Newlook Software Builds Smart Clients from iSeries Apps
September 7, 2004 Alex Woodie
Looksoftware launched a new version of its application modernization platform yesterday that allows companies to build smart client interfaces for their iSeries applications. Company officials say the new smart client functionality available for newlook and centric 7.0 will give users the advanced functionality they’ve come to expect from fat-client Windows interfaces, while maintaining the ease of deployment of browser-based clients that administrators have come to appreciate.
Looksoftware launched centric in January 2003 to provide a better set of tools for integrating iSeries applications with other programs, notably CRM systems. The integration tool shares a development environment with newlook, the company’s established OS/400 screen-rejuvenation software, and enables developers to expose OS/400 assets (via either the 5250 data stream or a direct DB2/400 connection) to other applications.
With Version 7.0, looksoftware has focused on giving developers the capability to generate composite applications, within a Web services-oriented architecture. Basically, this means looksoftware is using Web services technologies, such as XML, to allow developers to take bits and pieces of their 5250 applications and rearrange them in creative new ways. At the same time, looksoftware has added some nifty new controls to its interface development tools that allow developers to create smart clients and to expand upon the basic, no frills browser-based thin clients.
Undoubtedly you know what thin clients (browser-based) and fat clients (Win32 apps) are, but you may not have heard about smart clients. So what the devil is a smart client, and why might you want one?
Smart clients basically sit between thin and fat clients on the user interface functionality spectrum. Proponents say that smart clients offer the rich user experience, developer productivity, and quick responsiveness of stand-alone PC clients but avoid the negative aspects of their pudgier colleagues, such as difficulty of deployment, problematic updates, and, of course, that big old footprint, sucking up CPUs and memory. Smart clients can be deployed and maintained from a server.
Giga Group expects smart clients to be the most popular user interface within two years. In 2002, 64 percent of new interfaces were thin clients, compared with 24 percent for fat clients and 12 percent for smart clients. By 2005, Giga said last year, 48 percent of new interfaces will be smart clients, 46 percent will be thin clients, while new fat clients will be used just six percent of the time.
Besides ease of deployment, a key benefit of a smart client is the capability to consume Web services. This provides users with an easy way to connect their back-office applications, such as PeopleSoft World, with desktop productivity software, such as Microsoft‘s Office suite.
The capability to create composite applications as part of a services-oriented architecture, and the new smart client controls, go hand in hand as the key new features in Version 7.0, says Marcus Dee, looksoftware’s managing director. “It’s about getting away from the thin-client-only approach. The information worker really needs the power and capability to consume Web services at the desktop,” he says. “We want users to be able to ‘snap on’ new functionality.”
CENTRIC AND NEWLOOK 7.0
New grid controls in Version 7.0 enable developers to drag and drop any element from a 5250 screen in the creation of a new smart client, and removes the constraints of the 24×80 green screen, the company says. This component also now supports the integration of other data sources, including the Oracle, SQL Server, and DB2 UDB databases, or even third-party applications. Developers can also sort, hide, or create new columns with the enhanced data controls.
Additional user interface controls have been added for developing PC-based smart-clients, including support for the following Win32 controls: TreeView, ListView, ImageList, ProgressBar, TrackBar, NumericCombo, and ScrollBar. Developers looking to clean up their interfaces can now incorporate tabs into their centric or newlook interfaces. Better support for ActiveX controls from Microsoft or third-party providers also contributes to the smart client functionality in newlook and centric. All of the Win32 controls mentioned above, as well as ActiveX controls, can be manipulated with VBScript, JScript, and looksoftware macros.
Finally, looksoftware has added a new deployment wizard that simplifies rolling out Web-based interfaces (users are given the option of either Windows- or Web-based smart clients). New toolbar customization capabilities, support for Windows XP desktop themes, “complete” FTP capabilities, and support for SCS printing round out looksoftware’s smart client update. You typically won’t find these types of functions in a Web-based interface.
Several looksoftware customers have benefited from the enhanced user interfaces generated with Version 7.0. One of them is Wyeth, a $14 billion pharmaceutical company, which needed a new interface to its PeopleSoft World purchasing module that was simple enough for 400 casual users and managers around the world to use. The project, which took two weeks and involved combining 70 screens, was a success and resulted in reduced desktop maintenance and training costs, improved productivity, and higher user acceptance. “We wouldn’t have been able to implement successfully without a modern customized UI,” said Dave Bishop, an IT manager with Wyeth UK. Despite its location on the Emerald Isle, Wyeth Ireland couldn’t accomplish the same thing with green screens, but on the second go-around it succeeded with a modernized GUI, using looksoftware tools. Today Wyeth Sweden is rolling out the enhanced GUI, looksoftware says.
Version 7.0 is the largest release ever in terms of the man-hours looksoftware put into it, Dee says. The company has concentrated on providing a rich experience for the user through the new smart client controls, and in early 2005 the company expects to boost its server-side integration capabilities with a new product (developed in conjunction with Version 7.0) that allows the generation of Web services from iSeries or zSeries assets, he says.