Symantec's VisualCafe Enterprise Suite allows developers to write software across different platforms, including Solaris, HP-UX, and Windows NT, and different application servers.
It also features a single user interface that allows developers to view and work on all the elements of a distributed application, so the software in development looks like one piece on a single machine, rather than in 20 different places scattered across a network, said Seth Cohen, Symantec's group manager for Internet tools.
Analyst Sally Cusack, of International Data Corporation, said the beta testers she has talked to raved about the product's ease-of-use and time-saving features.
"The overwhelming response is doing distributed debugging. People are dying for things that can automatically generate the Corba IDL," she said, referring to the Interface Definition Language, which specifies how object code can be addressed in programs.
"It's not a trivial task. It takes a tremendous amount of time in a distributed environment," she added. "The more platforms you're going out to and places you have to deploy, obviously the potential for error goes way up, so the ability to do distributed debugging is a great benefit."
While Inprise and Microsoft are offering similar features in their product lines, Symantec's new tool is currently the most comprehensive tool for server-side Java development, said Cusack. "It's always a moving target, but Symantec is the most complete at this time," she said.
The single user interface is an important ease-of-use feature, Cusack said. "Distributed development is not for the faint of heart. There are so many things to worry about. The less you have to worry, the better off you are."
Symantec added that the new tool features open application program interfaces (APIs) so developers can integrate code written in C and C++. The company also said the product supports all major databases, including Oracle, and that Enterprise JavaBeans support will come later in 1999.
Cusack added that Symantec is currently second behind Microsoft in sales of Java development tools, according to preliminary 1998 figures. Inprise is third. "It's a close race between Symantec and Microsoft," she said.
VisualCafe Enterprise Edition costs $2,795.