LANSA Unveils 2005 Version of IDE
March 15, 2005 Alex Woodie
It’s always interesting to see what the wizards at LANSA cook up with new versions of their fourth generation language (4GL) integrated development environment (IDE), because it provides a glimpse into what kinds of programming techniques are hot, and where the pain points lie with current development architectures. LANSA 2005, which the vendor officially unveiled at the COMMON conference in its hometown of Chicago this week, does not disappoint in this respect.
LANSA has always billed its IDE as an insurance policy against technology change, and in fact, this is largely a feature of all 4GLs. Since business logic written in LANSA’s 4GL, RDML, can be compiled to any number of 3GLs, including RPG, C++, XML, and Java, LANSA’s developers are free to address the technology desires and concerns of its customer base, since there are few technological boundaries preventing development of the 4GL itself.
With LANSA 2005, the vendor has steered its IDE squarely in the direction of standards-based computing, true n-tier development (separation of all business logic, data, and interface layers), and service oriented architectures (SOA). You’ve probably heard a lot about SOAs and Web services in the past couple of years, and it’s true there’s been a lot of hype in this regard. But the concepts surrounding SOA are real, and surveys indicate companies will be spending a lot of money to service-enable their applications to cut down on integration costs and speed roll-outs. This is exactly what LANSA wants customers to do with LANSA 2005, which will ship in late April following the company’s annual user conference in Orlando, Florida.
LANSA 2005 introduces some changes to the way the IDE generates XML and XSL. Prior to this release, LANSA used its own proprietary XSL tags, which prevented interoperability, and sometimes required time-consuming changes to business logic to change the user interface. With LANSA 2005, the company has introduced something called Web Application Modules, or WAMs, that are specifically geared toward letting developers easily generate a new interface, at the press of a button, for any number of different devices, including 5250, Windows, and Web browser, or as a Web service delivered to any browser-based device such as Palm, Pocket PC, or wireless application protocol (WAP)-enabled phones.
Developers can be assured the newly generated interface will work as advertised, with no changes to business logic, because LANSA has based its underlying XSL tags (on which the WAMs are based) on industry wide XSL standards, instead of the proprietary tags it used before, LANSA says.
This is the crux of LANSA’s new n-tier development strategy, which replaces a 3-tier development strategy that sometimes tied an interface to the underlying LANSA business logic. “We didn’t have true separation of interface from business logic [before]. There was a lowest common denominator that would eventually shoot you in the foot,” says Don Nelson, LANSA’s vice president of technical services. “There were little gotchas, but now this truly lets you separate out the source code and deploy almost anywhere.”
Some of the new XML standards that LANSA is using in the new suite are XHTML, XAML, and AUIML. Support for XAML, which stands for Extensible Application Markup Language in this context (not the Transaction Authority Markup Language XML dialect), is important because it will be the new interface technology used in the upcoming “Longhorn” release of Microsoft Windows, expected in the 2006-2007 timeframe (but slated for delivery later this year as a beta component of Longhorn’s new “Avalon” presentation subsystem). AUIML, which stands for Advanced User Interface Markup Language, is a new Java-based technology currently in development in IBM‘s alphaWorks program. XHTML is an industry standard XML language for displaying HTML on a wide range of supported devices.
Visual LANSA Framework
LANSA has also enhanced its flagship Visual LANSA IDE with a new framework that allows developers to rapidly prototype a new application. This VLF component creates internal line of business applications with a Windows or Web interface, and allows developers to quickly show clients what the finished application will look like, with a high degree of accuracy.
The VLF basically provides all internal plumbing that developers typically have to worry about, such as maintaining data integrity, validation rules, menuing, messaging, and security. The VLF allows the developers to concentrate on the fields, files, and business logic (like create, read, update, or delete) they want to use in their application. When they’re done prototyping, the developers plug in the real data and the VLF generates the application.
“It shields developers from having to understand database concepts like field procedures, triggers, etc.,” Nelson says. “The main focus is getting developers quickly started in the object-oriented world without having to understand all the concepts of object-oriented programming.”
LANSA sought to give VLF a familiar look and feel, so it modeled the framework after the Outlook and Notes interfaces, company officials say. LANSA is “eating its own dog food” with the VLF and using it to develop internal applications.
The Integrator component of LANSA’s 2005 suite has also been enhanced with this release, and now supports an array of application-to-application messaging, including support for HTTP, FTP, SMTP, SMS, SOAP transport methods, EDI, CSV, XLS data formats, and further automates the creation of ZIP and PDF files, and the conversion of iSeries spool files to PDF documents.
LANSA 2005 supports the entire range of SQL data types in applications compiled for OS/400, the company says, and simplifies things like string-handling and formatting, date conversions, encryption and decryption, and access to iSeries’ Windows-like IFS file system.
ISVs that develop in LANSA expect to see productivity improvements with LANSA 2005. “It is much easier for developers to learn than Java, yet delivers more benefits, says Derek Maciak, vice president of product development at Surround Technologies. “The new LANSA 2005 technology shields us from the underlying XSL and XML, and we anticipate productivity gains that indicate a 50 percent improvement in time to deliver next-generation Web applications for our clients.”
“LANSA 2005 delivers faster results and earlier payback than other development alternatives,” says LANSA president, John Siniscal. “LANSA understands the unique environment in which mid-sized organizations operate and has helped thousands to maximize existing IT resources when creating or extending business processes.”