RPG Open Access Spurs Development for looksoftware
April 20, 2010 Alex Woodie
The future of RPG got a lot brighter with IBM‘s announcement of Open Access for RPG, and looksoftware looks to play a key role in that future. The Australian software developer has been working with the new technology for the last 12 months, and last week it unveiled the fruit of that labor in lookserver for i, a new piece of i/OS software that will serve as the “handler” that allows RPG applications to bypass 5250 as they natively communicate with a range of new devices and interfaces.
Marcus Dee, the managing director of looksoftware, doesn’t mince words when discussing the impact that Open Access for RPG will have on the 40-year-old programming language, his company’s Web-enablement and modernization solutions, and the i/OS development community as a whole.
“We see this as huge potential,” Dee said last week in an interview with IT Jungle. “People will seriously start to use RPG once again for new development, because they can see that IBM’s supporting it, and that they can have native RPG code that is going to support modern devices. This is very significant because it gives people who want to stick with RPG a long-term path forward.”
New Learning Curves
As one of only three i/OS ISVs that have committed to writing RPG Open Access handlers (competitor Profound Logic and ERP developer VAI being the others), looksoftware has already made a substantial investment in readying its existing tools for RPG OA, as well as developing the new lookserver for i product, which will enter beta following the upcoming COMMON conference in Florida.
It’s been only a week since IBM confirmed rumors that RPG OA would, indeed, be part of the new i/OS 7.1 operating system that becomes generally available this Friday. System i partners like Dee who have worked closely with IBM have been prohibited from publicly discussing the new technology and the ramifications it will have on application development. But given their head start in understanding the technology, it makes sense to look to them for answers.
“It takes a fair bit of experience to write a handler. It’s not easy,” Dee says. “It’s a multi-year project to start from scratch and do this for an ISV. We’ve been doing this stuff for 15 years, so I think we have an advantage. It’s not trivial.”
Dee hopes to leverage looksoftware’s experience in this field, as well as its head start in RPG OA development, by doing the grunt work of writing the RPG OA handler, and selling it to in-house developers and ISVs who will use it to build new interfaces and connections to RPG applications. That handler is the new lookserver for IBM i Edition product that the company announced last week.
All this begs the question: If writing RPG OA handlers is so difficult, is IBM really doing anybody a favor by introducing it? Dee’s answer is an unequivocal yes.
The big benefit of RPG OA is being able to bypass 5250, the inelegant datastream originally designed to serve data to green-screen consoles in efficient chunks exactly 80 columns wide and 24 rows long. In a world dominated by Microsoft‘s Silverlight and Adobe‘s Flash and Web browsers and mobile devices, the 5250 green screen had become the System i server’s Achilles’ Heel. The platform’s most fervent supporters were defenseless to counter accusations that the System i is a “legacy” platform when the primary user interface is a vestige of the punch card era.
RPG OA blows all those accusations out of the water, and lets loose the power of RPG, as well as DDS (which plays a big role in the RPG OA model) to build modern Web 2.0 interfaces.
Taking the place of the 5250 datastream will be Open Access “channels” (enabled through the handlers), which will provide much fatter pipes to control and feed Web applications, mobile applications, and databases (or whatever else people put at the other end of the pipe). Finally free of the 5250 datastream’s 24×80 format limitations, these RPG OA channels will be able to communicate more structured information and metadata, which applications on the other end of the channel will consume to enable more sophisticated interfaces than the current method of intercepting and scraping the 5250.
“The channel can be as fat as you like, and just by Open Access-enabling an existing RPG program, it’s a lot fatter than a datastream,” Dee says. “It has a lot more information in it.”
Customers adopting lookserver for IBM i Edition will be able to design multi-channel user interfaces using looksoftware’s drag-and-drop design environment. While looksoftware gets closer to becoming a full IDE, RPG OA will allow it to turn off some previously required functionality, specifically some of the behind-the-scenes processing that its modernization solution, called newlook, currently requires to serve i/OS data to its range of rich client interfaces.
“We normally do modernization [very quickly] because we have these clever patented rules that can recognize subfiles wherever they are, for example,” Dee says. “Now with Open Access, we don’t need some of that because we’re getting all the Open Access stuff that tells us everything about the subfile, so we don’t need to deduce it. . . . By turning on Open Access, we’re getting a lot more information about what’s coming from the program, so we can build a richer client out of the box.”
Because System i customers will be using RPG to write the logic that controls the reading and writing of i/OS data through Open Access, they will not be required to place those controls in the hands of a third-party company, such as looksoftware. Customers will be able to swap one RPG OA handler provider for another with relative ease and will not be “locked in” to a particular vendor, because the logic is retained in RPG, Dee says.
Dee doesn’t expect System i shops to run out and Open Access-enable all of their existing applications, just as he never expected them to modernize all of their 5250 applications using newlook and its gaggle of connectors, such as thinclient, smartclient, and mobileclient, which will support RPG OA in a phased approach.
But for Web-enabling a small number of important applications on a tactical basis, or as a new strategic platform for new development, Dee has no doubt that Open Access for RPG will be the wave of the future.
For more information, as well as an informative 7-page FAQ on Open Access for RPG, visit looksoftware’s Web site at www.looksoftware.com.