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OS/400 Edition
Volume 3, Number 37 -- September 23, 2003

Mincron Issues 2.0 Release of JENASYS RPG-to-Java Conversion Tool

by Alex Woodie

Mincron announced a new release of JENASYS, the company's RPG-to-Enterprise JavaBeans conversion tool, at the recent COMMON conference in Orlando, Florida. Mincron has expanded the product's compatibility for Web application servers and database management systems, besides WebSphere and DB2 on OS/400. The company also reports that it was pleasantly surprised by the new iSeries Developer Roadmap, which IBM announced at COMMON.

Mincron first developed JENASYS to move its own RPG-based ERP application to Java. The primary business of the 24-year-old software company, which is based in Houston, is developing a specialized application suite for the plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning industry. Mincron felt it was limiting itself by running only on OS/400, but company officials didn't like the idea of rewriting its 4.5 million lines of RPG from scratch, which would have taken several years and cost several millions of dollars, and they didn't think the few RPG-to-Java conversion tools on the market offered enough.

So Mincron wrote its own conversion tool, and is now offering the tool to anybody who wants to buy it.

Last November, Mincron launched JENASYS 1.0, which offered limited runtime capabilities to users. The first version allowed Enterprise JavaBeans, or EJBs, to run on iSeries servers running WebSphere, says Mincron Division Director Mark Chellis. There aren't many benefits in converting RPG to Java and then running it on the iSeries, which is optimized for RPG. In fact, the equivalent Java would most likely run slower than the RPG source, although the application would have a GUI.

With JENASYS 2.0, Mincron has made the conversion suite more applicable to the market as a whole. Theoretically, EJBs should run unchanged on any platform, but in practice, tests need to be performed on those other configurations to verify that the converted code interacts properly with various Web application servers, and that's what Mincron has done. The company now confidentially says it can support WebSphere, BEA Systems' WebLogic, Apache Software Foundation's Tomcat, and JBoss' application server, running on OS/400, Windows, Unix, and Linux. However, Chellis says tests show that Java-based applications running under the JENASYS Framework run fastest under WebSphere.

Mincron plans to roll-out support for Oracle and Microsoft SQL Server databases by the end of this year.

Along with improved platform proficiency, JENASYS 2.0 supports the double-byte character set used in Asian languages. This particular improvement was requested by one of Mincron's new business partners, SolPac Ltd. of Japan, which anticipates moving "a large percentage" of Japan's 20 million lines of RPG code, on more than 30,000 OS/400 servers, to Java. Chellis reports that there is a significant level of interest in JENASYS outside of North America, particularly in Asia, which was a little surprising, he said.

Mincron has sold JENASYS licenses and conversion services since the tool was first released nearly a year ago, Chellis says. The company has used the tool in several RPG-to-Java conversion projects, including a very large investment bank and at AMRHealth, which develops software for the healthcare industry.

Although Mincron will sell JENASYS as a stand-alone tool, the company is planning to engage most customers with its software and services. According to Chellis, the company will be able to deliver wholesale RPG code conversion for $.45 to $.70 per line of RPG, depending on the complexity and cleanliness of the code. This is quite a bit lower than the industry average for rewriting applications, which ranges from $4 to $6 per line of code, Mincron says. The company bases this number on a report by market researcher Gartner. The cost of the conversion tool alone was not available at press time.

While Mincron developed its RPG-to-Java conversion tool for internal purposes, JENASYS also happens to fall squarely into IBM's new Developers Roadmap. The roadmap, which IBM introduced at the Orlando COMMON conference, provides a set of five specific steps that RPG developers can take to prepare themselves for the future, which for IBM means Java.

Chellis says he was pleasantly surprised to hear IBM spell out its RPG-to-Java message so clearly. "We fit in better than we would have thought, quite honestly," he says. "By the time you combine our infrastructure of JENASYS, working with WebSphere, and then look at this graphical roadmap, it made us feel awfully good. We're tracking with IBM, and it makes us feel much more like we're a potential complement to their strategy, and not a competitor."

JENASYS fits into the roadmap so well, in fact, that it can be used to skip steps two through four, Chellis says. Customers will still need to familiarize themselves with step one on the roadmap: "better tools" (which means using Remote Systems Explorer). But step two ("better user interface," which means using the WebFacing Tool, WebSphere Development Studio Client, and other IBM tools), step three ("better architecture," which adds iSeries Web tools), and step four ("better portability," which adds pure Java tools) can all be skipped by using JENASYS for the code conversion, bringing the user straight to the final step, "better scalability," which adds EJB and Java 2, Enterprise Edition (J2EE) development tools and techniques.

That's not to say that JENASYS users don't need Java training. They do. But the difference is that JENASYS lets RPG programmers learn Java along the way. "What we're trying to do is keep the people who helped create your business logic and help them get up to speed with a more robustly supported toolset," Chellis says. "We like the idea of an incremental approach and getting the EJBs in a readable fashion by the RPG guy."

Mincron recommends its customers' RPG programmers start by taking a beginning Java course. "We've have good experience with Sun Microsystems' "Java in 21 Days" offering," Chellis says. Some intermediate Java training and hands-on class work with JENASYS should follow for those serious about transforming RPG into EJBs with JENASYS.

One of the features of JENASYS that should help RPG programmers get up to speed with Enterprise Java is that the Java code that JENASYS creates look very similar to RPG's structure. "We believe we've covered the major [RPG] commands," says Chellis, although he added that customers invariably present the company with some area not covered. "Users are shocked we're able to recreate RPG naming conventions with Java classes."

RPG programmers are slowly starting to warm to Java, Chellis says. RPG programmers have been hostile to the idea of replacing RPG with Java. At the most recent COMMON conference, however, "people would come up, look around in a guilty fashion, and say, 'My boss says we've gotta do this. What have you got?' "

Breaking down barriers and mindsets is an important and invariable part of an industry that relies on technological obsolescence to drive it forward. Mincron is hoping to make some money by eliminating some of the pain that's an inevitable byproduct of moving RPG applications to Java, and creating Java programmers out of RPG programmers.

"We've put our [JENASYS EJB] code in front of many RPG guys," Chellis says. "One of them gave us what is our biggest compliment yet. We asked him, 'What do you think?' And he said, 'This doesn't scare me.' "

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