Java Toolmaker Borrows .NET Ideas

Long-time Java software maker Seagull Software has borrowed some "visual" ideas from Microsoft .NET to lower the bar on the complexity using Java/J2EE for connecting web services to legacy systems. See how Seagull's approach could help architects and IT managers get Java and .NET devs on the same page.

Tags: Web Services, Java, Developers, ASP, LegaSuite, Den Haan, Applications,

IDN Executive Overview
Among topics covered in this article are:

  • A look at how long-time Java vendor Seagull Software's LegalSuite Web Services Studio has used Microsoft .NET technologies to devise a toolset that marries a visual workflow modeler with code generator; and
  • A description LegalSuite's features, and how both .NET and Java devs can use them to speed web services and business process integration

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    by Vance McCarthy
    Like many Java tools providers, Seagull is looking to lower the bar on the complexity of building web services -- specifically the tasks of customizing web services-enabled legacy software for a variety of end users.

    Unlike many Java adherents, however, Seagull has tapped into a novel strategy: Release a drag-and-drop tools environment based on Microsoft's ASP .NET and C#.

    Seagull's LegaSuite Web Services Studio is a drag-and-drop tool that marries a customizable UI tools with a variety of back-end web services tie-in techniques and integration broker technologies for Java, C++ and .NET. While the tool generates 100 percent ASP .NET and/or C# code, the visual drag-and-drop design of the tool is designed to let .NET and non-NET developers compose new web services-based applications.

    "The last time I touched code was 10 years ago, and with this tool, I could created my own ASP .NET-based web services application," Andre den Haan, Seagull's Vice President of Product Strategies,den Haan told IDN. Under the covers, LegaSuite Web Services Studio is comprised of a visual, drag-and-drop workflow modeler, UI designer and an ASP .NET code generator. LegaSuite Web Services Studio accelerates and automates the assembly of service-oriented applications by providing several key "integration-enabling" features. These include:
    • Cataloging a repository of available business processes;
    • Composing applications by modeling workflow among granular business processes;
    • Customizing the user interface; and
    • Publishing the assembled business functions as ready-to-use ASP .NET applications that can easily be integrated with other .NET applications.

    Inside LegaSuite -- The Appeal of ASP .NET
    den Haan is a big believer in cross-platform capabilities of web services - if they're done right. He dismisses as hype concerns that any tool that uses .NET means that the developer team will need to use .NET across their entire enterprise.

    "Web services, and standards for it, is the only technology in the last 30 years that can unify Windows with Java and legacy platforms," he said. Seagull's implementation of LegaSuite WSS using ASP.NET is geared toward that multi-platform vision.

    "First of all, our end game is to be like the Swiss -- we are neutral, so we want to support all platforms," den Haan explained. "No matter what happens in an enterprise, there will always be a hybrid of systems and development platforms: There will be Java, .NET, legacy and some new stuff we haven't even heard of yet. If you tell me that any one of those will dominate, I just don't think that will happen.

    "Our choice for ASP.NET comes from how we see web services are being adopted," den Haan added. "It's true that Java has a high penetration rate for large-scale projects that touch 1,000 users and up. However, Microsoft has a significant presence for smaller and opportunistic projects. So, one of our consensuses was simply that the legacy web services adoption curve is [higher] with opportunistic projects. Because web services are still very fresh, they're not really mature enough for the very large-scale projects where Java is used."

    den Haan also reflected on another web services trend he hopes LegaSuite WSS will be well-suited for -- better (and more widespread) propagation of web services to different end user/clients. "Web services need to be customized for many different types of users to become truly popular, and we think this [ASP .NET] approach is the best, even for non-ASP .NET developers," den Haanhe added.

    Making ASP .NET Java Developer Friendly
    Notably, LegaSuite's implementation of ASP. NET doesn't mean that developers will be locked into using .NET end-to-end. "To tie back-end services to LegaSuite with our interoperability layer, we only use web services [standards and calls] that adhere to the least common denominator between Windows and Java," den Haan said. The interoperability layer also takes in all WSDL and UDDI code. "For the front end, within the core ASP .NET application, we go flat out and support all Microsoft ASP.NET technologies [for the client]."

    Can Java developers get their feet wet with ASP .NET without needing to learn it all using LegaSuite? "That's an interesting question," den Haan said. "In general, I think a visual programming paradigm can be used by Java or .NET developers. So, what we envision happening [with web services development] in the long run is that the core developers will use their specific platforms and do the hard back-end coding, but many of the UI projects will fall away from the core developer," he added.

    That's not to suggest that the simpler UI work will have little value -- on the contrary, in fact. "Today's cost of implementation for SAP is five times the cost of the software license alone, and a lot of that money is spent on customization and implementations, not back-end coding," den Haan told IDN.

    "So, what we're asking is: 'What if you could put a tool in where they could modify and adopt the UI?' -- and dramatically reduce those add-on costs?"

    At the back end, LegaSuite WSS is designed to assemble applications comprising any web service or business function that exposes an XML interface. The product is tuned to leverage LegaSuite's wrappers for mainframe andISeries software, and expose industry-standard WSDL and XML interfaces. Applications assembled with LegaSuite WSS are based on reusable components, and can easily be enhanced and extended as business requirements change.