IBM Rational-izes WebSphere Development Tools with Version 6
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
It was in many ways a lucky thing for IBM that it had created the open source Eclipse integrated development environment (IDE) framework in November 2001. IBM's intention might have been to give Sun's NetBeans project some grief as well as to foster innovation and collaboration in the tools market, but Eclipse is what has allowed IBM to integrate the Rational tools it bought into the just-announced WebSphere V6 tools for the iSeries in a relatively painless way.
IBM bought Rational, a formerly independent creator of application development tools, for $2.1 billion in December 2002 for defensive as much as offensive reasons. While IBM's WebSphere tools have been cross-platform since they were introduced--a necessity because of the four major server platforms and half dozen key operating systems that the company supports--Rational's tools were arguably more open than IBM's WebSphere Development Studio and very dangerous if they fell into the hands of another company with its own software development ideas, such as Sun Microsystems, the shepherd of Java, or Microsoft, the main force behind application development for the Windows platform. Back in late 2002, Sun had a few billion in cash and Microsoft had a few tens of billions, and plunking down as much money as IBM did to acquire Rational would have been easy for them. IBM beat them to the punch.
To be fair to Rational, it was a force to be reckoned with unto itself. The company had sales of $689 million in 2001, had 3,400 employees dedicated to the task of creating tools, and over 600,000 developers worldwide using those tools. Equally importantly, Rational had created an ecosystem of 500 partners, who offered plug-ins for its tools to make life for application developers easier. Microsoft could have--and probably should have--made a competitive bid for Rational. But it didn't, and the deal was done in late February 2003. Since that time, IBM has been explaining what the Rational tools are and integrating them with its existing WebSphere and other tools.
The great thing about the kind of enlightened self-interest that is the foundation of the myriad open source communities is that by creating Eclipse, which both IBM and Rational adopted early on, IBM set the stage for its eventual merger of the Rational and WebSphere application development tools. It has taken a while, to be sure, and the iSeries platform is getting the integrated platform a bit later than other IBM platforms (as is usually the case), but with the July announcements, the Rational tools are now at the heart of the WebSphere tools.
David Slater, the iSeries application development product line manager and the guy who is in charge of all of the creation of the iSeries tools, gave me the thumbnail description of what IBM has done. WebSphere Development Studio Client for iSeries had, at its core, a program called WebSphere Studio Site Developer, which itself was based on the Eclipse integrated development environment toolset. The more high-powered WebSphere Development Studio Client Advanced Edition for iSeries had at its heart a program called WebSphere Studio Application Developer, which was a superset of the WebSphere Studio Site Developer tool that added in Enterprise JavaBean capability and other high-end Java coding tools. Rational had a tool called Rational Web Developer, also based on Eclipse, and this has replaced WebSphere Studio Site developer at the heart of WebSphere Development Studio for iSeries. Rational had its own enterprise-class tool called Rational Application Developer, which is a superset of Rational Web Developer, and that is now the core of WebSphere Development Studio Client Advanced Edition.
WebSphere Development Studio for iSeries, you will remember, was launched with much fanfare in May 2001 with OS/400 V5R1. With WDS, IBM bundled all of the various iSeries development tools--the RPG and COBOL compilers, Java tools, Application Development ToolSet, CODE/400, WebFacing VisualAge RPG, and an integrated code debugger, syntax checker, and program verifier--into a single offering that was available as a no-charge upgrade for customers who were on Software Subscription. (If you were not on Software Subscription, you had to pay to get WDS, and the charges ranged from $3,650 on a P05 tier to $134,800 on a P60 tier.) If you bought the software for the server, you had unlimited licenses for WDSC for programmers.
Slater said that IBM's goal was to have the iSeries version of the new WebSphere V6 development tools out in the first quarter, but the move from Eclipse 2.1 to Eclipse 3.0 took time. More importantly, the sophistication of the iSeries-based development tools means there is an inherent lag in getting any tool to the iSeries that is not easy to get around. iSeries means integration, and by their very nature, the iSeries tools are tightly integrated into the system. Slater said that Rational Web Developer is a vanilla environment--which is what you would expect--while WDSC is an iSeries-friendly environment. Basically, it took time to teach Rational Web Developer to understand the iSeries. "There are very significant enhancements to WebSphere, and we had to change all of the iSeries enablers to talk to Rational," he explained. "It took a little while longer than we expected."
While having the ability to support the Rational tools and the large number of plug-ins that have been created for them is cool for iSeries developers, Slater wanted to call out some of the specific tweaks that are important to iSeries shops. First, he reminded me that the new tools have a much smoother way of creating applications for the iSeries or that span different platforms. Take the new syntax checker. Using ADTS, the way you debugged a program was to compile it and then find the errors by hand, fixing them one at a time. If you had five errors, you had to compile six times. In the new WebSphere V6 tools, you can check the syntax of your code on the fly and run it through a program verifier without having to generate the compiled code. If the syntax checker generates a list of errors, you click on each one, fix them, run it through the verifier, and then do a clean compile. And if you have a logic error--which never happens in OS/400 shops, of course--the integrated debugger catches them. This debugger is a lot more useful than the way most legacy programmers cope with logic errors, which Slater referred to as "debug by contemplation." This debugger can span multiple IBM platforms and be used for multi-tier applications, and Slater said that IBM's zSeries team is wondering how on earth it works so they can steal the idea. This debugger is now a new capability, of course, but Slater says it has been significantly improved with the WebSphere V6 tools.
Another big change is that the WebFacing tool, which is used to generate Web interfaces for green-screen applications written using DDS and which is part of WebSphere Development Studio Client Advanced Edition, has been tweaked so that system screens (which are developed using UIM interfaces instead of using OS/400's DDS tool) no longer require 5250 interactive capacity to display those screens. This will save OS/400 shops some money as they Webface their applications (how much depends on how many system screens they use).
The WebFacing tool also offers performance that is "comparable" to native green-screen applications, and now has Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) positioning support that allows 5250 fields to be positioned on a pixel-by-pixel basis on a Web screen. This, says Slater, will enable nearly unlimited customization of the Web screens. Previously, a field was restricted to its relative position on the green screen.
Finally, the new Advanced Edition of the WebSphere V6 development tool has new extensions for the Remote System Explorer feature that allows coders creating Java and C++ applications on the iSeries to reach out into Linux and AIX platforms, whether they are remote boxes or running inside partitions on an iSeries.
IBM also announced the companion WebSphere Host Access Transformation Services (HATS), which is used to Web-enable both 5250 iSeries and 3270 mainframe applications. This tool has also been Rational-ized.
Rational Deals on Rational Training
As part of the July iSeries announcements, IBM announced a bunch of deals to help all of its customers get some training on the Rational development tools. Under one deal, for every four days of Rational on-site, instructor-led training acquired by customers, which costs approximately $4,000 per day, IBM will toss in an extra free day of training. This deal expires on December 31, and customers have to schedule the training within 90 days of the contract signing.
IBM has a similar deal that gives customers who buy on-site training for Rational products for a minimum of three days, IBM will throw in a 30-day pass to each student in the on-site training class to use the Web-based training for Rational tools. IBM says this deal expires on December 31 as well and it has a value of $150 per student.
The use of development tools is not just about training, of course. Sometimes, you need someone to come in and actually help you do something. To that end, IBM is offering three days of professional services for Rational products through its Global Services organization at a promotional price of $5,050. IBM did not say what these professional services normally cost, but it has to be a lot more than the $210 an hour IBM is charging under the deal.