looksoftware’s Modernization Suite Resembling a Full IDE
October 9, 2007 Alex Woodie
For looksoftware‘s customers, modernization of existing applications through the creation of composite programs is usually the goal. Leave it to the IBM‘s and Microsoft‘s of the world to build fully integrated development environments (IDEs) for writing new applications from scratch, the thinking goes. But with the upcoming release of version 9 of look’s modernization suite early next year, developers will find more powerful capabilities typically associated with full-blown IDEs.
The task of modernizing legacy enterprise applications is not an easy one. If all it required was replacing green screens with pretty graphical interfaces, it would be a relatively simple matter to run the 5250 stuff through some type of screen scraper or converter to gain the requisite GUI. But to enact a true end-to-end modernization requires a more thorough overhaul of front- and back-end interfaces. This is the direction that the Australian company, looksoftware, is headed at the moment.
According to look’s president, Marcus Dee, the company’s System i modernization tools have evolved from the basic screen scrapers to building new composite applications out of existing System i applications. Where once look’s refacing tool, newlook, generated the most attention and revenue, the addition of new products over the last several years, including centric, a programmatic integration tool and the Web services-focused soarchitect, has given customers more flexibility when using look’s tools to repurpose their 5250 assets.
“It’s not about putting a GUI or a Web service here or there, it’s about reusing and integrating so you can either streamline internal business processes, or integrate externally with partners,” Dee says. “Our tool, with release 9, is all about building on a single integrated environment that is designed to take you right through the whole composite applications path.”
The company refers to this single integrated environment as its Dynamic Environment (one of the few times you’ll find look using capital letters with proper names). This Dynamic Environment underlies the three developer tools–newlook, centric, and soarchitect–and provides the hooks into look’s runtime products, lookserver, smartclient, liteclient, thinclient, mobileclient, and lookdirect. Together, these components provide an integrated suite of products that can handle everything from screen rejuvenation and the conversion of interactive 5250 to batch, to the mixing and matching of bits and pieces of applications and data residing on different platforms into new composite applications.
Customers have been able to do all this prior to version 9 of the Dynamic Environment. The difference with the new version is that it will be easier to make these changes, as the vendor provides a more unified development environment that puts more power into the hands of the application redeveloper.
“We’ve had the middleware functionality in the product, the transaction recorder [unveiled in spring 2006] and offline support [unveiled in fall 2006 with version 8],” Dee says. “What version 9 does is provide the developer with a completely new IDE so you can do more serious projects much more easily.”
Version 9 marks the maturation of look’s developer tools. Before this release, the company didn’t have a clear delineation between the design-time and the run-time components. “Whereas with version 9, we have a dedicated design mode such that we can really provide developers with all the things they really want to do.”
With version 9, look’s Dynamic Environment will much more closely resemble a traditional IDE. It will feature a repository explorer that will give programmers fast and full access to all the information they need about their objects and programs. It will include support for so-called “master pages” that will make it easier for programmers to create composite applications. And look is also building a graphical business process workflow and orchestration component into the product, although it won’t be available until version 9.1.
Dee highlighted the master pages support as a key differentiator for version 9. “In previous releases of our designer, you could design a nice form, a nice GUI, but you couldn’t design something made up of multiple frames,” he says. “For example, you want one bit showing you a 3270 window, and another bit in the same screen showing you 5250, and another bit showing you a tree control, and another bit showing you a chart. In the past, you could do it, but it was a fair bit of manual work, whereas now we’ve extended our designer to handle it all in a drag-and-drop type environment, so you can just lay out a canvas.”
While look’s tools are beginning to resemble traditional IDEs, there’s an important distinction between the Dynamic Environment and a full-blown IDE, such as IBM‘s WDSc, LANSA, or .NET, Dee says. “Our toolset today has the developer capabilities, but its prime purpose is lightweight frame reuse,” he says. “We’re all about reuse. We’re not about generating thousands of lines of new code, which is what primarily development tools do. We’re about reusing the thousands of lines of code you’ve got, and providing a lightweight development environment so you can do that productively and flexibly.”
Version 9 will bring several other enhancements, including a new smartnav UI control, more AJAX support, BLOB support, and testing and change control enhancements.
The first beta of Version 9 of look’s Dynamic Environment is expected by the end of 2007 or the beginning of 2008, with general availability expected during the second quarter of 2008. For more information, see www.looksoftware.com.