REVIEWER: Michael P. Lowery, president of Order Processing Technologies, Inc.

BACKGROUND: Order Processing Technologies (OPT) engineers and delivers RollCIM, an enterprise application for metals manufacturers.

PLATFORMS: Visible Developer from Visible Systems is installed as a VB add-in on Win98 and Win2000 with a shared repository stored in an Access database. Its generated three-tier VB apps run in WIN32 environments, accessing data through any ADO data provider. Our target environment uses MS SQL Server 2000 and Microsoft Transaction Server.

PROBLEM SOLVED: We are migrating a huge software product from a mid-range environment. Our team of six developers is using Visible Developer to port the 300+ tables and 750+ screen panels in our RollCIM application to a VB/Windows/SQL environment in one year. By automating the move to the Windows platform, Visible Developer is saving us from oblivion ­ no one would buy our character-cell terminal, ISAM-based applications anymore, regardless of how great they were.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Visible Developer generates the whole three-tiered application. We ported our CorVision application specification repository to Visible Developer through their XML import. Visible Developer generates applications using a model of business objects. By tailoring the code patterns, we assured run-alike compatibility with our existing applications. Visible Developer gives us tremendous options for deployment and data access by generating applications which follow Microsoft standards for tiered applications. We had over 700,000 lines of customizations, in a non-standard language, which were fired at specific times within a generated application. We converted them mechanically; they became rules within the Visible Developer model, and integrated perfectly.

STRENGTHS: Visible Developer operates inside the VB IDE. The developer imports a database schema that becomes the basis of a repository. The developer augments the repository with business rules, which may be VB calls. The three-tiered app is generated by "code patterns." The developer concentrates on the business logic of the rules, the visual appearance of the forms and controls ­ not the complex "plumbing." The generated code is beautifully structured, understandable and requires no modification.

WEAKNESSES: Visible Developer has accommodated our large applications very well, but our old application generator provided a menu-based organization and security scheme, and generated HELP files. We've added these tools into our Visible Developer environment. An ASP-code pattern would be a natural addition to Visible Developer, and we understand that one may be in the works.

SELECTION CRITERIA: OPT built a huge specification repository over eight years ­ it needed a home, and Visible Developer let us add our own extensions for elements it didn't support. Visible Developer's template-like "code patterns" allowed us to save our huge investment in code customizations to generated screens. Our clients expect 10-year software life cycles, and they want safety and current technology; Visible Developer follows the standards. Formerly, we had to pass a large fee for run time software on to our end customers; however, run time is royalty-free in Visible Developer. Visible Developer is integrated with Visible Analyst which is capable of holding our huge data models. Finally, Visible Developer is reasonably priced.

DELIVERABLES: Visible Developer delivers us time savings. It generates robust three-tiered VB applications, whose forms may be customized and whose business logic is stored in rules. By organizing and structuring our RollCIM application, Visible Developer preserves our intellectual property so it can be shared by all our developers and transitioned to new employees in an orderly way. By enabling us to reuse our existing logic, Visible Developer saved us a rewrite.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Visible Systems really listened to us. They understood we were coming from a mature, demanding repository-based development tool. At the outset, they added extra customization events and behaviors we needed in our code patterns. During development, we've enjoyed prompt attention to e-mail questions and calls. After we'd completed an app, they helped us understand how we could deploy the tiers in different ways.

DOCUMENTATION: Our staff came to Visible Developer as VB and n-tier novices. Visible's downloads let us use the full product and follow a script to develop a real application ­ nothing trains like seeing it happen. Their white papers helped us understand the whole object-oriented, three-tiered concept and how Visible Developer fit in. Reference documentation is very satisfactory. Best of all, Visible Developer- generated code itself is well annotated and comprehensible.

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