looksoftware Wants it Rich and Thin
September 6, 2011 Dan Burger
Sometimes we all get tired of people telling us we can’t have it both ways. It has to be one or the other. A good example is the comparison between thin client and rich client. Thin client is popular because it’s convenient. Rich clients are a really graphical, really responsive interface. looksoftware believes they have narrowed the gap between those two with its introduction of lookserver 9.
This latest version of looksoftware’s server-based tool that delivers IBM i applications as HTML Web pages and published Web services has put its emphasis on being fast and easy and good looking. Is it true? That’s what they say.
Eamon Musallam, product manager at looksoftware, believes the added support for HTML5 and CSS3 will impress application developers, especially those with the skills to design modern browser applications that catch the attention of users whether the apps appear on PCs or mobile devices such as the iPad, iPhone, or Android. “The quality of the interface is going to be much better,” he promises. And the capability to support many devices without multiple development efforts is a convenience he believes will be much appreciated by prospective customers.
To take full advantage of HTML5 and CSS3 requires a person with skills not normally found on an RPG development team. But the thought of converting character-based 5250 screens to a presentation that rivals the most modern apps can be very appealing. Not appealing in the lipstick on a pig way, but as in the way it simplifies the training of new employees to use your system. So, perhaps learning to use a tool like this is a marketable skill in this tough job market. And perhaps the looksoftware services people have already thought of that. Whoever acquires these skills could swoop in, get a project done quickly and professionally, and move on to the next job. Just like the old TV cowboy used to do: A person could ride in, right the wrong, kiss the girl, sing to his horse, and ride off into the sunset.
That aside, let’s keep in mind that “webulation” is messing with somebody’s green screen. And that somebody may not like it. Sometimes people forget how performance oriented the green screeners are.
“Because our customers are coming from environments where heads-down, 5250 screens, keyboard buffering, and responsive tactile keyboards dominate, those users find the Web as the antithesis of their world,” Musallam says. So performance was a priority along with a richer user interface and easy deployment.
Customer feedback advised the looksoftware team they wanted performance without loading software on the PC or mobile device. Zero deployment is the operative term. You’ll find that feature in lookserver 9, which has the capability to recognize the type of device or client requesting access and delivers the appropriate thin client version of the application.
Added to the list of improvements made to lookserver are such things as faster application access, faster end user response times, and quicker screen rendering. A new control function, which looksoftware calls smartnav, is touted as a workflow optimizer. And the masterform feature was added so that screens would have a greater consistency as well as being less cluttered.
For customers that wish to take advantage of RPG Open Access (OA), lookserver 9 was architected to automatically detect whether an application has been enabled for OA. To take advantage of RPG Open Access requires both lookserver 9 and lookserver Open Access. The combination of lookserver 9 and lookserver Open Access allows any 5250 application, including operating system screens, to be served to the Web and mobile devices. Switching between OA and non-OA applications is–as they say in the business–made seamless to the end-user.
To enable RPG Open Access, there are some specific requirements: IBM i 6.1 and 7.1 versions of the operating system and access to the RPG source code. For applications that haven’t been enabled for OA (such as packaged software like JD Edwards or BPCS), looksoftware’s traditional dynamic refacing technology is utilized.
As with earlier versions of lookserver, there’s a standard and an enterprise version. The standard offering is used for Web enabling green-screen applications for use with browsers and mobile applications. It’s used to create what are commonly called GUI front ends.
The enterprise version of lookserver is for the backend application work and integration with multiple servers, where it makes use of SOAP and XML. The performance gains mentioned in this report primarily relate to Web services and the enterprise edition. “A significant amount of our sales opportunities are basic modernization, which is taking a green screen and making it GUI,” Musallam says. “It is changing, but it is a slower adoption than we anticipated.”
In a prepared statement, looksoftware CEO Brendan Kay commented on the significance of adding support for HTML and CSS3 in lookserver 9 saying the creation of browser-based applications are much closer to native applications and provide high quality browser-based access for mobile and desktop devices.
“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,” Kay told Four Hundred Stuff earlier this year. “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.”