Newtek Turns to Eclipse developer platform

Saudi arabia-based development house, Newtek, has become the first to use open source offering

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By  Matthew Southwell Published  March 19, 2002

|~||~||~|Newtek has become the first independent software vendor (ISV) in the Middle East to use the Eclipse development platform. Unveiled late last year, the platform is the result of IBM’s $40 million donation of Java-based software for the creation of e-business applications and web services.

On board since November, the Saudi Arabia-based development company turned to Eclipse when its preferred platform provider, Brokat, hit financial problems and looked like going bankrupt.

André Zein, e-business director at Newtek, explains that after a few phone calls and short training session in IBM’s Cairo training centre the company was using the open source platform to build its custom based Internet banking applications.

Based on existing client work at Riyadh Bank in Saudi Arabia the applications, code named Mercury and Columba, will be ready in the next six to eight months. The ISV will then sell them into banks and other service organisations based on Big Blue’s WebSphere solution. Zein believes that the fact that the applications were developed on an open source platform will be an advantage when it comes to selling the solution.

“An open source development environment gives the customer more assurance as they will be able to find people that are able to develop and manage their solution in the future. It gives them less risk,” he says.

Zein explains that although the company looked at development platforms from a number of providers, including BEA and Oracle, it opted for WebSphere because of its reputation.

After almost three months working with the Eclipse platform, Zein and his developers have found other reasons for taking the open source option. The e-business director explains that using Eclipse means that the development team only needs one environment for all of its Java-based component building.

“It is really the first of its kind and we haven’t seen anything like it before. It means that in one development environment you can develop your Enterprise Java Beans (EJBs), your Beans, your Java Server Pages (JSPs) or whatever,” he says.

A single development environment also translates into tidier development for Newtek. The removal of multiple environments saves time and shortens deadlines, as users no longer have to load different software programmes to build a single application.
The one-environment fits all nature of Eclipse also allows Zein and his team to work to his preferred vertical methodology, where each developer takes a single function and carries it through from beginning to end.

“Also, it is the only environment that gives us the ability to debug all Java components in the one environment,” he says.

Source code control is also improved, as a number of developers are able to collaborate on the same application, something else that reduces development time. Time is also saved through testing development work in Eclipse, as it is file rather than package based. This means that the developers do not have to repackage and deploy their applications before testing.

While Zein is enthusiastic about the Eclipse development platform he is also realistic and believes that much work needs to be done before it is perfect. For example, he explains that it is “still shaky in terms of having bugs.” And, although the bugs have yet to halt development work on Mercury and Colombo, the team has had to switch off the debug mode in certain pages and the application of regularly released patches is an irritation.
Another problem is the look and feel of the platform. Zein says that it “still requires improvement on the text editing side and the ease of use.” Part of this stems from the fact that Eclipse relies too much on the mouse and developers are, typically, keyboard users. In addition, the front-end gadgets that developers are used to with Microsoft products are missing.

“Visual Studio has a short cut key for everything that you require and you can customise them as you want… These gadgets are still non-existent [in Eclipse],” he says.
What’s more, the development platform is a big resource eater. “We have noticed that it sucks all of your PC power,” he says. As a result, Zein has had to replace his developers PIII, 512 M/Byte notebooks with PIV desktops that boast 1.5 G/bytes of RAM.
“One of the things I had to invest in was to replacing everyone’s laptops with normal desktops. [Eclipse] actually eats up all the RAM and the CPU power of your machine,” he says.

Despite these problems Zein is confident that Eclipse will prove popular both globally and in the Middle East, as it brings Java development platforms into line with other, non-Java offerings.

“Eclipse is on its way to becoming the best integrated development environment for Java. It will be the Visual Studio of the Java world,” predicts Zein.
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