Lutris Enhydra is a web application design tool, although that description doesn’t really cover the entire scope of Enhydra. Enhydra is composed of a set of development tools which allows web-based applications to be created and rolled out, all with an ease that seems strange compared to the efforts involved with some other application design tools which add on a web component. The target applications for Enhydra are somewhat specific to those that can benefit from frequent updating of a Web page, such as database applications or pages with frequently updated numbers like stock quotes. That’s because the key to Enhydra is its ability to generate dynamically updating pages using Java and XML. Enhydra is open source, which may be important to some.

Learning to use Enhydra takes a little while. The latest version is easy to work with than earlier releases, thanks in no small part to improved documentation, although there is still a steep learning curve even for experienced developers. Still, a few days of playing around with Enhydra and mocking up some Web pages will provide enough experience for most developers. If you are not familiar with Java and HTML, as well as the UNIX make facility, the learning curve is dramatically steeper, because Java code is necessary for Enhydra applications. There are application builder wizards included with Enhydra that simplify the development a little, but these cease to be useful as the application complexity grows.

Enhydra is composed of two distinct parts: the application server (called the “multiserver”) that runs Enhydra-developed applications either stand-alone or with a Web site, and the application framework is a set of Java classes use by run-time Enhydra applications. In addition, Enhydra has a set of tools that are used to create the application in the first place. An Enhydra application is composed of application objects used to build the larger application, and a presentation object used to generate Web pages dynamically. Coding in Enhydra does require very good programming skills, but the tool does allow dynamic generation of Web pages more easily than hard-coding the page code itself.

Enhydra can be loaded under Windows, Solaris, Linux, and several UNIX versions. The Java Development Kit should be installed prior to installing Enhydra. Under Windows, Enhydra uses a UNIX shell environment. We tested Enhydra under RedHat 6.2, and it installed easily enough using RPM. Documentation is on-line, using a Web browser for viewing. A printed copy should be generated for developers, as you’ll need the documentation quite a lot when getting started with Enhydra. There are two versions of Enhydra available. The Professional Edition includes Borland’s Jbuilder for Java code creation, while the Standard Edition does not. However, Jbuilder can be downloaded for free from the Borland Web site.

If you’ve used earlier releases of Enhydra, the new version 3 adds some important features to the toolset. There is now support for Java Server Pages and Java Servlet. For those who use Oracle’s Jdeveloper IDE, it’s now integrated with Enhydra. Also, there’s a new load-balancing capability, as well as dynamic recompilation for XMLC classes.

Working with Enhydra was a mixed bag for us. It took a while to get used to the Enhydra toolset and the way applications need to be developed for the Multiserver. Once this was mastered, though, it became obvious that Enhydra would be a much faster way to develop dynamic Web pages. If you are an experienced Java coder, Enhydra will help boost your productivity and allow you do perform more Web tricks. If you’re not in that category, you’ll have a very steep learning curve that will probably frustrate more than help. The problem is not Enhydra itself, but the sheer amount of material necessary to be mastered. With Enhydra costing only $99 for the Standard Edition, it’s hard not to take a look at it for Web site development. The effort spent mastering the tool will pay off in better dynamic Web pages.

Enhydra $99
1200 Pacific Avenue
Suite 300
Santa Cruz
CA 95060
(877) 688-3724
(831) 471-9753
Fax: (831) 471-9754

Summary: An inexpensive dynamic Web application toolkit. Some really nifty features but a steep learning curve.