i OS System Screens Get Web-Enabled With ilook from looksoftware
May 5, 2009 Alex Woodie
One of the biggest criticisms IBM has weathered regarding its Power System i platform over the years is the lack of a native graphical user interface (GUI). Now, looksoftware is doing something about it with ilook, a new piece of freeware unveiled last week at COMMON that changes operating system screens to Web-based GUIs. The vendor also announced snap for BPCS, a new tool that integrates the popular i OS ERP system with Outlook and the iPhone.
Normally, a third-party vendor wouldn’t try to mess around with operating system screens. Sure, you can add your own stuff to augment native OS capabilities. That’s done everyday. But when it comes to actually changing how an operating system looks or functions, let alone doing this to a famously secure and stable OS from IBM–well let’s just say that pigs probably have a better chance of sustained flight. Or so the conventional wisdom goes.
But the folks at looksoftware–specifically Trevor Perry, once an employee of the company and now an independent contractor–see the world a little differently. Perry and looksoftware managing director Marcus Dee decided that if IBM wasn’t going to give i OS a GUI interface for the thousands of screens that compose the operating system, then they would do it for them. And lo and behold, the ilook project was born.
ilook is based on looksoftware’s rules-based screen modernization technology, and its ActiveX-based smartclient user interface plug-in. The software will render 5250 operating system screens as Web-based GUIs by applying pre-defined screen modernization rules on the fly. Users will be able to view and navigate i OS screens after downloading and installing the ActiveX plug-in, a relatively easy process. However, it does require the Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) Web browser, because it is based on ActiveX technology.
Perry, who was also just elected to the COMMON board of directors, says he has already completed ilook templates for about 80 percent of the IBM i OS operating system, and is working with early adopters to make sure the tool works as advertised.
i OS, which is composed of thousands of screens, is a good candidate for rules-based transformation because it is very consistent from screen to screen and from version to version, Perry said at a looksoftware press conference at the COMMON show last week in Reno, Nevada.
Not all i OS screens will get the ilook treatment, however, but users will benefit from the ease of use that Web-enabled versions of commonly used screens, such as WRKSPLF, can bring to the workplace. i OS applications generally are not as consistent as i OS itself, and because of that, ilook users may run into trouble if they try to Web-enable their 5250 application screens with the tool. But some application screens may work anyway. In any event, the need to Web-enable application screens provides a sales opportunity for looksoftware and its newlook and smartclient screen modernization technology. ilook, after all, will be distributed free when it becomes available in the coming months.
Perry, who encourages System i users to “stop whining and do something,” hopes ilook can provide a stepping stone to greater modernization riches. “Few customers have been successful with their modernization efforts so far,” he says. “ilook provides a practical, easy, and no-risk step that will enable many more i customers to modernize sooner.”
Looksoftware also announced snap for BPCS, a new bundle of looksoftware products that gives Infor ERP LX and BPCS shops a quick way to modernize their ERP systems and give users the capability to access the ERP system from within Outlook, the iPhone, Blackberry devices, or any of the other “snap” plug ins that looksoftware has developed, and will develop in the future. Web services interfaces are also part of the snap product set, which is composed of newlook and other members of the looksoftware modernization suite.
The vendor currently offers five snap product sets, including two back-end connectors. The three front-end connectors includes snap for Microsoft, which provides pre-built integration with Outlook, SharePoint, Word, and Excel; snap for Mobile, which connects 5250 and 3270 applications with iPhone3G, Blackberry, and Windows Mobile 6.1 devices; and snap for The Cloud, which was announced in February and connects 5250 and 3270 applications with “Web cloud” offerings like Google Apps and GDrive. The vendor is committed to developing snap plug-ins for Lotus Domino and WebSphere Portal.
The Australian software vendor released a snap pack for JD Edwards World last September, which gave green-screen JDE shops a pre-integrated way to access their apps and data from Outlook, the iPhone, and Google Apps front-ends (or Web services interfaces when no user interface is required). looksoftware decided to target the BPCS product suite (now known as ERP LX) with the second back-end snap pack because it is the i OS industry’s second most popular general-purpose ERP system behind JD Edwards, company officials said.
One of the key advantages of modernizing BPCS with the look snap is that it honors customizations that BPCS shops are notorious for performing to their ERP implementations. The new offering includes a repository with pre-built interfaces for more than 20 BPCS modules, which should provide a good start for BPCS modernization projects.
Eamon Musallam, looksoftware’s product marketing manager, says BPCS shops should consider looksoftware’s snap for BPCS if they’re embarking upon the modernization voyage. “Despite alternative solutions being available in the marketplace for several years, snap for BPCS is the only solution that addresses today’s multi-channel and service-enablement requirements.”
A couple of large BPCS shops in the pharmaceutical industry, including PURAC and Abbott Labs, are currently beta testing snap for BPCS, and general availability is not expected until November. For more information, visit www.looksoftware.com.