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Product of the Year for 1999: Application Development Tools: The prize eyes Visual Basic 6.0

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Despite a tough year in the courts, Microsoft Corp. still owns the hearts and minds of many application developers, according to Datamation’s Product of the Year survey for 1999. For the second year in a row, the Redmond, Wash.-based company’s Visual Basic 6.0 dominated the race among products released in 1999, garnering 29.5% of the votes, 113 out of 383 votes cast.

“No surprise there,” comments John Singer, the St. Louis-based program director of the application delivery strategies group at META Group Inc., of Stamford, Conn. “VB remains the most widely deployed tool. Regardless of what developers tell us about [shifting] their strategy, they’re still using VB and MS Transaction Server heavily.”

Second and third places in the survey were taken by, respectively, IBM Websphere Studio 3.0 from IBM Corp., of Armonk, N.Y., and Oracle Developer 6.0 from Oracle Corp. of Redwood Shores, Calif. The two products ran neck and neck during the voting, with Websphere Studio 3.0 nosing out Oracle’s product at the finish, 63 votes (16.4%) to 61 (15.9%) for Websphere. Clustered behind were PowerBuilder 7.0 from Sybase Inc. (27 votes), Rational Rose 98i from Rational Software Corp. (24 votes), VisualCafi 3.0 from Symantec Corp. (22 votes), and Inprise Borland JBuilder 3 from Inprise Corp. (18 votes), each with between 5% and 7% of the field.

Application Development Category

Datamation readers had the following nominees to choose from:

Product Vendor
IBM Websphere Studio IBM Corp.
Inprise Borland JBuilder 3 Inprise Corp.
Visual Basic 6.0 Microsoft Corp.
Oracle Developer 6.0 Oracle Corp.
Rational Rose 98i Rational Software Corp.
PowerBuilder 7.0 Sybase Inc.
Visual Cafi 3.0 Symantec Corp.

“Thoroughly impressive”

Rob Nokes, cofounder and CEO of, an audio publishing and and software development company geared to the feature-film industry, has been a user of Visual Basic for three years. He says there are several reasons it is the tool of choice for his company: “There’s a broad pool of VB talent out there, and there are extensive resources [to support users]. Above all, any logical person can use VB.” uses MS SQL Server as the search engine and database backbone for the 44,000-plus sound files it markets online. “The whole Microsoft concept of Web development made possible back in 1996,” he says.

According to META Group’s Singer, all of the major rapid application development (RAD) tool vendors have been striving over the last year to “Web-ify” their products. That trend is reflected in the polls, with Web-savvy tools scoring well.

Certainly the Web enhancements to Oracle Developer 6.0 have pleased user Jill French, development director for merchandising transaction products at Retek Inc., a Minneapolis-based provider of Web-architected software for the retail industry. French cites improved stability in Developer 6.0’s forms for the Web, compared to previous versions, and enhancements made to the hierarchical tree feature.

Application development market is still tooling along
Morgan Stanley Dean Witter estimates

“We use a tree for our main start-up page,” she says. “Using the hierarchical tree, we have a very user-friendly interface that requires very little effort to actually code. Since we develop our application for the Web only, we’re particularly interested in features and performance of development tools for the Web.”

Dave Kulakowski, applications development manager for a new e- business initiative at Honeywell Inc., in South Bend, Ind., uses IBM’s Websphere products. He and his team of five Java developers created a shop-floor application using Websphere 2.0 in May 1999, and are in the process of upgrading to version 3.0, which he believes is a better tool for deploying Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB).

What to look for in 2000

Singer predicts that next year’s polls will reflect an even greater emphasis on enterprise-class Java development tools. In addition, he foresees an ongoing consolidation in the market.

“There’s been a phenomenal realignment of vendors in this arena,” Singer says, “with the independent Java vendors getting scooped up by the bigger tool vendors. We’ll see that continue.”

Java is poised to become “the COBOL of the new millennium,” Singer says. “That’s good and bad. On the downside, Java isn’t really portable from platform to platform. But on the upside, once you’re good at it, you’re able to move easily from developing on one platform to developing on others.” //

Stephanie Wilkinson is a freelance writer in Lexington, Va. She can be reached at

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