Friday, June 16, 2006

UKOUG DE SIG Report: Birmingham 13-JUN-2006

Well, the Development Engineering SIG has survived Birmingham once more. I must admit there was a point when it seemed cursed. I had two presentations penciled in for the June SIG since the beginning of the year but in the event neither speaker could make the date. Then at the last minute Zend couldn't provide us with a technical presenter so we had to pull their talk on PHP too. Still, on the day it went pretty well. Everybody who had booked turned up and we had a couple of walk-ins too.

The agenda was focused on the more traditional aspects of Oracle development. The morning kicked off with, er, me talking about Unit Testing Utplsql. This had been billed as a talk on QUTE, which I had chosen as a goad to spur me into learning this new tool. Alas, work and other commitments conspired to deprive me of sufficient time to do this properly and it didn't take me long to run into several problems with QUTE. So I had to fall back on Utplsql, which I know well and which also works. I was (shamefully) still polishing my demo code on the train up to Brum. Fortunately none of the delegates had seen my previous 2003 talk on this topic and none of them were using Utplsql either. Whilst this mean my presentation taught them something new it is vaguely depressing that in 2006 there is still such a low take-up of automated unit testing.

Next on the agenda was Kavitha Prakash from Oracle Support, who talked about tools for monitoring network traffic in web Forms applications. This was a neat introduction to an esoteric area. Kavitha is an old friend of the SIG and offered us a couple of topics; I chose this one because I think networks are an area most of us ought to know more about. I had hoped this would be interesting, at least in part, to people other than Forms programmers and I think it was. I certainly shall be downloading Ethereal and monitoring my own network traffic.

Filling the tricky slot between coffee and lunch was Alan Maxwell from Oracle Consulting, with a presentation on BPEL. Whilst this was I think the fourth or fifth time I have seen an Oracle employee do the Loans demo there were several interesting nuggets in Alan's talk. To start with Oracle are positioning BPEL away from just web services and more towards general workflow (one of the test cases Alan mentioned has no web elements at all). I was also taken by the notion of using BPEL in just parts of a process (say by adding new steps to an existing set of tasks). So we don't have to BPEL-ise an entire workflow in one step. Finally there were a couple of tantalising mentions of the Rules Engine; this is a topic I shall pursue in the future.

After lunch Duncan Mills, J2EE evangelist and SIG stalwart, presented some techniques for getting more out of ADF. Specifically this was targeted at people who know how to achieve a certain UI effect in Forms but are stymied when it comes to doing the same thing within JDeveloper. I know how that feels. Anyway Duncan's presentation demonstrated how far JDeveloper has come since the first version of BC4J which I used back in 2000. Most of the techniques Duncan showed involved taking the stuff generated by drag'n'drop wizards and making changes in the underlying XML files. So we still have to know a lot more about the ADF plumbing than we needed to know in Forms. On the flip side JDeveloper offers a lot flexibility than the 4GL black box.

What was nice was to talk to a couple of first-time delegates afterwards. They both seemed impressed with the SIG. Assembling the agendas for this SIG is a tricky task. We have such a wide constituency that it is hard to get the balance right between breadth and depth. We need to cover a range of tools and technologies but people won't turn up for a single talk out of the whole day. I think we pulled it off this time but I shall await the critique results with bated breath.