WebSmart Flattens the PHP Learning Curve
May 21, 2013 Alex Woodie
When it comes to learning PHP, there is no shortage of information available on the Web, where thousands of tutorials and forums can be accessed with the touch of a button. But for RPG veterans who prefer a little handholding with their PHP, like IBM i consultant Russ Khoury, a different approach is warranted. Khoury found the WebSmart PHP package from BCD provided a way to learn PHP in an environment that is both structured and productive. New templates just released in WebSmart PHP 9.5 should further boost productivity.
Khoury has been developing and maintaining applications for clients in the Northeast for 30 years through his consultancy, Paul Russell Associates. Over that time, the Queens, New York, resident has worked with the IBM i server and its predecessors in many different capacities, and been exposed to lots of different systems, applications, technologies, and languages.
When a client asked Khoury to develop a new sales prospect management system to replace a hodge-podge of spreadsheets, he started looking around for the best tool to satisfy the need. The company (which didn’t give permission to use its name) already had a customized RPG application to manage core aspects of its business. But this system would be used by sales representatives who didn’t have green-screen skills, so the new application would need to be graphical. A Web-based system made the most sense.
Several factors played in Khoury’s selection of BCD’s WebSmart PHP Edition for the job. For starters, he didn’t really want to use RPG. While he knew there are several CGI-based products available on the market that he could have used–including BCD’s own WebSmart ILE Edition, in addition to the open source CGIDev2 package and others–he didn’t want to restrict the application to running on IBM i. RPG, of course, only runs on IBM i, while PHP can run practically anywhere.
But perhaps a bigger factor was Khoury’s desire to have a professional support organization standing behind the product. “When you’re treading on new ground, you know you’re going to need support and handholding,” he tells IT Jungle. “Designing the tables, the data files, understanding the business processes–that’s not a problem. That’s what I’ve done for years. But when I’m programming in a slightly different language and environment, I want to be sure that somebody’s watching my back. That’s why I chose BCD over the others. I chose them for the tech support.”
Khoury also availed himself of the multiple templates that WebSmart PHP ships with. “It was very easy to get started and get a functional proof of concept up on the Web very quickly,” he says. The proof of concept helped Khoury take advantage of Web 2.0 constructs, like popup calendars, drop down boxes, or locating an address on a Google Map page. “All these things that aren’t so easy and not too pretty on a green screen. BCD gave me the ability to quickly produce a working model,” he says.
The PHP app he wrote for the client was a success. Sales prospects are now tracked through the client’s IBM i server, and the spreadsheets have been relegated to recycling bin. Alerts are automatically generated when follow-ups are required, and the president has visibility into the sales pipeline. The people enjoy working with it.
The application is customized to fit the client’s specific needs, which is something that wouldn’t have been as easy to accomplish by modifying a packaged app; it would have been nearly impossible to achieve on a cloud-based app. For companies that can derive a competitive advantage from using software that’s closely tailored to their exact needs, hiring a consultant like Khoury makes good financial sense.
Developing PHP applications should be even easier with the latest release of WebSmart PHP, which BCD unveiled at the recent COMMON conference in Austin, Texas. WebSmart PHP 9.5 includes two templates for object-oriented PHP. Most beginners start with procedural PHP, which resembles RPG Free. But PHP also comes in object-oriented flavor, which boosts reusability and makes it easier to test and maintain.
The new object-oriented grid template provides a quick way to display tabular data. The template, which uses the jQuery Grid object, gives users access to features like resizable columns, paging, and sorting capabilities. The second new template is called Simple Page, and is used for creating more general-purpose Web app screens.
BCD says the new templates provide a way for programmers to familiarize themselves with object orienting programming techniques. Programmers can start with procedural PHP and move up to object-oriented techniques at their own pace.
While procedural PHP will always have the advantage of familiarity to the RPG developer, there is a trend toward object-oriented programming, even in IBM i shops, according to Eric Figura, director of sales and marketing for the Chicago-based company. “We’re seeing PHP’s level of sophistication in the IBM i community increase and our new OO templates reflect that growth,” Figura says in a press release.
BCD unveiled WebSmart 9.5 for both its ILE RPG and PHP versions; it also sells WebSmart Mobile, but it’s included with either of the two main packages. Other new features in WebSmart 9.5 include four new HTML5-ready template themes. Because the new themes use jQuery, it’s relatively easy for customers to modify the themes with ThemeRoller widgets.
Version 9.5 also includes: automatic HTML tag completion; a new debug watch window that allows developers to monitor variables on the fly as the program executes; support for Windows 8; a dockable status window for reporting non-critical warnings; and a new JDBC template that simplifies the creation of JDBC connections to SQL Server and MySQL databases.
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This article was corrected. Russ Khoury’s name was misspelled. IT Jungle regrets the error.