See The IBM i Access You Never Heard Of
May 9, 2016 Dan Burger
The IBM i development team rolled out Access Client Solutions (ACS) almost three years ago. It remains a work in progress. And that’s a good thing. The IT graveyard is filled with products that were unable to show progress. Before there was ACS, there was Access for Windows. It can still be found in a great many IBM midrange shops, despite having one foot in the grave and no sign of a pulse when it comes to progress.
The pace of progress established with ACS is not blindingly fast, but it’s steady and it’s an indicator of where and how IBM is spending its development dollars. It doesn’t get a lot of attention. Its enhancements are not really announced. It is more like they are leaked. The product cycle is not in sync with the April and October Technology Refresh schedule for announcing IBM i updates, therefore, we often are hearing about products that became available months before announcement day. On this occasion–the announcement of i 7.3 in April–the timing was better, but the ACS enhancements were pretty light. Before the next Technology Refresh comes in October, ACS will have some “significant enhancements” available. Officially, however, those enhancements won’t be mentioned until it is TR time again.
Tim Rowe, IBM i business architect for application development, wouldn’t comment specifically about the forthcoming enhancements, but he hinted that past emphasis are a good place to start the speculation. That clue leads to the database. Rowe also mentioned that he and Scott Forstie, the DB2 for i business architect, would both be talking about ACS during their educational sessions next week at the COMMON Annual Meeting and Exposition in New Orleans, Louisiana. That would be another hint that ACS enhancements on the horizon will be database flavored.
The ACS tools that were added last month are minor tweaking, but fall in line with the product roadmap. We would always like to see more fireworks–bigger bangs and more sparkly things–but one way to appreciate the small things is to compare them with getting nothing at all. Here’s what all the tweaking is about.
The everyday ACS user has a minimal set of requirements. They could be boiled down to a 5250 emulator and a way to monitor and manage spool files. That’s the basics. ACS always provided a view of spool files, but that was it. If a user wanted to manage the files by moving, holding, deleting, or releasing them, it could be done with the old Access for Windows tool, but not ACS. Now that’s changed. “As more people use ACS, we receive more feedback,” Rowe says. “When people let us know what they think, we have the opportunity to do something.”
User feedback was also the reason notification support was added. Notifications of new enhancements only happens twice a year at Technology Refresh time, and it’s widely acknowledged that TRs come and go without much notice. ACS users let it be known they would like to be advised when incremental updates are available.
The notification works like the OS upgrade alert on a smartphone. If you ignore it for a day, a second alert follows up, and that pattern repeats itself until the upgrade is completed. This is not, however, a default setting. If you download the latest ACS, the notification alert requires the user to activate it.
Another of what Rowe refers to as “incremental updates” is an improvement for Run SQL Scripts. The Run SQL interface for ACS was delivered in December 2015. Rowe describes this update as a clean-up of scripts that did not translate well from iAccess for Windows.
“The SQL language has a particular set of syntax that are supported,” Rowe explains. “Some creative coding by users of iAccess for Windows–not proper syntax–did not work in ACS.”
ACS development uses an agile delivery mechanism that results in a continual progression to get all the tools users require.
“Run SQL Scripts is a great example,” Rowe says. “Everything that was in the Access for Windows version did not come with the original ACS version, but ACS was useful and functional and in some ways it was improved. It will get additional upgrades over the next few months to complete that entire picture. We figure out a chunk of stuff we want to deliver and we figure out how we can contain it properly and that becomes our target and we’ll deliver it when it is ready. And then we’ll incrementally add more things.”
Another of the just added enhancements is that Run SQL Scripts are now included within Rational Developer for i. Spool file viewer and management are also integrated into RDi. Rowe says we should be seeing a lot more RDi and ACS integration in the future.
“Last year the Rational Team moved from the software group to being part of the IBM i development team,” Rowe says. “A tighter tie between RDi and Access for Windows was asked for repeatedly in the past. Because it would add access to database tooling, Run SQL Scripts and Visual Explain are two tools that could be integrated with ACS.
Expect a lot more integration in the future. I see Visual Explain being delivered within RDi when that support becomes available.
There are a couple of interesting side notes to ACS. One is that ACS tools will run on operating systems as far back as V5R4. Don’t expect IBM to offer tech support on OSes older than i 7.1, however. The other thing not to be expected is IBM revealing the number of ACS downloads. The downloads can be tracked and are measureable with every fix pack that goes out. Each time that happens, Rowe says, the number of downloads increases by thousands.