iDevelop, you develop, we all develop

To heck with “Build it and they will come.” With Internet developers it should be “Give them tools to build it themselves and they will come.” This appears to be Oracle Corp.’s train of thought after presenting its suite of developer tools at the recent Toronto stop of the iDevelop2000 world tour.

From Bangalore to Beijing, from Tel Aviv to Tokyo, Oracle Corp. is presenting Internet developers (and those who would like to call themselves that) with a set of tools to take some of the monotony out of creating corporate Web sites and portals.

“The Internet brings a whole new style of software development,” said Rene Bonvanie, Oracle’s vice-president of e-business marketing. “[Developers need tools] that don’t just run on the Internet but are designed for the Internet.

“We, in this room, will shape that (Internet) future,” Bonvanie told the attendees.

But are these hard-core, sequestered in the basement with coffee and pizza developer types going to buy into tools that reduce the skill set required to develop to a series of clicks, drags and drops?

It used to be if a department wanted to change a feature on its portion of the corporate site it got in line and waited until the Web gurus had some free time. But the Internet is all about immediacy, and getting in line is not part of the mindset.

The remaining option was to try to get someone in your department, with an iota of Web skill, to update your portion of the corporate site. All fine and dandy until you found out search engines and passwords no longer worked and the plethora of nonsensical coding you just added made the site unworkable.

helping the developer

Oracle wants to help end all of this.

Tools designed to help the developer include Oracle WebDB and JDeveloper. The former is a browser-based Web content publishing and development solution; the latter a tool designed to write, debug and deploy Java and XML applications.

From Oracle’s perspective, the webmaster is one of the few individuals who know how to take information and get it to the Web. The net result is too many jobs and too little time. Oracle says that by eliminating the substantial coding and testing work related to common application plumbing facilities, Oracle Business Components let application developers focus full time on implementing business solutions.

Kevin Restivo, software analyst at IDC Canada in Toronto, sees these tools as a necessity if Oracle wants to sell itself as an end-to-end solution.

“They are trying to become the complete e-business – and in order for them to become a complete e-business they have to be able to offer their users [tools],” he said.

Bonvanie sees the solution as three products: Oracle’s 8i database, its Internet application server and its developer suite.

not buying the trade off

At the conference, many developers were sceptical of Bonvanie’s claim that “developing is [now] just point, click, drag and drop.”

“Those demos were all set up prior to the talk,” was a common refrain. Or: “What’s the big deal of changing a screen from green to pink?”

The issue at hand for many developers is the inability of GUI-driven tools to truly customize sites.

“If you ever want to get into the core of it you have to get into the code and drop the GUI tools,” said Leon Kuperman, CTO of, a Toronto-based on-line auction site.

“When I have been building graphic applications, the only way to get the finite control – for me personally, and it may be because I am not as handy with the tools as a lot of people are – is just to get down into the code and get it all positioned by pixel.”

Kuperman said he has never used the Oracle tools so he can’t comment specifically on its products. But he added that edeal has used products such as IBM’s VisualAge, and ended up writing the code by hand.

Lorne Erenberg, president of E-BOND Ltd. on-line discount bond broker, agrees that most developer’s tools just don’t work for his company’s needs. “[These tools] would definitely not be applicable to us because of the calculations we require for the financial instruments,” he said. His developers don’t use any tools and all the work is done from scratch.

“They [just] couldn’t use any customized applications or tools.” He said the company does, however, use an Oracle database.

conferences still worth while

But even the need to design from ground zero does not keep Erenberg away from developer’s conferences. He said the time is well spent but, as of yet, none of the products offered fit E-DEAL’s specific needs.

He said he was recently at a developer conference and the guy next to him was a chief buyer for a large furniture store and was very interested in development tools. “That is great if you are selling stoves and beds, [but] if you are doing anything customized it is not great,” he explained.

“While most of our high-end customers customize a lot, we actually are now going into a market where customization is less frequent,” Oracle’s Bonvanie said. “So instead of it taking 30 or five days to implement, we want it to take five minutes to implement.”