Rational approach sooths firms' growing pains

As a company expands, its applications need to grow too, and this need has certainly been addressed with the launch of the...

As a company expands, its applications need to grow too, and this need has certainly been addressed with the launch of the Rational 2001 application developer suite, writes Danny Bradbury.

Development tools company Rational is attempting to create a market for lifecycle management, in which application developers use the same set of tools for everything from requirements analysis through to software testing.

The company offers different suites for different types of developer: Analyststudio covers the application design phase, Developmentstudio handles the actual production and coding of the software, while Teststudio covers quality assurance. Rational also produces the Contentstudio suite, which focuses on content management.

There are a number of new products and features included in the suites, but a major new development is the standard application programming interface (API), which will allow different software tool suppliers to interface with the suite. Previously, the company had separate APIs for each product within the suite but it has now standardised.

"It is just standard query-type stuff to retrieve information, put it into the system and report on it," says Rational's Iain Gavin, explaining the nature of the API and the type of information that would be passed between the suite and other products. "I would compare it to SQL."

The standard used is actually XML Metadata Interchange (XMI), an XML-based repository exchange language that enables application development tools to exchange information about their work. What is odd is that the company was discussing this when it first announced the suite a couple of years back - it has taken its time making it work.

Nevertheless, Rational has made some significant advances with the latest release of the suite. It includes Rational Qualityarchitect, a product that automatically generates code to test software components individually, and then in conjunction with each other. The product is part of the company's overall drive to make software testing an earlier part of the application development process.

Rational has also included Clearcase LT in the suite. This is a software configuration management tool with its own repository that enables developers to store components.

The significance of the new LT version is that it targets small teams, starting with as few as five people. Companies can upgrade to versions of the configuration management tool targeting large numbers of developers by paying more and obtaining an electronic key for the system.

Overall, the suites represent a positive step forward, as they promote the idea of lifecycle management to software development teams. Alhough it is worth bearing in mind that point solutions can often represent a better mix of functionality - any company finds it difficult to be all things to all developers - Rational's implementation of the cross-suite API will make it easier for other development tool suppliers to link into the system.

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