IBM takes its first Rational steps

The first IBM Corp.-branded Rational software development products since that company became a part of the Big Blue family, were officially introduced last month.

IBM acquired software tool provider Rational Software Corp. for US$2.1 billion last December and closed the deal in February. At the time IBM said it planned to integrate Rational’s products more tightly with its own software offerings.

Slated for a June 30 release, the cross-platform offerings under the IBM Rational nameplate are designed to improve integration and make it easier to develop enterprise-class Java applications. The products include Rational Rapid Developer, a rapid application environment (RAD) for J2EE application creation, and Rational XDE Tester, an automated test solution based on IBM’s open source platform Eclipse, thta functions within IBM’s WebSphere Studio 5.0 and Eclipse 2.0.

The key feature, according to Lexington, Mass.-based IBM Rational marketing vice-president Eric Schurr, is the visual modeling environment functionality within Rapid Developer – allowing developers to build “high-quality, standard-based” applications that contain a strong underlying architecture. Rapid Developer will be aimed at shops that currently lack Java-based technical resources, but that are looking toward developing Java applications, Schurr explained. The RAD tool is able to generate approximately 90 per cent of Java application code and also simplifies legacy integration, according to IBM.

IBM additionally announced enhancements to Rational’s process for software development – the Rational Unified Process – to make it more configurable for a broader audience. Content for testing, data and business modeling has been boosted, Schurr said. Formerly Rational XDE Professional Plus, IBM Rational XDE DeveloperPlus features a new debugging “visual trace” capability allowing users to see application runtime errors and create associated unified modeling language (UML) models, IBM said, adding that it also extends reusability via asset-based development.

The new products enable software developers and testers to work in supported versions of Java, Visual C# and Visual Basic .Net, and find and fix defects earlier in the software development lifecycle, Schurr added.

What remains to be seen, according to analyst Thomas Murphy, is whether the Rational product will allay developer concerns over the visual model development approach. Murphy, senior program director for Stamford, Conn.-based IT research firm Meta Group Inc., noted that while enterprise developers welcome tools such as the Rational offering that reduce complexity associated with building Java applications, there is a perception that working within a visual modeling environment might limit scalability or produce code that might be hard to manage.

Anthony Kocjan, an enterprise systems services project manager at Humber College in Toronto, is hoping that Rational under IBM lives up to the hype. Under IBM, Rational is “totally a different company,” Kocjan said.

The main issues right now are around integration – such a visual model-driven approach should go a long way toward boosting efficiency, Kocjan said. “The main thing is the data modelling issues; all the data aspects of generating schema under DB2,” Kocjan said. IBM previously lacked such a tool without manually loading them, he added. “I like pictures which show relationships….When you see pictures, that’s when things become obvious.”

Pricing for the IBM Rational Rapid Developer starts at US$5,995 per user licence; XDE Tester at $2,995 per user licence; and XDE Developer at $2,995.