ASNA Dips Its New ‘Wings’ Into OAR Waters
October 19, 2010 Alex Woodie
ASNA is weeks away from delivering the first beta release of Wings, a new tool for transforming the icky 5250 green screens of IBM i applications into nice modern Web interfaces. The tool, which works by generating Microsoft ASP.NET controls from IBM i display files, uses the new Open Access RPG (OAR) Edition technology that IBM delivered with IBM i 7.1. Wings also provides a new entry point for Monarch, ASNA’s suite of RPG-to-.NET migration tools.
Once converted into ASP.NET, Wings customers will be able to enhance their screens from Microsoft Visual Studio, using C#, VisualBasic, or ASNA’s own Visual RPG (AVR). Wings customers will also be able to extend their new Web interfaces using any of the thousands of commercially available ASP.NET controls out on the market. This provides a path for Wings customers to jazz up their screens with Web 2.0 controls.
Taking Steps with Wings
Wings is based on the user-interface-generation component of Monarch, the comprehensive suite of tools for migrating RPG programs into Microsoft .NET that ASNA launched six years ago this month. As part of ASNA’s staged approach to migration, Monarch gave customers the option to independently migrate the business logic, database, and user interface components of their RPG applications (including all the associated DDS, CL, message, and print files).
Monarch’s user-interface-generation component uses Microsoft’s ASP technology, and that is precisely the technology ASNA uses today with Wings. The big difference comes with the addition of OAR, which allows customers to keep their business logic as RPG running on the IBM i server. By comparison, with Monarch, the business logic would be transformed into AVR classes running on a Windows server (and the database would be transformed into SQL Server, or left on the IBM i server and accessed via DataGate).
Because Wings is based on Monarch technology, it is easy and straightforward for Wings customers to adopt Monarch at a later time, without disrupting their development. In these cases, little change would be required to the user interface or the code connecting them to the applications.
“We’re very flexible with the customer base,” ASNA vice president of technology Eduardo Ross tells IT Jungle. “If somebody wants just to move the screens, Wings is sufficient. If they want to completely take the application and move it to .NET, they can use Monarch. If they want half and half–move screens to .NET, and move some programs to .NET and leave others on IBM i–they can do that. And if they want to keep pushing and move data off to SQL Server, they can do that too.”
Picking up the OAR
Adopting an IBM i-centric technology like OAR may at first seem anathema to ASNA, whose bread and butter is basically helping customers to move their RPG logic to Windows, and helping RPG programmers to leverage their existing skills to become Windows and Web developers.
But it makes sense when you consider a few facts. First, ASNA is committed to providing a staged migration to Windows, and has been for years. Secondly, the poor economy has made companies less inclined to mess with applications that still work. “Some of those [RPG-to-.NET migration] plans have been put on hold just because of the cost and complexity involved in a migration,” says ASNA vice president Michael Killian.
Lastly, OAR has the look of an emerging standard, Ross says. “We could have used special files and preprocessors, but I think IBM’s product will make it much more palatable,” he says. “Different companies attempted other things over the years, and the community didn’t accept it, whereas OAR by IBM gives the blessing that we recognize RPG logic is a significant part of the application, and we know that we need to be able to get to other data sources and providers and user interfaces.”
Ross overall is impressed with OAR. The fact that it’s not included with the base OS is just “a little hiccup.” “I think they did a very good job,” he says, adding that a couple of things were left out, such as the capability to invoke the handler at compile time, which required ASNA to force Wings to check for updated file definitions before running. “Every tool is going to do this.”
The upcoming beta for Wings will be closed. Pricing was not disclosed, although we do know it will be closer to $5,000 than $50,000. For more information, see www.asna.com.