Rapid Application Development (RAD) tools were a hugely popular niche about a dozen years ago, especially with the dawning of the Windows, X, and Motif workstations. RAD tools allowed you to design an application visually, often using drag-and-drop blocks of code and tons of forms, and the RAD tool would generate code for your application. Seldom was the application perfect, but the code produced saved many hours of tedious coding. RAD tools have not been very popular of late although some, like Borland’s JBuilder, are experiencing a renaissance.

Into this environment comes a new release of Omnis Studio from Omnis Software. Omnis Studio is a RAD tool for GUI database-centric applications. The tool contains many facets, but the primary part is the RAD system and a fourth generation scripting language. Omnis Studio is a portable package, allowing you to develop an application under one environment such as Windows and deploy it on a completely different system such as Linux.

Since Omnis Studio is database-centric, we started by looking at its database capabilities. Not only can Omnis Studio handle internal databases, but it can also integrate with external database packages that use SQL including the big four (Informix, Oracle, Sybase and DB2). A notable part of the package is its ability to produce Web content that hinges on one or more databases, updating dynamically. The Web interface requires a plug-in for Web browsers (so far, Netscape Navigator and Windows Explorer are supported). Omnis Studio has a ton of Wizards and other tools to help you develop applications, even complex ones, quickly.

The Omnis Studio package we received is impressive. The software is supplied on CD-ROM and includes both Linux and Windows versions. System requirements are reasonable. Linux support is for RedHat, SuSe and Caldera although we also ran a simple development task under Mandrake without a hitch. The three perfect bound manuals are sizable, and our review copy came with two training manuals and a CD-ROM training course. There is a lot of depth to Omnis Studio, far more than we managed to plumb in our week-long exposure to the tool, but the abilities are hinted at in the documentation. For our tests, we installed Omnis Studio on both a Windows 98 Second Edition and a RedHat 6.2 platform, both equipped with 500MHz PIIIs and 128MB RAM. Omnis Studio looks and works almost exactly the same under Windows as it does Linux.

Building an Omnis Studio application starts with defining the database schema, then using the schema link parts of the application. The design of the interface is elegant. A good example if the Library Browser, where you select the classes your application requires. All you need do is drag the class over the Computer Store (which holds the classes) and the class is automatically instantiated for you. The front-end interface to the schema is designed with a GUI design tool that lets you create simple, attractive forms and reports in minutes. Pop-up and pull-down menus, text widgets, and other form elements are easily dragged and dropped. After prototyping, a test mode lets you play with the interface and underlying code to test the system, and then you can generate finished applications. If a client is to run the application, a runtime environment must be installed, but that’s a simple task.

The learning curve for medium-complexity applications was a lot gentler than we anticipated. The documentation gives you tons of examples that are based in reality, not some never-encountered fictional setup or a too-trivial application. If you need to create simple to moderate applications, you may never need to crack the books open: the Omnis Studio interface practically guides you through the process. As your applications become complex, you will need to spend time mastering the system but the time is well spent. Omnis Studio is impressive and will meet the needs of practically all database-centric application developers. The price of the package will quickly repay itself in saved time.

Omnis Studio 2.4
Omnis Software Inc
851 Traeger Avenue
San Bruno
CA 94406

Summary: Probably the cleanest and easiest to use database application generator we’ve seen. Simple, reasonably fast, and nicely Web-centric.