Uniface

Last Updated: 18th February, 2016
Analyst Coverage: David Norfolk

Introduction


Uniface B.V. has a long history, over several decades, since its initial inception in the Netherlands as a high productivity 4GL by Inside Automation. It became Uniface B.V., back in the 20th century. It was then acquired by Michigan-based Compuware Corp in 1994, but product development continued in Amsterdam and it has recently been sold again, in 2014, to Marlin Equity Partners. It is now Uniface B.V. once again, a privately-funded Dutch company. It has always prided itself on supporting its existing customers using older versions of its products whilst modernising its product range as technology evolves and this company ethos has been maintained throughout its changes of ownership. It claims, in 2014,  to have some 250 partners and 1600 customers. 

Uniface was the first Compuware product set up as an independent Compuware business unit by Aad van Schetsen when he was Senior Vice President and Managing Director at Compuware. It became a growing and profitable business operation in its own right, even before the Marlin acquisition. Van Schetsen remains as President & General Manager of Uniface. He worked for Compuware in a variety of sales and management roles from 1992. Prior to Compuware, van Schetsen worked in multiple roles for the Canadian software company Cognos. He holds a software engineering degree from Technical University Delft and lives in the Netherlands.

Jim Byrnes was the first CEO of the new Uniface and maintained Uniface's welcome customer focus; as he said: "More than anything, I care about our customers' success and the relationships we've built with them. Only when our customers are successful are we successful".

The current management team includes most of the people from the old Compuware days; see here for an up-to-date list. Adrian Gosbell, for example, continues with Uniface as Vice President Product Management & Marketing. Originally from the U.K., he has been living in Australia and the Netherlands and has been working with Uniface, both for customers and Compuware, since 1992.

Maarten van Leer remains with the company as Vice President Technology and has worked for Uniface since joining as a software engineer in 1985. He has overseen the modernisation of Uniface's development environment with the 'software factory' approach and introduction of Agile practice.

Uniface has been developing a strong partner ecosystem over its life and this is still active as PartnersUnited. It realises that about half of its customers are VARs who need to keep their offerings looking up-to-date, in order to remain competitive, but who don't want to break their tried-and-tested business logic while doing so. Uniface, with its strong separation of business and presentation logic, is well-placed to support this. 

Uniface IDE

Last Updated: 15th March, 2016

Uniface claims to be "the most productive, reliable and scalable development tool in the industry"; a claim that we think is probably justified - in the context of the needs and environments of the sort of enterprise customers that buy Uniface; although it is now facing competition from new Platform as a Service cloud tools. It is a high-productivity, model-driven, development platform for building enterprise-level mission critical applications. It allows organisations that want to work in this way (and we would see this as a very sensible choice), to develop at a high level of abstraction (technology independence), with very high productivity.

The latest version of Uniface is Uniface 10, which is currently (2016) available for new applications and Web development only (a further release, which will support migration fom previous versions of Uniface, will follow soon). It features a complete redesign of its User Experience. Uniface now claims to offer the same user experience and features as any other modern IDE. 

However, the previous incarnation of Uniface is still supported, in Release 9.7, probably the last version of this technology. This has been modernised, to reduce barriers to implementation in a modern environment and support mobile applications. It lets you try out many of the features and technologies coming in Uniface 10, but these are mostly optional and users can continue with the old approaches if they want to. Regardless of what options you choose, Uniface 9.7 looks more modern than previous versions.

Uniface is almost unique amongst application development products in having consistently offered a migration path for its users - it now supports development for new technologies such as mobile, web and cloud, on most of the most widely used hardware platforms and operating environments. The company has remained true to its customer and partner base by migrating from character-based interfaces into GUIs and now to the web and Web 2.0 without forcing those clients to change their development tool. With the advent of the client/server revolution, virtually every other vendor (with only a few exceptions) built a brand new tool to serve the new marketplace and, effectively, abandoned its user base. Uniface has now evolved into a development IDE that supports the very latest service-oriented and web application approaches.

Uniface has always told a strong story around taking its customers forward as technology evolves, whether it used the term "legacy modernisation" or not. Modernising legacy is particularly attractive these days as demands from businesses to "do more with less" proliferate and Uniface now emphasises its legacy modernisation capabilities; it says that "Uniface allows developers to make better use of legacy resources by renewing and integrating their most mission critical applications for the Web". A Bloor White Paper describes a legacy modernisation methodology for use with Uniface (although it is also applicable generally). Uniface is particularly focused on modernising legacy applications with a mobile channel these days.

Uniface generally targets large enterprises developing business automation solutions; and VAR partners, who also provide user- and issue-specific solutions.

Uniface used to belong to Compuware, but was sold to Marlin Equity Partners in 2014, with the current building in Amsterdam remaining the company headquarters. Uniface (which is developed in the Netherlands, whence it originated) already has a significant VAR community of more than 420 Business Alliance partners (some 60% of its customers), who tend to be solutions led.

A number of recent enhancements (for example, Windows 10 and rich GUI support, 24 x 7 support availability and easier deployment options) have been made at the behest of this VAR community and there is new focus in Uniface on the Channel and the place of VARs as intermediaries in the supply of Uniface-powered business services to end users; see PartnersUnited.

In particular, Uniface's own distributor network, which was once very strong, was all but dismantled under Compuware. Uniface is now making a major revamp of its distribution network, training distributors and so on; it sees resurrecting the channel as important for global sales, with distributors that really understand the local market.

Uniface has thousands of companies and millions of people around the world depending on Uniface applications that may have been written at any time in the last two decades and Uniface supports them, both in their existing environments and as they upgrade or migrate to new ones. 

Nevertheless, Uniface is also actively looking at new customers who want to modernise non-Uniface applications and can take advantage of its modular design and integration capabilities to quickly modernise user interfaces and rewrite key components rapidly in order to exploit new technologies - and, possibly, to manage new risks (particularly in the security area).

It is also worth commenting that when Uniface was part of Compuware a significant upturn in business from what one might call Java refugees, i.e. companies that have tried developing applications in Java and have failed. This number includes previous users of Uniface that have now returned to the Uniface fold.

Uniface uses a team development, model-driven, component-based development (CBD) approach that actually takes place in three phases: modelling, construction and assembly. The process normally starts with modelling, using Uniface's Graphical Model Viewer.

New features are available with the latest Uniface - including ribbon bars, dynamic user experiences and tight online integration with websites such as Facebook, Google or Salesforce.com. Uniface provides out-of-the-box Rich Internet Application (RIA), support of which should make the underlying modernisation of legacy GUIs and the componentisation of legacy systems with Web Services straightforward and it provides particularly good support for two key areas of modernisation: localisation and encryption.

The Uniface application model is, in effect, a combination of a data model together with business events and their triggers. It is built using the Model Editor and embodies elements such as entities, indexes, relationships, referential integrity, business rules, event processing, date validation and formatting, calculations and so forth. This may take a little longer up-front during the development process as you build the model (mostly because you have to think about what you are doing before actually doing it) but this should reduce subsequent maintenance.

Uniface now lets you build applications with a much more modern UI, exploiting (for example) Portable Network Graphics (PNG), new "sexier" buttons (even in existing apps) and new tab designs.

Uniface supports 'Enterprise Mashups' (a mashup is a composite web application that typically includes links to external applications such as Google Maps), which offer an efficient approach to some types of modernisation. Uniface's centralised architecture allows you to provide a library of quality-assured shared components for mashups and lets end users safely build new services from them in the mashup layer. These automatically have "AA" (mass audience) level W3C Accessibility compliance, an important aspect of modernisation.

Uniface now supports the native deployment of Uniface clients on 64 bit Windows, which eases the implementation of the 64 bit modernisation strategies now being followed by many organisations. Support for mobile and hand-held devices via Wi-Fi, GPRS and Bluetooth is browser-based with database support provided via the Uniface Polyserver on all supported platforms and database combinations.

"Rich clients" can be deployed on the latest versions of Microsoft Windows, including Windows (XP and later) theme support. Uniface JTi is a deployment solution for modernising Uniface client/server applications on the web, whilst maintaining a rich client/server user interface.

Uniface has a strong professional services organisation, offering consultancy and training, and has some 96 offices worldwide, in 32 countries. There has been a focus on the 'productisation' of Professional Services and the delivery of 'value add' service offerings. The 'services products' can be grouped into several areas:

  • Design and Development, offerings geared towards application delivery;
  • Build and Deploy, offerings based around development practices and methodologies;
  • Maintenance and Modernisation, devoted to helping existing customers get the most from their Uniface investment and, finally;
  • Education services, providing instructor-led training via the cloud, in the classroom, or through online web based training.

Uniface is taking especial care to build an online community around Uniface, with resources such as its blog and the "Uniface University" (the latter is currently, 03/2016, offline as Uniface modernises its online educational offerings).

Uniface also has a strong partner ecosystem - see PartnersUnited.



Solutions

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