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JBuilder of All Trades

The tool of choice

I run a small custom software development company in Bulgaria called dSoft-Bulgaria Ltd. Established in 2003, our company provides information system design and development. We have a wide range of specialists in different areas and we deploy systems on several different platforms including Windows, Linux, Solaris, .NET, and J2EE.

The technology market in Bulgaria is diverse and complicated. The United States and Western Europe outsource their long-term projects to large Bulgarian consulting firms. Other project work in the technology sector is either funded by the government or by European Union incentive programs and these projects go to the larger companies as well. For smaller companies like dSoft-Bulgaria, it's difficult to get these kinds of assignments unless you work as a subcontractor. For these reasons we end up working on small projects with tight budgets. This is where quality developer tools and ongoing support are necessary to sustain a level playing field.

dSoft-Bulgaria currently has two main products. The first is called PowerPro. It's an integrated system for customer database management, service billing, delivery, management and provisioning for cable TV operators. The second is KCK, an information system for universities that includes a full set of tools for all stages of student enrollment.

As a small shop, each developer at dSoft-Bulgaria must cover every role in the application development process, including project management, design, coding, testing, customer relations, and other activities not directly related with programming. dSoft-Bulgaria consultants work with a variety of companies to automate processes ranging from billing to network provisioning to internal document workflow. We rely on Embarcadero Technologies' CodeGear tools like JBuilder 2008 to help us develop solutions.

A Long History with CodeGear Products Leads to JBuilder
My experience with CodeGear (formerly Borland) products goes all the way back to the days of Turbo Pascal 3.0. I was still in the school at the time. It was during what we called the "Dark Ages" in Bulgaria, when there was no such thing as legal software. I also spent two years learning C++ with Borland C++ 3, 4 and 5. When Delphi came out, the RAD tools were so amazing I became a Delphi developer. In fact, my first developer job was as a Delphi programmer.

When I started my own company, one of our first projects required that I learn Java. Given my happy experience with CodeGear, I immediately tried JBuilder. Since then, JBuilder has been the tool of choice for most of our projects. JBuilder's built-in LiveSource technology simultaneously replicates changes to models in the code and vice versa. This means our system architects and developers are closely aligned in the development process, which reduces our costs associated with software rework. We also rely heavily on the Graphical EJB Workbench to give our novice and experienced Java EE developers access to a simplified RAD development. Legacy projects using EJB 2.x are easily converted to the new annotation-based EJB 3 specification so changes to the source code, annotations, properties view, and graphical view are always in sync. This makes it very easy to write session beans - sometimes even easier than writing text.

We use JBuilder 2006 for projects where support for legacy technologies or application servers is needed or when we have to support some of our older implementations. But, we are migrating most of our large, newer projects - where standards like JPA and EJB 3 are required - to JBuilder 2008.

Helping Small Teams Look Big
Using JBuilder 2008, we were able to complete a recent transportation industry project in just four months with only two developers. The project was for a warehouse and distribution company that was responsible for making ice cream deliveries. The company had a small fleet of trucks distributing their ice cream, and had to guarantee a very short reaction time in case of food recalls. The company needed an application that could track deliveries and payments from customers, process and update inventories, and track production rates. To complete this task we needed to expand on the benefits of JPA and EJB 3 to combine many different elements into one application and develop a Graphic User Interface (GUI) that would look professional and organized. This allowed us to go quickly from a blank slate to a working application and ensure that the mechanism for maintaining and editing of the form was consistent with the original development.

We were able to develop a new system for them that tracked their inventory and their deliveries much more effectively than the previous system. What's more, whatever underlying database we chose could be easily integrated with JBuilder's database tools.

Another company we work with is a cable TV operator in Macedonia. It hired dSoft-Bulgaria to build a software platform for billing and provisioning for its digital television and cable Internet customers. It also needed us to build and integrate a customer relationship management (CRM) system. The problems it faced were having too much customer data to manage effectively and different databases that didn't communicate easily. We were able to use JBuilder - initially version 2006 but we're currently migrating to 2008 - to integrate the databases and consolidate the billing, provisioning, and CRM platforms.

JBuilder's database integration capabilities allowed us to build on top of an Oracle database for the larger system and Firebird for the smaller system.

Unique Advantages for Our Business
One of the custom installations with our KCK product involved developing a database to collect, catalogue, and store student enrollment information and produce documentation on each. The implementation required a well-tested, tightly integrated set of tools in a single IDE. Because of the school system's needs, we didn't have the luxury of spending time researching multiple plug-in options to solve different problems. The visual development support for EJB 3 was crucial for this project - making it very easy to see the big picture without having to sift through lots of code.

Volume and code quality can be major roadblocks, especially when dealing with a foreign code base. We used JBuilder in this case because the metrics and audits on the existing code helped keep it very clean. We were able to integrate and synthesize existing student records and we could see how the different classes related to one another.

The Application Factories functionality in JBuilder 2008 was a huge benefit in the KCK project. It allowed us to radically reduce the amount of time it took to bring our new developers up to speed. Also, having the complete knowledge of the project evolution along with the source code, all maintained in the IDE, let the developers on the project concentrate on the real problems of data integration without having to worry about non-essential issues. Application Factories integrated seamlessly with our EJB-based middle tier running on JBoss and our in-house Swing application development framework, which ultimately gave us a way to create a higher starting point and better standard practices for this project and other new ones.

The Application Factories' methodology represents a new approach to software development and code reuse. Navigating the complexity of framework choices, open source, internal code, and deregulated technology standards and trying to determine how to use and reuse them together to deliver high-quality solutions are some of the most pressing challenges that Java developers face today. Because of the volume of different formats we had to collect and process, this became an essential component to our success with the KCK installation.

Competitive Solutions Didn't Measure Up
Like most developers, we looked at many IDE solutions on the market, especially the open source options that we could download for free. We tried NetBeans several times, but were unable to find the elements we needed to build competitive solutions for our customers in crucial industries like television, education, and transportation.

I also didn't want to be locked into Eclipse with no other IDE development options. For simple small projects, Eclipse is a fine choice, but as our assignments grew in size and scope, we needed a broader solution. For example, as soon as I had to create a Swing UI, I was left out of the game with Eclipse. NetBeans was OK in that arena but when you looked closely at the code, it was the same as Visual Studio could generate for a WinForms .NET application - the type of designer that crashes as soon as you try to change something manually in the UI code.

We actually had one client project where we used Instantiations' Swing Designer 100% of the time. When it became fully integrated with JBuilder 2008 could quickly and visually create rich user interfaces, easily add controls using drag-and-drop, add event handlers to controls, and change the properties of controls using a familiar object inspector. Unlike alternative solutions, the Swing Designer transparently handled our code generation without proprietary markers or fragile intermediate files.

Some of the individual features available in JBuilder 2008 are also available as open source plug-ins for Eclipse but the question of ongoing support remains. In many cases open source plug-ins are left without bug fixes for a long time. The other IDEs available today are also very oriented to support only their own platform. They offer support for other vendors, but are mostly limited to the support that the open source community provides. The toolset, the developer relations, and the quality of the support make our developers continue to return to the CodeGear products.

More Stories By Doychin Bondzhev

Doychin Bondzhev has over 15 years experience in the software and consultancy industries. During his work at dSoft-Bulgaria Ltd he utilized different technologies including EJB, Web Services, Swing, JSF and also different databases and platforms. Prior dSoft-Bulgaria, he was a senior developer at AtoZed Software, responsible for maintaining and developing IntraWeb for Win32, .NET and Java. He has a masters degree in computer science from Technical University, Sofia branch Plovdiv.

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