Trilobyte Keeps the Original 5250 Emulator Alive
September 14, 2010 Alex Woodie
In the annals of AS/400 lore, there are two important Franks: Dr. Frank Soltis, the father of the AS/400, and Joe Frank, one of the architects of SSP, the precursor to OS/400 and today’s IBM i OS. Joe Frank is also credited with being “the father of 5250 emulation” with a product he created in the early 1980s after leaving IBM Rochester. Frank passed away five years ago, but his business partners at Trilobyte continue to support his original emulator with WinTronix IP Client TN5250e version 2.56.
Joe Frank left IBM in 1980 to found his own company, Software Systems Inc. Soon after, Frank created a way to access IBM 3X midrange computers from the new 8086-based PCs that were just starting to hit the market. By emulating the so-called 5250 line of dumb terminals, such as the 5280 model 12–first on SDLC cards, then Twinax cards attached the PC–Frank created perhaps one of the greatest third-party products in AS/400 product history.
IBM’s lucrative business selling dedicated data entry terminals began to decline when it became generally known that S/36 and S/38 users could access the computers remotely using nothing more than a PC equipped with a TN5250 card and a modem. At some point, even IBM rolled out its own TN5250 product, the Client Access line, which is now called IBM i Access.
In 1988–the year the AS/400 was launched–Frank founded Synapse Communications, which developed TN5250 products like NetWolf, WinAPPC, and IP Client. These products were resold or OEMed companies like Attachmate, Blue Lynx, Connectronnix, DCA, Emerald, Fraser’s Hill, Netsoft, and Nlynx, making Synapse one of the biggest names in 5250 emulation.
Jerome Draper, the principle of Trilobyte, started working with Frank in the mid-1990s, and became a successful reseller of the Synapse products. Draper became good friends with Frank, and admired his knowledge of the system, his programming skills, and how to make TN5250 work. “He knew stuff that nobody else knew,” Draper says.
When Frank passed away in August 2005, Synapse went out of business. One of Synapse’s business partners, Connectronix, asserted its right to the source code of the Synapse products after Frank’s wife showed she didn’t want to continue the business, according to Draper.
Today, Trilobyte continues to develop, market, and sell the Synapse products under a business arrangement with Connectronix. The product, now called WinTronix IP Client TN5250e, provides essential terminal emulation capabilities, such as display and printer emulation and an SQL-based file transfer utility. It includes, for a reasonable fee of $179, all the Client Access features that IBM charges for, Draper says.
WinTronix IP Client TN5250e also includes some nice-to-have features, such as support for macros, user defined keys, keyboard mapping, copy and paste, integration with Word and Excel via Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE), and color and monochrome displays. It supports up to 32 sessions, and 80- and 132-column displays.
Last week, Trilobyte announced the first new version of the products in several years. Version 2.56 brings support for IBM i 7.1, as well as Microsoft Windows 7.
There is still a sizable installed based of Synapse customers numbering in the tens of thousands, Draper says. These customers will be happy to know that the product continues to be developed and supported. “It’s important to know that someone’s working on it,” Draper says.