ASNA ‘Bulks’ Up with Wings 5.2
March 13, 2012 Alex Woodie
When customers started using Wings, ASNA‘s new screen modernization tool for IBM i applications, the company was in for a bit of a surprise. While the company expected customers to modernize more than one screen at a time, it wasn’t expecting customers to tackle thousands of screens simultaneously. This led to one of the major new features in the just-released Wings 5.2, called “Flight Plans,” which enables users to track their progress with the ASNA tool.
Wings is one of a new class of Web-based modernization tools that uses Rational Open Access: RPG Edition, the IBM technology that debuted two years ago with IBM i 7.1. The software provides a way for customers to automatically convert DDS display files into Microsoft ASP.NET-based Web interfaces while maintaining business logic in RPG and data in DB2/400. Customers can enhance their Wings screens in Microsoft Visual Studio, using C# or Visual Basic, or ASNA’s own Visual RPG (AVR). Wings customers can also add Web 2.0 controls by using any of the thousands of commercially available ASP.NET controls available on the market.
As the early adoption phase for Wings winds to an end, customers have given ASNA valuable feedback about ways the San Antonio, Texas-based company can improve the software. This feedback culminated in the Flight Plans feature in Wings version 5.2, which is actually the third release of the software (it debuted a year ago at version 5).
“We have been pleasantly surprised with the uptake of Wings,” says ASNA’s Roger Pence. “But we were, quite frankly, caught with our pants down when customers started to say, ‘We have 300 or 3,000 display files that we need to import right away.'”
Importing that many files actually wasn’t the problem. Wings already had a wildcard feature, and there are other ways to select many files for import. The real concern was what became of the DDS display files once they were imported into Wings. “Customers were saying, once we import them, we want to be able to track their state. Who have we assigned them to? What’s the display files’ current status?” Pence says. Without an automated tracking feature, Wings users were relegated to tracking display files manually, or building their own tracking system in Excel.
So ASNA added Flight Plans, which Pence describes as “a humble little facility to track the state of your modernization project.” The feature turns variables about the DDS display files, such as description of the DDS and its library member name, into metadata that’s stored in Flight Plans. Users can also add their own metadata (such as current status and developer name), and use Flight Plans to track the rich display files and their variables as they go through the modernization process. Wings comes with several Flight Plans examples, which customers can use or modify to their own liking.
Flight Plans also includes a trigger feature that further automates the tracking process, Pence says. “This lets us track what stage it’s in. Has it been imported? Has it been modernized? Has it been deployed? Is it done? So by looking at this metadata, and sorting it in a variety of ways, you get a much better sense of where your 4,000 display files stand,” he says.
Even if a user doesn’t have thousands of files to track, it can still pay dividends in programmer productivity. “Most shops don’t import 4,000 display file and start running their app,” Pence says “If you have hundreds of display files, then you probably have various teams working on various chunks of these things, and this lets you track the status of those across those teams.”
ASNA has also enhanced the built-in 5250 emulator with Wings 5.2. With this release, ASNA now allows customers to include mandatory programs and menus in their users’ emulators. This release also enables users to designate a prefix for the device name used by the host IBM i job. Subfiles also get improved mouse and scroll bar support, the company says.
The Web-based emulator is an essential tool for those customers who will not (or cannot) modernize their entire IBM i application using the RPG OA tool. Many factors go into the modernization decisions of IBM i shops. Some shops will take a tactical approach and modernize just a handful of the most heavily used 5250 screens. Other shops may lack access to the DDS source code needed to modify the files for use with the new RPG OA datastream instead of the old 5250 datastream. Still others are just hesitant to mess with the DDS source code of their screens, and want to keep development in synch between Wings and 5250 as a security blanket. In all of these cases, Wings’ built-in 5250 emulator provides an invaluable lifeline to the old way that customers accessed their systems.
Pence says the lack of support for traditional 5250 emulation used to be a major problem for customers looking to modernize or migrate their application. “That used to be showstopper with application migration because we didn’t recognize how many shops would have, right in the middle of end user workflow, a call to some intrinsic IBM i facility, like work with spool file or something,” Pence says. “Well, nobody has the source to work with spool files. So now we can very gracefully show that in the emulator right along with the regular workflow, and it works very nicely. Or if the shop has a COBOL program, or another application that they don’t have the source to … it keeps them in the browser.”
Wings 5.2 also features support for some of the more “esoteric” DDS keywords, according to Pence. Better subfile support is offered through support for the SFLIN keyword. This enables users to open subfiles by double-clicking their mouse over information on the screen, just as 5250 users did using the arrow keys and the cursor. This release also adds support for the CNTFLD and BLANKS keywords, and also brings ER support for the CHECK keyword.
Pence applauded IBM’s recent decision to simplify access to RPG OA by making it part of the OS. “It removes what was otherwise a speed bump,” he says. “It wasn’t so much the cost, but trying to get the darned thing. Many shops just bled through the nose trying to acquire it. … You’d call IBM’s 800 number, and they wouldn’t know what you’re talking about.”