Compuware's old man of development platforms, Uniface, has been given a makeover and a few Viagra and is ready to prance back into the market, according the company.

Having been gradually overrun by younger and fitter competitors in the form of Java and .Net, Compuware will lift up the curtain on a revitalised Uniface 8.4 next week, promising to teach the young pups a thing or two.

Uniface 8.4 is an upgrade to the development platform complete with new features for Web services and SOAs (service-oriented architectures). Compuware now sees Uniface as going beyond fourth-generation languages and becoming a unified development environment - an alternative to Java and .Net.

Just to make things clear, Compuware's product manager Adrian Gosbell had this to say: "We see ourselves as being a competitor to Java and .Net, and the difference is Uniface is very much a proven technology. It's been around for 20 years."

Java and .Net are not being used much in true enterprise deployments while Uniface is being used by customers with thousands of clients accessing mission-critical, 24/7 applications, Gosbell said. "It's very easy for us to compete against Java and .Net. We're very proven," Gosbell said. "We've got the history and we know that's very, very important."

You may have noticed how Compuware appears to playing up the fact that Uniware is old technology. An analyst said Uniface still has a place. "Over 200 new customers in 2003 and a 95 percent maintenance retention shows that there remains a strong market for Uniface amongst customers and alliance partners that do not want to convert to EJBs or C# as their primary enterprise-class application development tools, in at least the short-term," said Michael Blechar of Gartner. "Uniface can coexist and be integrated with J2EE and .Net development - and for that matter Compuware also has a Java tool in OptimalJ as a companion product to those wanting to transition over time from Uniface to Java."

But he remains unconvinced of the old boy's longevity though: "While I expect that the majority of enterprise/server-side development will become EJB and C#, for some companies the migration is years away."

Version 8.4 has Web services call-out functionality implemented through XML and SOAP that allows Uniface applications to consume Web services. Support in Uniface for provisioning and consuming Web services enables the platform to accommodate SOAs, according to Uniface. "With the previous version of Uniface, 8.3, it was possible to take a Uniface service and package up that service so it was exposed to the outside world as a Web service," Gosbell said. "The difference now is it can now consume Web services from other technologies."

Also featured is enhanced real-time application performance tuning, simplified deployment, and maintenance via an updated deployment utility. Graphical controls have been expanded through inclusion of a command button, picture widget, and check box as options to Uniface. Usability has been improved through additions to the product's procedural code language. Performance of previously developed Uniface applications can be improved by recompiling them in Version 8.4, Gosbell said.

Additionally, Compuware has published a performance and scalability guide for use in design, deployment, and development phases.

Nevertheless, the company has still failed to address the two main reasons why Uniware has lost out to Java over the years - Java is multi-vendor and it is much, much cheaper. As for .Net, well, it's Microsoft, and Compuware isn't.

But the company is certain that pushing Uniface back into the market is the way to go and Uniface 9 is expected in the second half of 2005, featuring an advanced development environment and "hot" deployment, providing the ability to update, test, and deploy applications in real time.

Version 8.4 is available at the end of the month, with development licenses starting at $4,000 (£2,230).