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Simplicity For Java- by Chris Wenham
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Summary: Tired of looking at all the best visual Java development environments on Windows-only? Try one written in Java itself. Simplicity is not only a "point-and-click" style development environment, it's also fast and has a very nifty way of testing the program you're currently writing.

Java has spawned a number of top-class development environments designed to get everyone form the professional programmer to the part-time tinkerer into making Java applications for the desktop, web and embedded devices. But so many of these are for Windows! Arg! It should drive you nuts that in order to develop for the premier cross-platform environment, you can only do it on one platform. Why can't there be tools written in Java itself? Ah... but there are. One of them is called Simplicity for Java, and it's got quite a few clever tricks up its sleeve.

Installation, Documentation And Support

Simplicity begins with "The Easy Way" of installation. You download a .class file, then drag-n-drop its icon onto the "Run Java PM Program" icon in Warp's Java 1.1.6 folder. Up comes InstallShield for Java and guides you though the process of selecting a directory and installing to it. You'll need to run the included .CMD program to create a desktop icon, and maybe also modify the CLASSPATH before it'll run, but it isn't too painful to get going.

Documentation is pretty good and comes in HTML format. What's really useful is the pair of tutorials which takes you step-by-step through the creation of a simple text editor and bank-account program. Support is available through e-mail, and in our experience a reply came by the next business day.

User Interface

Simplicity will start you off with a plain looking IDE (.GIF, 11K) (Integrated Development Environment) that manages your projects, their classes, associated resources such as images and sounds, imported JavaBeans and more. Where it gets more interesting is the Simplicity Composer (.GIF, 39K), where your program is visually represented by its components and -- get this -- your program actually runs and changes as you work on it. That means that the running model of your program is what you drop buttons and entryfields and other visual elements onto - becoming active and functional the moment you do. If you were to add a few extra lines of code to the behavior of an element, it's functional instantly. No saving and compiling steps in-between. This is quite a leap in Rapid Application Development.

To the bottom is the Object Palette, a collection of visual elements that you can add to your program. You click on what you want, then click on where you want it in the program. The usual procedure is to select a layout first, which places a grid of some kind in the program, then move onto things like buttons, check boxes, text areas and so-forth, customizing their properties and behavior as you go.

Back in the IDE you have context sensitive menus available for all of the components listed. Compiling your program into a final product is as easy as right-clicking on the Java Source File and selecting "Compile".


Simplicity is one of the few Java Development Environments where even non-programmers could actually put together some surprisingly sophisticated utilities. Not only does the visual environment let you "paint" your entire program's interface, but it's "Code Sourcerer" wizard (.GIF, 8K) will actually do some of the coding for the "guts" of the program too. By stepping through a few pages of common activities, such as file access (reading and writing), and changing the state of other controls (like graying out options that no longer apply etc). The "Code Sourcerer" will generate Java code according to the behavior you specify and automatically paste it into the program. For the basic text editor example, you literally did not have to know or type a single line of Java code in order to accomplish the basic tasks of reading from a file and saving to a new one.

In addition to this, Simplicity is also able to import JavaBeans, meaning you can easily extend your programs with modules written by other authors. Imported JavaBeans are not only listed in the IDE's main window, but also get added to the palette of visual components in the Simplicity Composer for click-and-point usage. Simplicity is able to query the JavaBean for its properties so that you can edit them visually. We were unable to successfully test this, however.

Wrapping Up

There's a lot to write home about in Simplicity for Java. Not only does it let you build the visual aspect of your program by "painting" it on the screen, but it can also automatically generate a lot of the hum-drum code within the guts of the program too. Its a very good example of how the power to build sophisticated programs is now falling into the hands of non-programmers, or those with limited programming experience.

Simplicity's authors tell us that a new version of the development environment is due soon, one that allows you to utilize Sun's Swing (or Java Foundation Classes) in your programs too.

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Simplicity For Java

by Data Representations, Inc.
download from The Simplicity homepage (1.2M)
Registration: $89
Copyright © 1998 - Falcon Networking ISSN 1203-5696
October 16, 1998