Surround Tech Plays Matchmaker, Hooks Up .NET Screens with IBM i Apps
Published: February 14, 2012
by Alex Woodie
There's a lot to love about the IBM i server. It's extremely secure and reliable, and scales like the dickens. It's even relatively affordable these days. But everybody hates those clunky green-screen interfaces, which scream "I'm old and outdated." One vendor that's developing modern interfaces that users will truly love is Surround Technologies. The company recently updated its collection of Accelerator tools, which marry the best of Microsoft .NET user interface technologies with IBM's foremost business server.
There's no question that it can be very difficult at times to be an IBM i professional, especially when your organization is looking to migrate to a different platform. You can trot out all kinds of statistics about how the IBM i platform is superior--the lower total cost of ownership (TCO), the lower unplanned downtime, the resistance to viruses and hackers, the incredible scalability. And yet you'll be at a complete loss for words when your Windows or Linux colleagues point at a 5250 screen and say, "But look at THAT!"
Surround Tech's CEO Lee Paul has seen this scenario play out many times in his customer engagements. By the time his New Jersey-based company has been called in to show how it would go about modernizing its IBM i investments, the battle lines have already been drawn.
"When they're looking to get off the platform, it's almost always because there's been some executive change, whether it's a new executive that comes in that has that bias, or an acquisition that brings that bias," Paul tells IT Jungle. "There are occasions where you go in and they're throwing it out just because they think it's old. They say 'I don't know how that still exists today.' We go in and say 'No, it's quite new and quite powerful, you just need to do this, this, and this.' So often times, we are saving the IBM i."
SurroundTech battles the misconceptions about the box by sprucing up IBM i user interfaces, which by all accounts is the Achilles' Heel of the IBM i platform. The company's flagship Accelerator for .NET product is a plug-in to the Microsoft Visual Studio development environment that uses rapid application development (RAD) techniques to enable IBM i customers to leverage the latest Microsoft user interface technologies, such as Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) and Silverlight.
Version 3.2 Enhancements
With Accelerator for .NET version 3.2, which shipped earlier this month, Surround has added several new capabilities that will spruce up the IBM i interfaces in various ways.
For example, it has expanded the PowerGrid functionality, which is an Excel-like user interface technique used to put lots of data up on the screen. The PowerGrid now allows users to cut or copy data from the rows and columns in the grid, and then paste that data it into another program, such as Excel, while maintaining business rules and formatting. Multiple users can also work within the grid simultaneously, making it useful for maintenance applications where users may be working with lots of records at the same time.
The PowerGrid function gives users Excel-like capabilities while working with data on the IBM i application screen.
A new filtering function in Accelerator for .NET version 3.2 offers the user similar benefits. The filtering function works much like the filters in Microsoft Outlook, Paul says, and allows the user to see only the data elements that match the search term. The feature is useful for users who may be updating thousands of records at the same time, but don't want to write a new DB2/400 query.
The new release also brings new multi-level TreeGrid controls, which allow the user to view data in a hierarchical format. The grid data can be expanded or collapsed like a standard tree control and data can be sorted by column headers as would be expected in standard grid data, the company says.
Version 3.2 introduces the new Attachment Manager function, which allows a user to upload and attach files to specific records in DB2/400. The files are uploaded to a storage server where they are accessible from other devices and computers running the application, the company says.
Finally, version 3.2 introduces a new signature capture capability for mobile clients, enabling workers to capture signatures with any touch-screen mobile device, such as an iPhone or an Android tablet. Upon capturing a signature, the user is able to show it to the signee before it is uploaded to the desktop application, where it is converted to a PDF document and stored.
All of the new features are enhancements that affect the user interface that end users see, and were requested by existing customers, Paul says. "The most import thing to keep in mind is that everything we do just affects the presentation layer. All the back-end business logic and processing is still out there on your i," he says. "We want to keep people on the i. We just want them to be able to do it a better, faster way, with a presentation or a front end that users will love."
Accelerator for .NET version 3.2 is available now. The software requires Visual Studio version 2008 or newer, and i5/OS V5R4 or newer. Pricing ranges from about $25,000 to $50,000. For more information see the vendor's website at www.surroundtech.com.
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