CA Updates System i Development Tools, Renames Them Again
July 31, 2007 Alex Woodie
CA this week will officially unveil a new version of CA Plex (formerly AllFusion Plex), its model-based application development environment for System i, Windows, and Unix environments, that supports the generation of Microsoft C# server code. The company is also shipping a new service pack for CA 2E (formerly AllFusion 2E), the fourth-generation language popular among midrange System i (formerly iSeries and AS/400) customers and, which, like CA Plex, traces its roots back to the Synon days.
2E and Plex are the direct descendents the Synon/2E 4GL and the Obsydian reusable-template development tools, created by Simon Williams and his developers at Synon, which was sold to Sterling Commerce in 1998 and obtained by CA soon thereafter. The two development environments have many similarities, including the same data modeling language, the same design objects, and very similar action diagrams.
However the two products do have their differences. For starters, 2E (the older of the two products) is a 5250 tool, and can only be used to develop applications for the System i environment. Before the launch of the 2E Web Option several years ago, all 2E applications had 5250 screens. Plex, by contrast, develops applications for i5/OS and Windows. Plex also supports additional object types not provided in 2E, and uses a pattern-based approach that relies extensively on templates. But 2E developers will find a familiar environment in Plex that uses the same basic concepts and provides support for more advanced functions.
While the heyday of midrange 4GL and CASE code-generation tools has passed, many 2E and Plex users have remained loyal to the tool, and CA continues to execute the two products’ roadmaps, says Bill Hunt, the product manager for the two products at CA (formerly Computer Associates). “They are very much still being developed and supported,” Hunt said. “In fact, there have been some breakthroughs in area of 2E migration. We’ve seen an upswing in interest in 2E and legacy AS/400 shops looking at Plex as a means to modernize their applications. We’ve seen some great success with that this year.”
While both products have active roadmaps, CA’s preference is for users’ 2E paths to lead to Plex–but that doesn’t mean a forced march to Plex for 2E customers, Hunt says. “That’s been rumored since Plex came out. We’re not going to force people to move to Plex, because that will never happen,” he says. “2E is a 5250-based tool. Because of the market conditions, we see Plex as the tool having a greater potential for more new business.” But CA will continue to support and develop 2E to meet its customers’ business needs, he says.
CA Plex r6
CA yesterday announced the launch of CA Plex Release 6, the first new version of the product since November 2001. The major new feature in r6 is the addition of a code generator for server-side C#, which joins existing code generators for RPG III, RPG IV, Java, and C++.
While the back-end C# code must be deployed on Windows servers, Plex gives users the option to connect their C# applications to client or server applications developed in a variety of languages and running on a variety of servers, including C code running on other Windows machines, Java code running practically anywhere, or RPG-5250 applications running on the System i, Hunt says. “There are so many ways to skin a cat with this tool,” he says.
Also new in CA Plex r6 is the capability to model and deploy applications as Java JAR files and .NET assemblies through a new build environment that exploits Apache ANT and MSBuild, CA says.
Hunt sees Plex (and 2E to a lesser extent) playing more important roles as organizations begin developing and using Web services and the service oriented architecture (SOA) concept. “Plex and 2E are model-driven tools. As the concept, the methodology of SOA becomes more important, the importance of being able to reuse data is more prevalent, and an excellent and effective way to do that is through model-driven development,” he says.
One CA customer that has already made use of Plex’s Web service capabilities is CCH, a division of the Wolters Kluwer company that develops tax, accounting, and audit software that runs on i5/OS and Windows. CCH obtained outstanding productivity gains and cost savings by using CA Plex r6 as the primary tool to build its CertiTAX and ZipSales Returns solutions, says CCH development manager Victor Herr.
“With CA Plex, we were able to leverage existing client/server and System i-based skill sets to deliver award-winning solutions with next-generation Web services,” Herr says. “We have such confidence in CA Plex that we used the beta version of r6 to build our next-generation sales tax application, which we plan to launch later this fall.”
Hunt says the flexibility Plex afforded to CCH is typical. “This is not about, ‘Hey get off the AS/400,'” he says. “They continue to sell the AS/400 product, because they have customers that need it.”
CA 2E 8.1 SP2
CA plans to ship an update to the CA 2E tool sometime in the next six months, according to Hunt. The update, called 2E version 8.1 Service Pack 2, will primarily include fixes, as well as some enhancements. Enhancements will be made to the Web Option product, including new capabilities in the scripting language, and the capability to edit and record keystrokes. This release will also get right-to-left language support, which is required for a 2E customer in Israel, Hunt says.
The Name Game
Since CA announced AllFusion Plex r6 last winter, the company has once again gone through a renaming exercise, with the AllFusion name being dropped for the simpler CA. The latest renaming was not relegated to the 2E and Plex products, but was a corporate decision. Many other brands across the company’s sprawling product line–names such as eTrust and Unicenter–were also consolidated under the new CA moniker.
CA has changed the names of the 2E and Plex products early and often. From 1998 to 2004, the duo went by four different names, including Cool:2E and Cool:Plex (1998), Jasmine Developer 2E and Jasmine Developer Plex (2002), Advantage 2E and Advantage Plex (2002), and AllFusion 2E and AllFusion Plex (late 2003/early 2004).
Upcoming 2E and Plex Events
Lots of info on the latest releases of Plex and 2E will be presented at the third annual CA Plex/2E Worldwide Users Event, which will take place September 19 through 21 at the Cincinnati Marriott at RiverCenter. The three-day event, which is sponsored by the Ohio Valley Plex/2E Developers User Group, will feature about 45 sessions, costs $250, and is expected to attract 2E and Plex developers from about 75 companies around the world.
CA also will be holding a 60-minute Webcast on the latest 2E and Plex enhancements Thursday at 11 a.m. EDT. To register for the Webcast, go to www.ca.com/us/events/item.aspx?e=145414&eis=1.