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4GLs discover the Web

Integrating Web with traditional database applications a hot topic for database tool makers

By Barry D. Bowen

January  1996
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If Hollywood produced computing documentaries, some movie house would be working on "The World Wide Web: The Sequel." Or perhaps more accurately, "The Web and SQL," for there is little doubt that second-generation Web application development tools will be intimately commingled with client-server database development tools. Traditional 4GL tool vendors, as well as more innovative cross-platform application tool vendors, are well positioned to deliver ground-breaking development environments that dramatically increase the ease with which database applications are transformed into Web-savvy windows into workgroup and corporate data.

Until building and deploying truly distributed object-based applications becomes an easy, reliable process for mainstream business computing users, the focus of client-server database applications will remain on the transition from a two-tier to a three-tier application architecture. Tools vendors have been hard at work creating products that provide platform independence and flexible application partitioning between the client GUI, application server, and database server. The ability to write an application once, using one core application development tool, and then easily move modules between the application tiers to optimize performance, is helping make three-tier applications a reality for mainstream users.

Simultaneously, the Internet has skyrocketed in popularity. Many application architects recognize its potential as a pervasive, platform-independent middleware layer to support client server computing. These two distinct trends map onto one another nicely. The three-tier application architecture is roughly equivalent to Web sites that have been painstakingly built by hand using HTML and CGI scripts -- in Internet parlance, browser, Web server, and database.

The paradigm match has not been overlooked by tool vendors. In November and December several firms announced new products scheduled for release in the first half of 1996. Others are making it obvious that announcements are right around the corner.

"Everybody in the 4GL market will begin offering either add-on modules or a separate tool to create Web-savvy client-server database applications. Soon it will seem like there is a new announcement every day of tools that generate Java code, or HTML and CGI scripts," said Gregory Dorman, vice president of R&D for New York-based Information Builders.

According to Rich Finkelstein, an analyst and president of Performance Computing in Chicago, there is a great deal of interest in what he calls the "incredible shrinking client." Pushing application logic back onto the server and providing access via platform-independent browsers over the inherently distributed infrastructure of the Internet offers very exciting possibilities, he said.

By the middle of 1996, integrating the Internet's World Wide Web with traditional client-server database applications will be a very hot topic for mainstream business users, said David Kelly, a senior consultant with Hurwitz Consulting Group (Newton, MA). The key will be delivering tools that make it easy to build and deploy applications that bridge the gap between cross-platform tools and the Internet.


Early announcements
Oracle, Neuron Data, and Unify are among the firms already talking about new products. Microrim announced a development-deployment environment for WindowsNT at the Fall Comdex and has just begun shipping. Many other 4GL and cross-platform database tool vendors seem poised to introduce new products given their vocal support of the Sun-Netscape collaboration on Java and Javascript. The following are announcements these and other companies have already made concerning Web/database development tools.

What the Internet development tool landscape will look like in six months is difficult to pin down. One thing, however, is sure to be the case. Mainstream business users will have a variety of development tools offering to help them generate Web-ready database applications.

--Barry D. Bowen

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About the author
Barry D. Bowen ( is a business computing analyst and writer with the Bowen Group Inc. ( Reach Barry at

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