IBM Navigator for i Increases Web and Mobile Effort
October 14, 2014 Dan Burger
Along with the Technology Refresh announcements for IBM i 7.2 and 7.1 last week came enhancements for IBM‘s Navigator for i, the integrated, Web-based console that handles systems management tasks. Navigator is available in a client version as well as a Web version, but IBM has made it clear the Web is the way of the future. That strategic direction is not new. It’s where you’ll find the product enhancements.
For those introduced to the Web-based version of Navigator as far back as the debut of IBM i 6.1, that ugly duckling is on its way to becoming a swan thanks to the ongoing infusion of modern Web technology. That early version had a well-deserved reputation for running really slow. It was the product of a development effort that attempted to combine a Windows client and a browser client in a one size fits all container. The result was a mediocre PC client and a pretty crappy Web product. It was not well received.
For the record and for the reluctant, note that the plumbing for the Web-based Navigator is pretty much identical to the client versions and the way it interacts with the i is the same. Therefore, the transition is not as scary as perhaps the preconceived notion might indicate.
So here’s what’s new in Navigator. Keep in mind, these enhancements will be delivered in December and almost everything will be available to users of IBM i 6.1, 7.1 and 7.2.
At the top of the features list is a much-needed search capability helps users quickly locate screens. More than 90 percent of tables in the UI now have quick search capabilities. Navigator has more than 600 screens, so search capabilities are a welcome addition. There are, for instance, direct paths in the IFS and searches that can be based on CL command names.
Also in the category of “finding what you need when you need it” is the capability to create your own favorites list. Shortcuts are popular in IBM i shops, so this seems like a natural feature that will be appreciated by those who will select specific screens for quick and easy repeatable access.
Tim Rowe, the business architect for application development at IBM, has the responsibility for developing the Navigator for i interfaces. Last week, during the IBM Enterprise conference, Rowe talked with IT Jungle about the progress being made with the Navigator product and particularly the focus on the Web version, which has been in a modern, agile development cycle since January 2013.
One of the important development aspects of Navigator at this time is mobile accessibility. Rowe explained about how a mobile version of Navigator relates to IBM i Access for Windows.
“We are in transition now,” Rowe says. “It’s not just Navigator. It’s the entire access methodology. Almost everyone (IBM i users) has Access for Windows–except the minority with Mac or Linux machines. People have been using it for 15 years or so. But at 7.2 we did not refresh that product.”
There are reasons for this that have to do with the recent releases of Windows and the rise of mobile devices that create non-Windows access points to IBM i.
“We have struggled to keep our Access support current on the new releases of Windows, which are not upward compatible,” Rowe says. “Windows 8, for instance, works only with iAccess in Windows 7 compatibility mode. And although Microsoft has announced Windows 10 is coming out, I guarantee that out of the box Windows Access for i will not work on Windows 10.”
Rowe asks the rhetorical question: How much of my resources (as the business architect for application development at IBM) am I going to spend developing and redeveloping Access for Windows?
“More people are accessing their IBM i systems using something other than Windows. More people are using other devices and OSes to access their IBM i,” he notes.
Mobile, Databases, and PTF Management, Oh My!
Navigator includes a mobile solution. It runs on the iPad in a Web perspective. Rowe expects its popularity to increase. Additionally, his team is moving more systems management capabilities into Navigator–activities that will require a new mobile access perspective.
Although some database capabilities have been included, Web Navigator is still missing some key components for database, and IBM i Access for Windows is the tool of choice for most database developers and administrators. Rowe says there are beta products being tested and the aim is to have a complete database solution on the Web-based navigator soon. Run SQL Script and Visual Explain are two items not in Web Navigator that are conspicuous by their absence. Rowe expects to deliver those two products to the Web-based Navigator next year.
In addition to the navigational improvements–which could be described as catching up with the expectations of what a modern Web-based tool should offer–there are monitoring enhancements that reach into areas such as system status, disk status, collections, reports, and active jobs.
Out of the box, users will find health indictors that provide a broad view of the machine and help determine whether something needs to be done to correct potential problems. For detailed information, IBM has licensed tools under the Performance Data Investigator product category. These plug-ins include a job scheduler, backup recovery and media services, performance tools, high availability, and DB2 content management.
If you don’t have the performance tools, you still have the capability to look at health indicators as well as some collections services information, which includes some system information.
PTF management is another new feature that will be popular, Rowe predicts. The key benefit is monitoring from one central system and the capability to compare PTF updates on multiple systems.
The Web-based Navigator for i currently runs on the LWI (lightweight infrastructure) app server. Rowe says his team is in the process of migrating it to the Liberty server, which is the default HTTP as of i 7.2. That should be done next year. Liberty Server supports 6.1 and 7.1 as well.