CA Outlines Future of iSeries Development Tools
by Alex Woodie
Computer Associates is gearing up for the upcoming new releases of its application development environments, Advantage 2E for OS/400 servers and Advantage Plex for OS/400 and Windows servers. The next releases of these similar application modeling and code generation products, which are due in early 2004, will focus on expanding users' capabilities to support J2EE and, in the case of Advantage Plex, Microsoft's .NET environment, as well. Advantage 2E version 8.1 will also get new RPG capabilities.
Advantage 2E is one of the OS/400 platform's most advanced and widely used fourth generation language (4GL) development environments. Introduced in 1987 as Synon 2E, the tool--and its base of thousands of customers--has been sold twice, once in 1998 to Sterling Software, which renamed it Cool:2E, and then in 2000 to CA, which renamed it Advantage 2E in 2001. Advantage 2E has a sidekick called Advantage Plex which generates RPG, C++, Java, SQL, and HTML (compared to Advantage 2E's RPG and Cobol generation capabilities) and is a good choice for OS/400 shops looking to migrate to the Windows OS and Microsoft technologies. However, Advantage Plex is quite a bit younger, having only been around about 10 years, and it has only a few hundred users.
What's New in Advantage 2E
In the fall of 2002, CA shipped major new versions of the products that saw Advantage 2E gain, for the first time, support for Enterprise JavaBeans (EJBs). With Advantage 2E 8.0, CA shipped a new component called the EJB Option that enables Advantage 2E developers to rapidly generate and deploy EJBs that integrate smoothly with the RPG- and Cobol-based Advantage 2E application code. This release also saw enhancements to the Web Option, which generates pure HTML front-ends to Advantage 2E applications. With the EJB and Web options in place, CA was giving OS/400 customers options for modernizing their applications.
This fall, CA is gearing up for the next new release of the product, Advantage 2E 8.1. With this release, CA will be looking to build on its Java capabilities by adding to the EJB Option. Some of the improvements that customers will see in the next release include generation of Java Server Pages (JSP) templates, EJB impact analysis, generation of Java session bean wrappers for additional function types, enhanced iSeries connection processing, and package statement generation.
The Web Option is also being targeted for improvements in Advantage 2E 8.1, including the elimination of interactive processing requirements for Advantage 2E-generated Web applications. This will make deploying HTML front-ends more affordable for customers, because IBM makes batch workloads much more cost efficient on the iSeries than interactive workloads. CA also says that, by using cascading style sheets with this release, it will provide enhanced model level and HTML skeleton functionality to its customers.
CA's product manager for Advantage 2E and Advantage Plex, Bill Hunt, says its important to note that CA isn't just enhancing the Java and Web capabilities of the tool, but the "core 2E" development environment is getting better, too. "We have definitely not lost focus on the core 2E development environment, thus 8.1 is going to contain a number of key enhancements to the base product, such as trigger programs that encapsulate those provided by IBM, and integrated DBCS [double-byte character set] enablement," Hunt says.
Looking beyond the 8.1 release, CA says it will continue to focus on what its OS/400 installed base needs, including more ILE RPG enhancements, continued integration with the MKS software change management system, and possibly closer support with WebSphere. The company also says it is considering supporting iSeries Linux.
What's New in Advantage Plex 5.5
Like the 8.0 version of Advantage 2E, the most recent release of Advantage Plex, release 5.1, was heavy on the Java. With the upcoming release of Advantage Plex, version 5.5, CA is swinging the other way, and introducing its first bit of support for Microsoft's .NET framework, in preparation for full .NET support sometime down the road.
Hunt did little to hide how he feels about .NET during a recent CA Webcast, appropriately titled "What's New in Advantage Plex 5.5." "What is .NET?" Hunt asked rhetorically. "Sometimes it appears to be more hype than substance . . . When it's all said and done, .NET is the latest attempt to kill Java from Microsoft." Nevertheless, Hunt knows that .NET is important to CA, to OS/400 shops, and especially to Advantage Plex users, considering Microsoft's increasing dominance of the market for servers.
As the first iteration of .NET support in Advantage Plex 5.5, CA will bring support for Microsoft's Visual Studio 2003--specifically the C++ compilers in that IDE, and perhaps some support for the Common Language Runtime (CLR), Microsoft's analog to a Java Virtual Machine (JVM) and the place where C# and other .NET-style code runs. Advantage Plex 5.5 will also bring enhanced Component Object Model (COM) support, including the capability to visualize COM components within the Advantage Plex IDE and use them via "action language" coding, avoiding the need to drop down a level into C++ or VBScript code, which CA says is currently required in order to use COM components in Advantage Plex applications.
In terms of iSeries enhancements, Advantage Plex 5.5 will generate ILE RPG for the first time, eliminating the restrictions posed by the current tool's reliance on RPG III. The new release will include some Java enhancements as well, including enhanced integration with Advantage Joe (CA's Java IDE) and support for multiple document interface (MDI) for clients and multiple database connections on the server.
Both Advantage Plex and Advantage 2E are expected to enter beta tests before the end of the year, and will be in production by the first half of 2004. If the release schedules for the two products are in synch, as they have been in the past, they are scheduled to enter beta tests on December 15 and general availability in February.
CA is holding two Webcasts, both of which are titled "What's New in Advantage 2E 8.1," at different times on November 10. The company has held three Webcasts on what's new in Advantage Plex 5.5. To register for CA's Advantage 2E Webcast, or view a replay of the Advantage Plex Webcast, go to CA's list of Webcast events.
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