Profound Updates RPG OA Screen Modernization Tool
March 13, 2012 Alex Woodie
With nearly two years of use in the field, Profound Logic is getting good feedback from customers about the changes it would like to see in Profound UI, the 5250 screen modernization tool that uses the Rational Open Access: RPG Edition (RPG OA) technology from IBM. Many of those changes are being showcased in Profound UI version 3.3, which the vendor unveiled in January. But the biggest changes are being prepped for launch at the May COMMON show.
When it shipped in April 2010 Profound UI was the first commercially available screen modernization tool to use the RPG Open Access technology, which has been hailed as the closest thing to a native application GUI that the IBM i OS has ever seen. And while uptake of the Web-enabling technology was initially stymied due to the confusing and cumbersome licensing process, the recent decision by IBM to include the API as part of the OS is expected to spur more adoption.
Profound Logic CEO Alex Roytman last week discussed how customers are using Profound UI, what’s in the current release of version 3.3, and what’s coming down the pike from development.
It’s not surprising to hear that mobile development is a hot trend among Profound customers. The company’s technology can create GUIs from IBM i DDS display files that display in the Web browsers of any device, from a full PC to a tablet computer to a smartphone. A lot of customers are currently targeting Appple iPads, says Roytman, echoing the observations of many midrange and enterprise IT observers who find the iPad offers an excellent balance of usability and screen size.
Roytman also notes that many Profound UI customers are taking a piecemeal approach to modernization that results in some screens being upgraded to RPG OA-based GUIs, while other screens remain as 5250 green screens (which can be GUI-fied using Profound’s screen-scraping tool, called Genie). Customers may not use RPG OA for a variety of reasons. For example, if they don’t possess the DDS source code for a certain screen, they won’t be able to make the code modifications that RPG OA requires. Other customers may have the source code, but choose not to modify it. System screens also fall into this category.
In any case, a customer needs to take these remaining 5250 screens into account during a modernization project, and Profound can help. “We’ve done a lot of work in these mixed-state environments. We’ve had that capability for a while, but we’ve been making additional improvements,” Roytman says. “For example, we can have macros that start on the 5250 side and walk the user all the way into a rich display file, using RPG OA. We’re making that mixed state environment even more integrated than before.”
Customers should not take the switch to a new environment lightly, especially when 5250 emulators exist side by side with screens modified with the Profound UI RPG-OA handler or Genie. “It’s a huge change, not just from programming or software standpoint, but from an organizational standpoint,” Roytman says. “There’s training involved. A lot of times, it’s too big of a change to just dump the existing infrastructure and switch over to a Web browser interface very quickly. So we are seeing a lot of customers still using Client Access, a 5250 emulator, or maybe just switching a set of users at a time.”
Profound UI Updates
The Profound Logic development team has been shipping a new release of Profound UI about once a month, on average. Since the company shipped version 3.0 last April, it has made more than 250 changes, which are listed on the Profound UI release log.
“We have a lot of customers who are implementing some sort of custom widgets, or, more likely, just adjusting the widgets we already have,” Roytman says. “Before starting any big projects, they’re going to create a set of widgets and establish a look and feel, and get going after that.” Profound has also created a new file upload widget that allows users to upload files to the IFS. No programming is required to enable this functionality.
Profound has also expanded its DDS keyword support to accept some of the more obscure keywords, including those governing display size conditioning, override attributes, and default keywords, Roytman says. The company has also made changes to allow its customers’ new Web-based screens to behave similarly in some ways to their old green screens, such as the function of the field exit key and the duplication, or “dup” key. “They’re not very common. Yet some of our customers are asking for it,” he says. “They’re used to using it. So we’re adding it as an option.”
Profound has also strengthened its support for reference files. During the conversion process, Profound UI can gather a range of file attribute information by using reference files. The company has added new pre-canned charts, and has also improved the configuration capabilities of charts using XML. And better session management enables a Profound UI screen to detect if a connection to a host is dead, and to allow the user to wait for the connection to recover, or to recover it later.
Atrium, which is an application portal framework that’s part of the Profound UI suite, has also been enhanced with a new “favorites” feature. This new feature functions like the Web browser bookmark feature, and enables Profound UI users to quickly navigate to the screen they need. Users can also now search the Atrium menu for specific words and quickly navigate to a particular screen based on the search results.
Another Profound UI component, the Visual Designer screen design tool, sports a new time-saving feature. Developers can now copy and paste entire rich display file records from one screen to another. This will allow developers to quickly clone a new Profound UI screen from an existing screen, thereby speeding up the modernization process.
“We had a way to do it before, but you had to go out of Visual Designer and into the green screen, which was just a very horrid work around,” Roytman says. “Now we have that built into Visual Designer itself, where you can copy those screens.”
The last enhancement–separation from an RPG back-end–is actually a work in progress for Profound, and will be further fleshed out during the upcoming COMMON conference in at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California.
Profound quietly made a change that enables the Visual Designer to work with screens that aren’t tied to any specific server-side language. The company is planning on making additional changes to complete the transition to an open tool, including enabling users to download their screen files in the industry-standard JSON format.