Surround Tech Reaches Milestone with Dev Tool
May 21, 2013 Alex Woodie
Surround Technologies recently shipped Accelerator for .NET version 4.0, a major new release of its .NET-centric development tool for creating new applications from IBM i database files, or modernizing existing ones. The new version includes an HTML5 client that can support nearly all of the same user interface controls that Surround Tech has supported on its full Windows client, as well as faster code generation.
Version 4 represents a milestone for Accelerator for .NET, an application framework that includes a series of pre-built components and wizard-driven code generators that plug into Microsoft Visual Studio. Surround Tech has been working toward this release for several years, and the availability of this release marks a culmination of its current product roadmap.
The new HTML5 Web client is the biggest new feature in version 4.0. Just over a year ago, the company began the move away from using Silverlight–the Web version of the Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) controls that Microsoft makes available for full Windows apps– in favor of the more widely accepted HTML5 standard. SurroundTech announced the HTML5 client late last year, but it wasn’t really ready for prime-time until now.
HTML5 allows users of Accelerator for .NET to create client interfaces that function on any device, including smart phones and tablets. That gives developers a big advantage compared to Silverlight, which isn’t as widely adopted in the mobile world. The new HTML5 client supports about 90 percent of the functions available to full Windows clients via WPF, and will support 100 percent in the coming months, says SurroundTech CEO Lee Paul.
The HTML5 client gives developers options for presenting information to the user. For example, navigation links can be placed on the left of the screen or the top. “If you want a Web-like application, you may want to navigate differently than in the Outlook style, so we have a couple of different navigation structures,” Paul tells IT Jungle. “It still uses all the same underlying technology, the same architected and metadata. It’s just presented differently.”
Some of the challenges of incorporating the HTML5 interface into the Accelerator for .NET framework involved how to handle favorites and history. The folks at SurroundTech could have designed the Web browser to handle those items, but in the end, they decided to integrate them directly into the product. This helps to separate other Web browsing the user may do on the device, and also provides a unified way to track access to specific records touched by business users. Users can also begin work in a full Windows client, then move their session to a tablet, and back again.
SurroundTech puts a lot of effort into the user experience, since Accelerator for .NET handles much of the grunt work of creating a CRUD (create, read, update, delete) database application. “Our approach to a productive user experience is, it must be learnable, memorable, definable, discoverable, efficient, accurate, support multi-tasking, and deliver a great subjective user experience,” Paul says. “We take all those things and put them all into controls we add to any interface.”
Faster code generation is the second major area of improvement. In recent releases, Surround Tech has been whittling away at the time it takes to generate screens from IBM i physical files, and version 4.0 delivers more of the same, with another 50 percent speed increase. For example, generating five screens previously would have taken about five or six minutes, but now it’s down to less than two minutes. Most sessions would involve hundreds of files, which can now be accomplished in several hours. “That’s the type of development that would probably take you a year to do. Now it’s just a few hours. We’re continually speeding up even the process of generating software,” Paul says.
Version 4.0 brings some additional database tricks, including the capability to filter and sort DB2 for i files in the wizard. “We’ll go to some companies that have 1,500 physical files in a library, but they want to be able to create new application around 50 of those,” Paul says. “We used to have to page and scroll up and down to find those 50. Now we allow you to do all sorts of searches against your back-end IBM i files.”
The wizard also provides some analysis of the files, such as logical views and details of fields and records, helping the developer even more. Developers can also now join fields from other files, boosting the availability of data they use in their generated applications.
Polish and Gloss
Rounding out version 4.0 are several features that put some nice touches on Accelerator for .NET apps, including support for tabbing in the Windows and Web clients; a new black “slate” default color scheme; a new system shut-down process; new versioning features; and maintenance enhancements.
Paul expects tabbing to be heavily used. This feature works just like users are accustomed to in Web browsers, and will allow users to have different screens of an application open simultaneously. In particular, it will be a big productivity booster for those coming from a 5250 green-screen world, where users must juggle multiple emulator sessions to open different screens, or back out of the screen altogether, and risk losing their place.
The new shutdown and lockout feature will send a message to warn users to gracefully exit before they’re forcefully kicked off the system due to maintenance on the application or the IBM i server. Likewise, developers will appreciate the capability to support multiple versions of Accelerator for .NET on their PCs, which will be handy for testing purposes. Additional enhancements and fixes are already planned for the coming weeks, when the company will ship Accelerator for .NET 4.1 in conjunction with Microsoft’s TechEd.
Accelerator for .NET 4.0 is the first release of what Surround Tech calls “full acceleration level 3.” That means “we do the generation, and it works out of the box,” Paul says. This is an improvement on acceleration level 2, which required some fine-tuning and customization after code generation, and level 1, which required extensive post-generation work.
So Surround Tech’s developers aren’t resting on their laurels, as the company will be rolling out new stuff for the HTML5 client. “We have probably two years of stuff we want to add to the product,” Paul says. “We’ve got no shortage of things to make development even more productive.”
For more information, see the company’s website at www.suroundtech.com.