Borland enters Web services fray

When Borland announces the latest incarnation of its Delphi RAD (rapid application development) environment this week, the...

When Borland announces the latest incarnation of its Delphi RAD (rapid application development) environment this week, the company will focus on the toolkit's tighter integration with its Kylix Linux tools and on the product's cross-platform interoperability. But Delphi's more important enhancements clearly are its support for Web services standards.

Delphi 6.0 will feature compiler-level support for SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) and WSDL (Web Services Description Language). That means programmers will be able to Web-enable their applications without writing extra code, according to Michael Swindell, director of product management at Borland.

"Delphi programmers don't have to do anything differently; they just select to expose the code from a menu," Swindell said. The software itself adds the SOAP and WSDL functionality.

Also new to Delphi 6.0 are BizSnap, a Web services platform for building and integrating components; WebSnap, a Web application design tool; and DataSnap, a tool for creating Web-enabled database middleware.

Borland is not the only tools vendor looking to help developers build Web services. California's WebGain is also equipping its toolbox for Web services, and is componentising the development process in preparation for Web services, according to CTO Ted Farrell.

Analysts expect other tools vendors, such as Merant and Rational, to release products designed to help developers build Web services.

All the major Web services vendors, including Microsoft, IBM, Sun Microsystems and Oracle, also have tools in various stages of development.

"We're at the point where people are starting to build Web services," said Rikki Kirzner, an analyst at Data Corp. "They're not really building mission-critical apps, but they are making things such as e-business applications that use the same functions over and over."

One such customer, Hewitt Associates, a US management consulting firm specialising in human resource solutions, is using IBM's WebSphere application server and the WebSphere suite of tools to move toward Web services.

Building on its existing mainframe environment, Tim Helgenberg, CTO of applications at Hewitt, and his team are using SOAP to make its data accessible from any interface. At present, clients can access the systems via Hewitt's proprietary CICS interface, a mainframe query system.

"We're trying to provide a more open, standards-based means to get at our services, so we don't put any requirements on the client," Helgenberg said.

Hewitt is also enabling customers to receive advice - without having to leave Hewitt's site - from a third-party modelling tool that looks at a customer's data and recommends investment action for retirement plans.

IDC's Kirzner said that the tools would evolve to keep pace with other Web services technologies, including platforms and products such as Microsoft's forthcoming HailStorm.

"The tools don't make building [Web services] really easy yet, but over time they'll make it relatively easy," Kirzner said.

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