Artech Drives Productivity with ‘Evolution’ Update to GeneXus IDE
October 27, 2009 Alex Woodie
It can be tough to stand out in the crowded market for integrated development environment (IDE) tools. With Eclipse and Visual Studio dominating the IDE conversation, companies like Artech must work hard to maintain their established customers and market niches, let alone grow business. With last month’s launch of Genexus X Evolution 1, which re-introduces RPG generators and includes many other features aimed at Web 2.0 enablement, the company believes it’s positioned well to grow along with its customers.
Artech is not your standard development tool maker. Based in Montevideo, Uruguay, the company has labored over the past few years to modernize its Genexus IDE, which has its roots in 4GL development tools from the 1980s and 1990s, and is primarily used by iSeries, System i, and AS/400 development shops. While the bulk of Artech’s 5,500 customers are Latin American, a good number of U.S. firms and software houses have been, or are currently, users of GeneXus, including RJS Software, Software Information Systems, Mize Houser, MaddenCo, and PayPlus, among others. The company doesn’t do much marketing or advertising, so it’s easy to overlook its achievements.
With the release of GeneXus X (version 10) more than a year ago, the company introduced a major re-write of the product that positioned the company and its tools to serve the growing demand for Web 2.0 applications. At the company’s annual user conference in Montevideo last month (which drew 3,600 developers, by the way; so much for the recession in booming South America), the company launched the first major update to GeneXus X, a product called GeneXus X Evolution 1. You can think of it as GeneXus version 11.
Last week, two of Artech’s lead developers, program manager Gustavo Proto and chief architect Gastón Milano, briefed IT Jungle on the improvements and new capabilities in GeneXus X Evolution 1, which is now available.
Faster Response, More User Controls
For starters, Artech developers worked to reduce the HTTP traffic of generated Web applications. With Evolution 1, GeneXus applications will generate 20 to 30 percent less HTTP traffic, which will translate directly into higher performance and faster screen response times.
Customizable user controls for interface development is another big improvement in Evolution 1. With GeneXus X, developers had a choice of only four user controls to spice up the GUI; they could add a chart, an image, include a query view, or include a tree view with generated applications. All of these were handled without coding in the GeneXus IDE, which is very much driven by drag-and-drop.
With Evolution 1, Artech has really done a lot of work to leverage its API, and now developers can work with practically any third-party user control on the Web. Examples of new user controls include Google Gadgets, Google Maps, and Google RSS feeds; Adobe Flex and Flash controls; Microsoft Silverlight controls; and various other controls for GUI objects such as hoverpanels, tag clouds, slide menus, calendars, charts, and many others.
A great number of possibilities are opened up with user controls, explains Proto. “You can use almost any control imaginable,” he says. “Just write a very thin wrapper to match our API. And you are ready to go.” Many GeneXus developers have already started tinkering with the user controls; a catalog of controls can be viewed at the technical GeneXus wiki.
Workflow, Generators, and Change Management
The integrated workflow modeler, which has been a component of the IDE since the release of GeneXus X, was also enhanced for Evolution 1. “You really can develop and complete almost any business model, without having to write a single line of code,” Proto says. “You only have to design the diagram, enter conditions, and whatever else you need to do. We have enough knowledge to internally write the code.”
Evolution 1 also introduces code generators for RPG, COBOL, Visual FoxPro, and C#. The RPG and COBOL generators, specifically, have always been a part of the GeneXus IDE. But when it launched, GeneXus X only had generators for the Web 2.0 stuff–HTML, Java, .NET, and Ruby.
Artech has also done work to make the development process smoother, particularly for teams of users looking to get a handle on application development lifecycle.
A new feature called Change Defender allows developers to perform three-way matches of GeneXus objects. In other words, if a customer has customized version 1 of their software, but a developer has come out with version 2, Change Defender will analyze all three versions (the original version 1, the modified version 2, and the original version 2) and resolve any discrepancies in the process of migrating modifications to version 2.
Evolution 1 also gets built-in change management capabilities with an optional add-on called GeneXus Server, or GXserver. This new option basically serves as a code repository for tracking code as it is accessed, updated, and modified, and eliminates the need for a third-party change management system, Proto says. “This is for team development. That is the major objective,” he says. “You also see what changes have been committed, when they were committed, who did it, how is the process going, and so forth.”
Last but not least, Evolution 1 introduces some changes to the GeneXus query function. In previous releases, query results were fairly static. With this release, developers get several new user controls that allow them to automatically display query results on the Web as tables, pie charts, and even pivot tables.
Overall, it looks like Artech has done well with GeneXus X Evolution 1. The company cannot match the resources that Microsoft, IBM, or Oracle can put into developing IDEs. But when it comes to responding to customer needs, Artech will trounce those IT giants any day.
“The big issue here is to make developers more comfortable with the development environment,” Proto says. “Many issues were raised in GeneXus X related to performance and usability, and they were fixed and improved in Evolution 1.”
GeneXus X Evolution 1 will be on display next week, when Artech holds its North American user conference near its headquarters in Chicago, Illinois.