Fourth-generation languages may appear to be yesterday's technology, swept aside by more contemporary development platforms like Java or Microsoft's .Net. But Software AG, citing a substantial deployment of applications based on its Natural 4GL, will offer this week an IDE that puts Natural and Java developers on the same wavelength.

The company will unveil NaturalOne, an Eclipse-based IDE for enterprise application development. The IDE enables developers leveraging the 35-year-old Natural language to expose Natural objects as web services and build richweb interfaces. Applications can run on mainframes or platforms like Unix, Windows, and Linux.

"What this is, is an integrated toolset that allows you to manage and develop applications in a single, all-in-one Eclipse environment," said Bruce Beaman, senior director for product marketing at Software AG.

NaturalOne lets Java and Natural developers share a similar developer experience, Beaman explained. "The reality is, [Natural developers are] now working with Java programmers in their shops, and what we're trying to do is come up with a common platform," he said.

Applications built using Natural typically are custom systems for such uses as financial services, government, airlines and higher education, Beaman said. Systems supporting SOA and business process management can be developed via Natural, Software AG said.

"We have people whose backbone of their business is a 30-year-old application they built in Natural, but it never goes down," said Beaman.

NaturalOne features the eighth major release of the Natural language, offering such capabilities as an AJAX interface and the ability to build web services via a point-and-click paradigm.

Natural has a large, legacy user base, although its usage is more common in Europe than the United States, said analyst Jim Duggan, of Gartner. "Part of [Software AG's] interest with NaturalOne is to get all their products on a common desktop," Duggan said.

"They would like to think this will expand [Natural's] use beyond [the] current audience. I think that's a stretch," said Duggan.

4GLs, he said, work quite well but simply are not in style with developers, he stressed. "They tend to think of them as what their grandfather used," Duggan said.

Databases supported by NaturalOne include Adabas, IBM DB2, Oracle and others. NaturalOne can be downloaded for a free trial use. A version for commercial usage costs $3,000 per user seat and includes support.