Developer Tools Begin to Get LAN Smarts

By Bruce Schneier
MacWEEK
July 27, 1992

The advantages of computer-aided software engineering tools running over a LAN can be spectacular, according to users, but such Mac-based tools are rare.

For developers on Macs, sharing programming results and communicating with each other is getting easier. CASE analysis, modeling and prototyping are easier when personal computers can share resources as well as merge results. Even code generation can be sped up through multiprocessing. For the most part, LAN-based CASE tools have been limited to networked DOS environments, but they are starting to migrate to the Mac. Here are four:

  • Deft is a $3,900 to $8,900 set of relational database development tools from Sybase Inc. of Burlington, Mass.; it integrates design on Macs, as well as VMS- and Unix-based machines. The software connects design functions with the systems from most other major relational database-management vendors, including Digital Equipment Corp., IBM Corp., Informix Software Inc., Ingres Corp. and Oracle Corp.

    A series of editors running on Macs accept structured design information and produce screen layouts and schema, the internal data topology of the particular database. Gateways on the Macs and host computer produce relational database schema for use on the resident database.

    At the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois in Urbana, programmers use Deft as a design tool for a Sybase relational database.

    "Our developers share a common design environment, so they don't work in isolation. They can build on each other's work," said Curt Canada, manager of the database tools group at the center. "It has saved us money and programmer time."

  • Foundation Vista from Menlo Business Systems Inc. of Los Altos, Calif., is a set of tools for writing large relational database applications on the Mac. The software also performs structured analysis and design of applications, and it translates those designs into database-specific schema.

    According to users, there are three primary benefits from working with Foundation Vista. First, modifications to the database design are easy.

    "On our last project, we went through 20 evolutions of the database before we reached a final design. Vista cut development time in half," said Brooks Griffin, database design consultant at Griffin Software Services Inc. of San Jose, Calif.

    Second, Vista allows developers to transfer their database designs directly to the target databases, eliminating the need to re-enter information.

    Finally, Vista allows several programmers to work together on a design.

    "With Vista, we don't have to worry about everybody having the most current copy of the database design. All the updates are automatic," Griffin said.

    Menlo is restructuring its prices for the product; interested businesses should contact the company for price information.

  • ToolServer from Apple is a software tool that uses LAN resources to benefit the lone Mac developer. ToolServer is a stripped-down version of the Macintosh Programmer's Workshop shell that is designed to respond to Apple events. Developers can offload their compiling work onto ToolServer, running either on the same machine or - more likely - on a faster Mac elsewhere on the network. The idea is that a Quadra 950 sitting idle on your network can compile a whole lot faster than the Macintosh IIx on your desk.

    "Your own personal machine is then free to perform other tasks during the compile," said Gary Little, manager of Macintosh programming tools at Apple.

    There is a trade-off, though; it takes time to transfer the data from one machine to another. "If you use ToolServer across the network, you'd better have an Ethernet connection or a very large file [to compile], otherwise it won't buy you any speed," said Howard Shere, president of Green Dragon Creations Inc., a Macintosh software development company in Lake In the Hills, Ill.

    ToolServer is available in beta version on Apple's Essential Tools & Objects CD-ROM. Subscriptions to the quarterly disc start at $400. ToolServer is expected to be released before the end of the year, after which it will be sold through APDA.

  • NetBuild from Calliope Enterprises of Vista, Calif., is a newly released product built around ToolServer. Priced at $1,250 for an unlimited number of CPUs, NetBuild allows you to distribute the work of compiling and linking a single program to several Macs on an AppleTalk network. NetBuild parcels the work among the different machines on the network, substantially reducing the compile time.

    "Large commercial applications can take many hours to build, " said Julie McKeehan, product manager at Calliope. "NetBuild can cut that time by a factor of four or more."

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