PlanetJ Unveils Free Edition of IBM i Web App Dev Tool
Published: November 15, 2011
by Alex Woodie
PlanetJ recently announced a free community version of WOW, its Web application development framework for IBM i and other servers. The free version gives any IBM i shop the capability to build read-only interfaces to their existing RPG or COBOL applications, and to do so fairly quickly. The announcement marks a change in business strategy for PlanetJ, which is looking to boost its profile and get its solutions in the hands of more IBM i customers.
WOW (Web Object Wizard) is a model-based rapid application development tool and runtime that excels at delivering data-driven Web interfaces to existing applications and databases. The tool's Java framework provides a collection of pre-defined functions that can quickly be linked to an organization's existing data and a set of pre-defined skins that control the look and feel of the resulting application. The out-of-the-box Web interfaces are fairly homogenous, but they do feature AJAX-powered Web 2.0-style tricks, like hover boxes, and they can be customized with extra work.
WOW is often used to create self-service B2B and B2C applications, such as a Web portal for customers to check on the status of their orders, or a Web app for suppliers to post invoices. Reporting and data maintenance applications are other common uses. WOW applications run under WebSphere Application Server or Apache Tomcat, run natively on IBM i, and are typically deployed in IBM i environments. In fact, about 70 percent of PlanetJ's customers are IBM i shops, says PlanetJ CTO Paul Holm.
Holm is a former member of IBM's AS/400 development team in Rochester, Minnesota, who worked in the Java field. He left IBM about 10 years ago to co-found PlanetJ with the goal of streamlining Java development on the platform.
"As you have probably heard, developing applications on the i with WebSphere or Java sometimes is difficult," Holm tells IT Jungle. "We've taken all that difficulty and really made it easy. WOW is about building applications quickly, and creates what we call data-driven Web applications, primarily using SQL. It can run on any system against any database. We come from an i background, although we have lots of SQL Server customers who have never heard of i."
During an online demonstration, Holm showed how WOW can be used to build a simple inquiry application in a matter of minutes. The WOW application builder is a GUI tool that guides the user through a four-step process. No special skills in SQL are required, although knowledge of one's database is helpful.
With WOW, the basic application building blocks are already in place, making it a snap to generate simple applications. "After creating many applications with many shops, you find out you're doing the same thing over and over," Holm says. "So we said, 'Can't we build components that make this faster, rather than re-doing the same things over and over again, and encapsulate it using object oriented technology?' That's how WOW started. And it's evolved and grown steadily since about 1999."
Holm compares WOW and its use of a metadata repository to generate applications to the DB2 Web Query tool from IBM. Generating reports is one of the most popular uses for WOW, although it's not the only thing it can do. "WOW Community Edition can instantly allow iSeries users to generate these reports over any of their files, whether it's JD Edwards or MAPICS or BPBCS," he says. "The advanced versions, which are fee based, allow you to do things like editing and adding data. But for base reporting, sometimes I call it Query/400 on the Web on steroids because you can do parameter-driven reports just about instantly."
Besides speed, Holm touts the flexibility of WOW through its "hot deployments" functionality. "That means you can make a change to an application, and it's immediately deployed and available to your users," he says. "In a lot of situations, when a tool would make a new enhancement, they would have to go through a deployment process to take down the servers and bring them back up, which might take overnight or they have to schedule it. With the hot deployment functionality, they can make a change and it's instantly deployed."
While WOW can build off SQL Server just as easily as it can DB2/400, the company and the product reserve special capabilities for the special platform. "We use the Java classes that invoke RPG programs," Holm says. "The '400 crowd has a ton of legacy logic embedded in RPG. We are able to leverage that when needed to provide extra functionality or validation or business rules."
PlanetJ, which is currently based far from Rochester, in the warm and sunny valleys of San Diego County, has added a range of add-ons over the years. The a la carte menu of add-ons include: an e-commerce storefront app; a calendar; an email server; a file server; a charting and dashboard tool; a PDF and MS Word report generator; a multi-server query capability; an interface into Google Maps and Google Earth; a spool file viewer; a search engine; a usage tracker; and an HTML editor.
The launch of WOW Community Edition and the decision to give away the core WOW functionality marks a new business approach for PlanetJ. "We're basically saying, we're going to give you a free car and if you want AC or a CD player, we'll sell you that," Holm says.
The Community Edition supports the development of read-only interfaces. Customers that want to develop applications that support drill-down functionality need to upgrade to the Professional Edition. A subscription to the Professional Edition for one developer costs $1,499 for the first year and $795 for subsequent years. The Enterprise Edition supports the capability to add, edit, and delete data, and includes scheduling, security, customization, and Excel integration capabilities. A subscription to the Enterprise Edition for one developer costs $2,999 for the first year, and $999 for subsequent years.
"We feel like we have some revolutionary technology, and we are gearing up to get it out to the world," Holm continues. "The free version can do a lot of stuff. But there will be a segment of customers want the additional functionality once they see how much time they can save. If you look at programmers' salaries and how busy people are, when they see they can create a data maintenance application in three minutes, they're going to say, 'Wow we can't afford to do it the old way.'"
For more information, see the vendor's website at www.planetjavainc.com.
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