IBM Uncorks RPG Open Access Trial Version
August 8, 2011 Dan Burger
The scarecrow got a brain, the tin man got a heart, the cowardly lion got courage, and the RPG developer community finally got a free trial version of Rational Open Access: RPG Edition. It took a lot of patience and a lot of suggestion box stuffing, but IBM did deliver. Whether this small but significant step will lead to a surge in modern RPG development is yet to be seen. But it is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.
Most importantly, it shows IBM’s support for RPG, one of the few programming languages created by Big Blue for business processing that is still in use today. (COBOL and SQL are pretty important, too.) And it should be applauded by those who have invested in RPG as a development language and as a career. Some people may argue that IBM didn’t go far enough with RPG Open Access, but it does provide a method for native RPG code to support a graphical user interface and other modern devices. It’s a better way of going modern than a name change; let’s give Big Blue credit for that.
In the July 25 edition of The Four Hundred, I wrote an article titled RPG Open Access Suffering from Inaccessibility, noting that a trial version of Rational Open Access: RPG Edition (ROA) was conspicuously absent from the market. I wasn’t the first to make note of this. In fact, I may have been the last. IBM had been giving notice that a trial version was “coming soon,” but no one was sure whether this was being measured in light years, geological timelines, or that we’d see it before Steve Will got his next haircut. The ROA trial license became generally available July 29, as it turns out. (Due to the IT Jungle summer vacation schedule–no newsletters last week–this report is in your email box a week later than it would have been if I had not been swimming, picnicking, and enjoying a day at the races.)
Although several independent software vendors (ISVs) have released or soon will release products that make use of RPG Open Access, familiarity of this technology within the RPG developer community is limited to those who fervently stay current on the latest operating system enhancements that pertain to RPG. Open Access was introduced along with IBM i 7.1 and is backward compatible with IBM i 6.1. However, a substantial number of shops with large RPG development staffs are running earlier versions of the OS. Certainly that puts a damper on ROA demand, and it could well have been a factor in IBM’s hesitation to put out a trial version of ROA.
For those who are increasingly curious about Open Access, the short and sweet explanation is that IBM Rational Open Access: RPG Edition opens up RPG’s file I/O capabilities, allowing RPG developers to write applications that directly access devices and resources while using the familiar RPG I/O model. That list of resources and devices includes: browsers, mobile devices, Web services, XML files, external databases, and spreadsheets.
These same capabilities, it should be noted, are also within reach using software by ISVs not using the Open Access technology, but using technology that RPG programmers have picked up quite easily in many cases.
The most complex thing in using ROA is the creation of “handlers.” The handler contains code for communicating with the non-traditional device or resource and is called by the RPG runtime for each supported I/O operation. When the RPG program performs a file operation, the RPG runtime calls the handler instead of the system data management function it would normally call. The ISVs that I’ve talked with have invested considerable effort into this process. Most of those efforts have been aimed at creating a native graphical user interfaces and making applications for mobile devices. It’s generally believed that software vendors will build most of the handlers. The good news is that those who use the handlers will be shielded from the complexity of working with modern devices that call RPG programs. (For an excellent overview on Open Access for RPG, check out this report authored by Vern Hamberg.)
Now, for those ready to play with RPG Open Access, the evaluation product is formally called IBM Rational Open Access: RPG Edition V1.1.1, and the evaluation copy can be experimented with for 70 days without a license key. Software tool vendors, business partners, services organizations, and end user companies belonging to the IBM i installed base all have the green light for this.
The IBM announcement letter on the ROA evaluation product can be found here. It includes directions for downloading the software from the IBM Entitled Software Support (ESS) website, which requires an IBM ID and password in order to sign in. Registering for an IBM ID requires a customer number and either an order number or a system number.