Charges Dropped, Rational Open Access Goes Free
February 6, 2012 Dan Burger
There’ll be no confetti dropping from the ceiling or champagne corks popping, but IBM‘s announcement that Rational Open Access: RPG Edition becomes available as a free PTF beginning February 14 deserves a little fanfare. Here’s a technology with a lot of promise, the native GUI interface as some call it, that’s finally available without blood, sweat, and tears poured into the ordering process. And, even better, without any licensing charges.
The PTFs are the short-term solution to getting RPG OA into the hands of those who have complained to IBM for that past two years. By May, RPG OA will be integrated into the RPG compiler and therefore included in the purchase of IBM i 6.1 and 7.1.
Rational Open Access: RPG Edition, which is easier to talk and write about if it’s shortened to RPG OA (if the Rational trademark police isn’t around to rough you up), is a method that allows RPG opcodes, which have limited interfacing capabilities–DB2 database tables and 5250 display files are two examples–to interface with devices and resources RPG was not designed to support using its I/O model. Web browsers, mobile devices, Web services, XML files, external databases, and spreadsheets are some of the examples.
If you are not familiar with RPG OA, check out the related stories list at the end of this article to gain some background.
I suspect almost all our readers to have the RPG ILE compiler loaded on a server. The compiler comes with Rational Development Studio for IBM i. And the compiler has three features to it: an RPG ILE compiler feature, a heritage compiler feature, and an application developer tool set (ADTS). And for now, RPG OA is a plug-in extension to the compiler.
Beginning February 14, the PTFs for the RPG OA development environment will be provided for customers that have the RPG ILE compiler and a PTF for the runtime environment. This bridges the gap until May 8, when PTFs will no longer be required, because the Open Access function will be delivered as part of either the RPG ILE compiler or the language runtime.
RPG ILE, which some people call RPG IV, works in modular code, which is necessary for RPG open access. Those with code that won’t make it through the RPG ILE compiler will be doing some preliminary code manipulation. That’s not unique to RPG open access. Any code that is going to be modernized beyond the screen-scraping level needs to be updated to the ILE modularized level.
Because IBM’s marketing folks who work for the Software Group are super sensitive to the branding of Rational, there’s always some confusion in terminology involved. Just so you know, there’s no dependency between the Rational Developer for Power Systems software and RPG Open Access. There’s nothing to buy from Rational in order to put RPG OA to work.
Finally getting to the point where RPG OA is easy to order through PTFs and eventually becoming part of the IBM i operating system comes after a lot of feedback to IBM about how to get this right. Because things were so screwed up, several of the software vendors that made investments in open access technology, such as Profound Logic, ASNA, and looksoftware, became RPG OA distributors so their customers could avoid the IBM ordering enigma.
Anne Ferguson, president of ASNA, was justifiably pleased that IBM removed the fee associated with RPG Open Access. She called open access “perhaps the most important new facility IBM has offered for the IBM i platform in the last 20 years. For years, IBM i shops have tried screen scrapers and other half-measures and outright failures to resolve their UI interface frustrations. History is going to record that this milestone did indeed change the face of the IBM i once and for all!”
Paul Hodgkinson, marketing manager at looksoftware, chipped in with “we’re definitely pleased IBM made this move. It’s great that it will save everyone a few dollars, but more importantly from our perspective, it just makes the whole process of adopting the technology easier. Early feedback from our customers was that the process was more of a barrier to adoption than the price tag itself, and that’s the main reason we decided to resell the product–to simplify the process for our customers. I would view this announcement as a further investment from IBM in the future of the platform, and that’s good news for all of us.”
Profound Logic’s CEO Alex Roytman was also happy about the moves IBM made regarding Rational Open Access. With easier access to the technology, Roytman believes RPG programmers will better understand what he sees as a key benefit to RPG open access.
“All the tool vendors are trying to create tools that are easy for RPG developers to comprehend, but only RPG OA preserves the RPG coding paradigm, which makes it easily read by an RPG developer.”
For more on the topic of RPG open access, see RPG Open Access: You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know elsewhere in this issue of The Four Hundred.
I also spoke with RPG expert Jon Paris about his views on this announcement. He brought up the topic of more ISVs getting involved with open access. One point he made was that we might see smaller ISVs use RPG OA because the cost barrier has been eliminated. When RPG OA was a licensed product, it inhibited development because the cost to of installing OA exceeded what the ISV could reasonably charge for the product. He also noted that open source advocates would likely be looking at RPG OA now that licensing charges have been dropped.
With availability much improved, Paris also expects that open access will be recognized for more than its green-screen application modernization value.
“While this is a very important function of OA, it’s only a tiny part of what can be done with it,” Paris said in a blog published by IBM Systems Magazine. “We need more applications that exploit email, process IFS files and Web services. OA is an excellent way to enable such features for ‘the masses.’ Even highly skilled RPG programmers can make use of OA. For example, during a recent discussion with IBM’s Barbara Morris, we discovered that even though she is comfortable with using the IFS APIs, she actually finds it easier to use an IFS handler that she wrote herself whenever she needs to process IFS files in RPG.”
The IBM announcement page has only bare-bones information in it. You can find it here.