looksoftware Expanding RPG Open Access Use
May 17, 2011 Dan Burger
When looksoftware hitched its application development wagon to Rational Open Access: RPG Edition, it was well aware of the work that needed to be done. In the past year it has RPG OA-enabled its most popular green-screen alternative and is now poised to do the same with the remainder of its multi-channel approach. Last week, at the company’s annual user conference, which it calls lookahead, the company talked about soon-to-be GA products and what it will take to spark application modernization projects in IBM midrange shops.
“One of the things we are really focusing on is providing environments that support not just writing new code and not just rewriting old code, but everything in between those two things on the continuum,” says Brendan Kay, acting CEO for looksoftware. “We are trying to create an integrated environment that allows you to leverage the assets you have in your existing applications and as well as expanding on them by writing new features that fit in well.”
The main ingredient in looksoftware’s integrated environment is lookserver for RPG for Open Access. lookserver is a server-based deployment product that supports user interface generation, the integration of composite applications, and multi-channel deployments. A new release, version 9, is in beta now.
Although Kay and other people who know the product lineup well were not willing to pick a GA date, looksoftware customers at the conference believe it will be generally available around August or September. Enhancements to lookserver will include increases in scalability and performance; CSS styling for desktop browsers, tablets, and smartphones; and the RPG OA enablement of looksoftware client-side products such as thinclient, and mobileclient.
If you haven’t already noticed this about looksoftware, the company is enamored with brand names that make use of all lower case letters and combining two words into one.
looksoftware comes in two sizes: a standard edition that allows the deployment of refaced solutions and an enterprise edition that also supports the use of DDM, ADO, RPC, and Web services.
The new stuff that is expected to be part of the GA package includes a new AJAX-based container form, new group-control functionality, Cascading Style Sheets controls that allow the overriding of default settings, and a new user interface based on Microsoft Silverlight. The integration of HTML5 and CSS3 into lookserver also qualifies as major issues. There will be more details on these features as a solid GA date comes into view.
We do know the RPG OA-enabled thinclient will support Internet Explorer, Mozilla, Safari, Chrome, and Opera. And the RPG OA-enabled mobileclient will interface with smartphones.
RPG Open Access is still the eye candy in this lineup, however; at least for companies where RPG programs and/or RPG programming will continue to be important factors in the years ahead. It’s not the only way to develop new applications or extend existing applications, but the development team at looksoftware is clearly excited about the differentiation it brings.
It allows RPG programmers full control over the interface that is being presented within RPG code, Kay, explained to during a conversation at the conference. One of the advantages, he says, is that no external interface definition is bolted on in order to apply all or part of the RPG business logic rules to the interface. It provides a more accurate representation of the code because it has access to more information in the code. “Getting around the 5250 constraint” is how Kay described it.
“The looksoftware designer has been around for about 10 years,” Kay noted. Prior to RPG OA, it had controls that provided the interface. But what it didn’t have was a way to directly control the interface with RPG code. It required remote procedure calls, for instance, and the end result was the RPG code was doing the heavy lifting, but the interface was a separate level of development.”
The initial focus on RPG OA at looksoftware was to resolve issues with OA-enabled programs integrated with 5250 programs. The looksoftware products have had the capability to do more than reuse the 5250 displays. RPG applications could be extended, but, Kay says, that it best for relatively small pieces of functionality.
“We wrote the lookserver for RPG OA portion to first provide the backend capabilities that ensure integration,” Kay says. “The development environment, including the designer, was the first to get RPG OA support. Then on the deployment product side, our smartclient got OA support. We are going through the product line now and will release RPG OA updates.”
Within the installed base of looksoftware customers, it is estimated that 90 percent are using smartclient, a well-like replacement for the green-screen interface. It is typically deployed inside a browser, and acts like a Windows environment while integrating most often with Microsoft Excel and Word applications.
Beyond the RPG OA developments that will soon be implemented across the board in looksoftware products, the company put a great deal of emphasis on multi-channel development throughout the conference. Developing with many purposes in mind is part of the looksoftware game plan for product development. It is fueled by a growing trend toward mobile applications and it looks to be the growth area for the future.
Multi-channel user interfaces are what’s leading the direction of front end application development, Kay says. The key to back end development are Web services, he added. lookserver RPG Open Access will be good for custom devices, mobile browsers, portal, Web browsers, SOA interface, Eclipse rich clients and workplace rich clients.
Outside of software, much was being said about the lack of training and education within the context of application modernization projects that have either failed or have achieved only a small measure of success. Through an improved level of understanding the tools, the methodologies, and the skills involved in project management, it is believed that the outcomes of many modernization projects could be more favorable.
To that end, looksoftware is offering consulting and mentoring specific to a customer’s environment and applications. The objective is to assist companies that have made modernization a priority but have struggled to schedule the staffing required to make it successful.
Reusing application investment is cost effective, quicker to achieve than rewriting, and increases success rate, Kay says. But he doesn’t recommend it if it can be determined that technical integrity declines, maintenance is high, business needs change, or multiple modules have to be added to the existing applications to accomplish company goals.