This month, two Silicon Valley database competitors will release products that entail partnerships with ParcPlace Systems and updated object-oriented database products for storing information.
On January 9, Versant will unveil its Versant Argos SmallTalk development environment, based on ParcPlace VisualWorks. Argos is meant to store its creations in Versant's current object database, version 3.0, released in May 1994. Meanwhile, rival object-database vendor Objectivity will announce its updated Objectivity/DB 3.5 on January 16, featuring a new ParcPlace (Sunnyvale, CA) SmallTalk language interface. SmallTalk is an alternative object-oriented programming language (see Advanced Systems, "Teaching objects to fetch," News, July 1994).
Central server focus
Objectivity (Mountain View, CA) was founded in 1988 and shipped its first product in 1990 (see SunWorld, News, February 1993). The company's business is storing information in the form of objects. For example, the multimedia authoring company Gain Corp. (owned by Emeryville, CA-based Sybase) uses Objectivity/DB to store all the multimedia objects used in its Gain/Momentum product. Objectivity/DB allows interoperability between Windows and Unix; object-oriented applications built to work with Objectivity/DB can serve clients running Windows, Windows NT, and most Unix. The database also supports development with several object-oriented languages: C++; SmallTalk (for the first time); and the standard language for relational databases, ANSI SQL (structured query language). With standard C++ and SmallTalk, corporate developers can build applications whose objects are stored and retrieved from Objectivity/DB.
With its new release, Objectivity changed its server focus to accommodate customers with central servers. The old Objectivity approach, said Craig Woods, director of marketing, used the NFS daemon as a page server (an NFS daemon handles network fileserver requests, while a page server fetches memory for running programs). This was simple for customers to use because NFS is pre-installed in most Unix servers, so Objectivity's database could run across many different servers as long as those machines had NFS.
The new multithreaded server approach is better for multiuser access to a central database because each client request (for an object) can get its own thread. Using multiple threads is faster than starting a process to handle each IO request, Woods said.
The development benefit is such that the user can build an application and then decide whether objects should be in a central database or distributed across many databases. Developers can mix and match servers (the multithreaded server and the NFS server) to store and retrieve objects without affecting their applications.
Both approaches use RPC (remote procedure call), but the multithreaded server provides asynchronous writes. This is a technical convenience, meaning an application doing many consecutive update operations within a transaction can proceed without waiting for the changes to actually be written to disk.
Versant (Menlo Park, CA) says its main application focus is network management in which managing relationships between data is a critical component of the application. Telecommunications, utilities, and transportation are typical Versant deployments.
Its latest offering, Argos, was first developed by a Versant customer and systems integrator, Miramar Technology (Tampico, Mexico), for internal use. Miramar used the VisualWorks toolset with Versant's ODBMS as a repository, but needed an environment better suited for its work in business re-engineering.
Full life-cycle support and team-based development was needed, as was the ability of developers to concentrate on application functionality without getting bogged down coding in SmallTalk, said Felix Lin, director of marketing. But because Miramar lacked the capability to sell and support Argos as a commercial product, Versant took over. From now on, both companies will provide future enhancements to the product.
In the Argos development environment, the developer builds an application by clicking on icons, not writing code. Argos then generates SmallTalk classes corresponding to the selected icons; these classes comprise the application code. Changes made to the actual code are reflected in the object models automatically, Versant said.
Because business objects and data must typically be stored, Argos also generates and maintains the database schema, and writes the SmallTalk code required to store and maintain information in the Versant object database (not included; see pricing below).
"The Argos approach relieves developers from many tedious programming tasks and allows them to focus on the business problems at hand," Lin said. And in case developers want to perform hands-on code surgery, they can use the Argos class browsers to modify the actual code, Lin added.
The whole environment is based on VisualWorks, which means the existing ParcPlace functionality is still in effect. Mainly, this benefits developers who need to access legacy code in relational databases, which VisualWorks does. Other bundled functionality includes standard development tools such as a debugger, crash-recovery tools, etc. Argos is available on Sun, HP, and IBM, and costs $3,000 for a development seat. The Versant Argos product (i.e., Argos plus the Versant database) starts at $6,600 per seat. Customers must have licenses for ParcPlace VisualWorks, which cost $350 per seat in a single quantity. Volume discounts are also available. VisualWorks 2.0 for Unix is $4,995 (Sun, IBM's RS/6000, HP). Versant 3.0 runs on Sun, IBM, HP, and Silicon Graphics machines, and costs $5,000 to $10,000 per seat, depending on hardware configuration. Versant also offers a legacy gateway product called Versant/M. This tool supplies SQL query capability into the Versant ODBMS, and allows applications to combine data from relational databases and from Versant. Objectivity, 301B East Evelyn Ave., Mountain View, CA 94041, 415-254-7100; Versant, 1380 Willow Rd., Menlo Park, CA 94025, 415-329-7500; ParcPlace, 999 East Arques Ave., Sunnyvale, CA 94086-4593, 408-481-9090. -- Shalini Chatterjee
With it, developers rope together sound, text, graphics, and video to create multimedia presentations or fancy, interactive graphical front ends to command-line Unix programs like defense missile tracking and weather tracking. The product is highly popular for making presentations, according to the company. For instance, Mentor Graphics (Wilsonville, OR) has created several CD-ROMs to demo their own high-end CAD (computer aided design) product to potential customers.
From Mac to Unix
The new version of MetaCard can play back video clips and animation in QuickTime and AVI formats in addition to FLI/FLC, a popular format for 3-D rendering tools that MetaCard has supported in earlier releases.
This feature makes it easy for Unix developers to create clips on the Mac or PC, where the majority of matured multimedia tools are, and then distribute them on Unix platforms, said Scott Raney, MetaCard's president.
A similar cross-platform advantage lies in MetaCard's new support for HyperCard 2.2 stacks. HyperCard is a Macintosh application that runs HyperTalk, an interpreted (not compiled) scripting language originally developed for users. It's used to make address books, games, etc. Programs for HyperCard are called stacks. Via HyperCard 2.2, MetaCard users can now build multiple-selection list boxes and pop-up menus that automatically adjust to text size. Other enhancements that make MetaCard easier to use and speed development include support for tab-delimited data, so MetaCard will preserve the formatting of imported tables, even if they include proportionally spaced fonts.
The latest version supports multiple-page PostScript files, a handy feature for users who need to perform such tasks as converting desktop-published documentation into on-line help. Previously, users would have needed to break PostScript files up into page-long documents before importing them into MetaCard. PostScript files can also be combined with other kinds of documents.
Also available now is a special version of MetaCard aimed at commercial developers. Embedded MetaCard can be linked directly to C and C++ applications, which makes the code easier and faster to debug, since one, not two, processes are being monitored. In addition, if a program contains numerous calls to C code, it will run much more quickly if it's linked directly to the C app.
Embedded MetaCard can be used to produce user interfaces for many applications, but the company said it is especially suitable for creating GUI clients for relational-database management systems servers, as well as other vertical market applications where easy customization is important. MetaCard can also be used as a friendly graphical front end that shields users from the complexities of image processing and visualization packages, such as satelllite and weather systems.
Embedded MetaCard costs $1,495 for one platform. Libraries for each additional platform go for $495. As with regular MetaCard, no runtime fees are charged for distributing applications built with Embedded MetaCard.
MetaCard 1.4 costs $495 for a single user, and site licenses range from $1,800 for 5 users to $15,000 for 250 users. Educational discounts are available and upgrades are free.
Both versions will run on these platforms without a recompile: Sun 3, SunOS, Solaris, DECstation and DEC Alpha, HP 9000/300 and 700, SCO Open Desktop, Silicon Graphics' IRIX, UnixWare, Linux, and IBM's RS/6000.
MetaCard multimedia development environment is available via anonymous ftp from the Internet sites ftp.metacard.com:/MetaCard and ftp.uu.net:/vendor/MetaCard and via e-mail from firstname.lastname@example.org. Educational users receive a 50 percent discount on these prices, and upgrades to the new release are free to all current customers. In addition, a DESQview/X engine is available for MetaWare 1.4. This item, made by Quarterdeck, is an X-server engine for PCs that runs Unix applications on Windows PCs across a network. It and Linux cost $195 each.
MetaCard Corp., 4710 Shoup Place, Boulder, CO 80313, 303-447-3936. -- Cate T. Corcoran
These tools spare certain tedious chores, such as mapping the data to be moved, writing the conversion code, and writing the specification to the conversion. Otherwise, a Qualix spokesperson claims, users must "jump in and out of different conversion tools to complete the [task]." Shirley Kumomoto, a product manager at Qualix, pointed out that engineers usually have to write programs in C, Pro*C, and PL/SQL to convert the data properly.
At the center of the product, in the control seat, is SMARTLoader, a tool that allows data loading from flat files (such as mainframe files) into Oracle relational databases. (Ports are in the works for 1995 to Sybase and Informix, in that order.) There is a graphical user interface, so loading tasks are accomplished via point and click. The tool allows for test loading, and generates SQL Loader-compatible scripts, so users can run multiple loads simultaneously.
A supporting tool, SMARTXray, gives the user a peek into what the database design looks like, displaying a graphical representation of schema and providing an opportunity to document database design. To actually start the design work, another tool called SMARTDesigner allows users to build or change a schema. Database objects and the relations between them appear as graphical entities, which several developers can work on at the same time. Database maintenance is simplified with point-and-click operation, which is useful for beginners and appreciated by more experienced developers as well, Qualix said.
With older methods, according to a company spokesperson, the user discovers if the database design and load was successful after the load is done. SMARTQuery, another Qualix tool, runs preliminary tests so incorrect data loading can be spotted prior to loading. Furthermore, a Qualix spokesperson said, SMARTQuery takes corrective action if the data wasn't loaded properly.
DB Workbench is available immediately from Qualix. The full product suite (SMARTLoader, SMARTXray, SMARTDesigner, and SMARTQuery) is priced at $16,000 for four users.
Qualix Group, Inc., 1900 S. Norfolk St., #224, San Mateo, CA 94403, 415-572-0200 or e-mail email@example.com. -- Shalini Chatterjee
StP/OMT 2.0's strength lies in its support for a variety of methodologies and its visual orientation, analysts said, while its mix of methods and languages makes it suitable for both technical and commercial developers transitioning to large-scale software development. Its big-picture agenda is appropriate for use on the bigger projects because of its emphasis on analysis and design, as well as code generation. IDE plans to add support for the Booch methodology later this month in a separate release. Booch, like OMT, enables developers to specify relationships and classes of objects. OMT is a better overall notation method, but Booch is useful for describing subsystems and lower-level system details, said Mark Coggins, IDE vice president of software development.
The product offers support for nontechnical business process modeling through a certain communication vehicle called Jacobson Use Cases. When redesigning the way it does business, a company is working on its "business process model," which director of product marketing Andy Simmons calls "the buzzword for 1995." By remodeling everyday procedures, a business can eradicate bottlenecks, and save money and time. To illustrate such changes, Jacobson Use Cases use diagrams. With these graphical scenarios, "the person architecting the system confirms with the customer that this is what they're asking for," said Simmons.
The company added SmallTalk support to garner more commercial accounts, Coggins said. SmallTalk is an object-oriented programming language different from C++, and has recently increased in popularity (see "Object-storing diversifies," page 13). IDE has integrated StP/OMT with VisualWorks from ParcPlace Systems so developers can create business object models as the foundation of SmallTalk applications. Users can move back and forth between VisualWorks and StP/OMT and can reverse engineer SmallTalk code. IDE has also added support for an object-oriented version of Ada 83 for its traditional aerospace customers who are interested in Ada but also want an object-oriented approach.
That the product supports real-time extensions indicates the company is keeping millisecond-aware communications customers in mind.
According to Coggins, object-oriented programming in general and OMT have been knocked for their poor support of real-time requirements in the past. StP/OMT 2.0 allows developers to describe time constraints in their notation. For example, an ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) developer can note that transfers between accounts must take no longer than 30 seconds.
StP/OMT 2.0 runs on Sun systems with SunOS or Solaris and on HP/9000 700 and 800 workstations running HP-UX. A license that authorizes use by one person at a time costs $12,000. Pricing for the Booch module was not available at press time. IDE, 595 Market St., San Francisco, CA 94105, 800-888-4331. -- Cate T. Corcoran
With PCMS*VCS, organizations can engage in parallel and concurrent development efforts, automated heterogeneous builds, release definition, and common code support. What does this mean? Layered on top of SCCS, which it uses to track changes in source modules, PCMS*VCS maintains "metadata" on project elements.
This data is used to create variants within the project tree according to each developer's particular needs. For example, say a team of programmers is working on a new fax software product that is roughly broken into three different modules: the user-interface code, the I/O code, and the rasterizing code. Using PCMS*VCS, one team member can create a customized variant of the fax software that uses the latest version of the UI code, an older version of the I/O code, and a primal version of the rasterizing code.
Other members can create variants according to their own requirements. PCMS*VCS presents these variants graphically and allows them to be manipulated with mouse clicks.
Sites needing to integrate all aspects of development, testing, and release are likely to benefit most from PCMS*VCS and CTS. PCMS*VCS can work with existing SCCS libraries and can be introduced into environments that already have a substantial investment in SCCS. The products are currently available from SQL Software.
One to 20 floating licenses cost $4,300 each and include both products. For quantities greater than 20, licenses cost $3,600 each.
SQL Software, 8500 Leesburg Pike, #405, Vienna, VA 22182, 703-760-0448. -- David Burnette
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Last updated: 1 January 1995.