iSphere: A Free and Functional Plugin for RDi/WDSc
September 23, 2014 Alex Woodie
If you’re an IBM i developer who works in the Rational Developer for i (RDi) or WebSphere Developer Studio Client (WDSc) environments, you may want to check out a plug-in called iSphere. The free and open source software speeds and simplifies a number of common tasks in the Eclipse-based IDE, including searching and editing files, binding directories, and viewing spooled files. User reviews so far have been extremely positive.
RDi and its predecessor, WDSc, are the go-to tools for RPG and COBOL programmers working on the IBM i platform. If you’re doing native development on the platform–i.e. not Java, PHP, or AJAX-style Web development (although RDi does support Java)–then chances are good that this IBM product is in your shop.
While developers seem generally happy with the Eclipse tools and the productivity boost that graphical components of RDi/WDSc, such as the Remote Systems Explorer (RSE), are providing, there are still some functional areas of the development process where programmers prefer the old green-screen interfaces. At the first sign of trouble in RDi, developers have been known to flee back to the old familiar standby, SEU.
The goal of the iSphere is to provide native Eclipse plug-ins that fill these functional gaps in RDi/WDSc. The project, which was created by Frank Hildebrandt of Task Force IT-Consulting, introduced the first version of iSphere in 2013 with the following main components:
By all accounts, the collection has been very well received by the RDi community. Programmers cheered how much faster it was to open a message file in RSE using the iSphere plug-in than the CL-based methods used in RDi. The binding directory editor, similarly, was lauded for its speed compared to bare-bones RDi. Many also said how much easier it was to use the compare/merge editor than other methods.
Bolstered by the good feedback, Hildebrandt brought in a second partner on iSphere, Thomas Raddatz of Tools/400, to bolster the product. Earlier this year, the duo released an update that added the following components:
Again, the response was overwhelmingly positive. “I love iSphere,” wrote iSphere user “Jonparis” on the iSphere project website at sourceforge.net/projects/isphere. “Within days of loading the latest (August 2014) version I found myself wondering how I ever managed to work without it.”
“This project is fantastic,” another user, “Thequigs,” wrote on the project website. “I don’t go a day without using something and thinking to myself ‘This is cool!’ The source compare feature is intuitive and accurate. The source and message search features are very fast. I appreciate being able to work with message descriptions, binding directories, etc. all without leaving RDi.”
“I absolutely love this plug-in!” another iSphere admirer, “Robertjacobsit,” wrote on the project website. “Incredible search! The tasks using comments works perfectly (for the most part). Also, the decorator is awesome, making it where I don’t have to get the properties of a member just to view the member text. But the best part is the comparison tool. It’s wonderful! So much easier to use than I would have expected.”
Downloads of the product spiked this month after a positive and in-depth write up on iSphere was published by Jon Paris and Susan Gantner. According to the iSphere project website, the tool was downloaded more than 200 times last week alone. It’s been downloaded more than 1,100 times since the project was registered at SourceForge.
Work continues on the iSphere project, and new features will be added in response to feedback from users. “Feedback is important for us,” Hildebrandt wrote earlier this year on the RDi forum on the developerWorks website. “If you think something is bad please let us know about it. If you think something is good we would love to hear it. If you have any ideas for new features please don`t hesitate to send us a feature request.”
Currently, iSphere is available only in German and English. If individuals are interested in helping to develop iSphere interfaces for other languages, Hildebrandt would be interested in talking with them.
To download iSphere, go to sourceforge.net/projects/isphere.