Early Adopters of Profound UI Pleased
March 22, 2011 Dan Burger
Any debate that compares graphical user interfaces to green-screen interfaces is usually over before it begins. It’s almost a unanimous decision. Green screens users, like four-leaf clovers, still exist, but the GUI wins by a technical knockout in 99 out of 100 cases. Last year, RPG Open Access was the new thing–a much talked about native RPG GUI. IBM i ISV Profound Logic Software was one of the first companies to put RPG OA into a product.
For many RPG programmers, and companies with an investment in skilled PRG programmers, this is a big deal. New language learning curves always enter the debate, as does the efficiency, practicality, infrastructure complexity, and the long-term future of RPG.
I talked with a few of Profound’s early adopters for Profound UI, a tool for designing Web applications that requires only one server-side language: RPG. Here’s how it’s going.
A Clean Customer-Facing App
Russell Craig, a programmer at Security Collection Agency in Edenton, North Carolina, is using Profound UI to develop Web-based applications for its customers. Inter-office applications, for the time being, will remain in green-screen format.
Craig is one of three programmers on the staff, but the only programmer utilizing Profound UI. His training and education that prepared him for programming had nothing to do with RPG, but he’s adapted quite well.
“My programming knowledge is from a C/C++ object-oriented background, so moving to procedural RPG programming was quite the leap for me. I took to it like a duck to water, however, and haven’t looked back since,” he says.
Craig estimates that 95 percent of the company’s existing apps are coded in RPG36 (RPG-II). To Web-enable them, those apps must be converted or rewritten in RPG ILE. RPG ILE concepts such as subprocedures, service programs, binding directories, and activation groups didn’t stand in Craig’s way. After applications have been converted to RPG ILE, Craig says the Profound UI “only needs a few lines of specialized code.”
In the early going, after downloading a trial version of Profound UI, Craig says he was able to quickly develop from scratch a Web-based account inquiry program that mirrored the company’s existing 5250 program. “Since then, I’ve developed a Web access system where our clients can connect remotely to view all of their portfolio statistics and generate/export reports,” he says, while praising Profound’s design tool for its ease of use and noting that binding screen fields to RPG fields was no problem.
“As long as we mirror the old DDS screen field names in Profound UI, little to no modification to the source is needed, other than converting it to RPG ILE. Creating the display files is very intuitive,” Craig says.
The application package Craig created consists of a custom login program and a menu linking to individual applications. The most complex of these applications is the account inquiry, which is used to access customer demographic info, payment history, notes on the account, mailing history, and status, among other things. Locating an account is done through a variety of searches, such as for account numbers, phone numbers, Social Security numbers, and names. The other apps on the menu are reports that can be generated, viewed, and exported to Excel.
All of this functionality is run through Profound UI, and, as Craig points out, there is no HTML, Java, or PHP. All the apps make heavy use of subfiles, which Profound UI manages as Tables/Grids. Craig describes the complexity level of what he created as low to moderate and says if a programmer knows RPG/DDS, the learning curve is practically non-existent. He has not used the Profound DDS Conversion module that has been in beta testing and became generally available last week, as was reported in Four Hundred Stuff.
An ISV Customer
“Our original plan was to use PHP, since we knew IBM delivers it as part of the OS install and that it was so widely used,” Garvey says. “I knew PHP was widely used on the Web and that there would be plenty of help available for me in using it on the IBM i.”
That’s not the first time someone in the process of converting green screens to Web applications has cursed the learning curve of one or more of those technologies, although not everyone has that same experience. Garvey, however, was happy to be rid of what he considered to be barriers to his company’s progress.
That’s not to say the project was all sunshine and lollipops.
“There were a few things that Profound UI could not do for us in the beginning,” Garvey says. “For example, we needed to be able to include a URL to start a Web-based Profound UI RPG program when the link was clicked, and that link needed to be able to include and pass data values to the called program. Profound recognized the usefulness of this requirement, made some changes to their product, and it was working in less than 10 days.”
Garvey credits the Profound UI with injecting new life into its green-screen conversion project and drastically shortening the software development cycle. It made such an impression that Unbeaten Path now sells and distributes Profound UI along with its own software, much of which is focused on Infor‘s BPCS and ERP LX customers.
Handles Like RPG
Karla Boyea, a systems analyst a Grand Rapids Label Company, also has some early experience with Profound UI.
“I just designed and implemented a run schedule program that had six record formats and four subfiles. One format had two subfiles on the same page,” Boyea told me last week.
Her evaluation of Profound UI is that it is very easy to quickly design screens. One of the reasons she likes it is because “everything is stored in the libraries just like before, and handles the same.”
There was a time when Boyea was in love with VARPG (not supported any longer), but she is “very pleased” with Profound UI. Very little coding is required when doing new programs, she says. The subfile processing is handled in the screen, which is very powerful.
While it’s still early in the game for many IBM i users, Alex Roytman, president and CEO of Profound Logic, says the feedback on his company’s native RPG graphical user interface has shown a lot of promise because of its capability to map an RPG application’s I/O to Web architecture and the convenience of the drag-and-drop interface design tool.
From the small sampling of people I talked with who have used Profound UI, there is agreement that the product lives up to expectations, although the level of application sophistication has not reached far beyond the basic level at this point.
Based on RPG being the most popular programming language on the IBM i platform, those companies committed to writing business applications in RPG will, no doubt, be taking a look at products–Profound UI included–that can make the Web application development process less complex than some of the options have been in the past.