Witango: Application server with rapid development tools
The application server market has become a crowded place in recent years. The Web, after all, has long since matured beyond a simple document-delivery system and into -- if not quite a distributed application platform at least, -- an "intelligent" document delivery system. And the "intelligence" behind the scenes usually stems from software that has come to be known as the application server.
Generally speaking, the application server supplies processing capabilities behind the Web (HTTP) server, and thus can process program logic, connect to databases, and so on, all to process a user's request and deliver results.
One of the first application servers on the scene in the mid-1990s was called ButlerLink, designed for the Macintosh. It eventually evolved into Tango, an application server that was later bought by the Australian firm With Enterprise, which then rechristened the product Witango in 2001. Version 5 of Witango has recently been released, representing the latest maturation of this long-lived application server ancestry.
The Witango application server sits behind an existing Web server, such as Apache. It interfaces with the Web server via either an included plug-in (for Apache or Microsoft Web servers) or CGI (for any other Web server -- the CGI framework typically incurs a slight performance cost compared to the plug-in). When the user requests a Witango application file from the server (a .taf file), the Witango application server takes over processing from the Web server.
Witango applications are typically developed using the companion visual IDE, known as Witango Studio. The Studio is a visual interface for developing scripts that it then stores as XML files. The Witango application server interprets these XML files as programming logic. Witango also supports "metatag" embedding inside of HTML code, for placement of dynamic values inside of a Web page. Typically, program logic is devised visually using the Studio application, and metatags are coded manually.
At under 4 MB, the Witango application server itself is a modest download with a slighter smaller installed footprint of less than 3 MB in Windows. Witango Studio is a 7 MB download and consumes 12 MB installed. Although the Witango server is available for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, and Solaris, the visual studio companion does not have Linux and Solaris counterparts.
Witango's central draw is rapid application development. Despite the product's long ancestry, the modern day market is chock full of application server solutions, including Microsoft ASP, Macromedia ColdFusion, Java Servlets, Apple WebObjects, and the open-source PHP, to name just a few. Like ColdFusion, Witango is intended to appeal to a nonprogrammer audience, relying on its visual development tool to speed the process of building applications from modular building blocks.
Its success toward this end is mixed. Although Witango Studio offers a visual interface with object palettes, it still borrows heavily from traditional programming in both devising an application's logic and the lingo it uses for its building blocks (i.e., classes, objects, and properties). In truth, this is till programming -- it's just click-and-drag programming rather than manual typing.
Still, Witango's click-and-drag programming is effective for organization looking to build small applications quickly: active forms that query databases, user login and authentication, and personalized content pages. Witango simplifies these processes into fewer steps than traditional application programming requires. Querying databases, in particular, is especially streamlined with Witango, relieving the developer of many arcane details. However, even more traditional programming languages, such as PHP, are building rapid development tools that abstract low-level housekeeping.
A small developer community supports Witango with supplementary discussion forums and programming snippets, but the product doesn't appear to enjoy nearly the support base of alternatives such as ColdFusion or PHP.
Witango is available in several license variations, from Small Business Edition to Standard to Professional, and it ranges in price from $1,279 to $5,695. All versions allow serving from only one machine but vary in how many concurrent user sessions and Witango processes can be running. In a crowded marketplace, every product must answer the basic question, "Why me?" Well there are many ways to skin a cat, and thus the variety of application servers in use today.
Witango performs as advertised and doesn't possess major limitations in comparison to alternatives. Yet, it continues to beg the question of "why Witango?" PHP enjoys a large developer base, widespread adoption, relatively rapid development, and low cost (free). ColdFusion, while proprietary and costlier than PHP, is backed by Macromedia with a strong support and developer base. WebObjects, although a newer entry, enjoys Apple's famously intuitive design and features rapid development, major support, and modest pricing.
Ultimately, Witango is a solid product without a compelling need. Organizations already built on Witango's predecessor Tango benefit the most from an upgrade to Witango. But for those already employing another application server, or looking to build a new application serving infrastructure, we find Witango challenged by the question "Why me?"Pros: Easy installation and integration with Web server; XML-based programming language modular and extensible; rapid development with Studio interface
Cons: Proprietary development framework has its own non-trivial learning curve; limited developer support community; not price-competitive with more widely used alternatives
Reviewed by: Aaron Weiss
Original Review Date: 6/25/2003
Original Review Version: 4.0