BCD Waves its Modernization Wand with Presto 4.5
Published: March 5, 2013
by Alex Woodie
Creating custom Web interfaces from existing 5250 screens should be a little bit easier when using the latest release of Business Computer Design Int'l. Presto. With version 4.5, Web 2.0 elements such as drop down boxes can be added quickly through a drag-and-drop motion in its GUI editor. Other enhancements to the product include faster response times, support for charts in iOS devices, and better subfile rendering.
Presto is an on-the-fly GUI generator for green-screen interfaces that debuted in 2008. The software works by intercepting the 5250 data streams associated with IBM i application and system screens, generating HTML versions of the screens according to pre-defined templates, and then serving the new Web screens from the Apache Web server that's built into the OS.
BCD has always allowed Presto users to customize the HTML screens generated with the tool. For some customers, this means little more than adding a company logo or changing the application screen's background color to match its public website. And since version 2, when BCD launched the Visual Editor, customers have been sprucing up their IBM i application screens with pre-defined GUI elements, such as drop-down boxes, charts, and tables.
With the launch of Presto 4.5, BCD is making it easier to customize the screens through a new "palette" feature in Visual Editor. The palette docks on the side of the screens, and gives users quick access to the various screen elements they may want to add to their screen, such as drop-down boxes and charts.
Previously, Presto users would have added elements by right clicking on the screens, and selecting the appropriate item from a list. The new palette saves users that step, and also gives them a visual queue of what the screens' elements looks like, as opposed to selecting from text-based descriptions.
Presto's new palette allows users to drag and drop UI elements onto screens.
The palette doesn't add any new screen elements to the Visual Editor, but it makes the existing ones easier to use, explains BCD's product manager Marcel Sarrasin. "The palette makes it even easier for the user, because they can just drag these elements, like charts and drop downs, right on to the screen," he says. "The palette allows us to have a list of those user interface elements with predefined attributes or properties defined to it."
The palette will also give users a way to modify Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to create containers and headings that are customized to the customers' liking. This release also makes it easier for users to create their own skins through new "clone" and "modify skin" options in the Presto Designer.
It's all about making life easier on the customer, Sarrasin says. "In the past, people would add their own CSS properties, so that means they need to know a little bit about CSS. They have to go and edit the style sheet that we shipped," he says. "Now we're trying to make that stuff easier for them. For us, it's all about reducing the number of steps to do the things that you could always do. That's our key message."
BCD also goosed Presto's performance with this release by moving a certain type of processing--the "absolute positioning" processing that ensures a GUI has the exact same positioning as the 5250 screen from which it was rendered--from the client to the server.
Customers who don't customize their out-of-the-box Presto screens will see the greatest performance boost--on the order of 3x, Sarrasin says, although even customers who do customize their screens will see some improvement. "We've seen small improvements as well for screens that are customized, but it's nowhere near what we're seeing for the non-customized screens," he says.
This change will also improve the performance for customers who run on older Web browsers, such as Microsoft IE 8. "The slower the PC or older the browser, the bigger the performance benefit," he says.
Mobile and Subfiles
On the mobile front, Presto 4.5 brings support for HTML5 charts, in addition to the previously supported Flash charts. Apple mobile iOS devices can't run Flash, so the new HTML5 charts will be a boon to Presto customers with Apple devices. Presto will also automatically detect mobile screens and eliminate the screen header to maximize screen space. A new function-key keyboard has also been added.
A new subfile detection option in version 4.5 will lead to better looking subfile screens out the box, particularly when dealing with i OS system screens, such as Work with Active Jobs or Work with Spooled Files screens. Presto will also automatically apply formatting to subfile screens; it will alternate row colors and column headings, BCD says.
Presto has supported SQL for some time. This allows users to automatically generate items, such as dropdown boxes, charts, and auto-complete functions, by writing a SQL statement and running it against the database.
With version 4.5, BCD has simplified the SQL processing. "When we first released the SQL queries, you had to hardcode the SQL library," Sarrasin says. "In this version, you can make the library dynamic and set that based on something on your screen," such as a customer number or an order number.
This release also brings the capability to trim values in the SQL statements, such as spaces in the beginning of the statement, Sarrasin says. This reduces manual intervention that was previously required to create functions based on SQL.
But it has other uses, too. "Let's say you want to add a link to a PDF that exists somewhere. Maybe the invoice number is the name of the PDF," he says. "You can use those values to dynamically build the link to the PDF."
BCD has other tricks up its sleeve for Presto, which will be unveiled at the upcoming COMMON conference in Austin, Texas. But with more than 100 enhancements, version 4.5 is still a major release for Presto, which has become one of BCD's top sellers, according to BCD's director of sales and marketing Eric Figura.
"WebSmart leads the way in revenue. However, Presto is a strong product, and we do a lot of business in Presto," Figura says. In many instances, customers will buy both Presto and WebSmart (either the ILE or PHP edition), and use both to modernize their applications. "It's not always cut and dried, whether they need to develop new IBM i and/or multi-platform applications, or need to Web enable and further enhance existing applications," he says.
Presto version 4.5 is available now. Pricing is based on BCD's internal tier system and the number of users, and starts at $3,000. For more information, see www.bcdsoftware.com.
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