PGM Provides Springboard for iSeries Web Development
November 16, 2004 Alex Woodie
With the array of development technologies and techniques, it can be difficult for OS/400 shops to get started developing a Web application. Is Java or .NET the better language choice? Should you write an application from scratch or attempt to put a Web face on old apps? PGM Systems is trying to simplify these tough decisions for iSeries developers and get them started in Java, SQL, and Struts programming with a new Web application code generator and framework called iStart.
Massachusetts-based PGM Systems first released its iStart Web Application Generator in March 2004. The product is the result of work PGM Systems did in developing WebSphere applications for its iSeries clients. Many clients had similar requirements, so the company developed a repeatable methodology for building WebSphere applications, basically by using XML configuration files as input, says PGM Systems’ vice president, Bob Macutkiewicz. “Over the course of time, we said, ‘Why not put a nice front end on this thing and market it as a usable product?’ ” Macutkiewicz says. “We use it today and sell it to end users.”
The iStart handles much of the initial legwork of building and deploying JavaServer Pages (JSP) applications, including inventing a methodology for managing things like user interaction, database access, security, and error-handling. These features form the underpinnings of any application, and can require extensive effort to develop and maintain, even for experienced Java programmers, Macutkiewicz says. “iStart gets you over the initial curve,” he says.
Developers interact with iStart through a Web-based interface that leads them through the set-up by asking a series of question about how they want to architect the new Java program for their OS/400 server, including database definitions, field validation options, multilevel file relationships, security rules, menu structure, and other generation features. In some respects, iStart is a wizard for creating JSP WebSphere applications, although PGM Systems isn’t calling it a wizard.
After the developer has described the new application, iStart generates the code, including JSPs, JDBC, and SQL components. It uses the Jakarta Struts framework for screen generation and implements the model-view-controller paradigm for interactive applications. Applications generated by iStart are developed on the iSeries, but since they’re generated in platform-neutral languages, they can run on any Java-compatible operating system and can access any JDBC-compliant database.
Each iStart application supports the following standard features: work-with forms with query-by-example filtering; list pagination; bread crumbs; role-based local system security; support for internationalization; externalized text and cascading style sheets; multilevel (parent-child-grandchild) table relationships; file import/export capabilities; e-mail integration; and integrated report processing. Once the basic foundation has been laid for the Web application, iStart allows the developer to customize the business logic using extension classes and inheritance, the company says.
The most common use for iStart is creating data-maintenance and order-entry types of screens, where the user is querying the database and gaining access to add, update, or delete items in the database. But there’s no requirement to have a screen at all in iStart, and some organizations have used iStart to create back-office programs for updating in batches DB2/400 with data from SQL Server.
The best candidates for iStart are organizations that have already made the decision to go with Java as their strategic Web development language, and who are looking for something that can lessen the language’s steep learning curve. PGM Systems is looking for developers who are not satisfied with traditional Java training, “where you go off to training, spend a week and a lot of money, come home, and you don’t have anything to put on your own machine and keep going,” Macutkiewicz says. “Because they do get the code base to use as an example [with iStart], it’s a good tool to help them dive in.”
The main requirement for using iStart is having a good understanding of the database structure you want to build a query program on top of, Macutkiewicz says. Understanding how to implement a WebSphere application would also be helpful.
This fall, PGM Systems introduced an improved release of the product, Version 1.01, which added more default settings to speed setup and development times. Users with a minimum of training can begin generating Web applications from their DB2/400 databases with iStart Version 1.01 in as little as two hours, Macutkiewicz says.
The iStart requires V5R1 or later versions of OS/400, and it supports the latest i5/OS. The product requires a J2EE-compliant Web application server. It has been certified to work with WebSphere Application Server Express, Versions 5.1 and later. Pricing is a flat $1,995 per box. For more information, go to www.pgmsystems.com.