What’s IBM Cooking Up for RPG and the Web?
March 5, 2007 Timothy Prickett Morgan
As part of its WebSphere Development Studio Client Version 7.0 announcements last week, IBM buried some statements of direction at the tail end of the announcement letters that indicated that it was working on making it easier for RPG programmers to create Web applications. To be blunt, many people were expecting such features in WDSc 7.0 last week, and they told me they were surprised when these features were not there.
Last year, in closed meetings where journalists and analysts are not invited and in the wake of a controversy that IT Jungle helped stir up about the need for a native Web interface for i5/OS and its compilers, the experts within IBM’s Toronto software labs had said in hush-hush fashion that such a thing was coming. Or, so I was told. Without any hard evidence and little more than a vague promise heard second-hand through people attending meetings, it was hard to say anything more. So I didn’t say anything, mostly because I didn’t believe it. And I decided to keep the pressure on for such a capability to be created, which IT Jungle certainly did in 2005 with this article Wanted: Native RPG and COBOL Support for Browsers, and throughout 2006 as we brought to topic up again and again.
A native Web interface is important both for the sake of RPG and COBOL programmers who make their companies’ code and for business partners, like ASNA, BCD, LANSA, Magic Software, ProData Computer, Profound Logic, Seagull Software, and many others, who make tools that help bring RPG and COBOL programs to the Web. I think, as do many others, that IBM should create a native Web interface for applications to talk to, just like they talk to a green screen. If the System i platform is all about integration, then it has to be an easier platform on which to create applications than alternatives. And for those who say it can’t be done, I am sure there were people back in the late 1970s who were saying that embedding a relational database at the heart of an operating system that treated memory and disk storage like a single address space for compilers to play in was equally impossible.
Of course, to another way of looking at it, the tool vendors mentioned above have a substantial stake in IBM not providing such a capability. They make their money because taking any host-based application to the Web involves a number of transformations and the bridging of several different kinds of middleware. Because these software tool partners are such an important part of keeping the OS/400 and i5/OS base vibrant–these vendors sell products and help modernize applications in shops that can’t afford to pay the hefty hardware and software prices that IBM’s WebSphere servers and development tools require, and they often do it without forcing customers to upgrade their hardware–IBM has to be careful about upsetting the apple cart. Sometimes, it is best to leave well enough alone. And that is precisely what I would guess IBM will do.
So in reading the statement of direction on a future RPG IV release that IBM put out last week, I don’t put as much stock in it. Others might feel differently. Anyway, take a gander at what Big Blue said:
“Rich user interface development: Currently you can leverage your existing RPG IV skills to create rich client applications by using VisualAge RPG 6.0, which is included in WebSphere Development Studio Client V7.0 and WebSphere Development Studio Client Advanced Edition V7.0. IBM is exploring enhanced functions to enable you to use your RPG skills in the creation of rich user interfaces more effectively, targeting a wide variety of devices. IBM plans to define a path that allows VisualAge RPG users to take full advantage of these exciting new capabilities with minimal effort.”
Any time a vendor says “minimal effort,” the hair on the back of my neck stands up a little bit. Until IBM announces whatever it announces–most likely as part of the rollout of i5/OS V5R5 or V6R1 this year or possibly next year, and maybe as part of the Power6 server launch, which is probably next year but maybe late this year–it is hard to say exactly what the company has cooked up in the Toronto labs.
What is clear now–and which was not made clear by IBM when executives briefed IT Jungle on the WDSc 7.0 announcements–is that Big Blue is not just hoping that the new Rational-ized WebSphere tools will attract converts from the old CODE/400 development tools, but is making sure people start moving. This is being accomplished in a very simple fashion, with the kind of glacial speed that enterprise customers demand. WDSc 7.0 is the last version of the IBM development tools for the System i platform that will include the CODE/400 tools. Here’s the official word from IBM:
“The CoOperative Development Environment (CODE) tools (CODE Editor, CODE Designer, CODE Project Organizer, CODE Program Generator and the IBM Distributed Debugger) are deprecated in WebSphere Development Studio Client V7.0 and WebSphere Development Studio Client Advanced Edition V7.0. This means there will be no future enhancements made to these tools, they will not be updated to work with new releases of i5/OS, and they will not be ported to run on future versions of the Windows operating system. Customers using these tools should migrate to use the equivalent function in the Remote System Explorer and iSeries Integrated Debugger. The CODE tools will continue to be supported until WebSphere Development Studio Client V7.0 reaches end of service.”
Finally, IBM made another warning in the announcements relating to programming languages, and one that probably does not affect too many iSeries and System i shops. IBM’s Software Group is taking a more “modular approach” to packaging its development tools, and with WDSc 7.0, the Enterprise Generation Language (EGL) development environment has been removed from various tools, which IBM now collectively calls Software Delivery Platform. (This “platform” includes Rational Application Developer and WebSphere Development Studio Client, which on the System i comes a “lite” version that just does RPG and COBOL development and an Advanced Edition, which is actually a superset of the Rational Developer tool.) The EGL tools are being updated and will be offered as a separate add-on for Rational Developer and WDSc in the second quarter of 2007. Customers are advised to use WDSc Version 6 to create EGL programs until then.