What do you do if you need to renew Cobol code but your developers are using sophisticated component-based technologies and working in large teams? Merant International Net Express 3.1 might be what you need. It’s significantly more expensive than the solution from LegacyJ Corp., but it also delivers important features that enhance enterprise-level, team-based development. In our tests, Net Express was a solid performer that proved its mettle, earning it a score of Very Good.
Net Express simplifies the use of Cobol and Java modules together through automatic parameter-type conversion, allowing methods to be invoked from either language without the use of the more complicated Java Native Interface (JNI).
If you’re concerned about team-based development, Net Express includes Merant’s PVCS-lite version control and tracking system. With PVCS-lite, you get all the benefits of file check in/out systems. You can upgrade to a full version of PVCS for more advanced enterprise software configuration management benefits.
Overall, Net Express was an admirable performer. We could quickly build our code, replete with HTML forms and database access, and then test and deploy several sample Cobol applications by simply choosing the appropriate run-time system, verifying our Web server shares and permissions, choosing the API, and rebuilding the application.
Merant scored big points by including a development Web server, which lets you run application tests without encumbering enterprise resources. Setting up the server was a breeze: During installation, it was tuned automatically to work with Net Express without additional user intervention. We did find that during development and debugging the Web server stopped whenever we stopped an ISAPI (Internet Server API) application. Although it wasn’t difficult to restart the server, the process became tedious after a while.
Additional tools include a data file editor that lets you directly manipulate Cobol data files for easy testing, a database prototyping wizard for knocking out SQL code with minimal effort, and a debugger that supports mixed languages, including C++. These were all thoughtful additions that extended Net Express’ overall benefit to the development process.
And there’s more. Net Express sports a number of other niche capabilities, such as specialty support for DB2, Oracle, ISAPI/NSAPI (Netscape Server API) Web servers, and CGI. You can even use component-based technologies such as Microsoft’s COM (Component Object Model) and DCOM (Distributed Component Object Model), ActiveX, CORBA-compliant ORB (object request broker), and JavaBeans for developing enterprise components. In other words, Net Express can easily integrate with existing paradigms outside of Java.
On the downside, Net Express is a Windows-based development tool that doesn’t support the same range of development systems as LegacyJ, limiting its scope somewhat. But you can develop and deploy Unix applications — Net Express includes aids such as remote debugging to facilitate the process. It even lets you build native Windows GUIs with an easy-to-use graphical developer.
On the whole, even though Net Express represents an investment nearly three times that of LegacyJ on the Windows platform, it delivers a solid, enterprise-ready framework and excellent flexibility. The integrated team-based development environment, time-saving preconfigured Web server, and ready adaptation across a broad scope of enterprise technologies not only ensures a solid return on investment but yields a rich variety of Cobol deployment possibilities throughout the enterprise.
We have one final comment: When you extend legacy applications, you must maintain multiple code sources. Running a hybrid mix of Cobol and Java could lead to administrative nightmares down the road if things aren’t properly documented and managed. As good as PERCobol and Net Express are, neither lets you do that particularly well. Both could benefit from some dependency mapping and analysis documentation capabilities, such as those found in eMaker AnalyzeIT.
James R. Borck (email@example.com) is a senior analyst with the InfoWorld Test Center.
THE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOOD
Net Express 3.1
Business Case: By automatically converting business logic to Enterprise JavaBeans, Net Express speeds the time it takes to extend your legacy applications and business logic to an e-marketplace.
Technology Case: The high-end Net Express supports Enterprise JavaBeans and J2EE and offers reliable performance tracking and tuning capabilities for your application server. Additional technologies, such as COM and CORBA, also are supported.
+ Development Web server included
+ Strong version control
+ Multithreading support
+ CGI, ISAPI, NSAPI compliant
– Clumsy interface
– Windows-only development environment
– No file collection
Cost: $5,000 per developer
Platform(s): Windows 95/98/2000, Windows NT
Merant International, Rockville, Md.; (800) 876-3101; http://www.merant.com.
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