Non-programmers could play a major part in developing complex computer programs, thanks to a new language developed by Sun Microsystems.Ace is based on Sun’s successful Java language and provides software development tools that give a graphical representation of computer code.
Manipulating the diagram on-screen automatically alters the underlying code. For example, moving a line connecting two boxes could change the point at which a piece of input data is entered into a program.
“Non-programmers can use Ace to build a skeleton of their application,” says Ali Sayed, a member of the Ace project team. “But to make it completely working they [or a colleague] will have to write some minimal amount of code.” Ace should also let non-experts modify a program after its core components have been written.
Andy Rutter, a Java programming consultant with UK company GBDirect, says there have been attempts to provide user-friendly graphical programming aids for other languages.
He says these often make development easier, but reduce the flexibility of the programs that can be written. “If non-technical people are putting together a system, then they have to have a small number of technical choices,” Rutter told New Scientist.
However, Rutter believes Ace could be useful for Java developers: “A common criticism has been that Java is very hard to use. Ace will bring the tools and facilities of Java to more people.”
Sun hopes that Ace’s ease of use could cut the cost and complexity of developing internet and wireless programs. It also aims to reduce the work needed to make individual programs work on different platforms, by automatically adapting the code for different components such as databases or web servers.
Sayed told New Scientist that some of the source code behind the Ace language may be freely released at the JavaONE conference in June 2003. This would let other programmers expand the range of applications the language can be used to write.