WebSmart 4.0 Is Cornerstone of BCD’s Web Application Stack
February 17, 2004 Alex Woodie
Business Computer Design Int’l is a company with a lot going on. Next week the Chicago software distributor will announce the general availability of its new iSeries Web application development environment, ProGen WebSmart 4.0, which will quickly be followed by new versions of its Nexus portal and Catapult report distribution software. In fact, the company is working to combine the three applications to provide a single software stack to meet much of the Web needs of the average OS/400 shop.
The Version 4.0 release of WebSmart marks the maturation of a popular alternative to IBM‘s WebSphere Web application server. The software, which was designed to be easy to learn by people already familiar with the AS/400, is set to receive enhancements that will bolster BCD’s ease-of-use message.
First announced last November, WebSmart 4.0’s major enhancements include basic change management functionality; an integrated SMTP e-mail server; integration with third-party HTML design tools, such as Dreamweaver; new preconfigured Web site templates; color-coding and other enhancements to PML, the WebSmart markup language; as well as improved security and other changes. For a more detailed run-down, see “BCD Gears Up for WebSmart 4.0, Ships New Catapult Release.”
SHIPPER MOVES UP TO 4.0
One of the 500 or so WebSmart users that intend to make the most of Version 4.0 is Team Air Express, a Winnsboro, Texas, company in the freight forwarding business. Team Air started out on WebSmart 3.04 a year ago, to deliver Web-based GUIs to its core RPG applications, which handle everything from invoicing and accounts receivable to shipment tracking and file maintenance for its 50 remote and franchise offices around the country. WebSmart 4.0 should make delivering a browser-based GUI to these back-end applications that much easier, says David Daugherty, senior systems analyst.
Team Air first selected WebSmart after reviewing WebSphere. Daugherty says he found the WebSphere tools to be so bulky and complex that he couldn’t get a simple accounts receivable inquiry to work. He abandoned the WebSphere trial when he tried WebSmart, which also happened to work well with the ProGen ILE development tools the company uses to design and maintain their core RPG applications.
Team Air’s three RPG programmers and single C programmer all use WebSmart, Daugherty says. You can quickly put an RPG programmer out of his comfort zone by asking him to write a CGI application, Daugherty says, but with WebSmart they’re not overwhelmed. “You put him in front of the IDE with a template or two and watch his eyes light up,” he says. “You can do much more sophisticated coding, with much less effort.”
As a beta tester, Daugherty says he’s impressed with WebSmart 4.0, particularly the WebSmart IDE. “The color-coding in the IDE is a plus. You virtually can put together anything you want to see,” he says. “If you can’t do it with HTML or PML, it can’t be done. There are also quite a few built-in functions with WebSmart, but we also now have the ability to create our own functions. We’re starting to do that with our C programmer.” Daugherty also likes the fact that WebSmart 4.0 supports the generation of header detail in templates. “The header detail is a big plus,” he says. “It looks a lot friendlier when you display the information in the template.”
Team Air isn’t using the new change management functionality in WebSmart 4.0 yet, but Daugherty says it will alleviate problems when they start to use it. “We haven’t implemented change management, but we figure it will be pretty useful by virtue of having multiple people working in the system, checking out and back in,” he says. “When we started out with WebSmart 3.04, one of our guys found DocPile (an open source, Linux-based change management system). However, it was not satisfactory, because there was no way to check things out or to prevent people from checking out a separate copy” of source code.
Currently, Team Air is using an in-house-developed system to distribute reports with the WebSmart HTTP server. The company’s C programmer used an Adobe API to convert reports to PDF format and have then stored on the OS/400 server. In the future, Daugherty might see handing that function off to Catapult, BCD’s spool file distribution program. “Catapult’s a better long term solution. Once you set up the rules, you don’t have to worry about it.”
Along with WebSmart 4.0, the upcoming new releases of Catapult 5.0 and Nexus 2.0 play significantly in BCD’s OS/400 Web application software stack strategy. The company has been selling WebSmart, Catapult, and Nexus as an integrated bundle for some time, and the company is currently considering formalizing the stack–and the nearly 50 percent discount customers get when they buy all three at the same time–under the name iSeries Web Deployment Integration Bundle.
Selling the software as a formalized stack “covers more bases,” says Eric Figura, BCD’s sales and marketing manager. “It covers a lot of ground. This is technology people understand. A lot of these Web products are solutions, but with WebSmart they don’t have to attend training classes.”
BCD developers are also working to bring some new functionality to the Nexus portal, to support the integrated product stack. For example, users could get easy access to their Web-enabled applications through a portlet called My iSeries Web Applications, and to their predefined reports through My iSeries Reports. The company is also working on something called Web Object Warehousing (or WOW), which would make indexes of reports. A bundled 5250 emulator called My iSeries Greenscreens would let users access applications that haven’t yet been GUI-ized with WebSmart, or that are intended to stay as a green-screen indefinitely.
License fees for BCD’s products are tier-based. For the average AS/400 shop, companies would pay $14,650 for WebSmart, $12,000 for Nexus, and $4,500 for Catapult, Figura says. If all three products are bought at the same time, BCD drops the price to about $15,500. All three products are now ServerProven by IBM, which gives the customer more discounts when purchasing iSeries hardware. For more information, go to www.bcdsoftware.com.
This article has been corrected since it was first published. The price for Nexus was originally listed as $18,000. The price is, in fact, $12,000. Guild Companies regrets the error. [Correction made 2/20/04.]