Anyone wanting to make preliminary excursions into the 5.0 beta version of exteNd Suite will need an explorer's spirit. Although the exteNd tool suite performed without crashing, the documentation is a work in progress, littered with missing pieces and editorial comments.
The beta version completes the triad of exteNd constituents: Director, Composer, and the Application Server. Director's primary job is to build portal applications. The Director IDE -- referred to as the Utility Tools -- is alive with discrete entities such as page flows, forms, portlets, and more, all orchestrated by an equally diverse set of wizards. In addition, Director comes with a complete portal application that serves as a starting point for your own elaborations.
Director also provides several hefty subsystems to incorporate into your applications. For example, the Content Management subsystem supplies code that lets your application define document metadata, handle document display, manage document categorization, and perform a host of other document management functions.
ExteNd Workbench – which will ultimately be subsumed into Director – currently appears as a kind of lowly assistant to Director: You call upon Workbench to construct purely Java entities, such as servlets and EJBs.
Composer applies itself to the back-end tasks; simply put, Composer applications process data. Composer itself has three components: an application building-and-testing visual development tool (the Designer), a run-time engine, and a set of supporting libraries (the Connector Family). The support libraries convert native data streams to and from XML, which is the lifeblood that flows through a Composer application. The run-time engine serves as the container for applications, and is itself contained within an application server.
You construct applications in Composer's Designer by creating components (the fundamental execution objects), defining their actions, and assembling multiple components to build a service. In most cases, you write no code, as Composer components are supplied with a standard set of actions. You can, however, call upon ECMAScript if the processing demands such details.
After working with the beta, it's still not clear how smoothly the exteNd Suite parts will fit together. You can at least call upon Composer applications from within Developer applications, but the suite still has the feel of different pieces lashed too loosely together.
Nevertheless, Novell's addressing of the front end and back end with such separate tools is a sound idea. Director and Composer attack separate areas of app dev. And, to Novell's credit, it has incorporated standards within those tools that should minimize the effort of the fitting the pieces together.