only printed manual that comes with the product is a skimpy 40-page Getting Started Guide that barely scratches the surface. The online help is much more thorough but still lacks the kind of detailed "how-to" instructions needed to really understand the product. Delano does offer technical support services for bringing complex applications online.

Basic requirements for running the server software include Windows NT Server with Service Pack 3 or higher, a 333MHz Intel Pentium II processor with 128Mbytes of RAM and an e-mail server that supports SMTP, POP3 or IMAP4. Supported e-mail servers include Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Development's Notes and Netscape Communications' Messaging Server. Application Builder requires Windows NT Workstation with SP3, Internet Explorer 4.01, and a minimum of 64Mbytes of RAM.

The concept behind the e-Business Interaction Suite is a good one. Building around e-mail offers a way to create reliable applications that merge well with existing business processes. The only limitation we see is a steep learning curve to actually using the product to build your applications.

Paul Ferrill, based at Edwards Air Force Base, California, is a principal engineer with Avionics Test & Analysis Corp. He can be reached at pferrill@fwb.gulf.net.e-Business Interaction SuiteGrade: BDelano Technology Corp.

+1-905-764-7445

http://www.delanotech.com

Remarks

The e-Business Interaction Suite provides all the tools necessary to build applications around e-mail. Building applications is a snap with the application builder's visual development tool. The biggest disappointment was the lack of documentation. If you can get past that limitation, you'll have a tool capable of creating many applications.

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