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Java Software Reviews

John Parazette-Tillar braves the world of Java, testing out two new programs, WebBurst and Jamba.

The online world is saturated with the buzzword "Java." It seems if the site you're viewing isn't enhanced with a Java applet, it's just another web page. I've recently been thrown to the lions of convention, and have started looking at the various ways to make a web site stand out in the sea of online publishing. When attempting to add interactivity to a site, one has various options, each with it's trade-offs and limitations. Macromedia's Shockwave for Director allows one to re-purpose, compress and stream Director files, but a plug-in is required for viewing. Previously, my level of interactivity was limited to Shockwave, HTML coding, and GIF animations.

Boy, have my eyes been opened now that I have entered the "Java-Zone!" Java and Java script allow the implementation of cross-platform mini-applications called "applets" that allow users to interact with a web page, view animations, receive feedback to their input, and generally create a more intimate connection with the content provided, but at the cost of time for the downloading of the Java application files. As a graphic designer and creative type, I shuddered at the prospect of learning a programming language. My skin crawled at the sight of "IF-THEN" statements! But, now there's no need to fear the "J" word anymore! There are a plethora of Java authoring tools entering the market that allow us graphically-inclined mere mortals to create cool Java applets, without having to know the slightest bit of code. This month, I'm testing out two products designed to make Java accessible to the average user, Aimtech's Jamba (Windows only) and Power Production's WebBurst (Mac only).

Cover shot of Jamba manual

Jamba: Pour on the Java. . . . Hold the Programming

Jamba is a new software package from Aimtech, a company whose claim to fame is authoring applications such as Icon Author and CBT Express, known to many for the deployment of interactive multimedia via CD-ROM, corporate based training, and the Internet. Jamba gives web-developers a very powerful tool to execute Java applets, and maintain the ability to stay at the forefront of the ever-changing technological Internet revolution.

Before you hard-core, bit-crunching, programmer types run for the hills crying "Foul!," let it be known that Jamba will satisfy even the most hardy of you. Included in the Java authoring environment are the application, Jamba objects, Jamba templates, Java player, sample Java applets, and Jamba tutorial. My favorite feature is Imagelab, a stand-alone image manipulation program that I would be so bold as to call a mini-Photoshop, "Rosetta Stone" for online images. Imagelab has the ability to view, resize, crop, reduce colors, rotate, flip, manipulate palettes, create albums (groups of images that represent bitmap graphics,) display slide shows, and convert 31 different file formats. It even slices, dices, and makes julienne fries! (well, almost.)

All in all, Aimtech has really tried to provide web authors with a complete "web authoring environment". Creating a Java applet in Jamba is, to twist the old adage, "much easier to do than say." After opening the application, and selecting the "create a new project" option, you are allowed to name and define the page size, which Jamba then creates as a start page. Double-clicking on the start page icon opens the page layout editor, in which you then create objects and set the parameters for their actions/interactions. Objects are the main building blocks of a Jamba application. They can be push-button objects (next, ok, go to,) graphic objects or display GIF and JPEG graphics. Special effects enable wipes, dissolves, and cel-style animation. From fades to iris wipes, there are so many pre-defined object modifiers that appear in the various pop-up menus that you just have to see it to believe it. Two drawbacks of Jamba are that there is no way to move objects along a path, and that it does not include an HTML editor (but, being a very personal choice, it was probably a good idea to leave the HTML editor out.)

After you have finished creating your work of art, you select the file option "save all," then "play application" from the toolbar button, and your new application is played back in a separate window. Then it's ready to be distributed as-is, or dropped into an existing web page. In addition to viewing through any Java-enabled web browser (Netscape, Internet Explorer,etc...) you can also distribute your applet with Jamba's proprietary application viewer, Jamba Java Player.

Bottom line: you've got to get this application if you want to add serious Java interactivity to your web site. Jamba truly is Java for us creative types, without the limits of the usual wizard-based programs. As Aimtech says, this program lets you "Pour on the Java, hold the programming." At a list price of $295.00, and seen available for as little as $189.00, Jamba is fairly accessible to web authors wanting to add these new-fangled options for interactivity and multimedia to their sites. Unfortunately, at this time, Jamba v1.1.25 is available for Windows 95/NT only. Come on, Aimtech, this is a program that Mac users would love to have!

WebBurst Logo.

WebBurst

Could it actually be? Creating Java applets without the programming? Well, the people at Power Production Software seem to think that this would be a boon to the non-coding masses that want to use the power of Java, yet circumvent learning a programming language. The product of this revelation is WebBurst, and if you want to easily and quickly create interaction between you and John Q. Webuser, this might just be the ticket.

Installation of the software takes up only 2MB of your cherished hard drivespace, and only a few moments of your time. Thanks to a great little manual and an easy to comprehend tutorial, you will grasp the fundamentals of the program in a matter of minutes. The easy-to-use, intuitive interface allows one who is design, rather than programming-oriented to jump right and get started. The display consists of a menu bar, an applet frame window, library and color palettes, action control, object and main tool bars, and a message window. The applet frame window is the heart of the display, where you drag and drop picture and sound files to put together your applet. Importable file formats include graphic files in PICT (w/ alpha channel,) PICT series, GIF, series GIF, animated GIF, PICS and TEXT, and audio files in AIFF and SND. In a pinch, you can also use the drawing tools in the main toolbar to create new content.

Once your files are in the window, the action control palette allows you to activate and experiment with almost any action or condition that Java allows, assigning behaviors such as animation paths, actions in the form of stern or stop sounds and animations, hide/show options, links, conditional branching and data fields. The library palette, which gives you instant access to your artwork, is easy to create; dragging and dropping a folder of images on to the applet frame window creates a grid which can contain up to 120 images. These libraries save disk space, being stored only once, regardless of how many times the images are accessed in your project. You can also substitute an image on the grid, and retain the attributes that were applied to the previous image.

Once you're satisfied with its action, you then proceed to the file option "export to Java-powered applet." This is where the true power and ease of WebBurst becomes apparent. Without any further efforts on your part, all of your interactivity is translated to Java byte code, the images saved as compressed GIFs, and the sound files to AU format. To view your handiwork, just drag and drop the resulting HTML page onto your Java-enabled browser (Netscape, Internet Explorer) and "thar she blows!".

Overall, WebBurst is a great program for a designer who has better things to do than learn code. Yet it is also powerful enough for programmers who want to quickly create a Java applet and retain the ability to tweak code. In their inimitable wisdom, Power Production has also included in the WebBurst package a "back door," in the form of an API that allows a programmer to write any Java code and run it as a WebBurst applet. The list price is $299.00, but it is being sold for as low as $199.00. WebBurst version 1.2 is a Mac-only product, but the forthcoming 2.0 version will be cross-platform for Mac and Windows 95/NT with enhanced image, text, and sound integration. Other features will include the ability to use Adobe Photoshop plug-ins, more powerful animation control, a new asset vault maker, more interactivity control, optimized instant Java output, more built-in CGI functionality, and easier to implement database connectivity.

John Parazette-Tillar has a background in multimedia graphic design. He studied at the American Film Institute and Cal State Long Beach. He has been known to dream digitally, and can make any pixel "Twist and Shout!" When not joined at the hip to his workstations, he can be found hangin' at the park with his understanding wife, Kate, and his unusually cool son, Zachary.

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