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IBM WebSphere Studio 3.5 Advanced

IBM WebSphere Studio 3.5 Advanced

When first presented with the idea of moving into a WebSphere production environment, I looked for the exit door. I had been designing in a Web environment since it went graphical in 1994.

Through the years I used a relatively small collection of software tools to accomplish my tasks and happily hand-coded all HTML using a text editor. At that point you were really cooking if you could gather information into a database using CGI. Then my neat, comfortable world changed. I began to work with "others."

I welcomed this shared responsibility at first. My strength was in layout, design, and communication of the message. The new functionality promised by more elaborate programming would make my sites sing. The honeymoon was over when I had to make the commitment to version control.

That Was Then; This Is Now!
With WebSphere Studio, IBM has delivered a complete design environment. I think of it as moving into a pristine apartment: it has all the amenities anyone could wish for, but like a new apartment, there is room to bring along some of my old favorites. WebSphere Studio has a workbench, built-in editors, and wizards. It also comes with companion Web development products that make it an out-of-the-box, end-to-end tool.

There are two versions of WebSphere Studio 3.5 Fix Pack 2 (V3.5.2), the Professional Edition and the Advanced Edition. The latter is like the same apartment, only with a balcony. There are obvious advantages with the Advanced Edition.

Studio Workbench
The Workbench helps manage and maintain Web site applications and files. Using a familiar folder hierarchy, it allows you to group and organize files and lets you perform all functions from this central location. Create, open, edit, and copy files, move them around, delete and publish them. You decide what organization makes sense and arrange your files accordingly. Perform all these tasks using the Workbench features and your preferred Web development software.

Maintain your files individually or in a shared version control system (VCS). Store files locally (on your own workstation) or on any other system in your network accessible by the net use command. With the Advanced Edition, you can also maintain files in a full-function VCS.

Regardless of where you store your files, Studio always checks out the file while someone edits it. When more than one person has access to the same files, this keeps them from overwriting each other's work. While one person is working on a file, it is locked so that others cannot change it.

By default, local project files are stored in the "MyDocuments" directory, as defined by your Windows operating system, and checked-out files are stored in the same directory where Studio resides - but you have full control over their placement. You can specify the location of each project when you create it. You can change the location of your check-out directory using the Preferences dialog from the Tools menu. You can work in a collaborative manner and have guaranteed file integrity.

You can edit and update files with your preferred tools and choose which editing programs to use for each file type. When opening a Studio file, you can launch your first choice (default) tool or select one of your alternates. And, with Studio's global search and replace function that works across all the files in a project, file maintenance is easier.

The most common problem in active and expanding Web sites is broken or dead links. With Studio you can assess file relationships to find broken links. The Relationship view provides a visual representation of how files link to each other. You can quickly see how many other files link to a particular file, which files have broken links, and which files have no links at all. When you find a broken link, you can correct it immediately. By following the links from file to file, you can navigate your Web site and verify its integrity.

I am visually driven and usually work with two browsers open to view pages as they are developed. In Studio I can publish the Web site at any stage of development on my Test WebSphere Application Server and quickly test the results of my work. When the Web site is ready for prime time, it's easy to switch to the final stage and publish the files to the production servers. In the Advanced Edition, any personalization rules are published along with the rest of the site, another great reason for going Advanced.

I've played around with text editors in the past, but I don't think I ever saved a file in one. Studio is bundled with Page Designer, an advanced-function HTML editor that allows the construction of complex Web pages. Dynamic element support enables you to include form elements, Java applets, embedded scripts, dynamic controls, and JavaServer Page (JSP) tags in your pages. You can toggle between visual and textual mode to preview your work. IBM has included WebArt Designer and AnimatedGif Designer, but I can't abandon my Adobe products. There is clip art stashed in the default installation even though most users will require custom designs.

Here's the part that I find so attractive. I can, with basic skills and the Studio wizards, add real interactivity to my pages. The wizards help me retrieve and update information from common databases and use server-side JavaBeans. With them, I can do everything from a simple table lookup to complex self-service applications. And I don't have to be an expert at SQL syntax or Java programming. The wizards walk me through step-by-step and then generate the servlet code.

Applet Designer
Applet Designer is included with WebSphere Studio, but you must choose to install it. Conveniently, it may be installed separately if you forget. Applet Designer's applet wizard gives you a fast path for creating a new applet. It launches automatically the first time you open Applet Designer, but you can turn this option off. By clicking through the wizard and answering simple questions, you can quickly build an applet. The wizard lets you insert animations, audio, images, rollover buttons, ticker tape, and links to databases.

Studio Applet Designer includes a JAR wizard to help you rapidly convert a Java class into a complete JavaBean and save it in a Java archive (JAR) file. You can convert a Java class you created yourself or one you got from another source. You can also use the wizard to modify classes that are already in JAR files.

Import Wizard
Studio includes an Import wizard that automates the transfer of a complete Web site from its publishing server into a Studio project. This wizard migrates existing sites and therefore jump-starts your Web development. It can copy files from any Web server accessible by FTP or HTTP, including those behind firewalls and secure gateways. The Import wizard prompts you for the information it needs to find the Web site and navigate it. You do have options for limiting the scope of the import and eliminating pages you don't want.

As you create new projects for your imported Web sites, be aware that Studio 3.0 projects have a property setting to specify the version of the WebSphere Application Server you will be using for all the files in the project. Based on your selection, Studio varies how it handles processes such as code generation, compiling Java files, and publishing.

Personalization Wizards
This feature is very cool and in great demand. Personalization in WebSphere Studio Advanced Edition enables you to customize Web pages. You can dynamically vary the content on your pages according to predefined conditions or circumstances by creating English-like statements called rules.

You can customize your Web pages based on:

  • Any information you have about the person visiting the Web site
  • What you know about the date and time the page request is made
  • What you know about the page request and user session during a visitor's session
  • What you know about the content that you might display
  • What you know about the objects created during a visitor's session
Rules-based personalization involves users, content, and the rules that map users to specific content. Put this feature to work in the real world by offering discounts to frequent buyers, different navigation features to first-time visitors, or weather reports based on access location.

What you know about your visitors must be permanently stored and accessible by your Web site. This collection of resources might consist of some or all of the data known about the users of your site. These resources will be analyzed by the rules you set to determine which personalized content to deliver.

Studio's Advanced Edition includes text-based editors for Personalization rules. There is a separate editor for Classifiers, Actions, and Rules. Personalization is an add-on feature to the WebSphere Application Server.

VoiceXML Editor
Studio has a built-in editor for VoiceXML files. It includes a "code assist" feature to guide you as you add or change code and tags. This feature helps ensure that your VoiceXML files will be syntactically correct.

This VoiceXML editor is the default editor for files with the .vxml and .jsv extensions. Whether you add a new VoiceXML file to your project, import or copy an existing one, or create one with the Studio wizards, you can edit it with the default VoiceXML editor. You can also edit VoiceXML files with any other editor you have registered for files with these extensions.

Companion Products
If this isn't enough, Studio comes with an integrated set of companion products to help build, manage, and publish dynamic Web sites.

  • VisualAge for Java, Professional Edition: VisualAge is used for building and testing Java applets, servlets, and Enterprise JavaBeans components. It supports the development and management of Java programs that can scale from Windows NT to OS/390 application servers, and includes advanced functions, such as incremental compilation and the ability to invoke methods while debugging.
  • WebSphere Application Server: For your convenience WebSphere Studio comes with a complimentary copy and a developer's license for the WebSphere Application Server.
  • WebSphere Personalization for Multiplatforms: Included with the Advanced Edition, it is installed on your WebSphere Application Server to achieve the full development and runtime environment for WebSphere Personalization resources and rules.

    Conclusion
    It's nice to know that in one software suite you get all you need to create a vibrant, interactive Web presence. You still need a good working knowledge of HTML, TCP/IP, Web browsers, and Web deployment. Other valuable skills include the ability to code in Java, an applied knowledge of Object-Oriented Programming concepts and some experience in relational databases (SQL).

    IBM maintains a WebSphere Studio Web site at www.ibm.com/software/websphere/studio. You may download an evaluation version of Studio and track current news and software releases there as well.

    IBM WebSphere Studio

    Company Info:
    IBM Corporation
    New Orchard Road
    Armonk, NY 10504
    1-800-IBM-4YOU

    URL:
    www-4.ibm.com/software/webservers/stud

    Test Environment:
    IBM 300GL / PII 300 / 256 MB Memory / 4G HD
    Windows NT, Fix Pack 6a

    Pricing:
    North American
    English Program Pack,
    Advanced Edition: $1899
    North American
    English Program Pack, Professional Edition: $570

  • More Stories By Pat Martin

    Patti Martin is cofounder of Simplex Knowledge Company, where she is Vice President of Creative Services. She manages the company's Web servers and oversees Web content and creation. Patti received her education at the New School in New York City and has taken continuing education classes at NYU and the School of Visual Arts.

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