Integrator Toolbox: Judging integrated development environments

What is it? An integrated development environment lets you edit, compile and debug C, C or Java code. The latest tools also provide links to Web, modeling and performance-testing applications.

What are the latest developments? Features that support software reuse and flexible programming methods are becoming common, along with collaboration and life-cycle features.

What is there to be wary of? Be sure you are getting a true IDE tool. RAD tools have their own programming languages. Other tools that work with IDEs, such as modeling programs, don't let you write code. And test the IDE you're considering to see if it has the deployment features to handle your enterprise.

Must-know info? With a spate of acquisitions and the development of new standards, the lines between IDEs and other development tools are blurring. But IDEs are still likely to be the glue in building reusable components and Web services.

Integrated development environments have been popular tools for programmers since the late 1980s. They are useful for writing, compiling and debugging codes.

Now they are broadening their reach with tight links to Web groupware, visual modelers and performance-testing tools.

"IDEs are becoming more like a cockpit for interacting with other members of the team," said Axel Kratel, senior product manager for Borland Software Corp.

Acquisitions have increased the pace of this evolution. Since the fall, Borland has acquired TogetherSoft Corp. of Raleigh, N.C., and Starbase Corp. of Santa Ana, Calif., two of the leading model-based development and teamware vendors, respectively.

Shortly after, IBM Corp. made a huge splash by snatching Rational Software Corp. of Lexington, Mass., the leading maker of software life-cycle management and modeling tools. IBM has taken a leadership role in the Java development community, thanks to the growing popularity of its WebSphere server and, now, Eclipse, a public-domain Java IDE and standard application programming interface for IDEs that could encourage greater interoperability among products.

Emerging application-development standards and technologies also are quickly finding their way into the better IDEs. Features that support software reuse, and faster and more flexible programming methods, are becoming more common.

When comparing products, make sure to do it apples-to-apples: one vendor's amazingly cheap Java tool might not have the enterprise-class server deployment features of another, even though both support the same basic standards.

Look for life-cycle features either built right in or as support for the Rational tools, which are the de facto industry standard. If server deployment is important, make sure your application server is supported directly. And don't confuse an IDE with a life-cycle or modeling tool, even though in a couple of years there might not be any difference.

David Essex is a freelance technology writer based in Antrim, N.H.


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